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Dental hygiene education--maintaining basic fundamentals while advancing the profession: behind all of the technology, there must be an educator with integrity, content expertise and a sound pedagogical approach to teaching and learning.

"Technology alone does not enhance instruction--never has and never will. Pedagogy is what matters--always has and always will."

--Robert M. Diamond, 2008

Those of you who know me know that I am passionate about the power of technology for teaching and learning. But with over a decade of teaching and learning in an online environment under my belt, there are certain things that I hold on to. Diamond's quote above captures the essence--that behind all of the technology, there must be an educator with integrity, content expertise and a sound pedagogical approach to teaching and learning.


A recent article that I read during a flight home from visiting my son really struck a chord. (1) Even more intriguing was finding that the author, Larry Sanger, is best known as the cofounder of Wikipedia (an online free access encyclopedia that anyone can contribute to and edit)! In addressing how the Internet is changing education, he analyzed what he considered three current thoughts: 1) Instant availability of information online makes the memorization of facts unnecessary or less necessary, 2) Collaborative learning is far superior to individual learning, and 3) Textbooks are a thing of the past and inferior when it comes to knowledge co-constructed by members of a group. He then went on to debunk these thoughts while emphasizing the importance of sticking to fundamentals in education.

First, to address the issue of memorization, educators would all agree that rote memorization is not the end goal of education. Rather, it is to foster the ability of the student to analyze and synthesize learned facts and knowledge and bring that analysis to bear on problem solving. While the Internet provides ready information, it doesn't ensure understanding about the topic and, alone, does not promote meaningful learning. For example, finding out a fact about the impact of periodontal disease on the diabetic patient through a Google search is only minimally helpful unless the individual has a basic understanding of the physiology of the human body and, in this instance, specifically the endocrine system. Constructivism is a theory of education that says we learn by connecting previous knowledge to new knowledge. To think that the Internet allows us to learn less, or makes memorizing less important, is to ignore proven theories on learning. If we don't have a well-developed foundation of knowledge at the ready, then we will not be able to make wise evidence-based decisions that depend on our understanding of that knowledge and how it all fits together.

Second is the notion that collaborative learning is superior to individual learning. Everyone knows that when it comes to truly learning a large amount of material, it takes uninterrupted time to read, digest and absorb. Collaborative discussion can then follow wherein the individual can be a contributor to the discussion versus a passive observer who never read or studied anything in the first place! We all know those individuals, and we hope they never provide care to us or any of our loved ones. To meaningfully participate in a collaborative discussion, it is necessary to come to the table with at least a basic understanding of the concepts. Then through collaborative learning, we begin to see things through the lenses of other group members, thereby widening our views about the issues and concepts being discussed. Nothing is more exciting to me than to come to a discussion with what I believe is a well-developed understanding only to find out that my own biases and experiences have not allowed me to fully explore all of the different aspects of the issues or concepts.

Third is the idea that textbooks are a thing of the past and inferior when it comes to knowledge co-constructed by members of a group. Sanger wonders if we have come to a point in our culture where blog posts, Twitter, Wikipedia and YouTube contributions are overtaking more challenging, pre-Internet modes of expression, like books. While for centuries people have learned by critically reading and evaluating the works of great writers (for those of us in science, the works of great scientists such as Louis Pasteur and Jonas Salk), do we now think that the accuracy of information co-created by students enjoys a social validity that those older works cannot? Of course, this is taking it to the extreme, but one wonders ... .

With the above as a backdrop, the August issue of Access centers around dental hygiene education. Jean Honny, RDH, BS, talks about the issue of academic integrity in the dental hygiene educational arena. Fortunately, one of the findings of Honny's research is that dental hygiene students' reporting of cheating is far less than that in the average undergraduate population. Sticking to the fundamentals that say we are here to learn so that we can serve the public first and foremost must be maintained if we want to further the profession in the years ahead. Cheating only robs the public of care being provided by competent dental hygienists. Thank goodness it appears that the dental hygiene educational environment has worked to maintain fundamental ethical principles in the educating of future dental hygienists. The fundamentals that discourage cheating have become more challenging to uphold as we have started to move components or entire degree programs to online learning environments. As a profession, we must all work together to maintain the integrity of dental hygiene, and that will mean sticking to fundamentals in the face of changing educational models of delivery. Returning to the fundamentals often, as illustrated in the ADHA Code of Ethics will be essential. (2)

ADHA Code of Ethics: Basic Beliefs

* We recognize the importance of the following beliefs that guide our practice and provide context for our ethics:

* The services we provide contribute to the health and wellbeing of the society.

