To understand the role of a workplace-based assessment (WBA) tool in facilitating feedback for medical students, this study explored changes and tensions in a clerkship feedback activity system through the lens of cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) over 2 years of tool implementation.
This qualitative study uses CHAT to explore WBA use in core clerkships by identifying feedback activity system elements (e.g., community, tools, rules, objects) and tensions among these elements. University of California, San Francisco core clerkship students were invited to participate in semistructured interviews eliciting experience with a WBA tool intended to enhance direct observation and feedback in year 1 (2019) and year 2 (2020) of implementation. In year 1, the WBA tool required supervisor completion in the school’s evaluation system on a computer. In year 2, both students and supervisors had WBA completion abilities and could access the form via a smartphone separate from the school’s evaluation system.
Thirty-five students participated in interviews. The authors identified tensions that shifted with time and tool iterations. Year 1 students described tensions related to cumbersome tool design, fear of burdening supervisors, confusion over WBA purpose, WBA as checking boxes, and WBA usefulness depending on clerkship context and culture. Students perceived dissatisfaction with the year 1 tool version among peers and supervisors. The year 2 mobile-based tool and student completion capabilities helped to reduce many of the tensions noted in year 1. Students expressed wider WBA acceptance among peers and supervisors in year 2 and reported understanding WBA to be for low-stakes feedback, thereby supporting formative assessment for learning.
Using CHAT to explore changes in a feedback activity system with WBA tool iterations revealed elements important to WBA implementation, including designing technology for tool efficiency and affording students autonomy to document feedback with WBAs.