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 Table of Contents  
BRIEF COMMUNICATION
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 34  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 73-76

Dietetics students' perceptions of classroom-based learning activities


Department of Individual, Family and Community Education; University of New Mexico; 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Date of Submission17-Jun-2020
Date of Decision05-Jul-2021
Date of Acceptance07-Jul-2021
Date of Web Publication21-Dec-2021

Correspondence Address:
Kathryn E Coakley
Department of Individual, Family and Community Education; University of New Mexico; 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque
New Mexico
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/efh.EfH_258_20

  Abstract 


Background: The Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics requires that undergraduate dietetics courses utilize a variety of educational approaches to facilitate learning. The aim of this pilot study was to evaluate undergraduate nutrition students' perceptions of 16 classroom-based learning activities before and after taking an upper-level nutrition course. Methods: A survey was completed by students before and after taking an upper-level nutrition course, Methods in Nutrition Education, at a single university in the southwest region of the United States in fall 2016 and 2017. The survey included demographic questions and assessed students' perceptions of the helpfulness of 16 traditional and active classroom-based activities to learning. Perceptions were measured via Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree) at baseline and postcourse. Wilcoxon signed rank tests assessed changes in students' perceptions of learning activities from baseline to postcourse (significance = P < 0.05). Results: Ninety-seven completed baseline surveys; 67 (69%) completed postcourse surveys. Observing professionals (median = 5), interviewing professionals (median = 5), and critical thinking (median = 4) were perceived as most helpful to learning postcourse. Students agreed critical thinking, integrating material from other courses, interviewing professionals, case studies, writing short reports and summaries, and group projects and activities were significantly more helpful postcourse compared to baseline (P < 0.05). Discussion: Undergraduate nutrition students perceive a variety of classroom-based activities are helpful to learning including traditional (textbook readings, lectures) and active learning strategies (observation, practice). Instructors may consider implementing a variety of traditional and active learning strategies in upper-level nutrition and health-related courses to facilitate learning.

Keywords: Active learning, dietetics, higher education, nutrition, nutrition education, registered dietitian nutritionist


How to cite this article:
Coakley KE, Pribis P. Dietetics students' perceptions of classroom-based learning activities. Educ Health 2021;34:73-6

How to cite this URL:
Coakley KE, Pribis P. Dietetics students' perceptions of classroom-based learning activities. Educ Health [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Jan 27];34:73-6. Available from: https://www.educationforhealth.net/text.asp?2021/34/2/73/332954




  Background Top


The profession of nutrition and dietetics has expanded rapidly and as of July 2021, nearly 220 undergraduate-level Didactic Programs in Dietetics (DPD) in the United States are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). DPD graduates are eligible to apply for a dietetic internship to become a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). Undergraduate DPDs include a wide variety of courses since RDNs work in a range of settings including clinical, management, private practice and consulting, and research. The field of nutrition has grown in popularity and by 2024, the profession is expected to expand by 16%, representing 11,000 additional RDN jobs.[1]

In 2017, ACEND published a “Future Education Model” for Didactic Programs in Dietetics. Standard 4.2.c states “learning experiences must use a variety of educational approaches necessary for delivery of curriculum content to meet learner needs and competencies.”[2] Traditional methods of educating undergraduate students in the health sciences can be lecture heavy; however, evidence suggests active learning approaches are beneficial to student learning.[3] Few studies have examined undergraduate nutrition students' perceptions of classroom-based learning activities before and after implementation in upper-level DPD courses. Thus, the aim of this study was to evaluate undergraduate students' perceptions of helpfulness of traditional and active classroom-based learning activities before and after taking a Methods in Nutrition Education course at a large public University in the United States.


  Methods Top


Participants and recruitment

Eligible participants were students at least 18 years of age attending a university in the southwest region of the United States and enrolled in “Methods in Nutrition Education” in fall 2016 or fall 2017. Methods in Nutrition Education is a requirement for DPD students and an elective for nutrition minors. Students were not required to participate in the study. All participants provided consent to be in the study and were clearly informed that participation had no impact on their course grade. The study was approved by the University's Institutional Review Board.

