Innovation in Education at Vancouver Community College

The Dental Hygiene Program at Vancouver Community College (VCC) recently implemented an exciting new learning opportunity for its third year students.  The program is an integrated, guided independent study of “self-directed projects” that came about because instructors at VCC, using the Canadian Dental Hygiene Association (CDHA) competencies as a framework, recognized that there were areas of dental hygiene instruction and practice that were lacking and therefore required greater development. The identified areas were political action, oral health policy development, grant writing, professional advocacy and entrepreneurship.

The six student teams working in groups of three to four were required to analyze an area of dental hygiene practice outside of traditional clinical practice settings within the broad confines of the areas noted above. They did so primarily by conducting extensive field-work that occurred over a six-month period.  Denise Beerwald, Instructor in the Dental Hygiene Department at VCC, had the pleasure of working with students in their first ever, self-directed projects. “We provided students with some broad themes that we saw needing exploration and development. While we set out to guide the students through these projects, our goal as a faculty was to really encourage them to be creative throughout the process, and they really were!”

Even within the core themes, the student presentations were not only varied but comprehensive as well. One student team presented their project on developing business plans for mobile, independent practice within larger corporations for the purposes of providing on-site dental hygiene care for workers in these large corporations. Another team provided details about how to implement an oral health policy in a hospital setting where there was previously no oral health policy. This group worked with other health care providers such as RNs, LPNs and Care-Aides.

Additional teams focused on developing a successful grant writing framework. Another worked with advocates on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to provide services for sex-trade workers and women living with addictions issues. This team provided a framework for how to present the profession to this marginalized group that was not only sensitive to the needs of the population, but also promoted dignity and beauty through oral health.  The final group used social media to build an online, oral health resource for new immigrants to Canada.

As Denise notes, “This process was really transformative for both the students and faculty.  The students did excellent work and they jumped in with enthusiasm and passion for the profession. The presentations were so rich and so creative that those of us on the faculty really had a chance to learn from them as well as offering guidance to support their efforts. It was a wonderful experience I think for everyone involved.”

While these projects of course served to enhance the educational experiences of the students, they really did much more than that.  At their core, these projects allowed dental hygiene students to interact with other health care providers, members of the community and government officials thereby raising the profile of the profession. “Students felt really empowered throughout this process and they came to realize they had a lot to offer and could impart a great deal of knowledge about the profession. In turn, those that they worked with also had the chance to understand what dental hygienists can do for overall health promotion.”

These projects were such a success that VCC has plans to do this all over again come January 2014.  “We’ll take the process we’ve established, whereby we focus on broad themes, and allow the students to take what we have given them and run with it.  This year has reinforced to me that students really have a great capacity for learning in this way and that given a bit of guidance; they have this wonderful ability to be creative and provide such rich work that we can all take as we go forward. I am so very proud of them!”

Congratulations to VCC Faculty and the students who participated. We look forward to hearing more about your projects!