Successful on-line Flying Faculty delivery of ‘Introduction to Dentistry’ teaching

In a previous post we described the generous financial support from the Scottish Government for the purchase of a large number of digital devices to enable the commencement of on-line teaching for students at the University of Malawi College of Medicine during the COVID-19 campus closure. In addition to under-spend from the MalDent Project as a result of cancellation of international travel plans, the Scottish Government provided a further major additional contribution.

Following receipt of the funding, the College of Medicine rapidly purchased a large consignment of tablet computers, which were distributed to students who required them by drivers from the College vehicle pool. Support was also provided with provision of inexpensive data bundles.

These devices were in heavy use by BDS students during the week beginning 1st February, when two of my good colleagues and I joined forces with local College of Medicine faculty to deliver a programme entitled ‘Introduction to Dentistry’. Richard Welbury, Al Ross and I had been due to fly out to Malawi in March 2020, to deliver the programme in person, but the trip was cancelled two weeks before we were due to leave, on account of COVID-19. The availability of the digital devices for the students had now facilitated delivery of much of our planned material through Zoom.

Professor Richard Welbury was previously our Professor of Pediatric Dentistry at Glasgow Dental School, a former Dean of the Dental Faculty of the Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons of Glasgow and a past President of the International Association of Paediatric Dentistry. Dr Al Ross is Senior Lecturer in Human Factors in Healthcare at Glasgow Dental School and a leading international figure in the field of human factors. Between the three of us we put together a series of presentations relating to paediatric dentistry, communication skills, patient safety, infection control, oral infections, antimicrobial drug use / abuse and antimicrobial stewardship.

On Day 1 we held an introductory session with both the local and Scottish teaching faculty to familiarise the students with the plans for the week’s events.

Introduction of the local and Scottish teaching faculty

The local faculty, Drs James Mchenga, Peter Chimimba, Wiston Mukiwa and Jessie Mlotha-Namarika, provided additional sessions on periodontology, oral medicine and on issues relating to professional regulation.

For my own part, I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with the students. We covered multiple aspects of oral infection ….

Introduction to dental plaque microbiology and plaque-mediated oral diseases

… principles of infection control…

… practical aspects of infection control in dentistry …

… and appropriate use of antimicrobial agents

The recordings of the lectures and the Powerpoint presentations have all been made available to the students in support of their ongoing learning and revision.

A formal post-course questionnaire has been issued to the students so that we can learn from their feedback how to enhance our delivery of on-line teaching for the future.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused havoc in many ways with education in schools and universities. However, as teachers we have been forced to learn rapidly the principles and practice of teaching and assessment on-line. For international educational initiatives, such as the MalDent Project, it has emboldened us to embrace digital technologies and harness them to our advantage. In this era of serious climate change concerns and the need to make careful choices about volume of air travel, our learning from courses such as the one described above will actually help us to engage in a more regular and sustainable way with students overseas. To quote a famous French artist:

There are always flowers for those who want to see them

Henri Matisse

Thanks are due to the Scottish Government for financial support towards purchase of the digital devices to allow equitable access of all College of Medicine students to on-line teaching. We would also like to thank Ev Wallace at Glasgow Dental School and Annie Mwapasa, the College of Medicine MalDent Project Administrator, for their support in the organisation of the ‘Introduction to Dentistry’ programme.

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