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J Edu Health Promot 2019,  8:164

Development and implementation of a competency-based module for teaching research methodology to medical undergraduates

Department of Community Medicine, University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi, India

Date of Submission08-Mar-2019
Date of Acceptance11-Apr-2019
Date of Web Publication30-Aug-2019

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Somdatta Patra
Department of Community Medicine, University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi - 110 095
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jehp.jehp_133_19

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CONTEXT: Research experience helps an undergraduate student to understand published works, to learn teamwork, and even to consider research as a career. Few medical institutions have attempted to engage undergraduates in research experience. Competency-based medical education has emerged as a core strategy to educate and assess medical students worldwide.
AIMS: This study aims to develop and implement a competency-based research methodology training module for undergraduate students and find out students' perception about this.
SETTINGS AND DESIGN: A cross-sectional study of mixed design was undertaken in the Department of Community Medicine, UCMS, Delhi, India.
METHODOLOGY: A competency-based research training module was developed and implemented with 4th semester undergraduate students posted in the department. Students' feedback about the module was obtained.
STATISTICAL ANALYSIS USED: For quantitative variables, means, ranges, medians, and percentages were calculated. To find out students' perception about the posting a qualitative analysis was done.
RESULTS: The module was implemented with 25 students posted in the department in May 2017. However, feedback was obtained from 23 students. About 83% of the students reported as highly satisfied with the posting, 61% of the students mentioned that after completion of this posting, they felt motivated to do further research. A qualitative analysis of the feedback showed that students found the project helped them to enhance their knowledge and develop skills.
CONCLUSIONS: Competency-based research methodology training can serve as a tool for teaching research methodology to undergraduate students.

Keywords: Competency, medical undergraduates, research

How to cite this article:
Patra S, Khan AM. Development and implementation of a competency-based module for teaching research methodology to medical undergraduates. J Edu Health Promot 2019;8:164

How to cite this URL:
Patra S, Khan AM. Development and implementation of a competency-based module for teaching research methodology to medical undergraduates. J Edu Health Promot [serial online] 2019 [cited 2020 Sep 19];8:164. Available from: http://www.jehp.net/text.asp?2019/8/1/164/265847

  Introduction Top

Research experience helps an undergraduate student to understand published works, to learn team work, and might also help to consider research as a career. Research skills can be taught through a series of lectures and tutorials. Some institutions follow problem-based curricula, e-learning, research electives, compulsory research projects, and programs for volunteers.[1],[2],[3] There is also facilitation of research training by different organization like Indian Council of Medical Research-Short Term Studentship projects.[4] Competency-based medical education (CBME) has emerged as a core strategy to educate and assess medical students worldwide. CBME is learner centered, flexible and gives importance on formative assessment and feedback. Research training based on CBME focus on outcomes and prepares students for actual professional practice. Teaching–learning activities are more skill-based, involving hands-on experience.[5] Assessment in competency-based research training (CBRT) is workplace based and milestones achieved at the end of the posting need to be predecided. Incorporating research-based competencies are challenging and require careful planning and attention.[6] The authors planned to introduce CBRT to undergraduate medical students with the following objectives:

  1. To develop and implement a competency-based module for teaching research methodology to undergraduate students
  2. To find out the level of satisfaction, self-perceived gain in knowledge and skill, and motivation to pursue medical research in future among the undergraduate students after completion of the module.

  Methodology Top

Materials and Methods

A cross-sectional study of mixed study design (both qualitative and quantitative components) was conducted in the Department of Community Medicine, in a Medical College of Delhi, from February 2017 to December 2017. This project was a part of regular routine teaching–learning program of the department. Undergraduate students are posted in the department of community medicine in 4th semester for “project posting” for 21 days for 3 h each day. In this posting, usually, students become familiar with research method and they carry out a small research project. These projects are usually descriptive cross-sectional studies where data are collected from community, outdoor and indoor patients, or student community. The students are expected to develop a research proposal, collect and analyze data, and present it for assessment. The group is guided by 3–4 supervisors. One of the supervisors is a faculty of the community medicine department. Others are usually senior and junior residents of the department.

