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Dental education and COVID-19: Study identifies challenges and opportunities

Dental education in countries in the Asia Pacific region was seriously disrupted during the first wave of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. (Image: MIA Studio/Shutterstock)
Jeremy Booth, Dental Tribune International

Jeremy Booth, Dental Tribune International

Wed. 18. November 2020


TAIPEI, Taiwan: SARS-CoV-2 has required dental schools to be innovative. Three online symposia were held earlier this year in order to analyse strategies that had been adopted for keeping classes going during the first wave of the pandemic. A qualitative study of the symposia found that better online tools were needed, but that digital teaching platforms had created new opportunities for regional collaboration.

The symposia were co-organised by the Association for Dental Education, Asia Pacific (ADEAP) and the Chinese Taipei Association for Dental Sciences. They took place virtually on 30 March, 15 April and 10 June and were attended by dental education representatives from Australia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand and the US. The respective themes of the three events were the influence that the pandemic was having on dentistry; strategies for proceeding with clinical training courses during the pandemic; and the challenges that dental education, research and clinical activities could face in a post-pandemic environment.

Researchers from universities in Taiwan, Japan, Thailand and Italy analysed the online lectures and discussions and found that dental education in the represented countries had been considerably disrupted between 30 March and 10 June. This finding echoed a recent report by Dental Tribune International (DTI), which found that dental students around the world were concerned about lacking clinical skills

The researchers divided dental education into the three categories: lectures and problem-based learning (PBL); simulation laboratory courses; and clinical training. It was found that PBL courses had only continued in Taiwan—those at dental schools in Australia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and the US had taken place online. Simulation laboratory courses had taken place in Taiwan, in small groups at dental schools in Japan and by video demonstration in Cambodia, but had not taken place at the remaining dental schools. Clinical practice courses and research initiatives had only taken place in Taiwan and in a limited capacity in Japan.

Dental schools in Taiwan experienced a two-week delay to their programmes; however, dental educators in the country otherwise reported little disruption. Private dental clinics had remained open in Taiwan during the study period, whereas they had been closed in most of the other represented countries.

The LockDown Browser has been utilised by some US dental schools to prevent students from using search engines during examinations. (Image: Kzenon/Shutterstock)

COVID-19 sends dental education online

The researchers noted that a variety of virtual platforms had been utilised by dental schools for their online PBL courses and that both students and teaching staff had needed to adapt to them. Students were found to have adapted to the change more quickly than senior staff, but the researchers suggested that this generational gap may become minimised in the future as a result of the pandemic.

Some dental schools in the US had used the LockDown Browser in order to prevent students from using online search engines during examinations, and the researchers noted that a dedicated online platform for dental education would need to be developed in the future. They also said that the development of an easy-to-use virtual reality haptic device was needed so that hands-on training could be continued when it was not possible to hold simulation laboratory courses.

“It remains controversial as to whether online classes can replace offline ones”

Dr Allen Ming-Lun Hsu, president of ADEAP and distinguished professor at the School of Dentistry at National Yang-Ming University in Taiwan, told DTI that the sharing of experiences through the online symposia had resulted in a better understanding of the effects of the pandemic on dental education. He said: “At the very beginning, because of the lockdown and social distancing, dental educators were worried about the continuation of dental education. Through the symposia, they gained new ideas from one another and shared information that helped them to continue improving dental education during the pandemic.”

Hsu said that the pandemic has had serious repercussions for courses that require close physical contact. “Many dental schools have switched their education to online or hybrid formats in order to keep the learning progress going for dental students. However, it remains controversial as to whether online classes can replace offline ones,” he added.

ADEAP has sponsored a new survey of Asia Pacific dental students. The survey will seek to gain a better understanding of the effectiveness of online learning tools and to work towards formulating novel approaches to dental education in the region.

Crises can also produce opportunities,” Hsu said. “Where PBL courses have gone online, those courses can be disseminated to as many students as possible. Many dental schools have a shortage of teaching staff, but if online courses can be shared among different dental schools in different countries, we can not only resolve shortages of teaching staff, but we can also determine the main courses for the core competencies of dental students in different countries in order to reach a consensus about those core competencies across the Asia Pacific region.”

The study, titled “Innovation of dental education during COVID-19 pandemic”, was published on 19 August 2020 online in the Journal of Dental Sciences, ahead of inclusion in an issue.

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