School’s out. Well, changing for sure

14 October, 2019 / insider
 Will Peakin  

Scottish Dental Editor, Will Peakin
Will Peakin, Editor, Scottish Dental

Imagine an educational institution with no courses. No subjects. No classrooms. No timetable.

Sounds a bit out there, doesn’t it?

Ten years ago, two graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) founded NuVu, a “full-time innovation school for middle and high school students. NuVu’s pedagogy is based on the architectural Studio model and geared around multi-disciplinary, collaborative projects. We teach students how to navigate the messiness of the creative process, from inception to completion by prototyping and testing”.

With the GDC embarking on the first of its planned revisions of learning outcomes, the fruits of Dundee’s radical step will be interesting to observe

Couldn’t imagine that in a Scottish school, could you?

“At Kelvinside Academy in Glasgow, instead of becoming a member of the vast ranks who are quick to label the traditional UK education system as ‘antiquated’, ‘unfit of purpose’ or ‘broken’ – but do nothing about it – we united behind a common goal; to re-imagine and transform education for the better,” wrote Ian Munro, the headteacher, in a 2018 blog post. Since then, not only has Kelvinside imported NuVu’s approach, it has built its own physical ‘innovation school’. 

“It is important to note that I don’t think anyone at Kelvinside subscribes to the belief that the UK education system is fundamentally broken,” added Munro. “Fantastic life-defining things happen in our schools every day and our pupils go on to do great things across all spheres of life. However, given that the UK education system does not look too different to how it did 100 years ago, evolution is required.”

Scientific laws may not allow for such a ‘creative’ approach to education in professions based on the sciences, such as dentistry. However, it could reasonably be argued that learning by doing – in controlled conditions – instead of learning simply by listening to someone else, will result in a more accomplished practioner. It is an approach that the University of Dundee’s Dental School is pursuing with its new curriculum, now in its second year.

“At its heart, the curriculum integrates clinical science with clinical practice. That means a dental student will carry out clinical practice from week one; that’s huge,” says Dr Andrew Mason in an interview in this issue. “It makes them feel like a dentist, it’s what they want to do.

“By the end of the first module, one of the key endpoints is the ability to carry out a simple dental and oral examination and to take a history from a ‘patient’. And we have structured the learning around that endpoint. What do you need to know to examine the mouth? You need to know what it looks like. You need to know what’s underneath the surface, and to be able to chart the dentition; identify what’s present and what’s missing.”

Anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, oral biology, cell biology, microbiology, pathology – the science is still core, obviously. But from week one, students are introduced to the clinical environment. They learn about cross-infection control, about posture and how to position themselves, and learn to take a patient history. “It might sound radical, but it’s what our colleagues in hygiene and therapy have done for years,” observes Mason.

Where Dundee’s outlook does definitely coincide with NuVu’s is in the area of ‘the real world’. By working as a team to solve a problem or overcome a challenge, NuVu’s pupils gain skills that can’t be learned from a book and will serve them well in their adult life. “We set them tasks,” says Mason, “and they get used to researching, assessing, and presenting. There are team-based learning sessions where students have a series of cases that they explore throughout the year, supported by practical and clinical activity, culminating in a presentation or a poster.”

With the General Dental Council embarking soon on the first of its planned revisions of learning outcomes which, from 2021, will form the basis of the curriculum at Scotland’s dental schools, the fruits of Dundee’s radical step will be interesting to observe.

Will Peakin Follow Scottish dental on twitter @ScottishDental

Tags: Editorial / Education

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