As previously reported by healthGAMERS, numerous organizations are embracing the use of virtual environments for education. This summer, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) will be unveiling its latest project in four Scottish high schools, a project reported by The Herald as one that “could transform the country’s qualifications system.”
The SQA doesn’t want to use health games and virtual worlds just to educate and train current healthcare students and employees; they wish to determine which youngsters would make for successful future healthcare students and employees. “Skills for Work: Health Sector,” a web-based virtual course funded by the European Social Fund, is aimed at 14 to 18 year old youths as an alternative to traditional academic National Qualifications. Students that pass the “Skills for Work: Health Sector” virtual program will leave high school with a qualification certificate that they can present to universities, colleges, or employers as a demonstration of achievement and attainment.
HealthGAMERS is honored to go inside the revolutionary world of virtual health pre-vocational training with Mhairi McAlpine, eAssessment Project Manager at Scottish Qualifications Authority.
HG: Why did the SQA decide to create the “Skills for Work” program?
MMcA: “Skills for Work” was designed as a “pre-vocational” course which would allow young people an opportunity to engage with the worksphere that they hoped to join, while teaching them workplace skills. It was developed due to a high number of pupils leaving school with few or no qualifications, who weren’t really engaged with school learning. Sometimes they flourished once they left school either in a college, training or work based setting, but too often their lack of qualifications meant that they ended up not in education, education or training. It was identified that a lot of this group saw traditional qualifications as not very relevant to their future and became disengaged with school. The challenge for SQA was to design a qualifications suite which was suitable for 14-18 year olds who had identified that their future lay in vocational study or work.
HG: Why create one specifically for the health sector?
MMcA: In work environments such as the Health Industry, it is very difficult to arrange work placements due to health and safety, insurance etc. Work-based assessments cannot always be done within a real work environment. Traditionally such assessments would have been assessed by observing role play, however that can be quite artificial so we started to look at computer based simulations.
HG: What was the inspiration for the “Skills for Work: Health Sector” program?
MMcA: Initially we explored Second Life however the 18+ age restriction and the unstructured nature of the environment meant that it was not suitable for our purposes. Eventually we decided on a more directed “game based” approach, with the candidate taking on a first person role and interacting with other characters in the environment that we would set up to assess the candidate within the simulation and then pass the information out.
HG: Why use an expensive simulation for this kind of pre-vocational testing?
MMcA: Initial research with course developers and teachers suggested that there would be considerable support for this kind of method of assessment. We are aware that 14-18 year olds have a high level of technological awareness, and this is feeding through into expectations from educational providers. We want to provide assessment in a manner which is meaningful, allows them to demonstrate their abilities in as natural a way as is practical and as much as possible replicates the kinds of situations where the learning would be applied. Game-based assessment is perfect for that purpose within a workplace environment. We were asked to explore the options for computer assisted assessment within the new qualifications, and it quickly became apparent that there were elements of the qualification which were best assessed by simulation.
HG: What are the benefits of using simulation versus traditional methods?
MMcA: The main benefit [of the program] is increased validity and reliability of assessment, greater candidate engagement, lower drop out rates from courses and hopefully increased uptake of the Skills for Work qualifications. The games are expensive to produce, and we are providing quite extensive support to centers considering using them. However we have received funding from the European Social Fund which allows us to make this provision available. We are very grateful to ESF for their support.
HG: Four schools will be testing the program this summer. How will you determine whether the pilot study is a success?
MMcA: We are evaluating against five key characteristics, using observation and semi-structured interviews with candidates and course tutors.
HG: If the pilot study is a success, what’s the next step?
MMcA: We are already committed to providing Games Based Assessment in Retail and Health Sector Courses from August 09, assuming that we can solve any issues arising from the pilots. We will then start developing games based assessment in other areas. These areas are yet to be determined, but likely contenders are Rural Skills; Uniformed and Emergency services (which covers paramedics incidentally) and Lab Sciences.