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Anatomy Education Research Institute (AERI) Pt. 3: Changing Attitudes on Educational Research


By Polly R. Husmann, PhD
Assistant Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology, IU School of Medicine—Bloomington

Valerie Dean O’Loughlin, PhD
Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology, IU School of Medicine—Bloomington

James J. Brokaw, PhD
Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology, IU School of Medicine—Indianapolis

Previous posts have described the Anatomy Education Research Institute that took place on the Indiana University, Bloomington campus this July and its immediate impact.  This post will describe some of the initial qualitative results of three questions (in italics below) from our pre- and post-institute surveys.  A total of fifty-nine people completed each of the surveys (pre & post), though not every person answered every question.

In the space below, please write up to 10 words or phrases that you think of when you hear the phrase ‘educational research’

Fifty-five people responded to this question on each of the surveys (pre & post) with a total of 416 answers on the pre-survey and 408 answers on the post-survey.  Common themes that were identified on both surveys were:

  • techniques/methods (e.g., qualitative, quantitative, surveys, grounded theory)
  • study topics (e.g., visual literacy, metacognition, active learning)
  • difficulty (e.g., challenging, complex, intimidating)
  • importance (e.g., worthwhile, needed)
  • innovative (e.g., creative)
  • scholarship (e.g., SoTL, peer-review, publication)
  • generally positive statements (e.g., fun)

However, the prevalence of these terms on the surveys differed.  For example, the use of words related to scholarship, words associated with difficulty, and generally positive statements increased in prevalence while the use of topic and technique words decreased.  The pre-survey also had additional themes not present on the post-survey including experimental controls, non-rigorous, and lack of experience while the post-survey had the additional themes of community and new ideas.

In your opinion, what do you think of some of the obstacles, challenges, or drawbacks of educational research?  Please list up to 3.

This question received responses from fifty-six people on the pre-survey and fifty-three on the post-survey for a total of 155 and 149 answers, respectively.  Both pre- and post-surveys showed the same themes as obstacles for educational research:

  • time
  • money
  • respect
  • knowledge
  • controls
  • participation
  • collaboration
  • quality

Yet the prevalence of these themes once again varied between the surveys.  For example, we saw a decrease in the words associated with controls and quality concerns between the pre-survey and the post-survey while words associated with the time commitment and collaboration increased.


In your opinion, what kind of experience or knowledge is needed to perform educational research?  How is this experience/knowledge similar to (or different from) the experience/knowledge needed for bench research?

This question had fifty-five respondents on the pre-survey and fifty-two respondents on the post-survey.  The themes (and sub-themes) identified as necessary for educational research were:

  • methods
    • design
    • controls
  • collaboration
  • funding
  • knowledge

Similar to the question above, this question also saw an increase in the discussion of collaboration and a decrease in the discussion of need for controls and additional background knowledge.  In addition, the post-survey also had new themes of rigor and new ideas that were not seen on the pre-survey.


Overall the themes present in these questions illustrate some general changes between pre- and post-institute surveys:

  • An increasing sense of community and need for collaboration
  • Decreasing concerns for the quality of educational research and experimental controls
  • Increasing identification of the difficulty, rigor, and time necessary for educational research
  • Lots of new ideas forming

These themes support the notion that we definitively met our first two aims of the conference: 1) to immerse a cadre of American Association of Anatomists (AAA) members in the methods of scholarly teaching and anatomy education research and 2) to provide a collegial environment where participants may collaborate on educational research questions.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Polly Husmann

Polly Husmann is an Assistant Professor of Anatomy & Cell Biology at the Indiana University School of Medicine – Bloomington campus where she teaches anatomy to medical, graduate, and undergraduate students. She received her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Notre Dame in 2005, her M.S. in Anatomy Education from Indiana University in 2009, and her Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from Indiana University in 2011. Her education research includes both quantitative and qualitative methods mainly focused on factors outside the classroom that affect students’ academic performance. These research interests include study habits, course logistics, student wellness, and metacognition. She is a member of the American Association of Anatomists, where she has served on the Advisory Council for Young Anatomists and the Professional Development Committee, and she is also a member of the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society.