When asked what brought about a major curriculum overhaul at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine (CWRU SDM), recipient of the Gies Award for Outstanding Innovation by a Dental Institution, former Vice Dean Dr. Marsha A. Pyle points to three fundamentals: good timing, a methodical process, and a commitment to inclusion.
When CRWU SDM initiated its curriculum reform in 2002, the school had just finished an accreditation site visit, freeing faculty to contemplate the future. They did so—over the course of four long years—and Dr. Pyle painstakingly shepherded the process.
In 2003, she began a year as a fellow with the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) Fellowship Program. Dr. Pyle credits her ELAM year with enabling her to really think about the process of change and how to move ideas through an institution. She developed a methodical approach that succeeded in building confidence and receptiveness to substantial change among the faculty.
"The faculty had a chance to weigh in at every step along the way. By the time we put this to a vote, the faculty wanted to do more than rearrange pieces of the curriculum pie,” Dr. Pyle remarks. “The majority voted for transformational change. I believe that including everyone in the conversation from the beginning was the key to our success.”
Pyle also credits the leadership and support that the Dean, the Associate Deans, and several key faculty brought to the process. These individuals shared a common vision: decompressing the curriculum, actively engaging students, and giving them more responsibility for their learning. These ideas became the guiding principles of the curriculum reorganization.
“Formally adopting these principles greatly facilitated our work,” Pyle says. “We could then look at each idea that was floated and ask, does this conform to our core values?”
Problem-Based Learning (PBL) arose early in their discussions. This came as no surprise since promoting long-term retention of information and active student engagement in learning were priorities for most of the faculty. CWRU SDM ultimately chose a hybrid model that includes a variety of educational formats: traditional lecture courses and seminars, simulation, virtual reality simulation, independent study, team-based learning, and a modified version of PBL. This was employed in several new courses that were designed to integrate some of the first- and second-year content across disciplines in a defined, focused way. These courses include evaluation plans assessing student interactions within the groups as well as their mastery of content.
This past summer Dr. Pyle brought her respect for process and her commitment to inclusion to her new post as Dean of the School of Dentistry at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. "We are about to embark on a strategic planning process and are preparing for an accreditation visit next year. We'll be examining our educational programs in the process and talking about where we want to take them in the future."
Dr. Pyle notes that most dental schools are currently engaged in examining their educational programs, and she attributes this activity to the leadership of ADEA CCI.