FOR IMPROVED RESEARCH ENGAGEMENT

Research Forum in the works – Student papers highlighted New grading scale

While flexibility has been a signature characteristic of OUM’s distance-learning curriculum, sometimes situations simply need the opposite – they need structure.

That will be the new Research Methodology course experience for students who enroll in January 2021 and beyond. While completion of the course has been a graduation requirement for a long time, a student’s grade and completing the requirement has been based solely on disposition of his/her research manuscript. The vast resources offered in the Research Methodology lectures have been largely overlooked, thereby limiting student understanding of the steps involved in research.

“The goal has always been to make sure that students graduate from OUM with a good understanding of the research process, from study design and data collection through data analysis, manuscript writing, and publication submission,” says Randell Brown, PhD, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer at OUM. “That knowledge and experience with research strengthens not only residency applications, but also the understanding and ability to evaluate the ongoing flow of journal articles doctors read throughout their careers,” he says.

New grading scale and assignments

Structure of the Research Methodology course has always been a hybrid. The seven pre-recorded lectures are available to students from day-one of matriculation, to begin sorting out pieces of the research requirement at their own pace, which also maximizes time spent with one’s Research Adviser.

“My own research advisees, as well as those assigned to other advisers, somewhat routinely ask questions like, ‘How do I start my lit search?’ which tells me they haven’t listened to Research Methodology lecture #2, ‘Performing a Literature Search,’” says Daria Camera, PhD, OUM’s new Director of Research. (See related story at right). “Once they access the lecture, I often hear ‘Wow, that was great information and helpful.’ These resources are very under-utilized.”

Students entering the University next year – this does not impact current students – will instead have a timeline and structure for completion of Research Methodology, a series of short assignments and quizzes, and a new grading scale that assesses understanding of the research process beyond writing a manuscript.

“We want to encourage student participation without adding another level of stress,” says Dr. Camera. “A couple of quizzes have been added, as well as small assignments, but the intent was to make the information more useful, not hard work.”

The new grading scale counts evaluation of the research manuscript submission as 60 percent of the grade, while new assessments and assignments, approved by the Academic Board in July, will account for the remaining 40 percent of the Research Methodology grade.

Of the seven lectures, three will now have quick 10 MCQ quizzes to make sure students can differentiate among different kinds of studies, understand the limitations of study design, and understand the different types of journals. Students will also conduct a mini lit search, review information to ID a research question, and suggest a hypothesis. New material is also being developed to increase information regarding data collection and analysis.

Perhaps the most interesting assessment project is being provided with an intentionally flawed research manuscript to critique and identify errors.

Together, these new components allow students to do well in the course even if their manuscript is not accepted by an external journal, as writing is not everyone’s strong suit, says Dr. Camera.

“I can speak from personal experience, that there are a lot of components to research that indicate a project was well designed, well conducted, and that the student understood the process, beyond writing the final paper,” says Dr. Camera. “As a graduate student myself, I became increasingly stressed as my research reached the writing stage. Writing simply was not one of my strengths,” she says.

Encouraging an early start

Providing a timeline and guidance in accessing the Research Methodology lectures should result in more students starting their projects earlier, a goal continually encouraged by faculty. Those students who do start early, giving themselves more time to spend on study design, may have improved outcomes: Study design routinely plays a role in the ability to publish externally.

In a unique and welcome twist, since New Student Orientation was completed a few weeks ago, Dr. Camera has had seven new students email her to set up meetings and get started on their research project. In the past, only one student has ever contacted her as a result of Orientation.

“Even though accessing these new resources is not required until 2021, I will continue to encourage students to take advantage of the opportunities,” says Dr. Camera. “These students eager to begin their projects early are likely to begin by accessing the Research Methodology course. A few even came to our meeting with project ideas and understand that the guidance provided in the lectures will help them further focus and fine-tune their projects.”

Need inspiration? Check out successful student projects

Samoa-based research is becoming increasingly popular, according to Dr. Camera. She says three or four students are beginning to write their prospectus, and six students are currently collecting their data in Samoa.

“Two students are actually conducting their research in American Samoa,” says Dr. Camera. “One is conducting a survey-based study looking at a significant health concern in the South Pacific, Type 2 Diabetes—specifically, patient understanding of its cause and management.”

She adds that completing the research requirement in Samoa gives students a unique opportunity to contribute to the evolving public health environment in OUM’s home country. In fact, through their research projects, OUM students are contributing to public health data and medical discussions in many global locations. Research associated with Australia, Iran, New Zealand, Nigeria, Samoa, and the USA has  published in external journals or been submitted to/accepted by Medical Student International. Examples include:

* and non-OUM colleagues

Online Student Research Forum: a work in progress

The Australia/New Zealand Student Conference in March set the stage for development of an Online Student Research Forum for the University, says Dr. Camera.

“Three graduates and one student presented their research projects in Melbourne and response was fantastic. In addition, there were several other students who wanted to present but were unable to attend the conference. Since COVID-19 has meant that in-person events are postponed indefinitely, an online forum addresses both student logistics and our social responsibility in light of the pandemic.”

Presentations in March included:

  • Julian Lai, MD (Class of 2019) presented “LED light therapy for facial acne – Attitudes of GPs and frequency of encounter in the general practise. A retrospective questionnaire-based pilot study.”
  • Esther Oluyide, MD (Class of 2019) presented “Prevalence of metabolic syndrome in a primary health care setting (General Practice) – A retrospective file audit.”
  • Xiaofen (Beatrice) Huang (4th year) presented “Compliance with flu vaccine and factors associated with use in the elderly in metropolitan Melbourne” (poster presentation).
  • Tri Ngo, MD (Class of 2019) presented “Antibiotic prophylaxis in craniotomy: Infection prevalence and eTG guideline adherence at a tertiary hospital in Australia” (poster presentation).

An Online Student Research Forum also means participation is open to all OUM students, regardless of their home country. “We are looking at the possibility of having an annual online research event around the time of new student orientation,” says Dr. Camera.

All students with questions regarding their research project (from launch to publication), the Research Methodology course, or the future Online Student Research Forum are always urged to contact Dr. Camera (daria.camera@oum.edu.ws).

(August 2020)