“Do not put anything in your sink or you’ll clog the drain, and your mom will kill you!”
“Don’t take impressions on your little brother… You don’t have a license and you’ll go to jail.”
That’s just some of the advice that Golda Erdfarb, DDDS, associate professor of dental medicine at the Touro College of Dental Medicine (TCDM), has given her students as they take impressions, learn about occlusion, and perform other lab procedures at home.
During the fall semester, TCDM remained open for in-person simulation laboratory classes with reduced capacity, but moved to a remote model after Thanksgiving break. Erdfarb then determined what aspects of her Pre-Clinical Operative Dentistry course required in-person instruction and which lab procedures could be taught virtually.
“I kept staying up at night, evaluating my entire curriculum and thinking outside the box as much as I could,” said Erdfarb, who also is course director of operative dentistry and dental anatomy and occlusion.
“I am very committed to the education of our students, and I remember what it is like to be a student and wanting to learn. I didn’t want them to feel that their education ended in November,” said Erdfarb.
Before Thanksgiving, each of TCDM’s 114 first-year dental students received a take-home kit including composite, curing lights, condensers, alginate packs, detailed lab guides, and everything else needed to work on restorations and other lab procedures remotely for the remainder of the semester.
This innovative educational experience is one-of-a-kind, TCDM said, as students from New Jersey to California to everywhere in between come together to continue their education in a way that most dentists today could never have imagined was possible.
“I think it’s revolutionary because dentistry and medicine have always been taught in person,” said Erdfarb. “Dentists are naturally creative and artistic individuals, but COVID-19 has pushed us to really challenge ourselves rather than following what we’ve been taught.”
Hosted over Zoom, each lab hosts 38 students, who are then randomly sorted into breakout sessions of about eight students each. Each small group is staffed by a faculty member to create an intimate learning environment where students can hone their hand skills as they receive one-on-one attention, TCDM said.
“In some ways, having our faculty teach virtually allows them to give each student more guidance than they would be able to do in a lab moving back and forth between students to see their work,” said Erdfarb.
“As our faculty has repeatedly reminded us throughout the semester, COVID-19 is pushing us out from our comfort zone and is challenging us in new ways,” said New Jersey resident Eli Sonenblick, a first-year dental student.
“Organizing this semester’s Zoom dental simlab was no small feat, and I know that our class is forever grateful to all the faculty who have worked with such dedication on our behalf,” said Sonenblick.
By creating these small group sessions, Erdfarb also aimed to facilitate connections between the first-year students, many of whom had not had the opportunity to get truly acquainted with one another and have only had the chance to see each other with masks on.
“Being all the way from California and having to do distance learning from the beginning, I initially did not know anyone when I came to TCDM,” said first-year student Hannah Salao.
“Fortunately, the way the virtual lab is set up has also provided students an opportunity to meet face-to-face and interact with one another,” Salao said.
“Dr. Erdfarb’s intention on ensuring our virtual lab is very interactive and engaging and has made the distance learning experience bearable and something I look forward to,” she said.
Learning from home means challenges for any student, TCDM said, which is why Erdfarb and the faculty have gone the extra mile for their students, ensuring they have the instructional as well as emotional support and resources they need to succeed.
“We should be able to make jokes and make light of a situation. I tell my students if your kids walk in and say, ‘Dad, I need a diaper!’ that’s okay. That’s life,” said Erdfarb. “If we acknowledge that and let the students know that we are here for them, then that’s one less thing they have to worry about during an intensely stressful time for all of us.”