Using Objective Structured Practical Examinations (OSPE's) to consolidate practical skills and assess graduate attributes in life sciences

Dr Derek Scott, School of Medicine, Medical Sciences & Nutrition

Dr Derek ScottName and code of course to which the example relates: BM4009 Staying Alive: Adaptation in Physiological Systems

Number of students affected: approx. 50 per year - now expanded to well over 100

During which half session did this take place? 1st_half_session

Context: We needed a final year, rigorous practical experience that could effectively and rapidly assess a wide variety of students from different backgrounds to prepare them for their Honours projects. Since Curriculum Reform and adoption of Aberdeen Graduate Attributes, we began to consider how we assess skills that are perhaps not the usual focus of our teaching e.g. time management, citizenship, communication with the public etc. I was an External Examiner at Newcastle and observed how clinical subjects assessed practical/communication skills. I knew their approach was supported by evidence and wondered if it could be adapted for science practicals.

Activity: In 2014 we developed an Objective Structured Practical Examination (OSPE). These are assessments of theoretical, practical and problem-solving skills at multiple stations which are frequently used to evaluate clinical practical skills. Although other disciplines rarely use this successful assessment style, we adapted this format to formally examine a wide range of communication, ethics, numeracy, graphic interpretation and science laboratory practical skills. This approach helps to prepare students for research projects and also enhance graduate attributes and employability skills. It is easy to involve a wide staff in the exercise and adapt stations to suit needs of different disciplines and skills.

How did you evaluate the effectiveness of the activity? SCEF indicated >60% of students said it totally addressed their learning needs, and another 23% rating it 4/5 for this. 85% thought the OSPE made them consider what non-scientific skills employers would desire and 90% rated their skills improved or much improved. Since its inception we have developed accessory video and gamification resources, automated marking via ipads, and scaled up OSPE's to cope with larger classes. OSPE's have been expanded due to student demand into the anatomy, pharmacology, sport science and exercise and health degrees. There is now demand from neuroscience and molecular degree students to also have an OSPE.

Impact of the activity: Our work was highlighted as an imaginative approach to science education and cited by others adapting OSPE's (Saleh, 2016; Chogloi, 2017; Shahzad, 2017). Feedback includes: 'I was impressed by your presentation on OSPEs which I attended at one of the educational STEM conferences. I've made reference to your work several at various conferences and events as I think this is a module that other lab-based disciplines should follow.' Bioscience Teacher of the Year 2015 'The continued use of OSPE provides a distinct form of learning opportunity and assessment to the programme and I encourage its continued use.' External Examiner

Dissemination: I have presented at internal teaching fellow events/academic symposia and at the QAA Enhancement theme conferences for last two years

We have run workshops on 'How to OSPE' at HEA STEM conferences and at national workshops of the UK Physiological Society

Since 2014, we have disseminated our OSPE work via > 16 different national/international conference presentations, posters and workshops, most co-authored with students involved with continuing developments.  I will also be delivering my 'How to OSPE Workshop' at the 2019 Human Anatomy & Physiology Society Conference in Portland, Oregon this year, and we have a paper in preparation.