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High-tech, hands-on learning

College of Dentistry’s new collaborative curriculum, classroom

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dentistry learn lab

Jianxun Li, associate professor of oral biology, with students Scott Czarnik, Zach Arquilla and Fatima Saaduddin in the College of Dentistry’s renovated Learn Lab.

Photo: Joshua Clark


Things are a little different for dentistry students this year.

The PowerPoint presentations and lectures describing dental tissue are out — they’ve been replaced with a new approach where students examine actual specimens through microscopes.

A renovated room in the College of Dentistry, called the Learn Lab, is making it easier for faculty members to teach the revamped curriculum, which calls for more hands-on learning and collaboration.

A former computer lab, Room 430C was transformed into a high-tech, collaborative space for up to 32 students. Clusters of tables and comfortable swivel chairs let students interact and view information on the whiteboards and glass markerboards that line the walls.

Students can complete group work on moveable whiteboards at their tables, then attach them anywhere in the room to show the class. Copy-cam technology can take a snapshot of students’ whiteboard notes and post it online. Retractable power cords near each table provide outlets for students’ laptops.

“It’s a room that allows for active, team-based learning and can toggle between lecture and discussion modes,” said David Taeyaerts, director of the Office of Campus Learning Environments.

“It’s great for building community among students, and instructors can approach students no matter where they are in the room.”

Renovation began over the summer after the Office of the Chancellor designated funds to improve classrooms on campus. The Office of Campus Learning Environments asked departments to send in proposals for rooms they wanted to spruce up.

The College of Dentistry submitted its request to support the new hands-on curriculum, which was implemented in the fall.

“It’s totally learner-centered,” said William Knight, executive associate dean for academic affairs in Dentistry.

“We’ve eliminated most lectures for more active learning, based on small groups and driven by patient scenarios.”

The new curriculum supports the idea that dentists must be critical thinkers who stay current on medical advances, said Charlotte Briggs, director of the Office of Dental Education.

“To be able to do that, students need to take a lot of responsibility for their own learning and be good at working in groups,” she said. “None of that is learned through big lecture courses.”

Julienne Rutherford teaches a histology course in the Learn Lab that requires students to examine oral tissues at the cellular level.

She can project images from her microscope onto multiple screens for all students to see.

Lin Tao, professor of oral biology, and Moneim Zaki, professor emeritus of oral biology, received a Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning grant to buy microscopes for the lab and software that enables them to connect with laptops.

The room’s design promotes student collaboration, Rutherford said.

“The students can move about easily, so if a student finds a particularly good example of a cell or a structure, we can open it up to the rest of the class,” said Rutherford, assistant professor of oral biology.

“I can just say, ‘Table 2 has a really great capillary — you should go check it out,’” she said.

Changing the curriculum to promote interactive learning was important to faculty members, Rutherford said.

“What we were doing before was a big lecture, and it’s an impersonal way to interact with students.

“You don’t see them often enough to even get to know their names. It’s my third year here, and I finally know who my students are.”

christyb@uic.edu


Photo: Joshua Clark

Big lectures are impersonal, says Julienne Rutherford, assistant professor of oral biology, with dentistry student Zach Arquilla.

dentistry learn lab

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