What was the activity?
The anatomy module is an applied practice module which enables students to consider concepts and then relate knowledge to clinical practice skills.
The anatomy module is delivered in the first year with 60 students divided into two practical groups of 30 per group. Assessment for the module involves a viva voce exam encouraging students to describe and demonstrate set skills relevant to anatomical practice. The assessment is divided into four distinct sections and is time driven. The module is supported by an award-winning student mentoring project called the Sports Mentoring and Inclusive Learning Experience Scheme (SMILES).
SMILES is centred on learning partnerships in general. The mentors offer support through sharing their own experiences and ideas and provide encouragement. This support is generally provided during face to face meetings and more recently on-line interventions during the pandemic Covid-19 crisis period.
Together with our SMILES mentors we co-created an assessment that enabled students to develop their own learning and assessment resources. Students were paired and asked to concentrate on one aspect of the assessment. The assessment covers the musculoskeletal anatomy of the lower limb. This includes bone, joint, muscles, tendons, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and movement analysis for the ankle, knee and hip joints.
In their paired groups, students then produced an eight-minute video for that section of the assessment and then worked with the mentors and clinical staff to self-assess their answers in relation to the assessment rubric. The class as a whole then pieced together all the videos and produced an overall video that enabled students to learn with and from one another. Videos were shared on the module virtual learning environment (VLE). The focus was not simply on passing the assessment but designing resources for assessment and lifelong learning. Students used the assessment rubrics to design their assessment resources which enabled them to familiarise themselves with how grades are assigned. This also led to an interesting activity wherein staff and students re-created the rubric as a shared collaborative experience.
Students further created social media groups to assist with their revision for the assessment. One group designed flashcards (in conjunction with the video) that were shared with the entire cohort.
The SMILES mentors were instrumental in guiding the process and recounting their experiences as students on the module. The additional support culminated in an assessment activity that enhanced learning and focussed on the process and not the products of learning and assessment.
This assessment enabled students to work collaboratively as part of a community of practice. As students worked to develop the assessment resource they recognised the value and agency they had in shaping the assessment. As a result of this innovative practice, students became more familiar with the assessment and were able to draw upon lived and learned experiences to shape their learning in meaningful ways. This activity not only encouraged inclusive practice and design but generated new ways of directly involving students in their learning and assessment. As a result of this innovation the module average grade rose from 62% (2019/2020) to 68% (2020/2021).
How did it impact students?
This activity has had extended positive impact on both students and staff. The first impact was centred on students actively engaging with the mentors to support their learning and assessment. As a result of the activity there was a 65% increase (2020/2021) in students attending and engaging with SMILES sessions. This was up from 25% in the previous year. The next impact is that students reported feeling more prepared for the assessment and felt empowered that their voices, concerns and contributions were recognised and valued. The assessment results showed an increase in 2:1 and 1st classifications from 27% in the previous year (2019/2020) to 46% in (2020/2021). The mean for the group was 68% (2020/2021). Furthermore, the awarding gap for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students within the within the module was reduced from 13% (2018/19) to 4.6% (2020/2021).
Module and assessment evaluation revealed that students welcomed the activity, learned to work with different students in smaller working groups, and, most importantly, learned not only to pass assessments but how to use their knowledge of anatomy in clinical settings. Our external placement supervisors further commented on the students’ excellent application of anatomical knowledge in practice. By engaging students with the assessment and encouraging co-creation, the learning cohort connected their learning with continuous assessment.
Any advice for others?
These activities are rewarding for both students and staff but does require careful planning and setting of boundaries. For example, the activity relies on shared collaborative input. It is important that clear instructions for each activity are given and that mentors work synergistically with groups to support the activities but not teach students the skills. The focus is on facilitation and co-creating. This helps to define the boundaries within the learning experience. Key to the success of the activity is encouraging a mix within the student cohort and designing the learning and working pairs so that students feel included and able to learn with and from their colleagues. It is also important to debrief and check resources for accuracy before disseminating to the wider group. The assessment activity was closely aligned with employability skills such as problem-solving, creative use of learning and assessment space, and emotional, social and cultural intelligences.
Other Contextual Details
The Sports Mentoring and Inclusive Learning Experience Scheme (SMILES) is an Office for Students Access and Participation Plan funded project which has been running for the past seven years that aims to improve academic success, progression and employment by connecting and supporting the University of East London (UEL) sports students through peer mentorship and co-created communities of learning.
The SMILES project is divided into two key schemes: 1) Peer and 2) Peer Assisted Student Support (PASS) mentoring. The first of these simply involves a pastoral facilitative mentoring approach. The second requires the mentor to deliver a small revision session or employment interview task following a lecture or academic activity. Our Sports Therapy degree programme recruits high numbers of non-traditional students who benefit from additional academic support, to cope with the demands of university. It is fundamental to embed supportive schemes that not only meet objectives but have a sustained impact in ensuring student success within and beyond assessment.
From 2015/2016 SMILES mentoring interventions were responsible for reducing the attrition gap by 7% amongst Asian Mixed Other White (AMOW) and improving the progression rate for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students by 8%.