Graduate student confidence following a for-credit systematic review course pilot




systematic review, instruction, student-centered learning, faculty librarians


Background: In 2015, librarians at Purdue University began fielding requests from many disciplines to consult or collaborate on systematic review projects, and in 2016, health sciences librarians led the launch of a formal systematic review service. In 2019, Purdue University Libraries was reorganized as the Libraries and School of Information Studies (PULSIS) and assigned its own course designation, ILS. The increase in calls for systematic review services and the ability to teach ILS courses inspired the development of a credit-bearing ILS systematic review course.

Case presentation: We designed, taught, and assessed a one-credit systematic review course for graduate students, using a backward-design course development model and applying self-determination theoretical concepts into lessons, assignments, and assessments. Using qualitative pre- and post-assessments, we discovered a variety of themes around student motivations, expectations, and preferences for the course. In quantitative post-class assessments, students reported improved confidence in all systematic review processes, with the highest confidence in their ability to choose and use citation management managers, describe the steps in the systematic review process, and understand the importance of a reproducible and systematic search strategy.

Conclusions: We considered our pilot a success. Next steps include testing 2- and 3-credit- hour models and working to formally integrate the course into departmental and certificate curriculums. This case report provides a model for course design principles, learning outcomes, and assessments that librarians and library administrators can use to adjust their systematic review services.

Author Biography

Bethany Sheriese McGowan, Purdue University

Bethany McGowan is Assistant Professor of Information Studies and Health Sciences Information Specialist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, USA.


Spencer AJ, Eldredge JD. Roles for librarians in systematic reviews: a scoping review. J Med Libr Assoc JMLA. 2018 Jan;106(1):46–56.

Ma J, Stahl L, Knotts E. Emerging roles of health information professionals for library and information science curriculum development: a scoping review. J Med Libr Assoc. 2018 Oct;106(4):432–44.

Lefebvre C, Glanville J, Briscoe S, Littlewood A, Marshall C, Metzendorf M-I, et al. Searching for and selecting studies. In: Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions [Internet]. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2019 [cited 2020 Jul 2]. p. 67–107. Available from:

Eden J, Morton S, Berg A, Levit L, editors. Standards for initiating a systematic review. In: Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews [Internet]. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press; 2011 [cited 2020 Jul 2]. Available from:

Medical Library Association. Role of expert searching in health sciences libraries. J Med Libr Assoc JMLA. 2005 Jan;93(1):42–4.

Rethlefsen ML, Farrell AM, Osterhaus Trzasko LC, Brigham TJ. Librarian co-authors correlated with higher quality reported search strategies in general internal medicine systematic reviews. J Clin Epidemiol. 2015 Jun;68(6):617–26.

Boden C, Murphy SA. The latent curriculum: breaking conceptual barriers to information architecture. Partnersh Can J Libr Inf Pract Res. 2012;7(1).

Lenton E, Fuller K. Explaining the method behind our madness: 3-part series on comprehensive searches for knowledge syntheses. J Can Health Libr Assoc Assoc Bibl Santé Can. 2019;40(1).

Campbell SM, Kung JYC, Dennett L. A curriculum for introductory systematic review searching for researchers. J Can Health Libr Assoc J Assoc Bibl Santé Can [Internet]. 2016 Apr 1 [cited 2020 Sep 7];37(1). Available from:

Himelhoch S, Edwards S, Ehrenreich M, Luber MP. Teaching lifelong research skills in residency: Implementation and outcome of a systematic review and meta-analysis course. J Grad Med Educ. 2015 Sep;7(3):445–50.

Li T, Saldanha IJ, Vedula SS, Yu T, Rosman L, Twose C, et al. Learning by doing—teaching systematic review methods in 8 weeks. Res Synth Methods. 2014;5(3):254–63.

Wiggins GP, McTighe J. Backward design. In: Understanding by Design. Expanded 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development; 2005.

Deci EL, Ryan RM. Self-determination theory. In: Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology, Vol 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Ltd; 2012. p. 416–36.






Case Report