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Global collaboration in medical student assessment

Jacob Pearce reports on an ACER-led collaboration linking medical schools in the UK and Australia to develop common assessment items in the area of global health.

The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) has instigated and led a project to produce a suite of common assessment items for use in medical schools in the UK and Australia.

Funded by the Australian Office for Learning and Teaching, the Global Health Assessment Collaboration (GHAC) involved five universities in Australia and the UK.

The project involved oversight by Macquarie University and the involvement of the University of Queensland and James Cook University in Australia, as well as two member schools from the Medical Schools Council – Assessment Alliance (MSCAA) in the UK: Brighton and Sussex Medical School (University of Brighton) and the School of Medicine at the University of Manchester.

ACER and the MSCAA have both been closely involved in developing national assessment collaborations in medical schools — ACER through the Australian Medical Assessment Collaboration and the MSCAA through their own alliance among medical schools. Both collaborations have focussed on formative and summative benchmarking, sharing expertise and items between institutions, and enhancing student learning.

Through conversations and presentations to the MSCAA and discussions with partnering universities, ACER identified the subject area of global health as conducive to development of assessment items that would be suitable for use in two different education systems and medical contexts. Global health is primarily focused on health issues that affect multiple countries and that cross borders, such as disease prevention and health equity. Because of the universal matters that global health addresses, issues with contextualisation of items, and ‘fit’ within education systems and national contexts were less of a challenge than if a different area of medicine was used to frame this project.

After collecting information from participating universities about the teaching of global health within their respective medical schools, ACER developed then circulated for feedback an assessment framework to provide the broad parameters of what competencies the collaboration would target. ACER also produced specifications on item type, content focus, and the ideal number of items for development in particular areas of the framework.

Medical schools were tasked with drafting a set number of items to fit the project specifications.  ACER conducted workshops with participating Australian medical schools to develop assessment items. All items developed for the collaboration were then consolidated by ACER, formatted for consistency and re-distributed as a whole to members of the collaboration for review. Based on the review, items deemed acceptable were collated into an item bank and distributed to participating medical schools for their own use with students.

The project has sparked conversations among universities that we believe will lead to improvements in assessment approaches and practices in the global health area. Participants identified areas of over-assessment and areas where significant gaps exist, leading to plans for further consultation and focus on assessment to address this.

Some of the academics involved highlighted the dilemmas they faced in relation to political issues in global health, highlighting the need to develop assessment that is not value-laden, and to address issues that may be sensitive to different political persuasions.

Another identified issue is the constant change and adjustment in the way the global health area is conceptualised which highlights the need for continuous revision, updating and improving of assessment — in global health the approach cannot be ‘set-and-forget’. ■

Find out more:
For further information about collaboration in medical assessment visit < www.acer.edu.au/amac >

RD

About the author

Dr Jacob Pearce is a Senior Research Fellow in ACER's Assessment and Reporting: Mathematics and Science research program.

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