Instruments

Data were collected through an investigator-developed survey during the 1st week of class (baseline) and during the last week of class (postcourse). The survey assessed age, gender, race/ethnicity, marital status, primary language, number of children, number of years students had been pursuing their program of study, anticipated number of years to graduation, and career goals. The survey also assessed perceptions of meeting course objectives (knowledge and preparedness to provide nutrition education, knowledge of resources available to nutrition educators, knowledge of theories of behavior change, and ability to apply behavior change when educating individuals) at baseline and postcourse. Finally, the survey assessed students' perceptions of helpfulness of 16 classroom-based learning activities to learning and applying course material at baseline and postcourse. All activities were utilized throughout the course. Perceptions were measured via Likert scale, rated from strongly disagree (score = 1) to strongly agree (score = 5) with an option for not applicable.

Data analysis

All surveys, complete or incomplete, were included in data analyses and some demographic data were missing. All data analyses were performed using Statistical Analysis Software (SAS; version 9.4; SAS Institute, Cary, NC, USA). Continuous variables including age and responses to Likert scale questions were assessed for normality using Shapiro–Wilk tests. Variables were not normally distributed; results were reported as median and interquartile range (IQR). Percent agreement (Likert response options of agree and strongly agree) was calculated for each course objective and learning activity at baseline and postcourse. Wilcoxon signed rank tests were performed to compare Likert scale scores from baseline to postcourse for meeting course objectives and perceptions of learning activities. P < 0.05 was considered statistically significant for all tests.


  Results Top


Ninety-seven students completed a baseline survey, and 67 students completed a postcourse survey (69%). [Table 1] includes participants' demographic information. Female students were over-represented, mirroring the demographic composition of the dietetics field.
Table 1: Demographic and academic descriptors of undergraduate student participants at baseline

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At baseline, 92% agreed knowledge of nutrition education would enhance their career goals, which improved to 97% postcourse but was not significant [[Table 2]; P = 1.00]. Thirty-two percent agreed they were confident in skills to provide nutrition education at baseline; however, significantly more agreed they were confident in providing nutrition education after the course (58%; P ≤ 0.001). At postcourse, significantly more students also agreed that they were aware of resources for nutrition educators (P ≤ 0.001), had knowledge of theories of behavior change (P ≤ 0.001), and could apply theories of behavior change to clients (P ≤ 0.001) compared to baseline.
Table 2: Students' self-assessment of proficiency of course objectives before and after completing an upper-level nutrition education course

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At baseline, students agreed answering questions and problem solving (96%), volunteering in nutrition education organizations (93%), and lectures (93%) were the most helpful activities to learning and applying course material [Table 3]. At baseline, the least helpful methods were group projects and activities (46%), peer to peer learning (49%), and textbook readings (55%). At postcourse, students agreed observing professionals (99%), critical thinking (97%), and interviewing professionals (97%) were the most helpful activities to learning. Agreement to the helpfulness of the following activities increased significantly from baseline to postcourse: critical thinking (P = 0.01), integrating materials from other courses (P = 0.019), interviewing professionals (P < 0.01), case studies (P < 0.01), writing short reports and summaries (P < 0.01), and group projects and activities (P = 0.01). Fewer students agreed textbook readings were helpful postcourse (42%) compared to baseline (55%) which approached statistical significance (P = 0.058).
Table 3: Perceptions of helpfulness of classroom-based activities to students' learning before and after taking an upper-level nutrition education course

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  Discussion Top


This pilot study examined undergraduate nutrition students' perceptions of helpfulness of a variety of classroom-based activities to learning and applying material before and after taking an upper-level nutrition course, Methods in Nutrition Education. Students agreed traditional classroom methods including answering questions and problem solving and lectures were most helpful to learning course material at baseline. Students' perceptions of helpfulness of critical thinking, integrating material from other courses, interviewing professionals, case studies, writing short reports and summaries, and group projects and activities improved from baseline to postcourse suggesting, with exposure, students' perceptions of learning activities improved.

