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  • Writer's pictureAngelo Sotto

Student Perspectives: Inquiry-Guided Learning Projects

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

Training students of allied health professions in critical appraisal of scientific literature is essential, as our reliance on evidence-based healthcare continues to rise. As such, the content of professional allied health programs should reflect this workplace expectation of research literacy, and continue to build these proficiencies in their trainees.

With these objectives in mind, Dr. Bentley has used inquiry-based learning [1] practices in her courses to guide students through the independent investigation of questions, problems, and issues, to build research confidence in undergraduate anatomy students studying the allied health professions. Specifically, she established inquiry-guided learning projects (IGLPs) in several of her courses, in which students developed a research question about the human body, independently consulted the literature to answer their chosen question, and presented their findings to the class. Dr. Bentley drew on the Information Search Process (ISP), a search strategy that has been tried and tested in medical education [2,3], to inform the creation of the IGLPs, with the hopes of actively engaging students in the search process, and enhancing student learning.

The information search process (ISP), first suggested by Carol Kuhlthau in 1991, describes six stages of information-seeking behaviour. This model, having been previously researched in the context of undergraduate medical education [2,3], was used to inform the creation of Dr. Bentley's IGLPs to optimize student engagement, and learning through discovery. Image taken from the Department of Education, New South Wales (NSW) Government.

The main goals of these projects were to equip students with the capacity to independently navigate scientific literature, and to nurture their research confidence to inform their future practice. An important component of these IGLPs is guided inquiry; throughout the semester, four short information sessions were delivered to the class to address any difficulties that arose as students progressed through their IGLP. The students were also given the option to discuss their progress with the course instructor as they deemed necessary. This was important, given that pure discovery learning, or open inquiry, can often cause students to struggle and feel lost: “I found that many of the groups found these informal, drop-in style conversations helpful in directing their group progress. It can make the process feel safer when there’s the chance to check-in every so often,” explained Dr. Bentley.

These IGLPs underwent a thorough pedagogical assessment to determine the impact of the projects on self-perceived research confidence. Questionnaires were used to determine self-perceived research confidence as well as to collect feedback from students at three different time points: before the group assignment (pre-IGLP), following group presentations (post-IGLP), and six months following IGLP completion (IGLP-retention). Excitingly, following completion of the IGLPs, students’ self-perceived research confidence statistically improved; specifically, confidence in completing tasks such as developing specific research questions, exploring the literature, knowledge dissemination, and accurate citation of academic literature. These improved confidence levels were retained six months following IGLP completion. In addition, the projects were generally well-received among the students who completed them (with an average impression rating of 7.0/10, n = 20).

Brittany Mellet, a Registered Kinesiologist and alumnus of the undergraduate Kinesiology program at the University of Guelph-Humber, was one of Dr. Bentley’s former students who completed the IGLP as part of her first year anatomy course. She recalls presenting about metatarsalgia, a condition characterized by pain in the ball of the foot, in a group of four for the IGLP component of the course: “We met with Dr. Bentley once or twice to discuss the assignment, and to ensure that we were using evidence-based research for our findings. [...] As this was one of my first experiences reading research papers in university, it helped me learn how to identify ‘good’ research, [...] and understand how to interpret systematic reviews,” she explained.

Getting students acquainted with not only searching the literature, but also thoughtfully reading papers as well as communicating scientific findings, firstly aligns with the future vocational practices of students in the allied health professions. “This assignment helped me see how research can be used to improve practice in the workplace, as it showed me how easily accessible literature is, and that researchers are constantly publishing new findings so that ‘learning’ doesn’t stop when you complete a course or graduate with a degree,” Brittany further explained. “It highlighted the importance of staying up-to-date with the literature, especially in a clinical setting, to ensure that the services you are providing to clients or patients is best practice and evidence-based”.

While beneficial to student learning, establishing inquiry-based approaches in the classroom demands a large time commitment from both the instructor and the students. The IGLPs in particular required, on average, three to five hours per week of additional preparation time for the instructor, but this additional time requirement was greatly facilitated by a research assistant. Dr. Bentley’s research also provides valuable insight in inquiry-based learning as being appropriate for first-year students of allied health professions.

As the abundance of medical information continues to grow, the need for training students of allied health professions to navigate this information continues to rise as well. IGLPs were not only effective in addressing that need, but were also conducive to providing students with personal autonomy over their own learning. A unique aspect of the IGLPs is that it balances manageable challenge with guidance, allowing students to feel supported as they complete the projects, and also rewarded following completion of the projects. In reflecting on what she would have done differently, Dr. Bentley shares: “If I had the opportunity to go back in time and change an element of the IGLPs, I would have been more purposeful with scaffolding the assignment - starting off with a lot of guidance for the students and slowly removing that guidance over the duration of the semester. This is especially important with our first year students. This will be a change I make for the future.”

The referenced publication authored by Dr. Bentley, “Using Guided Inquiry and the Information Search Process to Develop Research Confidence Among First Year Anatomy Students”, is available for view here.

  1. Bruner JS.1966. Toward a Theory of Instruction. 1st Ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 176 p.

  2. Löhönen J, Isohanni M, Nieminen P, Miettunen J. 2009. A guide for medical information searches of bibliographic databases—Psychiatric research as an example. Int J Circulpolar Health 68: 394– 404.

  3. Shanahan M. 2009. Learning centred approach for developing the electronic information search processes of students. Med Teach 31: 994– 1000.



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