University of Maryland Medical School

Scenario

There can be no higher stakes examinations than those delivered by medical schools. The students who pass the courses and graduate hold the lives of patients in their hands. It’s hardly an understatement to say it’s critical to ensure that each student has mastered his or her course work at every level. It’s equally important that these schools maintain high standards for the faculty and the courses they teach. The University of Maryland Medical School is no exception. Now the school uses contemporary technology to achieve both ancient goals: training outstanding medical professionals and doing so to the very highest standards.

In the past the school used paper and pencil tests and evaluations, scoring each using Scantron devices. The problem was that parts of both instruments included hand written comments, particularly the evaluations. As a result departmental administrative assistants had to retype all the evaluative comments from various students, often deciphering the handwriting of these future doctors. It was a very time consuming and, therefore, costly task. This manual effort could delay important information for days.

Questionmark Provides Timely and Cost Effective Data

The University of Maryland requires all its medical students to purchase laptop computers before they begin their first year. Having this capability enabled the school to convert its manual testing and scoring system to one that would provide current data and enable instructors to fine tune their exams. The school chose Questionmark so that students could not only take their tests right on their laptop computers but also complete the mandatory course evaluations electronically.

All of the second year students take their exams using Questionmark while nearly 85 percent of first year exams employ computerized testing. According to Kevin Brown, Maryland’s director of instructional technology, the medical school’s instructors love the fact that they can obtain real time statistics as the students are completing the exam.

“They can start looking for trends almost immediately to identify any bad questions,” Brown said. “As we develop our question bank, some of the questions are brand new and we need to see how they perform. Are they ambiguous? Do they need to be reworded? The stats show this.”

In addition, instructors and the office of medical education staff are able to review these stats while half of the class is still taking the exam. If the instructional team identifies a question that most or all the learners get wrong they can notify the remainder of those scheduled to take the exam to disregard that question. Even better, Questionmark enables the students to use the testing process as part of the learning environment. Questionmark's feedback feature provides instructors with the opportunity to provide feedback on questions that the students get wrong.

While these high stakes exams are the most important aspect of the medical school’s use of Questionmark, the school also regards the course evaluations as a vital element of its effort to maintain high standards. This feedback helps Maryland’s medical school improve the curriculum. The evaluations also help locate potential problem areas and keep teaching standards high.

“If we have a feeling that an area needs improvement or board scores are low in a certain area and we see feedback from students that reflect those concerns, that might be an indication that perhaps the teaching was not up to par,” Brown said.

After students complete their exam a link takes them directly into the evaluation section of Questionmark. In addition, the school can conduct periodic evaluations that students can complete at home or through the school’s wireless network.

Results

The University of Maryland Medical School discovered that it saves both time and money using Questionmark. Now, instead of having administrative assistants retype information from evaluation forms, the school has access to the information electronically and immediately. It’s no small thing because some of the evaluations are rather lengthy with several different blocks of comments. Saving time, of course, also means that using Questionmark is highly cost effective.

The school’s staff can turn the information around much faster than in the past organizing the materials so that a report’s data can be applied immediately.

And, of course, the improved data means improved courses.