Secular changes: students know less that they once did?

One of our problems in medical education is that we have very little longitudinal data on what students learn and what we teach. In most walks of life this absence would give great cause for concern. How do we know what we are doing in the absence of such data?

There seems to be a lively community around physics education with, in recent years at least in the US, a lot of energy spent discussing how to improve learning. A clutch of papers in the journal Science over the last year are testament to that. But there are some older classics too.

In dermatology there were some studies conducted by Andrew Finlay and others in the 1990s but we have no longitudinal data to speak of. A great shame. The abstract of this recent paper from Peter J Barham  in Bristol makes interesting reading.

An analysis of the changes in ability and knowledge of students taking A-level physics and mathematics over a 35 year period


New undergraduate students arriving to study physics at the University of Bristol from 1975 onwards have all taken the same test of their knowledge and understanding of physics and mathematics. Many of the questions test knowledge of material that has been in the A-level syllabus for maths or physics throughout this period. The ability of incoming students to answer these questions declined significantly in the 1990s with average scores falling from around 75% up to 1990 to below 50% after 2000 against a background of increasing A-level grades of the entrants to the programme. It is suggested that changes in teaching and examination methods have caused students to be less able to carry out multi-stage calculations and that the introduction of modular examinations may have encouraged a culture where students tend to forget material learnt in previous modules.

This article has been downloaded from IOPscience. Please scroll down to see the full text article. 2012 Phys. Educ. 47 162

Post by Jonathan Rees

Clinical academic and skin watcher at the University of Edinburgh

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