Student Experiences in Undergraduate Anatomy: An Exploration of Inquiry Learning as an Authentic Experience
Anstey, Lauren M.
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Anatomy education is challenged to develop contemporary approaches to teaching and learning that move beyond factual recall to elicit from students meaningful and deep understandings of the discipline. Inquiry-based learning is one such pedagogy that involves students’ active and increasingly independent investigation of questions and problems that are of interest to them. Because inquiry-based learning aims to encourage learners to draw upon wider contexts for learning and emphasizes the development of skills that extend beyond the confines of the classroom, there is a potential that students’ experiences are authentic in nature. This study sought to explore undergraduate students’ experiences of an Inquiry Project for learning anatomy. The project’s aims were twofold. First, to document, describe, and explain the essence of students’ experiences of engagement throughout the Inquiry Project, and second, to explore students’ experiences as potentially reflective of authentic learning. A hermeneutic phenomenology and case study methodology was used to explore students’ experiences of an Inquiry Project within a second-year undergraduate anatomy course at a mid-sized university in Ontario, Canada. Students (18) and facilitators (3) were observed during group work sessions and inquiry presentations, curricular documents and students’ work were analyzed, and interviews were conducted. Data analysis sought to describe students’ experiences and as a result, common meaningful themes of groups’ and students’ engagement were characterized. These results were then further analyzed through a theoretical framework of authentic learning, informed mainly by the Theory of Authentic Learning. While confirmatory and novel connections between factors were found to reflect Authentic Learning, five qualities of Authentic Inquiry Learning emerged from analysis of the data to represent how students’ learning was neither solely authentic nor inquiry-based, but a hybrid of the two. Authentic Inquiry Learning in anatomy education is characterized as the construction of knowledge through a process of disciplined inquiry in a way that gets students engaged in authentic scientific inquiry that draws upon their identities as a way of making sense of and applying anatomical understandings.