Active learning and dental school software

January 12th, 2015

Active learning is something that has been practiced for some time. However, now that technology has become more advanced, there are new methods for teaching people such that they will remember much more than if they just passively read text.

What is active learning?
According to Cornell University, active learning means doing something while thinking about what you are doing. It has been done since time immemorial. For example, apprenticeships often take the form of a skilled worker watching a student doing something and then instructing him or her about doing a better job. Many practices such as yoga are also taught in this way. It could be considered more holistic because the entire person is being activated by the teaching and not simply the intellect.

When a person is doing work, they are actively participating in their own education by using tools or solving problems directly related to their field. Often active learning involves doing something with other people. For dentistry, active learning could be as simple as doing homework in a group, or it could be as complex as cleaning someone's teeth in a clinic and then using dental enterprise software to continue the learning experience.

According to Mathematical Simulation Technology, people remember 10 percent of what they read and about 90 percent of what they do. By having assignments that are about working on a problem and writing down an opinion after giving it thought, students are using more of their brains and actively engaging with difficult materials more directly than if they just read.

It could be argued that one of the easier assignments to neglect doing properly is reading. Students have minds that easily wander when material is difficult. Although dentistry is important, it is also very technically demanding. Students must memorize the names of every part of the mouth, including the nerves, blood vessels, bones, teeth and connective tissue that comprise this very complex biological system. Just reading the words over and seeing pictures may not be enough to help them fully grasp the subject in its entirety. A good dentist has a visual map of his or her patient's mouth, and in order for this map to exist, that dentist must spend many hours studying the human body.

A good way to make this experience easier, for example, might be to provide a student during class with a physical object like a skull with the jaw attached. Students could then look at how the muscles attach and form a hinge.

Making learning easier without simplifying it
Although most dental students likely have access to cadavers and other ways of making the human mouth come alive and exist in their minds, they likely won't be given such a tool all the time. Instead, they must make do with their textbooks – or, if they are lucky, they can use dental academic software, which supplies them with many other tools that make learning come alive. They can look at digital photographs and talk with students, for example.

Cornell practices the flipped classroom
One method for teaching students about this crucial part of the human body is the flipped classroom, in which students listen to a professor's lecture on a computer screen for homework. During class, instead of the lecture, they are given complex assignments and told to work together and with the teacher in order to solve the kind of problems that dentists regularly face in their professional life.

Cornell University is one example of a school that does this, Campus Technology reported. They use computer software that helps students and professors come together in order to learn and assess one another.

"Ongoing assessment is a key element of active learning," said Lisa Sanfilippo, a teaching support specialist at Cornell.

By utilizing a flipped classroom, students learn actively, leading to a stronger curriculum.

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