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Dr. Mona Boside, DDS

Assistant Professor of Dental Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in the section of Cariology and Restorative Sciences, Division of Endodontics, at the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine; Program and Course Director, Predoctoral Endodontics

Dr. Boside teaches a root canal procedure course at the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. The course lasts about four to six weeks, and enrolls about 100 students. Students typically participate in a morning lecture, followed by an afternoon simulation lab. Like all courses, this routine structure was disrupted in the Spring 2020 semester. Dr. Boside met the moment by flipping her course, rethinking the lecture format, and partnering with her TAs and students. Read on to learn more about what Dr. Boside did in her course, what lessons and experiences she’s carrying forward, and the advice she has for other instructors at Columbia. 

Flip the Course 

My course is typically about 100 students, but during the pandemic, it was impossible for us all to meet. We split the course into four groups of 25 students each, which meant students had less time in the lab portion of the course. To address this, my colleagues and I decided to flip the demonstrations in the simulation lab portion of the course. We created demonstration videos that discussed the process and steps involved, along with all of the instrumentation and details needed to complete the lab. We asked students to review the videos several times before attending the lab and come prepared to practice the skills demonstrated in the videos. 

What we quickly realized was that this blended, asynchronous learning is really important for procedural courses. With the demonstrations moved to videos before class, students had more time to practice in the labs. So even though they were in smaller groups, with less lab time, they were practicing more in the time they had. Even with minimized practice time, we could get the same results. And for our students, I feel like they were getting it faster. They come to the lab more familiar and more prepared, knowing what to expect. 

And I wasn’t expecting this. I thought of it more like watching a video on YouTube, but it was so different. Because the videos were connected to the lecture, to the steps, and to their coursework (there’s a video for each chapter), students were more organized with their ideas and they knew what was coming in the simulation lab. And now? I can’t go back; I can’t stop doing it this way. Students were practicing before in the labs, but now, they’re practicing even more. And they enjoy it. Combining the synchronous-asynchronous, this flipped learning, is essential now. I don’t think it works except this way. Students are learning more and they’re enjoying it more. For procedure courses, like mine, this is more interactive and it’s essential. 

Reimagine the Lecture Format 

The lab was only one piece of the course. While that happens in the afternoon, students begin the day with a lecture where we discuss diagnosis and instruments. For a time this lecture was fully online via Zoom, but now it’s offered in a hybrid modality. I saw the emergency remote pivot as an opportunity to make the lectures more engaging for students. I believe that active learning is very important, whether on Zoom or in-person. 

I began adding questions, prompts, and scenario exercises to my lectures. I knew that active learning, and going beyond just a lecture, was the best way to engage my students, make them participate, and ultimately, learn more. When I started providing scenario activities, pausing in a lecture to ask students what they thought the diagnosis was, I saw a big difference. They started asking questions, raising their hands, and interacting in new ways. I don’t even feel the time of the lecture anymore; it goes by so much quicker. 

Partner with TAs and Students 

Throughout this experience, and as I go forward, I have more and more been able to engage my TAs throughout the course. They helped us create the original videos for the flipped course, and continue to support this model. But even more, they are there for the students during the labs. I see that sometimes the students might feel more comfortable with TAs; they feel they can more easily approach them than they can the faculty. And the TAs are excited at the opportunity to get to teach and respond in the labs. It’s a way that I can help train the TAs as educators – I remind them that teaching is definitely a part of everything: procedure, clinical. It’s part of the curriculum.

I also find it important to partner with my students. At the end of every semester, when the course has finished and grades have been submitted, I ask my students: what do you think? What do you think we can do better? Their feedback has been invaluable in my own growth as an educator, and also how I think about the course going forward. 

Advice for Instructors and the Future of Teaching at Columbia 

I’m a clinician; I was trained as a clinician to treat patients. But regardless of that, I have a big job as an educator. It’s important to use all of the resources available to continue improving and growing as an instructor. When we get feedback from our students, we need to listen and act upon it. I always ask my students: what do you expect? What do you think? I ask them every year and if they tell me something, I’ll do it. 

I was talking to a colleague of mine, and she said that she improves every year. That even after so many years of teaching, instructors should improve a little bit, every year. And I feel that every year, I have to be a little bit better than the previous year. Stronger in some way. This is what I feel: teaching shouldn’t be so static. Learn from the previous year, update, create something new, and get a little bit better.