Recently as I lecture and conduct workshops I have been asking people who run simulations how often they do assessments with their simulations. The answers are astounding. Every time there are a few too many people reporting that they are performing assessments less than 100% of the time that they run their simulations. Then they are shocked when I tell them that they do assessments EVERY TIME they run their simulations.
While some of this may be a bit of a play on words there should be careful consideration given to the fact that each time we run a simulation scenario we must be assessing the student(s) that are the learners. If we are going to deliver feedback, whether intrinsic to the design of the simulation, or promote discovery during a debriefing process, somewhere at some point we had to decide what we thought they did well and identify areas for needed improvement. To be able to do this you had to perform an assessment.
Now let’s dissect a bit. Many people tend to equate the word assessment with some sort of grade assignment. Classically we think of a test that may have some threshold of passing or failing or contribute in some way to figure out if someone has mastered certain learnings. Often this may be part of the steps one needs to move on, graduate, or perhaps obtain a license to practice. The technical term for this type of assessment is summative. People in healthcare are all too familiar with such types of assessment!
Other times however, assessments can be made periodically with a goal of NOT whether someone has mastered something, but with more of a focus of figuring out what one needs to do to get better at what they are trying to learn. The technical term for this is formative assessment. Stated another way, formative assessment is used to promote more learning while summative assesses whether something was learned.
When things can get even more confusing is when assessment activities can have components or traits of both types of assessment activities. None the less, what is less important then the technical details is the self-realization and acceptance of simulation faculty members that every time you observe a simulation and then lead a debriefing you are conducting an assessment.
Such realization should allow you to understand that there is really no such thing as non-judgmental debriefing or non-judgement observations of a simulation-based learning encounter. All goal directed debriefing MUST be predicated upon someone’s judgement of the performance of the participant(s) of the simulation. Elsewise you cannot provide and optimally promote discovery of the needed understanding of areas that require improvement, and/or understanding of the topic, skills, or decisions that were carried out correctly during the simulation.
So, if you are going to take the time and effort to conduct simulations, please be sure and understand that assessment, and rendering judgement of performance, is an integral part of the learning process. Once this concept is fully embraced by the simulation educator greater clarity can be gained in ways to optimize assessment vantage points in the design of simulations. Deciding the assessment goals with some specificity early in the process of simulation scenario design can lead to better decisions associated design elements of the scenario. The optimizing of scenario design to enhance “assess-ability” will help you whether you are applying your assessments in a formative or summative way!
So, go forth and create, facilitate and debrief simulation-based learning encounters with a keen fresh new understanding that every simulation is an assessment!
Until Next Time Happy Simulating!