Unit of work

Rationale for the redesign:

Recently the World Dental Federation published a new definition of Oral Health:

“Oral health is multi-faceted and includes the ability to speak, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow and convey a range of emotions through facial expressions with confidence and free from pain or discomfort, and free from diseases of the craniofacial complex.” (World Dental Federation, 2016).

In the video, Prof David Williams states that “oral health is a basic human right”.  This statement, in conjunction with the new definition of oral health which deliberately places the patient at the centre, is what underpins this redesigned unit of work.

In addition to this, universities are also questioning their current and future role in society, and are under increasing pressure to produce graduates who possess a different set of skills from those who have gone before them.  As I mentioned in my initial post on this blog, universities have responded by building these skills and attributes into their strategic plans:

“Our vision is for a transformative students experience that inspires a new generation to ask the questions that create change” (The University of Queensland, 2016, p. 9).

The Journal of Active Learning in Higher Education recently released a call for papers which address what they term the citizen scholar; a graduate who has not only developed skills in scholarship, but who also has a sense of engaged and empowered citizenship.  Furthermore, development of professional identity is an essential element of any health professional education program (Morris & Faulk, 2015, p. 158).

This leads to the Essential Question which underpins this unit of inquiry, and which students will formulate an answer to during the reflection activity for this unit:

What does ‘being’ a dentist mean?

How is this different from ‘knowing’ and ‘practising’ Dentistry?

My aim with this essential question was to immediately frame this unit as an investigation rather than a memorizing and recalling activity.  My hope is that students ‘walk the world with this question in their heads’ for the duration of this unit and beyond, just as  Murdoch explains in her blog post.

The new unit:

This short 3 minute video introduces the ‘new James Davies’ and will give you an overview of the higher level of inquiry that James now reaches:

Video created by author

The new unit outline and assessment for James Davies can be found here.


Below is a summary of the new inquiry approach in the redesigned unit, and the development of inquiry and information literacy skills:


Image created by author

As can be seen in the table above, this unit begins with knowledge building in weeks 1 & 2 and progresses towards a higher level of inquiry during weeks 3 & 4 and the unit assessment tasks.  This progression is based on Oddone’s Ladder of Learning model of inquiry, and resolves the issue of inquiry occurring in an ad hoc fashion.  Instead, the inquiry in this unit has been purposefully structured.  This is reflected in the new Learning Outcomes which begin on the lower levels of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy,  ‘understand’ and ‘apply’, and moves towards ‘evaluate’ and ‘create’ as the unit progresses.  Likewise, when applying the windows of inquiry described by Lupton and Bruce (2013, pp. 12-13), this unit begins in the Situated Window, in that students find existing discipline-based information through authentic information practices to create new knowledge and solve problems.  As the unit moves into weeks 3 & 4 and also as they work on their assessment, students operate in the Transformative Window (Lupton & Bruce, 2013, pp. 13-14) as they start to question the status quo and examine whose interests are served.  Students engage in information practices that have the potential to transform society.  As Lupton and Bruce (2013, p. 8) argue, “it is not until information literacy is seen as a social practice that it can then be transformational.”  This unit also has the potential to be an inter-disciplinary unit with other health professional education students such as medical students which would also be an exercise that would reach the Transformative Window.  During the assessment for this unit students also reach the Expressive window, as they are given the opportunity to include something of themselves in both parts of the assessment, (particularly Part A) as well as reflect on, and provide their own response to the essential question for this unit.  The reflection will hopefully result in a range of responses and perspectives from the cohort and will give students the opportunity to develop self awareness and begin to build a professional identity as a future dentist.

After using Brew’s Framework for Curricular and Pedagogical Decision-making as a diagnostic tool for the analysis, I have now used it as a design tool.  When deciding upon the different levels of inquiry within this unit, I considered the questions Brew raises in her framework.  The advantage of this model is that it doesn’t assume that high levels of structure (such as the topic and questions being chosen by the teacher) are automatically associated with low levels of student autonomy.  In this unit, although the topic has been pre-determined by the course leaders, students are given the opportunity to formulate their own questions to explore the main concepts of saliva and non-carious tooth loss in the early weeks of the unit.  They are also free to choose how and where they gather information to answer their questions.  As the unit progresses and in the assessment, the questions are chosen by the course leaders but the students are able to decide the audience and particular type of non-carious tooth loss they will address, as well as the type of media that they will use to convey their message or the particular side of the debate that they would like to argue.

