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Dental Education 


Education research in the School of Dentistry has developed particularly since the implementation of a PBL curriculum for the Bachelor of Dental Surgery in 1993.  Student Approaches to Learning theory has informed our education research.  Specifically, students' perceptions and understanding of the learning context influence the learning processes they adopt, which in turn influences their learning outcomes, ie, 'it is not the way we design our courses and programmes of study in higher education that relates to the quality of students learning, but how our students experience and understand that design' (Prosser, 2004, p51).  Therefore, many of our projects have focussed on students’ perceptions of their learning context and particularly the PBL components of the program. 

Preliminary studies and outcomes

The initial stages of these studies focussed on evaluation and utilised surveys of students to address the following questions related to the program and PBL packages:

Is the course enjoyable/relevant?
Is the workload heavy? Is there time to think/understand?
Are aims/objectives clear? Are criteria/standards clear?
Is there a choice in what is learnt? Are self-assessment and taking responsibility for learning supported?
Is there good teaching eg do staff understand student difficulties?
Are the PBL packages realistic, relevant, motivating? Do they support independent learning and integration of learning? (Supported by CUTSD grant, 2000-01)

It was clear from these surveys that: students enjoy the course; the workload increases with each year, but it is better than the conventional program; aims/objectives are clear; they are encouraged to take responsibility for their learning; staff are supportive; students indicate PBL packages are realistic, relevant and to some extent stimulate their learning; and generally PBL packages support independent learning and integrate with content with the rest of course (Wetherell et al., 1996; Townsend et al., 1997; Winning et al, 2004; Winning and Townsend, 2004). However, workload needs to be continually monitored and the clarity of assessment criteria/standards could be improved (Winning et al., 2005). 

Follow-up studies and outcomes

From these results, further program development and evaluation was identified, eg, review and development of materials and activities to assist with clarity of assessment criteria and standards as well as further research into students experiences of PBL.  For example,

Review and development of approaches to assist staff and students in using assessment criteria and standards particularly related to clinic: these projects have been supported by a University Teaching Development Grant (2003-04) and a nationally funded research grant (2006) (Winning et al., 2007; Redwood et al., 2008 submitted)

Studies in students’ experiences of PBL suggested students’ linking of PBL packages and processes to their clinic experience was limited. Therefore, in 2000, team members coordinated a project (supported by CUTSD, 2000-01) using student focus groups, which revealed students needed earlier, explicit opportunities to link PBL learning to clinic and more support to develop their group and independent learning skills.  In response to these findings C&L and DHS were redesigned and developed to better support student transitions to tertiary study (Winning et al., 2004).

A follow-up study (supported by ADRF & AUSRG-refer Grants) focussed on clarifying students’ perceptions of the purpose of the PBL packages, what learning strategies and methods they used, purpose and nature of assessment and the types of learning outcomes they achieved. These studies indicated that: students’ approaches to PBL packages were generally consistent with package design and appropriately developed for their year level/clinic experience; first-year students have responded positively to the modifications to semester one courses, emphasising the links between PBL and clinic; but further enhancement is needed for integration of learning outcomes, the clinical relevance of assessment, and group processes.

In response to the findings from the above study, two further projects have been completed, namely:

  • investigation of success of students in the first three years of Adelaide BDS program undertaken as a PhD project by Dr D Lekkas.
  • investigation of student experiences of groups as a PhD project by Dr V Skinner.  This project involved a cross-site study with students at Dublin Dental School and Hospital.

Current studies

Three recent projects have evolved over the past 3-5 years: These focus on:

  • psychomotor skill development in dental students. (Nattira Suksudaj, Supervisors: Tracey Winning, Dimi Lekkas, Grant Townsend, John Kaidonis).

  • investigation of the development of communication skills in student practitioners. This research involves evaluating students communication skills specifically related to smoking cessation, in collaboration with Quit SA and use of student and patient feedback to improve student practioner communication skills, in collaboration with the University of Manitoba.

  • investigation of the effectiveness of interactive learning technologies to enhance face-to-face teaching, in collaboration with other University of Adelaide staff.


Prosser M.  2004  A student learning perspective on teaching and learning, with implications for problem-based learning. European Journal of Dental Education 8:51-58.

Other references referred to above from the group are listed on the Publications page.