"Selling" Prevention to Dental Students via an Online Course

Palanci DDS, John G., Durinda Mattana, and Diane Hoelscher

Dental schools are seeking innovative ways to improve student learning and address various challenges including overcrowded curricula.  One such strategy is the development of online courses. The Preventive Dentistry course at the School of Dentistry has historically been viewed by dental students as less important than other didactic courses and of limited relevance to clinical dentistry.  In addition, student ratings of organization and quality of instruction for previous prevention courses were inconsistent.  Faculty were also concerned that the crowded predoctoral curriculum provides students little flexibility or time off campus, especially during the DS2 year.  Furthermore, outcomes data indicated students were not well prepared to develop effective prevention plans for their clinical patients.  Therefore an online course was developed to: 1) offer student flexibility in scheduling their leaning, 2) improve the learning experience by enhancing course organization and access to faculty feedback, and 3) incorporate learning activities that focus on critical thinking and evidence-based application to clinical situations.


Key features of this DS2 course include: 1) online course administration with limited face to face (F2F) sessions, 2) course organization into weekly learning units, 3) an interprofessional education approach with dental hygienist and dentist course directors, 4) timely feedback and improved access to course directors, 5) case-based application assignments, and 6) assessment of critical thinking through two projects based on real clinical situations.


Students were already familiar with the online course management system, Knowledge.  Technical support is available through the Instructional Design Studio and Help Desk.  This two credit/15 week course was divided into 14 learning units.  Prior to the beginning of the course the co-directors sent students an email message explaining the rationale for moving from a F2F course to an online course.  Only the first class and midterm and final written examinations took place F2F, all other sessions were online.  The first F2F session involved introduction to course directors, syllabus, and course website.


Materials for each learning unit were posted in a folder on the course website three weeks in advance and included: 1) learning objectives, 2) instructions, 3) online quiz based on readings, 4) online resources, 5) narrated power point, and 6) an application assignment, usually involving a patient case.  Students moved from passive learning activities in the beginning of each unit to active learning experiences.  In addition to reading assignments, students were expected to spend two hours per week, on average on course activities.  Although the course was asynchronous, each learning unit quiz and assignment was due on Sunday evening for consistency.  Students also completed two projects: 1) Product Evaluation Report and 2) Prevention Plan.  The first project required students to select an oral health product and report on its efficacy, employing evidence-based research.  The final project was development of a Prevention Plan for their sophomore clinic patient.  Student learning was assessed with weekly online quizzes, written midterm and final examination, and grades for each of the projects. 


A dental hygienist and dentist served as co-directors of this course to model the importance of collaboration between oral health professionals.  The dentist course director was available on campus full-time and both directors were available online.  In addition, four guest presenters participated and were responsible for all aspects of their learning unit.  The co-directors divided course responsibilities and met weekly to discuss course issues.  Immediate response to student questions was provided and results to quizzes and projects were posted within one week of due date. 


100% of 89 students completed anonymous online course evaluations.  Results showed that 86% agreed or strongly agreed (A/SA) that they gained a good understanding of concepts and principles; 88% A/SA that the course integrated basic science/clinical science concepts and clinical practice; 86% A/SA that overall this course was excellent, 88% A/SA that each online learning unit was well organized with clear objectives and instructions, and 87% A/SA that the Product Report and Prevention Plan assignments helped them apply information learned to clinical situations.  In addition, there were several positive comments regarding the flexibility provided by this online course and the value and applicability of the information presented.  Three of 89 students suggested less work and felt weekly assignments were unnecessary.  One student reported a problem with audio on a narrated power point and one student commented on issues with email responses from faculty.  All students passed all course components.  The average grade for the Product Evaluation was 89% and was 97% for the Prevention Plan.  The main disadvantage was the faculty time commitment needed to manage an online course for 89 students.