Preparing for the year ahead at UCL Eastman

Albert Leung looks at how UCL Eastman has been preparing for the year ahead in the face of COVID-19Professor Albert Leung looks at how UCL Eastman has been preparing for the year ahead in the face of COVID-19.

COVID-19 posed unprecedented challenges by shutting down face-to-face teaching at UCL very abruptly. Fortunately, at UCL Eastman we were already used to delivering comprehensive online teaching. Virtual classes began less than 24 hours after the university lockdown, keeping the momentum going, to the delight of many of our students.

Since then, we have developed a sophisticated range of online teaching and assessment methods, building on our existing distance-learning expertise.

As well as continuing to deliver our degree programmes, we have developed and delivered bespoke CPD webinars on laser dentistry, periodontology, oral health in sport, dental nursing and restorative dentistry.

A suite of guest lectures on advanced aesthetics was hosted. We moved taster days online, so that prospective students could continue to sample our renowned programmes.

Challenging but exciting

In May, oral health experts from across the world joined UCL Eastman Director Professor, Stephen Porter, as well as representatives from Eastman Institutes in Sweden and New York, for the first international webinar on dentistry and COVID-19.

As Head of CPD, part of my role has been to oversee the delivery of the above – it has been challenging but really exciting. If you told me five months ago this is what I would be doing as Professor of Dental Education, I would not have believed you.

But at the same time our online service was already in place and we simply expanded it to meet the new circumstances. .

And online learning in the context of COVID-19 has actually been very effective. This is because the education paradigm has been shifted to practical delivery of programmes in the comfort of the participants’ own home. Learning takes place in a relatively relaxed, congenial and unthreatened environment.

There are of course issues, particularly in clinical dentistry, where practice and the practical application of skills are crucial. We are currently holding flexible, catch-up sessions for all our postgraduates; no student will be left without the vital, hands-on experience they require.

Respond flexibly

Now, as we approach a new term, and a potential second wave of infections, we are COVID-proofing our future plans.

We will continue to deliver most didactic and theoretical training online. There will be face-to-face clinical skills teaching in our new, state-of-the-art facilities wherever possible. The latter will be in small groups, enabling us to be mindful of any social distancing measures in place.

We are working to minimise the number of times students travel to campus each week.

Inevitably, we all need to be prepared to respond flexibly to changes in governmental advice. But we are excited to meet our new postgraduates and begin our journey with them.

Professor Albert Leung is director of CPD and restorative dentistry, and dean of the Faculty of Dentistry of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

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