Does tutor subject-matter expertise influence student achievement in the problem based learning curriculum at UNITRA medical school?

  • Enoch N. Kwizera
  • Yoswa M. Dambisya
  • Julio H. Aguirre


Objective. To establish whether or not tutor subject-matter expertise influences student achievement in content-based examinations in the problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum at the University of Transkei (UNITRA) Medical School.

Design. A retrospective study of MB ChB III student achievement in end-of-block modified essay questions (MEQ) examinations in microbiology, pathology and pharmacology for the years 1994 - 1999, inclusive. Pooled scores from the expert-tutored groups were compared with those from the groups tutored by non-experts using analysis of variance (ANOVA) or t-test. Subject expert tutors were those with postgraduate specialisation in the given discipline.

Setting. The Medical School, Faculty of Health Sciences, UNITRA, Umtata.

Outcome measures. Whether pooled mean MEQ scores in end-of-block examinations for microbiology, pathology or pharmacology differ according to the subject-matter expertise of the tutor.

Results. There were no significant differences in mean scores obtained for pharmacology (51.1 ± 0.6 versus 52.6 ± 0.7, P = 0.109) and pathology (49.8 ± 0.6 versus 49.9 ± 0.8, P = 0.919). The difference between the scores in microbiology was small (3 percentage points) but statistically significant, with the groups tutored by microbiologists scoring higher than those tutored by pathologists or pharmacologists (54.1 ± 1.0 versus 51.2 ± 0.8, P = 0.032).

Conclusions. These data demonstrate that in the UNITRA Medical School PBL curriculum tutor subject-matter expertise has little or no influence on student achievement in the discrete areas of tutor expertise.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0256-95749
print ISSN: 2078-5135