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Exploring the Use of Written Assignment in Nursing Education

Updated: May 1, 2020

When evaluating student learning, the nurse educator must use multiple strategies. For the purpose of this post, let us focus on the use of written assignments to assess for competency and to evaluate learning, along with the strengths and weaknesses posed by this form of evaluation.


Written assignments can be beneficial in competency-based education for promoting, assessing, and evaluating learning of designated outcomes and intended competencies. This means of evaluation has much strength when tailored to the given circumstance in order to develop learning to meet projected outcomes and to evaluate one’s progress. For example, in clinical courses, the assignment may encourage critical thinking of a plan of care. In classroom learning, journals can be used to reflect on learning each week as a review of one’s own thoughts and practice. Journals inspire learners to examine their own feelings, beliefs, and values, while fostering reflection of their learning in a course or module. If introspection supports an intended goal for learning, journaling may prove highly constructive. Remember, formative evaluation is typically most appropriate here.

When designing program curriculum and implementing a process for evaluation, faculty must use written assignment with foresight.

Some considerations:

  • Writing skills improve with practice.

  • Topics for papers should vary to limit redundancy. Repeated writing on similar topics may induce feelings of frustration regarding the repetition/limited progression in learning.

  • Written assignments should progress in complexity throughout the program in order to improve writing skills and develop learning.

  • Consider what focuses should be individualized or team-centric.

  • Formative or summative feedback can be used.

Written assignments also have drawbacks. Unlike evaluations that utilize multiple-choice items, written assignments may encounter a degree of subjective feedback and grading. To combat this risk, the nurse educator should review each written assignment anonymously. This practice will limit the potential for biased evaluation, which may stem from knowing a student’s previous quality of work and mistakenly judging the present work accordingly. If the educator is struggling to determine the quality of a written assignment, a colleague may review and lend feedback to evaluate the work. Finally, assessment of written work should be completed utilizing a scoring rubric with predetermined objectives.

Pause, Reflect, and Plan: Consider some exciting ways to ignite intrinsic passion. Try to avoid the topics that often get recycled, and try to surprise your students with a new, fun focus for writing. Perhaps encourage learners to select a nursing theorist we don't hear much about or an innovative approach to patient care to research and share through their written work. Written assignment does not need to be boring. Let's spark a love of writing.


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