Teaching research methods to undergraduate dental students


  • Sam Leary University of Bristol, England
  • Andy Ness University of Bristol, England


Research methods, undergraduate, dental


The provision of undergraduate statistics teaching varies across UK dental schools, but some challenges are faced in all schools. These include the need to (i) demonstrate the relevance of statistics to dentistry, (ii) address the phenomenon of statistical anxiety likely to be experienced, and (iii) deliver the teaching with a limited number of statistically trained staff. Our objective was to design a research methods course that combined epidemiology and statistics teaching for undergraduates at Bristol Dental School (University of Bristol) that was clinically relevant, focused on concepts and interpretation rather than calculation, and was sustainable, using new technology to enhance learning. The research methods course was introduced in 2008, extensively developed over the next two years based on student and tutor feedback, and has run with only minor updates ever since. The aim of the course is to introduce year 2 dental students to the skills needed to practice evidence-based dentistry, i.e. understand and critically appraise published research. Basic epidemiological concepts, different types of study design, summarising and interpreting data, and choosing appropriate statistical analyses are covered. The course is introduced by a face-to-face lecture. This emphasises the relevance to future careers, and pre-empts the feelings of statistical anxiety by presenting evidence that exam results for this course are not associated with having achieved an A-level in mathematics. The rest of the course is delivered using the flipped classroom approach. Didactic teaching is in the form of nine e-lectures, each lasting 20-25 minutes. These are split into chapters to allow easy navigation, and include pop-up questions. Small group (up to 10 students) structured tutorials (one per e-lecture) are used to reinforce the material covered in the e-lectures, drawing on real clinical examples from research publications. They are interactive, and also include e-voting quizzes to allow the tutors and students to gauge the level of understanding that is being achieved. At the end of the course there is a revision session and written assessment, which must be passed before students can progress to year 3 of the dental degree. Approximately 70 students take the course each year, split into eight groups, and tutorials are based on pre-prepared materials. Tutoring on this course provides an attractive opportunity to gain teaching experience, with only a modest investment in time. Therefore, it has always been possible to recruit enough statisticians or epidemiologists in the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Bristol to act as tutors. At least 89% of the students have passed the exam on first sitting each year, and all students have passed their re-sit exam. Marks ranged from 50-86% in 2019, and similar ranges were seen in previous years. Student feedback is consistently high, with virtually all students rating all components of the course at least satisfactory, and high percentages rating them good or excellent (e-lectures and tutorials were rated to be good or excellent by 72% and 95% of the students respectively in 2019). External examiners have been very complimentary, and only ever requested minor changes. Hence it has been possible to run a sustainable research methods course that engages students’ interest and produces excellent learning outcomes.


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How to Cite

Teaching research methods to undergraduate dental students. (2021). Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice, 18(2). https://open-publishing.org/journals/index.php/jutlp/article/view/453