Using systematic reviews to enhance higher order critical analysis skills in post-graduates
Laura Roberts and Megan Jones (Student)
At post-graduate level Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) such as critical writing and analysis are fundamental learning outcomes. Graduates are expected to enhance and refine these HOTS, yet variable entry requirements supporting access for non-traditional, non-home and disparate first-degree pathways creates a continuum of learner abilities where many students may still be transitioning from Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS). Within Biosciences, our Taught Masters and Masters by Research programmes include a literature-based module whereby students independently undertake two literature reviews on subjects related to their discipline with the aims of developing and enhancing HOTS critical writing and analysis skills. However, historically students have shown limited improvement between the first and second review as they fail to grasp the concepts of critical analysis. Module evaluations have also highlighted students are continuously dispirited with the learning experience. In order to address this, we introduced a new component to the module whereby the second narrative review was replaced with a group-based, systematic review. Systematically reviewing literature was first devised in the medical sciences as a means of comprehensively collating and evaluating scientific research and has since been adopted across disciplines including health sciences, software engineering, information systems and ecology. By using a systematic approach, reviewers are able to identify and quality assess the validity of the evidence, drawing conclusions based on the best available evidence which can be used to inform policy and practice. Within the process a specific, transparent and replicable methodology is employed, akin to primary research. While systematic reviews are becoming more prevalent within published scientific literature, this style of critical analysis in taught programmes is yet to be adopted in Higher Education post-graduate programmes despite the potential benefits of enhancing HOTS, transferable, interpersonal and employability skills.
Within the module, students were split into groups for two to five depending on their research topic preference. Five new workshops were provided to introduce the concepts of systematic reviews, review scoping, choosing data extraction, inclusion and exclusion factors and confirming the review protocol. Elements of self-reflection and progression evaluation were also included, along with a group oral presentation. In order to evaluate how students understanding of critical analysis skills had changed a questionnaire was deployed at the end of the module.
Learning gains were significant with the average mark improving from 58% to 75%. Thirty-two of 50 questionnaires were completed and showed that 95% of students agreed undertaking the systematic review helped to develop their critical analysis skills. Students went from not competent (25%), fairly competent (47%) and competent (28%), to competent (36%), very competent (55%) and highly competent (1%). Students could comprehensively describe what critical analysis entailed and had changed their approach to reading scientific literature. Students were also able to identify where they would need these skills in the future and how elements such as working in a research group will enhance their employability. Using systematic reviews in future to teach critical analysis at post-graduate level across all disciplines is discussed with reflections from a student’s experience.
This presentation explains the process, benefits, issues, outcomes and learning gains of using systematic reviews to develop higher order thinking skills in post-graduates. A student has also been invited to attend to reflect on and discuss her experience and how the approach will assist her in the future. This pedagogic approach enabled significant learning gains and would be a beneficial addition to enhance critical analysis skills in all post-graduate curriculums. This style is prominently adopted within published literature across many disciplines, yet there has been inertia in teaching the approach in higher education programmes despite the clear benefits which include developing HOTS, along with many transferable and inter-personal and complements life-long learning. Systematic reviews, along with meta-analysis are likely to be the future of literature-based modules. Anyone involved in delivering post-graduate teaching may have an interest in this pedagogic research, from subject-specialist to the Centre for Academic Success.
Delegates will learn about the benefits and issues of utilising systematic reviews to enhance essential post-graduate HOTS in critical analysis and be able to use this within their own postgraduate taught and research programmes.
Postgraduate, critical research-skills