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4-year PhD Studentship: A comparative, mixed-methods study of the delivery of case-based learning in the Bristol Medical and Veterinary Schools

   Faculty of Health Sciences

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  Dr Emma Love, Dr Steve Jennings, Dr Julie Dickson, Prof Sheena Warman  No more applications being accepted  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Case-based learning (CBL) is a core component of Bristol University’s innovative medical and veterinary curricula. CBL is founded on the problem-based learning educational strategy introduced at McMaster University and uses the seven-step methodology developed at Maastricht University. It draws on constructivist learning theory, actively engaging learners in collaborative learning (Woolfold et al., 2013), encouraging an inquiry mindset, self-direction, and scientific curiosity. Use of the seven-step CBL format has been widely adopted in medical education, though its use in veterinary education is novel. Bristol University is unique in delivering CBL to both medical and veterinary undergraduates.

There are variations in delivery across BMS and BVS contexts. We have an unparalleled opportunity to study the effects of complex situations on desired educational outcomes, using a theoretical framework such as Cultural Historical Activity Theory (Engeström, 2000). This would enable us to use research-informed data to develop CBL, to ensure achievement of educational outcomes, enhance student experience, ensure sustainability across the Faculty, provide guidance for colleagues across the University and beyond wishing to introduce or refine this form of teaching.

The project will seek to promote Bristol University as a world leader of research-driven delivery of CBL curricula, ensuring the development of workplace-ready health professionals.

Aims and objectives


  1. To explore the delivery of CBL, comparing perspectives across the Bristol Medical and Veterinary Schools.
  2. To consider the effectiveness of CBL as a teaching method and stakeholders’ (e.g., student and staff) experiences of CBL.


  1. Explore to what extent the design and delivery of the 7-step CBL method varies between a medical and a veterinary programme.
  2. Consider critically the key differences and potential impact on students’ experiences and performance
  3. Examine differences between students’ views of CBL delivery.
  4. Explore facilitators’ experiences and views of CBL facilitation, and whether/how these vary between a medical and veterinary programme.


Systematic review

As part of Phase 1, the candidate will be supported in updating a BEME systematic review (Thislethwaite et al., 2012) on the effectiveness of CBL, developing evidence synthesis skills (i.e., developing protocols, search strategies, inclusion/exclusion criteria, screening, data extraction and interpretation, quality assessment). The review will guide the development of themes and theoretical frameworks for the subsequent study phases.

Qualitative methods

The candidate will be supervised by qualitative specialists and will develop skills across traditional and contemporary methodology and methods. These skills will likely include (but are not limited to): semi-structured interviews and participatory research methodologies (Timmis and Williams, 2013) (i.e., audio/visual diaries, creative methods). The candidate will be supported to engage with education research literature and theory, and identify and develop suitable theoretical perspective(s) within which to frame the study.

Quantitative methods

The candidate will use statistical analysis of quantitative data, involving standard t-tests and potentially regression analysis. The successful candidate would be encouraged to use the programming language R as this is a robust statistical method as well as a transferable research skill. The candidate will receive strong support internally (By Julie Dickson) and externally (JEAN Goulding institute and College of Postgraduates) in developing statistical skills.

How to apply for this project

This project will be based in Bristol Veterinary School in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Bristol.

Please visit the Faculty of Health Sciences website for details of how to apply

Funding Notes

This project is open for University of Bristol PGR scholarship applications (closing date 25th February 2022)
The University of Bristol PGR scholarship pays tuition fees and a maintenance stipend (at the minimum UKRI rate) for the duration of a PhD (typically three years but can be up to four years).


Engeström, Y. (2000). Activity theory as a framework for analyzing and redesigning work. Ergonomics. 43.
Thislethwaite, J. E., Davies, D., Ekeocha, S, et al. (2012). The effectiveness of case-based learning in health professional education. A BEME Systematic Review: BEME Guide No. 23. Medical Teacher. 34:6.
Timmis, S. & Williams, J. (2013). Students as co-researchers: A collaborative, community-based approach to the research and practice of technology-enhanced learning. In E. Dunne & D, Owen (Eds). The student engagement handbook: Practice in higher education. Bingley: Emerald.
Woolfolk, A., Walkup, V., and Hughes, M. (2013). Psychology in education. 2nd Ed. Harlow: Pearson Education.
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