Questionmark an integral part of the learning process of Swiss medical students

About Swiss Virtual Campus

Within the Swiss federal program for the Advancement of new Information and Communication Technologies at university level ”Swiss Virtual Campus" (SVC) over 70 innovative eLearning projects – covering a wide spectrum of disciplines – were supported with over 70 million CHF. The online courses are a perfect supplement to the existing lectures and training programs, so that students can acquire knowledge whenever and wherever they choose.

"The idea is that the way in which knowledge is communicated should be attractive and ­ thanks to interactivity ­ more efficient", says Bernard Levrat, the spiritual father of the programme, paraphrasing one of the main objectives of SVC. Therefore each project is being implemented in consultation with subject specialists, experts on education and teaching methods of at least three universities.

Background

“Overall, we aim to provide a learning solution which will integrate state of the art aspects in didactics, technology and media production”, says Mr Pacal Py, project manager of the "Division of Psychiatry Research" from the University Zurich and responsible for eLearning projects in the biomedical area – such as for the eLearning course "Alzheimer‘s disease and related disorders" or "GPS", a blended learning concept in geriatrics.

In order to improve the learning process and the learning motivation of the students as well as constantly improve the effectiveness of the learning platform it was decided to integrate an assessment system in a self-developed learning management system (LMS).

Software Evaluation Process

In the following software evaluation phase Swiss Virtual Campus decided in favour of Questionmark. “No other system was able to deliver the functionality and advantages which were important for the project.”, said Mr. Py. The decision was also backed by the fact that Mr. Py already made positive experiences with Questionmark in several projects at a French distance learning institute since 1997.

Reasons for the Decision

The LMS favours the concept of Problem Based Learning (PBL), which means that the learning content was processed to interactive and multimedia-based content wherever it made sense, so that the students can learn and exercise diagnosis and therapy of symptoms of patients on the basis of realistic scenarios.

Therefore the future assessment system needed to fulfill the requirement of mapping different type of questions and especially multimedia types of questions as well as had to allow the integration with the LMS on database level – requirements which were perfectly fulfilled by Questionmark.

The decision was fixed as well against the background that eLearning is a long-time investment and therefore the software components must be targeted on that. “Questionmark is a stable, reliable system and because of the fact that Questionmark has been active in that area for decades and has a huge customer base we could expect that the system will get enhanced and maintained as well in the future.”

Against this background, the openness of Questionmark was also a decisive factor. If the “parameters” for the eLearning environment would change after years, the investment in the content has to be protected. Therefore it was of importance that questions, answers and results could be stored in a Microsoft SQL Server™ database and could be reused in other environments on the spot.

The multilingualism of Questionmark and the ability for different administrators and authors in different locations to work collaboratively within a Questionmark repository take account of the special conditions of the Virtual Campus projects.

Rollout

”The server installation and configuration was easy and the system was available in best time. As well the mapping of the tests was no technical question – the contents could be entered easily and straightforward.” praised Mr. Py.

Using the PIP protocol an interface between the Questionmark learning management system and the central user database was implemented. Via a single-sign-on procedure and the adaptation of the user interfaces, the learning management system and Questionmark present themselves as Intra-/Internet application as a single integrated system.

The Solution

The medical students may use about 200 available tests voluntarily to check their own knowledge in advance – as well in relation to the group – before they enter into the next learning phase. Tests could be performed and repeated to evaluate learning progress during and at the end of each learning session.

The student is automatically authenticated in Questionmark and the test consisting in average of 10 questions launches automatically. Based on specific criteria, questions are selected on-demand from a pool of about 500 questions, ensuring that the user never gets the same test and cheating is minimized. “In contrast to other solutions which offer more less static web pages, Questionmark is very flexible”, says Mr. Py. After having answered the last question the participant gets instantly his results which are automatically retransferred to the learning platform.

The tutors have access to the results as well. For them, the knowledge about the performance and progress of individuals and the whole group (as consolidated result across the time as well as related to single tests) are essential in order to define measures in case they see that the set learning target is at risk.

Further tests have also been developed – independent from specific scientific topics – in order to visualize the possibilities and advantages of the learning platform with the integrated assessment system of Questionmark to other departments and universities