Why web-based simulations should be part of your Dental Assisting curriculum

As an experienced dental assistant and educator, Cassie Belfancha is always on the look-out for ways to enhance the learning experiences of students and trainees. That’s why she jumped at the opportunity to work with the SimTutor team when they began developing new SIMTICS simulations for dental assisting skills.

SIMTICS is a web-based multi-media platform that was already being used in sonography, radiography, medical assisting, and medical programs around the USA and in other countries including Australia, The Philippines, and India. Each module covers one skill or procedure and comprises a text explanation of the procedure, a video of an expert undertaking the procedure, a 3D anatomy model, and a quiz. But the ground-breaking aspect for the dental assisting field is that students can learn and practice skills interactively with the unique SIMTICS simulations, and test their competence too.

We talked to Cassie about the benefits of learning via web-based simulation.

‘The simulated practice has realistic images and really helps students grasp the concepts we teach. Chances are that you only get the chance to go over something once in class, and let students practice for a short while, before you have to move on to a new topic. So these SIMTICS modules are a hugely valuable adjunct to traditional teaching methods and resources. SIMTICS will teach, remind, refresh, and keep things current in a student’s head throughout the entire program. They not only learn more effectively, but what they learn in the beginning is not forgotten because they can go back and practice each skill later, long after it was covered in class.’

The multi-modal format is a boon for students, providing the procedural information in different formats to trigger and engage different parts of the brain. This supports effective learning and helps to embed the knowledge long-term.

‘SIMTICS is a break from the run-of-the-mill techniques we use like textbooks, lectures and practice on dummies or a fellow student. It takes the most important parts of what can sometimes be a huge lecture and explains the basics in multiple, easy to remember ways. The text is clear and concise. The videos are detailed and user-friendly. They give clear, real-life visuals which are a must for today’s learners. And the simulations are something else – a whole new dimension of learning that dental students don’t normally have access to. The simulations give students a chance to practice skills until they feel comfortable when they get to the lab and when performing those skills in the real world. And all the information in SIMTICS is presented in the context of working in a dental practice, not just as theoretical concepts.’

Cassie says the benefits for teaching dental assisting using SIMTICS accrue to instructors as well.

‘It’s often difficult for an instructor to present information in a way that all types of learners grasp and understand. SIMTICS has an explain-show-do type of setup that any student will benefit from. Individual students can take as much time as they need to become familiar with a procedure and practice it. Also, there’s an administration panel for instructors to view each student’s activity and progress. You can see when students have reached competence in each skill, which means lab time can be used for more valuable discussions and tutoring.’

From an institutional standpoint, having an unlimited, 24/7 instructional modality available helps to manage and supplement finite physical resources.

‘Students can only practice so much in designated lab time either because of limited access to the lab, limited resources, or lack of a patient or mannequin to repeatedly practice on. But with web-based learning, there are no restrictions. Students can practice with the simulations as many times as they need to, until they are confident. The system doesn’t mind how many times they try a simulation, and it’s not using up resources and consumables each time.’

Cassie points out that students don’t need to have a supervisor on hand, so they can be learning at any time, anywhere.

‘SIMTICS provides immediate, formative feedback in the simulations, so the student knows when they make a mistake and can correct it. This makes it a valuable self-study tool that students can work through at their own pace, as well as a good way to supplement lessons during down time in class. There are also summative assessments in the students’ logbooks.’

Cassie explains she wanted to be part of the SIMTICS project because she could see the potential to help to grow more confident and competent dental assistants, far beyond the number of students she can directly affect in a teaching role.

‘I’ve never seen anything like this product. As an instructor and also someone who works in the field, I saw huge merit in having these new modules to help dental assisting students feel more confident when they go out into the real world. Students can be better prepared to start their careers. It can even lead to more students being hired right out of school due to the clinical performance demanded by the SIMTICS modules.’

SimTutor would like to thank Cassie for her insights which inspired this article. To find out more or ask about academic or corporate licenses, you can send a note to the SIMTICS team at [email protected]. Personal subscriptions are also available for purchase at the SIMTICS website.