At all stages throughout this unit, the aim is for the teachers to be the ‘guide on the side’ rather than the ‘sage on the stage’ and the learning activities and assessment reflect this.  One of the main ways of achieving this, is for students to formulate their own questions and this can be achieved through the use of questioning frameworks.  In this unit, students are required to begin the unit by following the Maastricht seven step Problem Based Learning (PBL) method as a way of simultaneously building their question formulation skills and clinical reasoning skills.  James’ initial scenario was adapted to become a problem with an unknown diagnosis to facilitate this PBL approach.   This unit also builds students’ inquiry skills as well as knowledge by requiring students to use the Question Formulation Technique in weeks 1 and 2.  Depending on the complexity of a concept, students can sometimes complete the earlier steps of the Question Formulation Technique in their own time and come to class with questions prepared. This may mean that students have more time in class to gather information in groups and report back, as well as reflect on their learning.  Other times, some of the information gathering may need to occur in students’ private study time.  According to Rothstein and Santana (2011) this technique can take a while to work through the first couple of times but after this, students become very efficient at it.  Another example of a questioning framework used in this unit is the Transformative Window (Lupton & Bruce, 2013).  Not only was this concept used in the design of this unit to reach a higher level of inquiry, but it was also used by students to critically evaluate and analyse information in a learning activity in week 3.  Scaffolding these face-to-face learning activities, are pre-reading activities which aim to building the skills students require to successfully complete the task such as critical appraisal and analysis tips, or ‘posing real questions’ from Brunner’s inquiry process.

One positive feature of the previous version of this unit is that it was a purposefully connected curriculum.  This feature has been retained in the redesigned version.  As a result of the changes that have been made to the design of this unit, students will be acquiring a more comprehensive list of skills and attributes and covering more Australian Dental Council Professional Competencies of the Newly Qualified Dentist as can be seen in this document.  The newly added skills and attributes are indicated in red.

My hope is that that unit engages students in their learning and provides opportunities for deeper learning through a constructivist, student-centred inquiry pedagogy.  My aim was to move James Davies here:


Image created by author

I hope I have achieved my aim!  Please feel free to reply below with any feedback you have about this redesign.  I would be very keen to hear your thoughts!


Australian Dental Council. (2016). Professional Attributes and Competencies. Retrieved from http://www.adc.org.au/index.php?id=14

Brew, A. (2013). Understanding the scope of undergraduate research: A framework for curricular and pedagogical decision-making. Higher Education66(5), 603-618.

Lupton, M., & Bruce, C. (2013). Windows on Information Literacy Worlds: Generic, Situated and Transformative Perspectives. In A. Lloyd, & T. Sanna (Eds.), Practising information literacy: bringing theories of learning, practice and information literacy together (pp. 3-27). Wagga Wagga: Centre for Information Studies.

Maurer, H., & Neuhold, C. (2012, May 29). Problems Everywhere? Strengths and Challenges of a Problem-Based Learning Approach in European Studies. Paper presented at Higher Education Academy Social Science Conference: Ways of Knowing, Ways of Learning, Liverpool. Maastricht: Maastricht University.

Morris, A. H., & Faulk, D. (2015). Transformative learning for health professional education. In T. Brown & B. Williams (Eds.), Evidence-based education in the health professions: Promoting best practice in the learning and teaching of students (pp. 153-167). London, United Kingdom: Radcliffe Publishing.

Nayler, J. (2015, April 11). Purposefully connected curriculum Identifying conceptual links [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iq1W7-qQItc

Oddone, K. (n.d.). Ladder. Retrieved from https://resourcelinkbce.wordpress.com/inquiring-minds-resourcing-inquiry-learning/ladder/

Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (2011, October). Teaching students to ask their own questions. Retrieved from http://hepg.org/hel-home/issues/27_5/helarticle/teaching-students-to-ask-their-own-questions_507#home

The University of Queensland. (2016). Student Strategy 2016-2020 White Paper. Retrieved from https://student-strategy.uq.edu.au/files/392/Student-Strategy_White-Paper.pdf

World Dental Federation (2016, September 8). A New Definition of Oral Health: Prof David Williams and Prof Michael Glick [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzzzdy-k7KA&app=desktop

Youth Learn. (2016). Inquiry-based learning: An approach to educating and inspiring kids. Retrieved from http://youthlearn.org/wp-content/uploads/Inquiry_Based_Learning.pdfcontent/uploads/Inquiry_Based_Learning.pdf

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