Focal Length Fluidity: Research Questions in Medical Education Research and Scholarship

Meredith Young*, Kori LaDonna, Lara Varpio, Dorene F. Balmer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

Research and scholarship in health professions education has been shaped by intended audience (i.e., producers vs users) and the purpose of research questions (i.e., curiosity driven or service oriented), but these archetypal dichotomies do not represent the breadth of scholarship in the field. Akin to an array of lenses required by scientists to capture images of a black hole, the authors propose the analogy of lenses with different focal lengths to consider how different kinds of research questions can offer insight into health professions research—a microscope, a magnifying glass, binoculars, and telescopes allow us to ask and answer different kinds of research questions. They argue for the relevance of all of the different kinds of research questions (or focal lengths); each provides important insight into a particular phenomenon and contributes to understanding that phenomenon in a different way. The authors propose that research questions can move fluidly across focal lengths. For example, a theoretical question can be made more pragmatic through asking “how” questions (“How can we observe and measure a phenomenon?”), whereas a pragmatic question can be made more theoretic by asking a series of “why” questions (“Why are these findings relevant to larger issues?”). In summary, only through the combination of lenses with different focal lengths, brought to bear through interdisciplinary work, can we fully comprehend important phenomena in health professions education and scholarship—the same way scientists managed to image a black hole.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S1-S4
JournalAcademic Medicine
Volume94
DOIs
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

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