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Eur J Dent Educ. 2008 Feb;12 Suppl 1:120-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0579.2007.00494.x.

The academic environment: the students' perspective.

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1
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA. divarisk@dentistry.unc.edu

Abstract

Dental education is regarded as a complex, demanding and often stressful pedagogical procedure. Undergraduates, while enrolled in programmes of 4-6 years duration, are required to attain a unique and diverse collection of competences. Despite the major differences in educational systems, philosophies, methods and resources available worldwide, dental students' views regarding their education appear to be relatively convergent. This paper summarizes dental students' standpoint of their studies, showcases their experiences in different educational settings and discusses the characteristics of a positive academic environment. It is a consensus opinion that the 'students' perspective' should be taken into consideration in all discussions and decisions regarding dental education. Moreover, it is suggested that the set of recommendations proposed can improve students' quality of life and well-being, enhance their total educational experience and positively influence their future careers as oral health physicians. The 'ideal' academic environment may be defined as one that best prepares students for their future professional life and contributes towards their personal development, psychosomatic and social well-being. A number of diverse factors significantly influence the way students perceive and experience their education. These range from 'class size', 'leisure time' and 'assessment procedures' to 'relations with peers and faculty', 'ethical climate' and 'extra-curricular opportunities'. Research has revealed that stress symptoms, including psychological and psychosomatic manifestations, are prevalent among dental students. Apparently some stressors are inherent in dental studies. Nevertheless, suggested strategies and preventive interventions can reduce or eliminate many sources of stress and appropriate support services should be readily available. A key point for the Working Group has been the discrimination between 'teaching' and 'learning'. It is suggested that the educational content should be made available to students through a variety of methods, because individual learning styles and preferences vary considerably. Regardless of the educational philosophy adopted, students should be placed at the centre of the process. Moreover, it is critical that they are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning. Other improvements suggested include increased formative assessment and self-assessment opportunities, reflective portfolios, collaborative learning, familiarization with and increased implementation of information and communication technology applications, early clinical exposure, greater emphasis on qualitative criteria in clinical education, community placements, and other extracurricular experiences such as international exchanges and awareness of minority and global health issues. The establishment of a global network in dental education is firmly supported but to be effective it will need active student representation and involvement.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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