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lawrenceLeslie Lawrence, D.M.D.
August 2011

How could Blackboard improve dental education? Dr. Leslie Lawrence, Assistant Professor of Dentistry, can tell you how. Since she began teaching at Howard in 2007, Dr. Lawrence has harnessed the Blackboard online course management system to foster critical thinking, monitor student learning, increase student participation, provide 24/7 access to course materials, and make Howard a "greener" campus. At the same time, she has discovered that teaching with Blackboard has given her a more flexible schedule, allowing her to participate in more clinical, research, and faculty development activities.

Dr. Lawrence arrived at Howard ready to teach, having just attended the Institute of Teaching and Learning—sponsored by the American Association of Dental Education and the Academy for Academic Leadership—at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. It is no surprise, then, that she found her way to CETLA, where she earned certifications for Blackboard, Distance-Learning, and Green Teaching. As a professor and director of the Pediatric Dentistry Residency Program, she has wielded Blackboard as a tool for improving didactic dental instruction.

In a paper she is co-authoring with her colleague Dr. Andre Farquharson, Dr. Lawrence explains how they have put Blackboard to best use. Seeing that many of today's millennial learners do not respond well to traditional lectures, they have deployed a wide range of Blackboard technologies that can help students comprehend and synthesize information about oral health: the Discussion Board for discussion and peer review, the Chatroom for online office hours, SafeAssignments for plagiarism detection, Peer Assessments for critiquing classmates' work, Tests for self-scoring pretests and posttests, the Grade Center for monitoring students' progress, and Wikis for collaborative work on group projects.

lawrence Of these Blackboard features, Dr. Lawrence has found the Discussion Board to be particularly effective. The Blackboard Discussion Board is a series of online forums where the class can post asynchronously. Because the discussion is asynchronous, Lawrence and Farquharson observe, "the discussion board is a powerful tool for stimulating reflection, discussion and peer review of drafts and designs." For instance, in her Fall 2010 literature review class, Dr. Lawrence asked each student to select a recent scholarly article for electronic distribution to the class and to post a set of questions for class discussion. On another occasion, she organized an analysis of clinical cases on the Discussion Board. After obtaining informed consent, the students posted clinical cases—including the patient history, photographs, and X-rays—along with questions to stimulate analysis and discussion.

To elicit an informed discussion, Dr. Lawrence asks students to cite peer-reviewed literature to support their opinions. She also provides a rubric for evaluating online discussions to ensure that the quantity and quality of discussion are adequate. She specifies a minimum number of words per post (e.g., 200) and the number and length of comments (e.g., two comments of 100 words each). Since Blackboard organizes the discussion in "threads" (thread = initial post + replies), she can easily follow the train of thought and sort posts by keyword or student name via Blackboard's search engine.

According to Dr. Lawrence and Dr. Farquharson's article, Dr. Lawrence's efforts have paid off. The Discussion Board, they write, "increased the level of dynamic interaction .Learners spontaneously began to supplement their responses with reference to videos, PowerPoint presentations, journal articles, etc., as they debated points and attempted to assist others who had not grasped a concept. This is in stark contrast to face-to-face class meetings where students were rarely prepared and/or reluctant to share their thoughts."




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