Most medical students undergo practical examinations known as OSCEs – Objective Structured Clinical Examinations. In an OSCE, each student completes a set of closely defined tasks, in a circuit of half a dozen different stations, and is objectively marked (usually by an observer who does not know them) on each one. Typical 5-minute tasks might include measuring a patient’s blood pressure, conducting a spine examination, taking a cervical smear or explaining how to use an inhaler.
There is plenty of scope for the use of such a carousel of tests in engineering, but I can find little evidence that this approach has been incorporated into the assessment regime for an engineering programme. The only report of such tests in the UK comes from Alinier and Alinier (2005) from the University of Hertfordshire. They called their technique Objective Structured Technical Examination (OSTE). Alinier and Alinier devised and tested 16 stations in the area of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. Their tests, both theoretical and practical, included the use of an oscilloscope, the identification of RF frequency bands, the use of logic gates and the construction of a simple circuit on a bread board. The evaluation of the students was that OSTEs were an excellent and helpful formative tool, but they were less keen on their use for summative assessment. Staff, on the other hand were almost equally positive about the formative and summative uses of the OSTEs.
The OSTE idea is clearly applicable across the whole range of engineering disciplines, especially if you accept that the exercises can be both practical and theoretical. In the early years I could imagine testing the use of a micrometer, the plotting (or interpretation) of data on log paper, various measurements and their error bars, the interpretation of microstructure and many more. My colleagues at Liverpool make first-year students “Run the Gauntlet” of six consecutive simple recognise-and-name exercises. The artefacts to be named might be as simple as a circlip or a resistor, but any failure to provide a name and a description of its function sends the student back to the beginning until they succeed in all six in one run. It’s fun and useful (and competitive among the students).
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