A patient is prescribed 250mg of Ampicillin. You have a 500mg vial which contains 0.4ml, and it should be diluted with 10ml of water. How much of the solution, in millilitres, do you require?
If you are a practising nurse, answering the above question correctly is vitally important. Indeed, administering the correct dosage of a medicine may be a matter of life or death for the patient concerned.
Yet tutors and lecturers have long found that numeracy is one of the subjects dreaded most by nursing students, despite its being one of the most important skills that they must develop. So more emphasis is now being placed on the requirement for a higher level of numeracy skills in new recruits to nursing and other health-related fields.
A team of Forth Valley College lecturers, working with colleagues at Jewel and Esk College, have developed a user-friendly e-learning package to help nursing and healthcare students develop their numeracy skills by practising on-line maths questions, which (like the above) have been set within a healthcare context.
Using the "Healthcare Numeracy" package, the students can also carry out on-line assessments that have been officially moderated by the Scottish Qualifications Authority and can be marked by college lecturers. "The package, which took eight months to develop and pilot, is aimed at exploring new, relevant and motivational approaches to teaching numeracy in the healthcare curriculum, as well as teaching these numerical skills across a wide range of healthcare disciplines," says project manager John Cutlack, who is learning innovation manager at Forth Valley College.
"It has been geared towards nursinghealthcare students in particular, because they have expressed a need for specific support in this area. But it can be used by any healthcare worker or student who needs to develop their numeracy skills and, so far, it has proved popular with learners," he says.
The package is tailored to Intermediate 2 Numeracy with on-line practice areas, worked sample questions, mock and final assessments related to the three outcomes of reading tables, graphs and charts; drawing tables, graphs and charts; and number skills.
"It is an interactive, visually attractive and fun web-based package which healthcare workers and students can use either to supplement their taught classes or as a revision tool. Tutors and lecturers can use it as a classroom-based or on-line resource," says Mr Cutlack.
Healthcare Numeracy can be delivered over the internet or on a CD-Rom. It is available from NHS Education for Scotland and will also be distributed in the near future to Scotland's colleges, universities and adult literacy partnerships. "Our approach in this package is generic as well as skills- specific and could be adapted to other skills sectors such as construction, business, and engineering and mechanics," he says.
"Numeracy is an issue in all skills sectors and we believe it is necessary to teach it within the work context, something which the standard system in schools is perhaps failing to do."
McLean McIntosh, lead lecturer for core skills numeracy at Forth Valley, says the new online learning tool definitely helps to address any negative experiences students may have had of school maths. "It counters that negative experience and helps to promote blended learning. The key word is `engagement'.
"The technology draws the students into the material, though it has to be balanced with traditional class teaching. The students can also use it to work from home, to prepare in advance, work ahead or revise and they are also often picking up IT skills as they go," he says.
From an organisational point of view, Mr Cutlack says the package is a good example not only of different departments working together (in this instance, learning resources; access and progression; and care, social science and early education), but also of inter-college collaboration. "It was about a sharing of expertise between ourselves and Jewel and Esk, in order to raise the funding from NHS Education for Scotland, Learning Connections and the Scottish Funding Council, so that we could develop and pilot the model.
"But what also helped," he says, "was that Forth Valley College had previously worked with the SQA in producing core skills e-learning materials for the science sector. We decided that the experience and expertise gained via that project could be focused on addressing the numeracy needs of healthcare workers."
Jolene Shortt, first-year healthcare student intending to do midwifery:
"The package is easy to use. It's fun because it's computer-based and it helps a lot because it's interactive and time-saving. It leads you in bit by bit with different exercises and examples you can work on for as long as you like.
"It tells you immediately if you're right or wrong, so you get immediate feedback and you can use it any time and anywhere.
"It explains how things like bar charts, flow charts and line graphs work. It explains their meanings. You can see how they work and you can put that into practice straight away. And it also gives you exam practice with the different assessments.
"It's easy to access and it's fast. But you still have to do your own thinking, your own calculations. The computer doesn't think for you.
"Coming back into education, I've found it really helps. It gives me more confidence before I go into a class because it makes you practise and so you remember what you've been working on.
"I wouldn't say it could replace being taught in a class. You still need a lecturer to help you, but it adds to that and makes learning a lot better."