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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 11  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 126-128

Becoming a dentist from home: Online dental education during the Covid-19 pandemic

B.S Biology Stony Brook University, NY, USA

Date of Submission10-Aug-2020
Date of Decision01-Sep-2020
Date of Acceptance10-Sep-2020
Date of Web Publication18-Nov-2020

Correspondence Address:
Breanna L Irizarry
B.S Biology Stony Brook University, NY, 11794
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/denthyp.denthyp_112_20

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School shutdowns in the United States due to Covid-19 forced many dental schools who rely on in-person learning to search for alternatives that maintain the quality of their institution’s education. Two online alternatives include the remote learning model, which aims to replicate the live classroom experience, and prerecorded learning that provides the course material in a lump sum for students to review at their own pace. Administering didactic learning in an online format contains challenges such as technological limitations and disparities between student-home environments. Overcoming these obstacles and successfully replicating the live classroom experience relies on the preservation of student-teacher engagement to assess student comprehension. Moving forward, dental schools should consider opting to maintain aspects of online alternatives to allow students to allocate more or less time to tasks based on individual needs versus continuing the standardized lecture blocks used with in-person classroom learning.

Keywords: Coronavirus, social distancing, online learning, student comprehension, socioeconomic inequality

How to cite this article:
Irizarry BL. Becoming a dentist from home: Online dental education during the Covid-19 pandemic. Dent Hypotheses 2020;11:126-8

How to cite this URL:
Irizarry BL. Becoming a dentist from home: Online dental education during the Covid-19 pandemic. Dent Hypotheses [serial online] 2020 [cited 2023 May 28];11:126-8. Available from:

  Introduction Top

Covid-19 affected dental schools in the United States just as my second year class would have started treating patients in the student clinics. Before the curriculum transitioned to at home “remote” learning, an average school day consisted of classroom based lectures reviewing the fundamentals of oral disease followed by preclinical sessions where students practiced their hand skills before performing them on patients. The Coronavirus pandemic brought uncertainty regarding when clinical activities would resume and how safety measures would need to change. Now, after months of social distancing, dental education has shifted in search of a new normal that allows students to continue learning dentistry from home without the ability to partake in the hands-on aspect that embodies the entire profession. This analysis will discuss varying methods to maneuver online learning while also considering if online implementation is a valuable mainstay that should be continued after Covid-19.

  Replicating the Classroom Setting Top

The remote learning format for dental students at the didactic level consisted of faculty providing lectures while students could follow along from home. Remote learning, while delivered online, is unique in that it strives to recreate the classroom environment through scheduled lecture times. To attend a lecture, students would click a link that opened a chat room collaborative program where lecturers could share their presentations and students could ask questions while the professor was teaching. The webcam feature on these programs allowed all participants to be seen during the class session, replicating the experience of being together in a classroom. However, the learning curve to effectively use the new technology and the constant technical difficulties led to decreases in effort for engagement between students and educators. In many instances, professors struggled to adapt their teaching styles from an in-person setting to an online audience, which contributed to decreased student engagement.

In the traditional classroom setting, students are incentivized to pay attention so they may correctly answer questions when called on and to avoid disrespecting the lecturer. Remote learning removed the fear to remain attentive and replaced it with the responsibility to be accountable for your own comprehension. In the classroom setting, an experienced lecturer would realize that their audience was not grasping an idea and could go back to clarify. With remote learning, the removal of direct teacher-student engagement leaves opportunity for students to momentarily lose focus and be unable to regain understanding. The accountability is reliant solely on the will of the student to self-assess their comprehension and ask for clarity. The goal of remote learning is to replicate the classroom environment, but without replicating the imperative student-teacher interaction to evaluate comprehension these attempts are made in vain.

Maintaining Student-Lecturer Communication

Delivering information in an online format requires additional efforts to connect with the audience as there is no longer an environmental control (i.e., the classroom) to minimize distractions. Lecturers who take initiative to engage the class are more likely to generate an environment of students who remain attentive through the end of the session. Questions asking “Does everyone understand this” or “Does this make sense” are not helpful forms of engagement as they warrant closed ended responses of “yes” or “no”. In my experience, helpful methods to assess understanding during remote learning include program supported features such as polls, thumbs up/down options, or options where students can interact without singling themselves out. For example, the lecturer can use a poll by typing a question onto the screen with various multiple choice answers that students can choose from. Results from the poll help the lecturer gauge whether further explanation is needed and students have the opportunity to test themselves and identify weaknesses. Other options include worksheets where students can fill-in answers as the lecture proceeds. This method does not provide the same instantaneous feedback for the lecturer or the student. If all fails, an effective measure for student engagement is randomly calling on students for follow-up questions. However, when a lecturer asserts the power of calling on students, this may discourage students from participating voluntarily. Keeping discussions open and continuous between students and the lecturer is a valuable tool when relaying difficult material in increasingly difficult scenarios such as Covid-19.

