Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Student-Generated Questions to Assess Learning in an Online Orientation to Pharmacy Course

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Student-Generated Questions to Assess Learning in an Online Orientation to Pharmacy Course

Article excerpt


Orientation to Pharmacy is an informational course taught entirely online to educate students about the role of pharmacists in consumer healthcare and as part of the healthcare team. Students enroll in this course for 2 primary reasons: interest in pursuing a career in pharmacy and thus a desire to learn more about the profession, or a scheduling need for 2 credits and/or an online course.

Developing formative and summative assessments appropriate for the learning goals and content has been difficult because this course is both introductory and informational. Several strategies for student assessment have been used over the 7-year history of this online course, including having students post responses to a discussion board for each topic, choose and critique a pharmacy-related article, take an instructor-created, multiple-choice examination, and journal on content-related topics. The writing strategies resulted in an unmanageable grading workload for instructors of this growing, high-enrollment course, which averages 120 students for each fall and spring offering. Instructor-generated, multiple-choice examinations resulted in too much memorization of detailed facts, which were often not necessarily of interest to the students or even central to understanding of the profession. The instructional team sought to develop formative and summative assessments that engaged students in the content and were both appropriate for the learning objectives and manageable for instructors to evaluate.

The idea that students require learning activities that foster active engagement with course material is not a new concept. It is a central tenet among educational scholars ranging from John Dewey to more contemporary voices such as David Jonassen. While this educational approach is generally accepted, implementing the strategies can be difficult. Multiple-choice examination questions are commonly used to assess learning. (1) This assessment format offers many advantages, but the primary reasons many educators use this strategy are the ease and objectivity of grading, which are especially important for a high-enrollment course. (1,2) Multiple-choice examination questions can be written in a way that assesses more than simple learning outcomes, (1) but it is difficult to write high-quality constructed multiple-choice questions that measure complex learning outcomes, especially in the large numbers often required for a course. (3) Frequent updating of the questions requires much instructor time and effort and often results in inconsistent quality. (3,4) Multiple-choice assessment approaches are often criticized for not facilitating active learning (2,4) because they provide students with a list of choices rather than requiring them to actively identify the correct choice and explain or justify why it is best, as they would be required to do in real life.

Educational activities that engage learners in exploring content independently require additional instructor time and effort, which is not always feasible. Educational contexts that involve a large, diverse student enrollment and distance education present significant challenges. A context such as this requires not only engaging activities to capture and maintain student motivation, which is a primary determinant of student retention, (5) but also a substantial amount of instructor guidance and feedback. (5-11)

Within formal educational structures, students have many opportunities to answer questions but few opportunities to pose them. (12) In the sciences, inquiry is an especially important skill that instructors try to help their students develop, yet students are rarely engaged in this activity due to the instructor workload challenges. (13) The argument that students must apply, practice, and struggle with the material in a way that is purposeful, situated, and collaborative is supported in many theorists' works, but these theoretical frameworks require complex learning experiences (coupled with necessary learner scaffolding) that engage both cognitive and affective domains to facilitate meaningful learning and knowledge transfer. …

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