Development of the module

A competency-based module was developed with the help of faculties and residents. Standard procedure was followed [6],[7] for development and implementation of the module. The steps were as follows:

  1. Identification of competencies: The following steps were followed

    • Review of literature
    • Identification of key competence by opinions of the experts (faculties and senior residents)
    • Identifying critical elements of research and behavior
    • Describing regular competencies and their components: Having identified the main competence domain, competencies within each domain was developed and discussed.

  2. Content identification and program organization: For each competency corresponding content was identified. Sequencing of the whole program was done keeping time and resources in mind. Assessment with feedback sessions was given priority. Supervisors, i.e., residents were sensitized and trained for the whole exercise
  3. Planning for assessment: Observable and measurable forms of competencies were described. A longitudinal assessment program was defined with selected assessment tools
  4. Implementation of the program: The undergraduate was students were briefed in the beginning of the posting about this program and accompanied assessment method
  5. Evaluation of the program: At the end of the posting, students completed a feedback pro forma by giving inputs about their perception about this posting. The information was collected about an undergraduate student's level of satisfaction, self-perceived level of motivation and interest to conduct medical research and students' self-perceived gain in research methodology-related knowledge and skills. Mean and median value of perceived competence was calculated. Supporting examples from students responses-theme both positively and negatively oriented were analyzed.

Operational definition of competence in the current context

An undergraduate student at the end of this teaching–learning program will be able to explore relevant literature, formulate a research question and objectives, design and undertake appropriate methods to address the question, collect and analyze data and then present the findings. This posting also should enable an undergraduate student to build on soft skills such as communication, leadership, interpersonal relationship, and critical thinking.

The difference between traditional and competency-based research training is shown in [Table 1].
Table 1: Difference between the traditional and competency-based training to teach research methodology to medical undergraduates

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All the 25 students posted in the department of community medicine, in May, were invited to participate in the present study and give feedback regarding this module using a semi-structured questionnaire. This questionnaire had two sections. In the first section, students were asked to rank their level of satisfaction, motivation to do future research and if they found the activity as interesting in a scale of 0–5 which were further categorized as low, medium, and high with equal score at each level. The perceived gain in knowledge and skill in different areas of research was assessed on a Likert scale of 1–5. The second section of the questionnaire had questions about their perception about the posting: “List things that you liked about this teaching–learning program,” and “list things that you did not like about this teaching–learning program.”

For quantitative variables, mean and range, median, and percentage were calculated. To find out students' perception about the posting, interview data were examined aiming to obtain the emerging themes. The initial analysis revealed a number of basic themes that were arranged to form organizing themes. Student's responses both positively and negatively oriented were reported as verbatim.

Approval of Institute's Ethics Review Committee was obtained before initiation of the study. Informed written consent was obtained from all students for their feedback.

  Results Top

Identification of core competence and program organization

We were able to identify with four competencies: (1) research related knowledge, (2) research related skills, (3) behavior and communication competence, and (4) ethics and human subject protection. We also tried to describe each of these competencies with a list of subcompetencies [Table 2].
Table 2: Identification of core competence domain and description

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Once the core competencies were identified and described, for each of the subcompetencies the related competency domain (knowledge, skill, attitude, and communication), teaching–learning method, desired level achieved according to the assessment framework of Miller's pyramid [8] (knows, knows how, shows, and performs) were decided. Assessment methods were also decided [Table 3].
Table 3: Different competency, related domain, teaching-learning, and assessment method

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Implementation of the module

The module was implemented with 25 undergraduate students from May 1 to May 21 2017. Overall working days available for implementation were 17 days. One faculty and two residents were supervisors. Students worked in small groups, facilitated by supervisors, choose topics within the groups, developed a series a research questions, set appropriate study designs. The supervisors facilitated the discussion on how the whole group wished to proceed. Each student collected, entered data into a common MS excel format. Data were checked for accuracy and cleaned by the supervisors. The compiled data were mailed to all students, and they did a basic analysis of the data and compiled a report individually. Students were provided with the formative assessment and feedback throughout the project duration.

