Teaching Research Methods in Communication Disorders: A Problem-Based Learning Approach
Greenwald, Margaret L., Communication Disorders Quarterly
A critical professional issue in speech-language pathology and audiology is the current shortage of researchers. In this context, the most effective methods for training graduate students in research must be identified and implemented. This article describes a problem-based approach to teaching research methods. In this approach, the instructor poses complex clinical problems and students work cooperatively to define relevant questions, evaluate resources, and find solutions. Students develop understanding of experimental designs through problem solving and descriptions of their clinical research designs in group discussions or class debates. Through research training based on clinical problems, students learn to integrate clinical questions with research questions and to link the dual professional roles of clinician and researcher.
A critical professional issue in speech-language pathology and audiology is the current shortage of researchers to teach in university graduate programs and to develop research programs in clinical settings (e.g., Battle, 2005). Ongoing exploration of clinical and theoretical issues that impact clinical practice and the growth of the professions requires a strong research base. Training graduate students in research methods is an important component of nationwide efforts by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) to address the need for more researchers in communication disorders (e.g., ASHA, 2002). In this context, the most effective methods for training graduate students in research must be identified and implemented.
The focus of this article is on training students to conduct research. However, a graduate research methods course in communication disorders also must prepare students to participate in evidence-based practice (EBP; e.g., Cherney & Robey, 2001). Both of these learning outcomes require that students learn to ask relevant questions, locate research resources, and critically review the research literature. Although it is generally assumed that students will apply these research skills in the workplace after graduation, many students do not
In a recent survey of ASHA-certified speech-language pathologists, researchers reported a significant decline in exposure to research and EBP as students moved from graduate training to the clinical fellowship year (Zipoli & Kennedy, 2005). Researchers examined the effects of a range of independent variables on attitudes toward research and EBP, and on the use of EBP, in 240 respondents. Only two variables significantly predicted attitudes toward research and EBP: (a) exposure to research and EBP during graduate training and (b) exposure to research and EBP during the clinical fellowship year. However, only exposure to research and EBP in the clinical fellowship year significantly predicted the use of EBP. Thus, although research exposure during graduate training was associated with positive attitudes toward research and EBP, those clinicians whose research experiences had been linked to clinical training in the clinical fellowship year were most likely to participate in EBP.
Clinically based research training is likely to inspire students who are intent on becoming excellent clinicians because it allows them to see the relationship between research and practice as reciprocal. Students devoted to clinical interests are more likely to want to "do research" if they have experienced it as a natural extension of their clinical concerns (e.g., Connolly, Lupinacci, & Bush, 2001). Problem-based learning (PBL; e.g., Rankin, 1999) offers a practical approach for establishing the close link between clinical care and the evolution of research questions and research design in communication disorders.
WHAT IS PBL?
The emphasis of PBL is to encourage student attempts to solve complex real-world problems (Boud & Feletti, 1997). Instructors in many academic disciplines have used this teaching approach, and some medical and clinical training programs have used it for approximately 30 years (e. …