Exploring lecturers’ views of first-year health science students’ misconceptions in biomedical domains

Abstract

Research has indicated that misconceptions hamper the process of knowledge construction. Misconceptions are defined as persistent ideas not supported by current scientific views. Few studies have explored how misconceptions develop when first year health students conceptually move between anatomy and physiology to construct coherent knowledge about the human body. This explorative study analysed lecturers’ perceptions of first-year health science students’ misconceptions in anatomy and physiology to gain a deeper understanding of how and why misconceptions could potentially arise, by attempting to link sources of misconceptions with four schools of thought, namely theories on concept formation, complexity, constructivism and conceptual change. This was a qualitative study where ten lecturers involved in teaching anatomy and physiology in the health science curricula at the University of Cape Town were interviewed to explore perceptions of students’ misconceptions. Analytical induction was used to uncover categories within the interview data by using a coding system. A deeper analysis was done to identify emerging themes that begins to explore a theoretical understanding of why and how misconceptions arise. Nine sources of misconceptions were identified, including misconceptions related to language, perception, three dimensional thinking, causal reasoning, curricula design, learning styles and moving between macro and micro levels. The sources of misconceptions were then grouped together to assist educators with finding educational interventions to overcome potential misconceptions. This explorative study is an attempt in theory building to understand what is at the core of biomedical misconceptions. Misconceptions identified in this study hold implications for educators as not all students have the required building blocks and cognitive skills to successfully navigate their way through biomedical courses. Theoretical insight into the sources of misconceptions can assist educators in addressing potential hampering factors in the construction of coherent scientific knowledge.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The education system in South Africa has been an area of great concern. Numerous researchers have observed and commented on the damaging role of apartheid on tertiary education in South Africa (Burch et al. 2006; Boughey 2007) Researchers all agree that this system was responsible for deliberately creating under-resourced schools for Black students, which resulted in an imbalanced and fragmented education system in South Africa. Curriculum 2005 and an outcome—based model (OBE) model (Botha 2002) was adopted post-apartheid, to address these inequalities, but this model has also proven to be problematic, as many schools still do not have the resources to successfully implement this system.

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Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful to the lecturers who dedicated their time to participate in the study, and to Dr. Viki Janse Van Rensburg and Ms. Melanie Alperstein of the Education Unit at the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town who assisted with the data analysis process.

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Correspondence to Elmi Badenhorst.

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Badenhorst, E., Mamede, S., Hartman, N. et al. Exploring lecturers’ views of first-year health science students’ misconceptions in biomedical domains. Adv in Health Sci Educ 20, 403–420 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10459-014-9535-3

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Keywords

  • Conceptual change
  • Concept formation
  • Complexity
  • Health science students
  • Integration of physiology and anatomy knowledge
  • Knowledge construction
  • Misconceptions