Other studies have also found active learning strategies and multiple educational modalities are successful in dietetics education. An Australian study found a flipped classroom approach, which requires students to independently learn material before participating in interactive in-class activities, is a useful teaching approach for undergraduate nutrition students.[4] A separate study found improved performance and favorable acceptance by nutrition and dietetics students in a course covering metabolism when transitioning from traditional instructor-centered methods to student-centered active strategies.[5] Undergraduate basic science students also report preferring a mixture of passive and active strategies, specifically peer-led seminars and instructor-led lectures.[3] While student and peer-led learning strategies may require additional preparation by students compared to attending and listening to instructor-led lectures, students may learn more effectively.

We assessed perceptions of 16 classroom-based traditional and active learning activities utilized in a single course, Methods in Nutrition Education, at a single university. There are, however, many other learning strategies instructors may consider. For example, other studies have found concept mapping,[6] activity-based workshops,[7] simulated patients,[8] and interprofessional approaches[9] are effective in dietetics education. These strategies were not evaluated in the present study, but warrant further investigation, particularly given the rise in online and remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Future studies may consider assessing strategies that are most helpful to learning in-person compared to online. Additional research is also needed to determine the most effective methods of adapting traditionally in-person strategies like lecturing, group discussion, and simulated patients to the online learning environment in dietetics education.

There are several important limitations to this study. Thirty students (31%) completed baseline surveys but did not complete postcourse surveys. Data were also collected during one course at a single university, limiting generalizability to other undergraduate nutrition courses and programs. Finally, student performance was not assessed. Future studies may assess the impact of classroom-based learning strategies on knowledge retention, classroom performance, and meeting ACEND competencies. Future research should also address activities most efficacious in each type of upper-level DPD course, from nutrition education to food science to advanced nutrient metabolism.

In conclusion, undergraduate nutrition students perceive both traditional and active learning strategies to be helpful to learning and applying course material, including activities outside of the classroom such as interacting with nutrition professionals and volunteering. With exposure, students' perceptions of learning activities can improve. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and shift to online and remote learning, it is critical to continually evaluate student perceptions of a variety of learning strategies to improve the quality and relevance of dietetics education.

Financial support and sponsorship

None.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
  References Top

1.
Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Dietitians and Nutritionists: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U. S. Department of Labor; 2015. Available from: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm. [Last updated 2015 Dec 17].  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
Future Education Model Accreditation Standards for Bachelor's Degree Programs. Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics; 2019.  Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.
Minhas PS, Ghosh A, Swanzy L. The effects of passive and active learning on student preference and performance in an undergraduate basic science course. Anat Sci Educ 2012;5:200-7.  Back to cited text no. 3
    
4.
Burkhart SJ, Taylor JA, Kynn M, Craven DL, Swanepoel LC. Undergraduate students experience of nutrition education using the flipped classroom approach: A descriptive cohort study. J Nutr Educ Behav 2020;52:394-400.  Back to cited text no. 4
    
5.
González-Sancho JM, Sánchez-Pacheco A, Lasa M, Molina S, Vara F, del Peso L. The use of an active learning approach to teach metabolism to students of nutrition and dietetics. Biochem Mol Biol Educ 2013;41:131-8.  Back to cited text no. 5
    
6.
Molaison EF, Taylor KA, Erickson D, Connell CL. The use and perceptions of concept mapping as a learning tool by dietetic internship students and preceptors. J Allied Health 2009;38:e97-103.  Back to cited text no. 6
    
7.
Rollo ME, Collins CE, MacDonald-Wicks L. Evaluation of the Introduction of an e-Health Skills Component for Dietetics Students. Telemed J E Health 2017;23:930-3.  Back to cited text no. 7
    
8.
Gibson SJ, Davidson ZE. An observational study investigating the impact of simulated patients in teaching communication skills in preclinical dietetic students. J Hum Nutr Diet 2016;29:529-36.  Back to cited text no. 8
    
9.
Earland J, Gilchrist M, McFarland L, Harrison K. Dietetics students' perceptions and experiences of interprofessional education. J Hum Nutr Diet 2011;24:135-43.  Back to cited text no. 9
    



 
 
    Tables

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]



 

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