Poor communication skills are a barrier to successful clinical placements for students and may result in failure and patient mismanagement. Students who experience difficulties with communication competencies on clinical placement, especially those who are identified late in a course of study, face significant issues with progression and in future workplace success. A team of learning technologists and academic staff from the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney designed and developed ACE (https://health-ace.sydney.edu.au/) to begin to tackle this issue, early in a student’s course of study.
ACE is online assessment tool and intensive learning support program that aims to improve professional communication competence of all health sciences students. ACE is a two-part program: the ACE online diagnostic assessment followed by the ACE Immersive learning support program. Over several years ACE has been expanded, re-envisaged and refined. ACE is now an online diagnostic assessment for all 12 Health Sciences degrees and has been shown to increase grades of students on placement and reduced failure rates.
• Large cohorts of students take the ACE diagnostic assessment, are marked and receive detailed feedback in short timeframes (~1000 students over two weeks each year)
• The programme has reduced overall clinical failure rates for students completing ACE from 3 to 1 percent
• Identification (ACE Diagnostic) and remediation (ACE Immersive) is provided to students needing additional learning support prior to first clinical placement
• No clinical failures for students who complete the ACE Immersive 4-day intensive program (2016 ACE Immersive cohort received zero fails on their first placement)
• Students report ACE transforms their communication skills and understanding of what it is to be a health professional.
The ACE diagnostic assessment contains a short series must-pass online assessments and occurs in week 5 of the first year of study. A key driver for the program is to return the results and feedback to students and academic staff, across 12 degrees, so that progression and learning support structures can be put in place quickly. For this reason, the ACE diagnostic assessment has been built outside the university VLE. ACE uses a selection of services and features, some barely out of beta, that have been hand coded by the project’s web developer. This approach has given the team the freedom and responsibility for testing out new approaches to assessments, marking and feedback. Some have proven to be valuable, and some have needed to be discarded. Approaches that we have explored include:
• Key-word marking for mass marking typed short answer responses.
• Developing a video collection of authentic, situational ethical and communication dilemmas, filmed using the experience of clinical educators, students and staff.
• Assessing student’s interpersonal and professional ethics skills via a video ratings tool, which allows students to immediately compare their own perception of appropriate and inappropriate professional communication issues with that of their peers.
• Assessing verbal competency through a video submission assessment which has the added benefit of allowing students to see and reflect on their own communication skills and styles.
• The ACE platform is editable so that the assessment tasks can be re-designed by the academic team each time the assessment is run.
ACE serves as an introduction for all students to the complex communication skills required for clinical placements. It also aims to prepares all students to succeed at their clinical placements first time around.
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