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Group Learning Initiative Tackles Toughest Courses

Friday, May 16, 2014 - 11:49am

Associate Professor Ryan Quock, DDS (left) and second-year dental students Mary Glasheen and Gregory Luk hope to organize another Group Learning Initiative for the Class of 2018.

Associate Professor Ryan Quock, DDS (left) and second-year dental students Mary Glasheen and Gregory Luk hope to organize another Group Learning Initiative for the Class of 2018. 

Two high-credit-value courses required of first-year students at The University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston are notoriously challenging:   Biomedical Science Core (DENF 1510) in the fall, and Human Biology (DENS 1513).

That’s why those courses were chosen as subject matter for a “Group Learning Initiative” (GLI) led by second-year dental students Mary Glasheen and Gregory Luk, in partnership with Associate Professor Ryan Quock, DDS. 

The two students were themselves enrolled in “Special Projects in Dental Education” (DBEC 5201), which required them to design and conduct an educational research project, culminating in a public presentation of their findings. 

They described creating weekly group study sessions for first-year dental students. The sessions met every Thursday from 5-7 p.m. in the fall semester and in the spring, they were expanded to lunch-time meetings on Tuesdays, plus after-school sessions. The sessions targeted the biomedical science course in the fall and the physiology course in the spring.

Glasheen and Luk designed their study sessions using a “near-peer” model, with a second-year dental student (or “near-peer”) facilitating learning. The second-year facilitators used techniques like asking students to construct practice questions for an upcoming test, or assigning groups of students a topic and then asking them to teach it back to the class.

“The content of each session was totally student-driven,” Glasheen said. “In each session, we would ask what topics in lecture were giving them the most trouble that week, and we would go from there.”

Luk said sometimes dental students rely on rote memorization to perform well on multiple-choice exams.  But that wasn’t the aim of the Group Learning Initiative. 

 “We all want to be dental professionals who can synthesize large quantities of information and think critically,” he said. “We hope GLI helps students begin that journey toward critical thinking.”

On April 30, before an audience at the School of Dentistry, Glasheen and Luk presented their findings for  the project they titled, “Group Learning Initiative: A near-peer led resource for first-year dental students at UTSD.”

They found that the Group Learning Initiative developed a small but consistent group of dental student attendees, and while the data do not show an increase in academic performance from those who attended, the anecdotal data was positive. 

The team also found “predictive value in predental preparation and confidence in relation to study-session attendance” and noted that research in peer-assisted learning has shown that group learning initiatives may increase high-level learning in participants.

Glasheen and Luk hope to continue this program for the Class of 2018 in the fall and to recruit a current first-year student familiar with the program to run it.