For the first time this month, an entire cohort of undergraduate adult nursing students will be electronically assessed on their placement.
The University of Southampton is in the process of rolling out electronic assessment to all nursing students, saying it will make the process quicker, easier and cheaper.
“If I have a student out on placement, I can go into their portfolio and see what they are doing”
Starting this month, all nursing and midwifery students at the university will have digital portfolios they can access at the click of a button, instead of having to lug around hefty paper documents.
Project lead Pauline Morgan told Nursing Times the secure online system had numerous advantages, not least that portfolios can no longer be “left on the bus”.
Crucially she said electronic assessment made it easier to keep track of students’ progress and deal with problems or concerns more swiftly. “If I have a student out on placement, I can go into their portfolio and see what they are doing,” she said. “I can instantly go in and see what that problem is.”
The system provides automatic reminders of when assessments are due and reduces the risk of fraud among the tiny minority of students tempted to grade or sign off their own work.
Ms Morgan said a key factor in ensuring the success of the scheme was working closely with mentors in healthcare settings as well as university staff. “Mentors who have used the system say it is quicker and easier to do and don’t have to wait for a student to bring in a paper form,” she said.
“Often students who need to improve their performance are the ones who are reluctant to bring in assessment documents to be filled in, but here there isn’t that option and they can be monitored a lot more closely,” she noted.
Ms Morgan said it was also easier to pull together information to write references and for students to “showcase their employability”.
“Previously I could verify four portfolios in an hour but I can do 15 in an hour now without actually leaving my desk”
She said there was evidence the quality of portfolios had improved, because students no longer had to “squish entries into a little box” and were spending more time writing up their experiences.
Meanwhile, the university estimates the switch to electronic assessment has saved £22,000 a year in printing and photocopying costs and staff time.
“Previously I could verify four portfolios in an hour but I can do 15 in an hour now without actually leaving my desk,” said Ms Morgan. “It is much greener and much more cost effective.”
While the new system has reduced admin, she stressed it had not cut face to face time between students, teachers and practice mentors.
The university began testing the system in early 2013 when it was trialled by a small group of midwifery and adult nursing students.
Ms Morgan said it had been introduced with relatively few problems, with the main issue being people forgetting usernames and passwords.
The system, which was developed with Axia Interactive Media, is being rolled it out in waves in what is believed to be the largest-scale introduction of electronic assessment of nursing practice.
About 1,200 student midwives and nurses are now using the system and it is set to be introduced to more groups of students, including those doing post-graduate nursing diplomas, in the spring.
It will be rolled out to allied health profession, advanced nursing and return to practice courses by June 2016 when a total of 2,340 students are expected to be using it.
By providing a lasting record of assessments and students experiences the system has also opened the doors to research that could help improve support for students in the future, added Ms Morgan.
“We are starting to look at doing some research,” she said. “We hope to be able to use the data to look at preparation for practice and support for students and identify key themes.”