Alternatives to Remote Learning

While tackling issues with engagement and technology are imperative to the success of remote learning, dental education can also be delivered through methods that forego “live” lectures altogether. During the online transition, some professors opted out of remote learning and instead provided students with the entire course in prerecorded lectures. In preparation, lecturers recorded themselves explaining concepts with corresponding slides to reiterate the points they were covering. The difference from other courses was that students had the autonomy to schedule their learning as they saw fit. These prerecorded videos were followed up with quizzes to track student understanding. If students had questions, they would email the professor who could respond to the student directly or post the response online if they felt the entire class would benefit from the clarification. That is not to say that prerecorded lectures are a perfect system. This tactic is beneficial for students who prefer to learn at their own pace because the lectures can be played as many times as needed. The disadvantage of a prerecorded curriculum is the inability to relay questions to a professor immediately as confusion arises. Without the opportunity to receive clarifications as the lecture continues, students miss the opportunity to test their knowledge and identify points of weakness until faced with graded assignments or exams.

Effects of Home Life on Student Success

Investigating the success of remote learning must consider the effects of work-life balance and the mental health of students learning from home. Maintaining the separation of work and personal time can no longer be signified by leaving the office or the library. When working from home, the ability to concentrate is further complicated by the quality of the student’s living space. Those living with family, even potentially with Covid-19 positive individuals, may not be able to seamlessly transition into a full day lecture schedule. Not all students have a quiet area to dedicate hours per day to lectures or reviewing material. Dental schools across the United States normally take measures to reduce the effects of socioeconomic inequality through standardizing the experience across the student body. Through providing the same scrubs or same laptops for students, these efforts attempt to provide equal opportunity for students to thrive. Remote learning’s effect on student success must take into account the variety of learning environments that students experience. A 2019 U.S. study reported that 82% of tech workers who worked from home felt the effects of burn out, and 52% reported that they worked more hours at home versus an office setting.[1] With mandated social quarantining, students are blending their productive and relaxation spaces that can lead to pressures to constantly be productive. The traditional classroom setting was a space free of external distractions, and even students with additional responsibilities at home could not tend to those until they physically returned home. However, the overlap of learning, taking exams, and winding down within the same space can interfere with the ability to remain driven and attentive.

Designing a New Normal

As a student who was transitioning into clinic when the pandemic affected the United States, remote learning without clinical or laboratory experiences feels incomplete. Mixing hands-on practice with didactic learning makes material easier to ingest and master over time. However, learning during Covid-19 has sparked the idea that not all dental learning is best received in the traditional classroom setting. Research has shown that computer-based learning leads to improved student retention when compared to noncomputer-based methods.[2] In a study through the Medical College of Georgia where students learning off campus were compared with students on campus, GPAs and exam grades had no statistical difference.[3] Prerecorded and in-person lectures both contain valuable qualities that should be used in conjunction. Dental administrations should consider alternatives that allow students to process didactic information at their own speed, similar to prerecorded lectures. To follow up, traditional in-class sessions can be useful for concept review. For example, rather than having a lecture in the classroom setting over a 2 to 4 hour period, students can spend that time independently with the material (through a prerecorded video) and use any extra time towards working on their individual weaknesses. Students who require more repetition to understand concepts can replay a prerecorded lecture, while another student who comprehended after the first attempt can use the additional time practicing dental procedures in the preclinical labs. The classroom setting may be more beneficial for learning when students have already been exposed to the material and can now be challenged to connect topics and perform higher order thinking. Incorporating online learning into dental education can alter the role of the lecturer, where “educators will no longer serve mainly as distributors of content… but facilitators of learning and assessors of competency”.[2]

Assuring a Quality Dental Education

As Covid-19 continues to infect and reinfect areas around the globe, many industries are searching for guidance to adapt to a new normal. Dentistry has had to quickly engineer new methods for student learning that provide a quality dental education while being cognizant to the hardships students overcome to learn during quarantine. As my class returns to clinic, the managing of a clinical dental education will also need redesigning. Through the efforts of assessing and comparing current approaches, a modernized didactic and clinical education can be created that fit changing times and possibly beyond.


Edward F. Rossomando, DDS, PhD, Professor emeritus.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Staglin G. When Home Becomes The Workplace: Mental Health And Remote Work. 2020 March 17 [Cited 2020 July 6th] In: Forbes. Diversity and Inclusion Blog. [Internet]. Available from:  Back to cited text no. 1
Ruiz JG, Mintzer MJ, Leipzig RM. The impact of e-learning in medical education. Acad Med. 2006;81:207-212.  Back to cited text no. 2
Russell BL. Comparison in academic performance between distance learning and traditional on-campus students in allied healthcare education at the Medical College of Georgia. (2006).  Back to cited text no. 3

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