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Designing Engaging University Teaching

The research aims to study how university teaching can become truly engaging. This involves addressing cognitive, emotional, and conational aspects of both students and teachers. It aims to provide research-based guidance on how to design meaningful learning and engaging teaching.

This line of research aims to link institutional (meso) curriculum change with (micro) transformative personal learning. Questions include; what motivates teachers to design better teaching in class and online? Which new subjects ought to be included in the university curriculum? How do institutional and individual resources and barriers influence feedback literacy? Thus, this line of research aims to explain why and how university education changes.


Explaining why and how new subjects and teaching formats should be designed with a view to teacher and student learning and engagement is not a single task.

Example 1: Designing clinical medical education

Our research program addresses the underexplored potential of Virtual Reality (VR) in clinical psychiatry education (Pedersen & Musaeus, 2023). The phenomenological approach to VR in psychiatry education focused on developing a VR scenario providing perspectives from both the patient and clinician in acute psychiatric care. Our work emphasized the transformative role of VR in enhancing clinicians’ understanding of psychopathology. It fostered empathy by bridging the gap between clinical knowledge and the subjective experiences of individuals with mental illness.

We conducted a systematic review of 46 articles published between 2000 and January 2021. The review explored the effectiveness of various virtual patient interventions in undergraduate psychiatry education (Jensen, Musaeus, Pedersen, 2023). The review identified four main types of interventions, including case-based presentations, interactive virtual patient scenarios, standardized virtual patients, and virtual patient video games. Thematic analyses revealed that virtual patients contribute significantly to learners' understanding of symptomatology, psychopathology, clinical communication skills, and attitudes toward psychiatric patients, with higher learning outcomes compared to no intervention, traditional teaching, and text-based approaches. The study suggests the need for designing a learning environment with psychological safety and authenticity.

Finally, in a cognitive ethnographic study conducted at two Danish emergency departments, we explored the challenge of preparing medical residents for the uncertain clinical landscape (Gamborg, Mylopoulos, Mehlsen, Paltved & Musaeus, 2023). The research shed light on the development of adaptive expertise in residents who often face uncertainty and disruptions in their workflows. Findings emphasise the importance of aligning clinical training with the realities of uncertainty in emergency care to facilitate residents in seamlessly transitioning between routine and adaptive practices, ultimately contributing to the cultivation of adaptive expertise.

Example 2: Designing computational thinking

We introduced computational thinking in the medical curriculum (Musaeus, Tatar & Rosen, 2017). Drawing from our studies on upper secondary school students’ learning and transitioning to higher education (Tatar et al., 2017; Musaeus & Musaeus, 2019), we are conducting novel studies on agent-based modelling as a valuable way for students to learn computational thinking in upper secondary school biotechnology, which is a subject students use for entrance into university studies in medicine and dentistry.

In a recent study (Musaeus & Musaeus, 2021), we developed a taxonomy of gestures as an explanation of how students engage in computational thinking. In practice, we have developed templates and models for teaching computational thinking to different students and subjects (Musaeus, Caspersen & Musaeus, 2023).

Example 3: Designing dental student learning

We investigated whether the self‐efficacy of undergraduate dental students is associated with the extent of the endodontic education they receive (Baaij et al., 2020). We conducted a literature review on content changes in the dental curriculum (Rasmussen & Musaeus, accepted) and we are conducting a study on how dental student reflection mediates learning.


This line of research uses both traditional historical registry data (Bisgaard et al., 2018; 2021) and novel mixed methods for documents analyses (Creamer, Musaeus, & Cherie, 2018), intervention studies (Musaeus & Musaeus, 2020), video analysis (Musaeus & Musaeus, 2021), short-term ethnography (Musaeus, 2012; Gamborg et al., in prep), interviews (Jakobsen et al., 2019), and action research (Buus et al., 2021; Skipper et al., 2016; Paltved et al., 2015).

In example 1, we relied on methods for conducting literature reviews as well as phenomenological approaches to qualitative research methodology.

In example 2, we used video analysis and mixed methods.

In example 3, we used a quantitative comparative case study as well as mixed methods.


The first line of study provides insights on how to design university teaching for meaningful learning. The second took its departure from embodied learning and has ramifications for engaging teaching. Students in five different upper secondary school biology classes were given the educational task of modelling protein synthesis in NetLogo. Results showed a significant difference in the distribution of gestures across five concepts of computational thinking. Students used gestures adaptively to learn concepts of computational thinking.

The third line of study (Baaij et al., 2020) used a questionnaire (Endodontic General Self‐Efficacy) to demonstrate that students’ self‐efficacy increased with the number of treated root canals. However, retreatments and root canal treatments in molars were negatively associated with self‐efficacy. All students desired more experience in performing root canal treatment on patients, something that they might perceive to be lacking due to the decreased amounts of patients in clinics or the relative difficulty in root canal treatment.

In summary, these studies point to the potential in university teaching and in changing curriculum for meaningful learning. But they also point to the challenge that a teaching format or curriculum can become static with limited innovation. Therefore, the position of faculty developers is crucial in explaining and facilitating curriculum change. 

Read more

  • Baaij, A, Özok, AR, Vӕth, M, Musaeus, P, Kirkevang, L‐L. Self‐efficacy of undergraduate dental students in Endodontics within Aarhus and Amsterdam. International Endodontic Journal, 53, 276– 284, 2020.
  • Gamborg, M. L., Mylopoulos, M., Mehlsen, M., Paltved, C., & Musaeus, P. (2023). Exploring adaptive expertise in residency: the (missed) opportunity of uncertainty. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 1-36.
  • Jensen, R. A. A., Musaeus, P., & Pedersen, K. (2023). Virtual patients in undergraduate psychiatry education: a systematic review and synthesis. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 1-19.
  • Musaeus, L. H., Caspersen, M. E., & Musaeus, P. (2023). A Template for Teaching Computational Modelling in High School. In Proceedings of the 18th WiPSCE Conference on Primary and Secondary Computing Education Research (pp. 1-10).
  • Musaeus, L. H., & Musaeus, P. (2021). Computing and gestures in high school biology education. In Proceedings of the 26th ACM Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education V. 1 (pp. 533-539).
  • Pedersen, K., & Musaeus, P. (2023). A phenomenological approach to virtual reality in psychiatry education. Frontiers in Virtual Reality, 4, 1259263.


Collaborations involve various colleagues within the CED and also extend to those in the field of health science education (Lise-Lotte Kirkevang and Kevin Eva), simulation training (Maria Louise Gamborg), computational thinking (Line Have Musaeus), and psychiatry (Kamilla Pedersen).