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Open Access Research article

The application of Item Response Theory on a teaching strategy profile questionnaire

Ulf Brodin*, Uno Fors and Klara B Laksov

Author Affiliations

Department of Learning, Informatics, Management and Ethics (LIME), Berzelius väg 3 Karolinska Institutet, 171 77 Stockholm, Sweden

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BMC Medical Education 2010, 10:14  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-10-14

Published: 10 February 2010



In medical education research, various questionnaires are often used to study possible relationships between strategies and approaches to teaching and learning and the outcome of these. However, judging the applicability of such questionnaires or the interpretation of the results is not trivial.


As a way to develop teacher thinking, teaching strategy profiles were calculated for teachers in a research intensive department at Karolinska Institutet. This study compares the sum score, that was inherent in the questionnaire used, with an Item Response Theory (IRT) approach. Three teaching dimensions were investigated and the intended sum scores were investigated by IRT analysis.


Agreements as well as important differences were found. The use of the sum score seemed to agree reasonably with an IRT approach for two of the dimensions, while the third dimension could not be identified neither by a the sum score, nor by an IRT approach, as the items included showed conflicting messages.


This study emphasizes the possibilities to gain better insight and more relevant interpretation of a questionnaire by use of IRT. A sum score approach should not be taken for granted. Its use has to be thoroughly evaluated.