Supporting Evidence-Informed Teaching in Biomedical and Health Professions Education Through Knowledge Translation: An Interdisciplinary Literature Review

Tractenberg, Rochelle and Gordon, Morris orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-1216-5158 (2017) Supporting Evidence-Informed Teaching in Biomedical and Health Professions Education Through Knowledge Translation: An Interdisciplinary Literature Review. Teaching and Learning in Medicine, 29 (3). pp. 1-12. ISSN 1040-1334

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PHENOMENON: The purpose of “systematic” reviews/reviewers of medical and health professions educational research is to identify best practices. This qualitative paper explores the question of whether systematic reviews can support “evidence informed” teaching, and contrasts traditional systematic reviewing with a knowledge-translation approach to this objective.
APPROACH: Degrees of Freedom Analysis is used to examine the alignment of systematic review methods with educational research and the pedagogical strategies and approaches that might be considered with a decision-making framework developed to support valid assessment. This method is also used to explore how knowledge translation can be used to inform teaching and learning.
FINDINGS: The nature of educational research is not compatible with most (11/14) methods for systematic review. The inconsistency of systematic reviewing with the nature of educational research impedes both the identification and implementation of ‘best-evidence’ pedagogy and teaching. This is primarily because research questions that do support the purposes of review do not support educational decision-making. By contrast to systematic reviews of the literature, both a Degrees of Freedom Analysis (DOFA) and knowledge translation (KT) are fully compatible with informing teaching using evidence. A DOFA supports the translation of theory to a specific teaching or learning case, so could be considered a type of KT. The DOFA results in a test of alignment of decision options with relevant educational theory and KT leads to interventions in teaching or learning that can be evaluated. Examples of how to structure evaluable interventions are derived from a knowledge-translation approach that are simply not available from a systematic review.
INSIGHTS: Systematic reviewing of current empirical educational research is not suitable for deriving or supporting best practices in education. However, both “evidence-informed” and scholarly approaches to teaching can be supported as knowledge translation projects, which are inherently evaluable and can generate actionable evidence about whether the decision or intervention worked for students, instructors, and the institution. A Degrees of Freedom Analysis can also support evidence- and theory-informed teaching to develop an understanding of what works, why, and for whom. Thus, knowledge translation, but not systematic reviewing, can support decision-making around pedagogy (and pedagogical innovation) that can also inform new teaching and learning initiatives; it can also point to new avenues of empirical research in education that are informed by, and can inform, theory.

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