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Connected Curriculum and blended learning: MSc in Paediatric Dentistry

This three year blended learning MSc adopts several different teaching methods to reflect the Connected Curriculum. Dr Susan Parekh and Dr Paul Ashley (UCL Eastman Dental Institute) explain.

Paediatric dentistry

10 February 2016

The MSc in Paediatric Dentistry is a blended learning course that was launched in 2014 (currently 35 students enrolled).

Blended learning involves face-to-face delivery as well as online learning. The programme began before the implementation of the Connected Curriculum initiative however we have incorporated the Connected Curriculum where possible as the course has developed.

The principles of course design for the MSc were;

  • A 'flipped lecture' model where course materials are taught via short bespoke video presentations, and any points raised are then carried forward into learning activities including forums, wikis, quizzes and webinars,
  • Using technologies such as Twitter and blogs to engage with students and produce externally-facing ‘research outputs’ i.e. the critical appraisals,
  • Practical hands-on clinical teaching carried out at UCL in compressed weekly blocks (two weeks in year 1, one week in year 2 and one week in year 3),
  • All students are given a mini iPad. This was chosen because of data security, ease of use, and to provide students with the same experience,
  • Clinical data recorded using an e-logbook allowing easy data input of patient episodes, with data stored online, in a secure Moodle-based environment, for exploration and analysis by tutors.

Connecting academic learning with workplace learning by producing an A3 poster

As part of their second year assessment students have to develop a solution to a problem local to them using what is called an A3 thinking approach, summarising their thought processes on an A3 poster.

We’ve tried to integrate the MSc with their day to day work.

Following some online learning, they have to carry out some different exercises that are designed to support the learning objectives of this module and their clinical practice.

What we found last year is that students reported that the A3 thinking task (in particular) was directly supporting improvements in local delivery of their clinical services as well as fulfilling the educational requirements of the module.

Producing audience facing assessments

As part of the second year assessment students develop and carry out a clinical audit.

This is assessed by production of a research poster which could be presented at a conference.

As part of the third year MSc Project, students must produce three pieces of ‘knowledge mobilisation’, an emerging framework which aims to connect research with public policy and practice. One of these has to be a short video.

The six dimensions of the UCL Connected Curriculum

  1. Students connect with researchers and with the institution’s research
  2. throughline of research activity is built into each programme
  3. Students make connections across subjects and out to the world
  4. Students connect academic learning with workplace learning
  5. Students learn to produce outputs – assessments directed at an audience
  6. Students connect with each other, across phases and with alumni

As part of the Clinical Governance module they have to audit an aspect of their service. Like the A3 thinking task, this can lead to local improvements in care and also supports their personal development and career progression outside of the MSc.

There is online teaching for this and we support them throughout.

They do not submit the audit as a write up but as a poster. We did this because:

  • In our field this is a common method of dissemination of this type of information.
  • It was a way of  helping them develop a transferable skill.
  • If they wanted to attend a conference, they had material ready to present.

As part of the MSc research project, the students have to think about knowledge mobilisation: they have to set out in their MSc thesis how they are going to get their recommendations 'out there'.

Changing hearts and minds is where a lot of research projects can struggle and so we wanted them to think about that.

This is supported by some online teaching (short LectureCast, a page on Moodle, an example and a toolkit). They have to pick three different types of audience facing outputs, one of which has to be a video.

Using critical appraisal to connect with staff, across programmes and between years

After a short online course on critical appraisal, third year students must post (in turn) a critical appraisal of a journal of their choice on the Paediatric Dentistry Blog.

This is then open for comment (via twitter) for all students on the MSc and also students on our full time professional doctorate programme.

Student learn how to critically appraise evidence and how to determine if new or emerging evidence for a clinical therapy has the potential to change their clinical practice.

Informal feedback has shown that they find this very useful and have asked if it could be built into the programme earlier.

Our perception is that students on our blended learning MSc were unlikely to go on to pursue research careers but were doing the MSc to become better paediatric dentists. Therefore we decided the third year (the research year) should support excellence in clinical practice (i.e. the emphasis is more on appraisal and implementation of research into practice and how to integrate evidence into their day to day clinical work).

Third year MSc students take it in turns to critically appraise a paper (there is a rota) after some online training. They then send it to us using a template which is then posted on our blog. Anyone can then tweet a comment (they don't need to follow us or be on the course). The only condition is that they have to tweet using #PaedDentEastmanJC so the ‘conversation’ can be summarised on Storify.

Since starting this a month ago (January 2016) the blog has had 292 views and 173 visitors. We’re starting to see some engagement across all the years so at the moment we’re happy.

From next year we will be adding our professional doctorate students who are full-time at the Eastman on to the rota. The main struggle has been getting our MSc students to use Twitter as social media does not always come naturally to them.

A transformation for student recruitment

The MSc replaced a face-to-face taught 60 credit certificate. We have gone from struggling to recruit 10 students per year to having an unprecedented amount of interest and applications. We have students based in Tasmania, Jamaica and Ireland.

The Connected Curriculum has validated some of the choices we made when designing the MSc and encourages us to continue to develop the programme.

The main issue we had was a lack of a model to copy but we were supported by the Digital Education team.

Our advice for creating a blended programme

In terms of advice, don’t underestimate how much time setting something like this up will take.

Future iterations will be around encouraging greater interaction between the offsite MSc students and the full time onsite students.

We’ve also developed an alumni portal on UCL Extend and want to use this to promote interaction between alumni and current students, hopefully to start to build more of a community.