Use of Threaded Discussion to Enhance Classroom Teaching of Critical Evaluation of the Professional Literature

Article excerpt

Background and Purpose. Web-based threaded discussion provides an opportunity for students to discuss topics before coming to class. The purpose of this study was to determine if use of threaded discussion would actively engage students when learning how to critically evaluate professional literature related to physical therapy. Subjects and Methods. Sixty-four physical therapist students enrolled in a course on "Critical Evaluation of the Professional Literature" participated in this study by completing a one-page survey following completion of a series of course assignments utilizing Web-based threaded discussion. Results. Respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they: 1) tried to develop at least two critical comments regarding the journal articles (97%), 2) spent time reflecting on comments of other students in their discussion group (78%), and 3) gave more thought to comments they made in a threaded discussion than they would if they had participated in a similar discussion in the classroom (81%). Discussion and Conclusion. Reflective thinking is important in developing critical-thinking skills necessary to critically evaluate the professional literature in physical therapy. Use of threaded discussion as an adjunct to in-class teaching engaged the students in reflective discussion prior to class sessions. This method of instruction allowed the professor to review the threaded discussion and assess student understanding of the discussion topic prior to class. Lecture then largeled areas of confusion and misinterpretation by the students. Web-based threaded discussion is a valuable pedagogical tool to use as an adjunct to on-campus courses to facilitate critical review of professional literature.

Key words: Active learning, Threaded discussion, Evidence-based practice, Education, Critical thinking.

INTRODUCTION

Evidence-based practice (EBP) is the "integration of best research evidence with clinical expertise and patient values."1 The ability to critically evaluate research evidence is a fundamental component of KBP. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) recognizes this as an essential skill stating that all graduates of physical therapist programs must be prepared to "evaluate published studies related to physical therapy practice, research, and education."2

Many textbooks are available on KBP and include chapters on how to critically evaluate the literature addressing: specific study designs (eg, outcome studies and meta-analyses)3-6; clinical processes (eg, prognosis and diagnosis)7-13; or components of research articles (eg, methods and results).14,15 Other references offer helpful suggestions on how to teach skills necessary to participate in EBP.1,16-19 with these helpful resources available, the challenge the professor faces is to actively engage students in the process of developing critical-thinking skills applied to evaluation of the professional literature.

Before reviewing related literature, the pedagogical problem that stimulated this study will be reviewed to emphasize the importance of exploring new teaching techniques to help students develop critical-thinking skills. The first year the professor taught the course titled "Critical Evaluation of Professional Literature" (PTP561), groups of three students were assigned to present critiques of research articles to their fellow students and then to guide the class in a discussion of the critiqued article. The entire class had been asked to read all of the research articles prior to the class session in which the article was being presented. In scanning the classroom during a student presentation, it was noted that many students were not paying attention to the presentations. When asked how many students had actually read the research article, only 2 out of 33 students who were not presenting that week had read the article. This presented an obvious problem in terms of getting the students to develop critical-thinking skills necessary to assess the professional literature. …