Evaluation of the program

Students' perception about the module

Most of the students (83%) reported their level of satisfaction as high (83%). About 61% reported this posting highly motivated them to do research in future. More than half of the students (52%) found this teaching–learning activity as moderately interesting and 43% found it very interesting [Table 4].
Table 4: How effective was the posting: Students' perceptions

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The median value for students' self-perceived gain in different areas of research was as follows: literature search-4, study design-4, data collection-3, and data analysis-3 [Table 5].
Table 5: Self-perceived gain in knowledge and skill on different components of research on a Likert scale of 1-5

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Qualitative analysis of students' perception about the posting elicited both positive and negative responses. For positively oriented responses toward this posting six themes were identified: addition to knowledge, research skill development, development of interest in research, felt motivated to do research in future, development of soft skills and presence of a conducive environment. Students reported that they came to know about different components of research, learnt data analysis, and enjoyed assessments as fun activities [Table 6].
Table 6: Supporting Verbatim examples from students responses-theme positively oriented toward this posting following the question: List things which you liked about this teaching-learning program

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Qualitative analysis of the responses negatively oriented to this posting showed that some students found it difficult that the research topic chosen by the group had no relation with medicine. The use of computer was also a problem reported by the students. Students did not like the idea of getting assessed on a regular basis. They also reported less time available for doing a research project [Table 7].
Table 7: Supporting Verbatim examples from students responses-theme negatively oriented toward this posting following the question: List things which you did not like about this teaching-learning program

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  Discussion Top

The importance of integration of research in undergraduate medical students' curriculum has been highlighted in many reports [9],[10],[11] Medical Council of India (MCI) in the document of Regulations on Graduate Medical Education (2016) states that students should be having the skill to carry out a small research project.

Competency is a observable and it integrates multiple dimensions such as knowledge, skill, and attitude.[12] CBME is focused on outcomes, and the teaching–learning strategy is aligned to the intended outcomes.[13] CBME does not specify any particular teaching–learning strategy and keeps these options open as per the learners' characteristics and intended outcomes.[14],[15]

For research training of medical undergraduates, we tried to follow the principles of CBME.

Overall, it was found that students were satisfied and motivated to do further research after completion of this posting. Now, at this age of CBME, this study may help educators to define and standardize the competencies which are required for research skills for medical undergraduates. However, this study has the following limitations. First, this work is limited to only a small sample of students. Second, the data were collected from the students at the end of their semester, and so competing demand of assignment and examination may have hindered their participation and responses. Third, the findings were based on Students' self-rating of competence and thus subjected to the participant over or underestimation. Fourth, as the study was time bound, we could not wait for each student to work in his/her own pace which is usually recommended for competency based training.

Finally, the present study being noncomparative in nature, we cannot conclude whether this leads to a better learning outcome. We expect students participated in these particular teaching–learning activities to do better in the field of medical research. There is definitely an opportunity to follow these students longitudinally to measure further development of their research skills. This longitudinal evaluation will assist with providing outcomes regarding the development of research skills and work practice (communication, teamwork, and ethical practice). Following the recommendation of MCI, there is a move toward the development of competency-based approach in medical education in India. It is important to conduct comparative studies in different settings between CBRT and traditional method in achieving the desired research competencies.

  Conclusions Top

The results of this study suggested the use of CBRT as a teaching tool can help medical educators in forming effective undergraduate medical curriculum. Students enjoyed and were satisfied with the associated teaching–learning activities and formative assessment process. However, more studies are required to conclude whether CBRT meets the expectation associated with its implementation and inclusion in undergraduate students' curriculum.


The study was developed and implemented as a part CMCL-FAIMER fellowship program. The authors are thankful to CMCL-FAIMER faculties and fellows and faculties of the Department of Community Medicine, UCMS, Delhi, for their help while conducting the study.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6], [Table 7]


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