Understanding Research: An Overview for Health Professionals

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Course Date: 18 August 2014 to 29 September 2014 (6 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

Participants will learn the elements of research methods and design that are essential to the translation of knowledge into clinical practice, administration/leadership, and health policy.

Estimated Workload: 2-4 hours/week

Course Instructors

Abbey Alkon

Abbey Alkon, RN, PNP, PhD is a Professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing. She is an epidemiologist and Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and she works on multi-disciplinary, research teams. Her research focuses on understanding how children’s exposure to adversity early in life and their physiologic responsiveness to their environment effects their health. Her studies include children  from ethnically-diverse, low income families. Dr. Alkon is an investigator at the University of California, Berkeley Center on Environmental Research and Children’s Health (CERCH) and Director of the California Childcare Health Program (CCHP). Dr. Alkon’s teams also provide service, education, and research to improve the health and safety for children attending child care programs in the U.S.  At UCSF School of Nursing, Dr. Alkon teaches the Masters and Doctoral courses on Research Methods.

Course Description

This course looks at the various aspects of research as it pertains to health.

The course objectives are as follows:
  1. Summarize the format of research articles and the research methods included in each section of an article.
  2. Analyze and critique research questions, study design, methods including sample selection, bias, data collection procedures, measures, and analysis plan, results, discussion and interpretation of findings.
  3. Compare and contrast different quantitative study designs.
  4. Analyze the validity and reliability of measures.
  5. Understand the ethical and cultural issues related to research methods.


  • Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class? 

Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will have the opportunity to receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.

  • Is this class eligible for Signature Track? 

Yes. Prior to the beginning of the class, and during the first two weeks, students may sign up for Signature Track to earn a Verified Certificate. Details on Signature Track are available from Coursera in their Signature Track Guidebook.

  • Will Continuing Education credit for practicing physicians be available for this class? 

No, Continuing Education credit will not be available for students participating in this course.


Week One: Sections of a Research Article, Abstracts, and the Introduction of a Paper (Literature Review, Significance of Problem, Research Questions, and Operational Definitions)
  • Identify the 4 sections of scientific research articles
  • Determine the purpose of the abstract
  • Identify the 2 key components of the introduction section of an article
  • Identify 3 elements of a research question
  • Understand why operational definitions are important

Week Two: Methods Section — Study Designs
  • Answer 5 questions to identify study designs
  • Understand the relation between types of study designs and the time frame of the study
  • Identify the data collection procedures by the study design
  • Identify the strengths and weaknesses of cohort, cross-sectional, and case-control study designs

Week Three: Methods Section — Sample Selection, Setting, Measurement (Instruments, Validity, and Reliability)

  • Differentiate a sample from a population
  • Identify the strengths of probability versus non-probability sampling
  • Determine inclusion versus exclusion criteria when developing a plan for sample selection
  • Identify different types of instruments included in research studies
  • Explain how instruments are determined to be valid and reliable
  • Identify types of internal validity and reliability
  • Identify data collection procedures

Week Four: Methods Section —Bias, Types of Variables and Rates (Incidence and Prevalence)

  • Identify types of bias related to all study designs
  • Identify types of bias specific to experimental studies
  • Determine the difference between parametric and nonparametric statistics
  • Differentiate categorical and continuous variables
  • Identify the difference between incidence and prevalence rates
Week Five: Ethical Issues, Human Subjects Committee / Institutional Review Boards, and the Discussion of a Paper (Clinical Implications, Limitations, and Future Studies)
  • Understand the history of research ethics
  • Determine the ethical lessons learned from the Tuskegee Study in the United States (U.S.)
  • Identify studies conducted in the U.S. that raised new ethical issues
  • Identify key components of the discussion section of a research article

Week Six: Final Exam


This course will consist of five weeks of lecture videos (approximately 60-90 minutes total per week), weekly homework (multiple choice exams and peer-assessed writing assignments), and a required final examination.

Suggested Reading

Polit DF. & Beck CT. (2012). Nursing Research: Generating and Assessing Evidence for Nursing Practice (9th Edition). Wolters Kluwer/ Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Hulley SB., Cummings SR., et al. (2013). Designing Clinical Research (4th Edition.). Wolters Kluwer/ Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Course Workload

2-4 hours/week

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