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Data, Big and Small

Emerging Challenges to Medical Education Scholarship

Ellaway, Rachel H., PhD; Topps, David, MBChB; Pusic, Martin, MD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002465

The collection and analysis of data are central to medical education and medical education scholarship. Although the technical ability to collect more data, and medical education’s dependence on data, have never been greater, it is getting harder for medical schools and educational scholars to collect and use data, particularly in terms of the regulations, security issues, and growing reluctance of learners and others to participate in data collection activities. These two countervailing trends present a growing threat to the viability of medical education scholarship. In response, there must either be a more conducive data environment for medical education scholarship or medical education must move to become less dependent on data.

There is, therefore, a growing need for a system-wide correction: a shift in practice that makes data use more viable and productive while maintaining high professional standards. There are five core areas that can contribute to a system-wide correction: greater clarity over what can be used as data; greater clarity on what constitutes “good” data; changes to the ways in which data are collected; better strategic stewardship of existing data; and deliberate and strategic attention to “data readiness” in support of medical education and medical education scholarship. These solutions are primarily practical and conceptual changes in the face of what are mainly regulatory challenges. However, medical educators also need to engage with emerging areas of practice such as learning analytics, and they need to consider the shifting social contract for using data in medical education.

R.H. Ellaway is professor, Department of Community Health Sciences, and director, Office of Health and Medical Education Scholarship, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

D. Topps is professor, Department of Family Medicine, and medical director, Office of Health and Medical Education Scholarship, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

M. Pusic is associate professor of emergency medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, and director, Division of Learning Analytics, Institute for Innovations in Medical Education, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York.

Funding/Support: None reported.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: Reported as not applicable.

Previous presentations: Some formative aspects of this work were presented at the Canadian Conference on Medical Education in Montréal, Quebec, Canada, on April 17, 2016, and at the Learning Analytics Summit at the International Conference on Residency Education in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, on October 18, 2017.

Correspondence should be addressed to Rachel Ellaway, Community Health Sciences, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, 3E19 TRW Building, 3280 Hospital Dr., N.W., Calgary, Alberta, T2N 4Z6 Canada; telephone: (403) 220-6076; e-mail:

© 2019 by the Association of American Medical Colleges