Self-Directed Learning Resource: Unit Conversions for Drug Calculations

SI Unit conversions are consistently problematic for student nurses. This appears to be due, in part, to gaps in students’ fundamental understanding of decimal place value (Pierce et al, 2008).

Medication errors involving decimal place value can have serious consequences; a decimal point misread, misunderstood or in the wrong place is likely to result in at least a 10 times under or overdose, as in the following news reports.

Pensioner died after too much morphine adminstered, inquest told (Get Hampshire, 2014)

Mother of four dies after blundering nurse administers ten times drug overdose  (Daily Mail, 2011)

I use a range of strategies to teach and to reinforce student ability to convert accurately between a range of weights and volumes. However, due to limited contact time that I have in the classroom, I have started to focus on developing online resources for self-directed learning that students can use to consolidate their understanding and skills. Self-testing resources are not only very popular with students, but are also supported by evidence that this is a very effective way to improve learning and retention (Rawson and Dunlosky, 2012).

Inspired by the work of Neil Goldwasser at City University, I set out to develop a self-testing resource that would help students to practice their unit conversion skills. My VBA coding skills are pretty much non-existent, so this resource – a self-marking macro-enabled Excel spreadsheet – was constructed using Neil’s advice and guidance, and a  variety of ‘trial and error’ that I now refer to as ‘Google, Runtime Errors and Swearing’. I don’t recommend it as a time-efficient way of working, but in this instance, I managed to end up with a robust resource that appears to be making a real difference to students’ ability to tackle unit conversions. At some point in the next couple of years, I’ll write a research paper on it, but for now, here’s a link to the resource.

Unit Conversions – Test Yourself

Excel screenshot

A couple of notes:

You’ll need to enable everything – editing, content, macros, make it a trusted document etc. I can only give you my word that it isn’t going to empty your bank account! Excel Online isn’t keen on protected workbooks, so you’ll need to open it in a full version of Excel. It’s intended to be completely student-proof!

Please credit me/let me know about any usage; I worked very hard on this, and would love to know if others are finding it useful.

Additional Reference List

Pierce, R.U., Steinle, V.A., Stacey, K.C. and Widjaja, W. (2008) ‘Understanding Decimal Numbers: A Foundation for Correct Calculations’ In: International Journal of Nursing Education Scholarship 5(1): 1-15

Rawson, K.A. and Dunlosky, J. (2012) ‘When is Practice Testing Most Effective for Improving the Durability and Efficiency of Student Learning?’ In: Educational Psychology Review 24(3): 419 – 435



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