* Our education and licensure qualify us to serve the public by preventing and treating oral disease and helping individuals achieve and maintain optimal health.

* Individuals have intrinsic worth, are responsible for their own health, and are entitled to make choices regarding their health.

* Dental hygiene care is an essential component of overall health care and we function interdependently with other health care providers.

* All people should have access to health care, including oral health care.

* We are individually responsible for our actions and the quality of care we provide.

Linda Boyd, RDH, RD, LD, EdD, and Mary Jacks, RDH, MS, talk about the importance of advanced education. For any profession, the advancing of one's knowledge base will be essential for survival in the environment where we find ourselves today--the "Information Age." While "lifelong learning" has become a bit of an annoying buzzword, it is true that moving forward as a professional will require effort and interest in continually learning. Peter Drucker stated in 1994 that the knowledge worker of the future will be that person who has the capacity to continually learn new concepts and modes of operations through critical thinking and problem solving. (3) That statement is no less true today than it was in 1994. Thomas Friedman takes it a step further when he states that society and economies depend on a well-educated population. (4) There is no way that any one person can keep up with the amount of information thrown at us, and therefore the ability to critically think and "sort the wheat from the chaff" will be critical for advancing. This kind of "sorting" cannot happen if an individual possesses only surface knowledge or the kind of facts found by a quick Google or Wikipedia search. As Sanger so eloquently illustrated in his article, the kind of deep processing required for meaningful learning cannot take place through a surface approach to the material. Meaningful learning takes dedicated time and attention--and, yes, reading!

Isn't it fitting that in this issue we have three of our dental hygiene students writing about the potential of Second Life, an online three-dimensional virtual world, as an instructional, cultural and experiential learning tool? I am fortunate to be able to provide workshops and continuing education opportunities for faculty colleagues across the country who are interested in incorporating technology into their teaching and learning. I always emphasize that they should not choose to use technology for the sake of using technology, but rather be thoughtful about exactly what technologies will help to improve the teaching and learning experience in their particular courses and programs.

To sum this up, I refer to an article written in 1995 by Jim Collins, a highly regarded researcher who studies enduring great companies, where he states, "[I]n a turbulent era like ours, attention to timeless fundamentals is even more important than it is in stable times." (5) This is so true for where we find ourselves today in higher education and within the practice of dental hygiene. These are turbulent times, and yet we know those fundamentals that provide a quality educational experience for our students, and we know those fundamentals of being an ethical and competent dental hygiene practitioner. I say hang on to those "timeless fundamentals," as they are what will bring us through the storm and on to greater things!


(1.) Sanger L. Individual knowledge in the internet age. Educause Review 2010; March/April: 14-24.

(2.) ADHA Code of Ethics. Available at: Accessed May 28, 2010.

(3.) Drucker PF. The age of social transformation. The Atlantic Monthly 1994; 274 (Nov.): 53-80.

(4.) Friedman TL. The world is flat: a brief history of the twenty-first century. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008.

(5.) Collins J. Leadership: building companies to last. Inc. 1995; (Spec Issue, May 15).

Cynthia C. Gad bury-Amyot, MSDH, EdD, is professor and director, Distance Education and Faculty Development, University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), School of Dentistry. A full-time faculty member at UMKC since 1993, she developed online degree programs for graduate and degree completion studies and teaches at all levels of the curriculum. She has published in several peer-reviewed journals, and her research interests include portfolio assessment of student competency, community-based academic service-learning, access to care, oral health-related quality of life and dental fears. She has served in leadership positions for several professional and academic organizations and received many prestigious awards.

By Cynthia C. Gadbury-Amyot, MSDH, EdD
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Title Annotation:guest editorial
Author:Gadbury-Amyot, Cynthia C.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2010
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