Published: 2017-01-16

One size does not fit all in the assessment of pharmacology learning in a diverse multidisciplinary undergraduate student class

Orla Patricia Barry, Eleanor O’ Sullivan, Marian McCarthy


Background: Assessment not only drives student learning but is also an indicator of the success of teaching methodologies employed. There is considerable pressure on pharmacology instructors to effectively teach the discipline to diverse multidisciplinary (biochemistry, chemistry, physiology, and medicine) undergraduate students. To date, there are no studies documenting and assessing pharmacology learning in the aforementioned group. This is an 8 years retrospective study aimed at compiling, analyzing, and evaluating different types of assessment to gauge multidisciplinary student learning in pharmacology.

Methods: Quantitative and qualitative (rather than single) methods of data collection were used to provide a richer and mutually corroborative array of evidence. Assessment of student learning included computer-based assessment (CBA) of laboratory practicals, end of the module (EOM) multiple choice questions (MCQ) examination and an EOM essay paper.

Results: Our findings indicate significant variation in students’ scores depending on the type of assessment employed. Strikingly over the 8-year period annual mean scores in the physiology student cohort were consistently and significantly lower compared to other groups. This contrasts with the medical student cohort who demonstrated a consistent and significant increase in mean scores compared to overall class means. Interestingly, no deviations were observed in the overall CBA, MCQ scores among all student groups. However, on closer analysis laboratory practical type influenced student performances with lower scores in the computer-assisted learning (CAL) CBA versus the wet laboratory practical CBA.

Conclusion: Our research-based evidence suggests that certain modes of assessment may preferentially suit some but not all students from multidisciplinary backgrounds within the one pharmacology class.


Pharmacology, Assessment, Multidisciplinary student groups

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