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Features of an effective operative dentistry learning environment: students' perceptions and relationship with performance

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Abstract

Objective

Students' perceptions of their learning environment influence the quality of outcomes they achieve. Learning dental operative techniques in a simulated clinic environment is characterised by reciprocal interactions between skills training, staff- and student-related factors. However, few studies have examined how students perceive their operative learning environments and whether there is a relationship between their perceptions and subsequent performance. Therefore, this study aimed to clarify which learning activities and interactions students perceived as supporting their operative skills learning and to examine relationships with their outcomes.

Methods

Longitudinal data about examples of operative laboratory sessions that were perceived as effective or ineffective for learning were collected twice a semester, using written critical incidents and interviews. Emergent themes from these data were identified using thematic analysis. Associations between perceptions of learning effectiveness and performance were analysed using chi-square tests.

Results

Students indicated that an effective learning environment involved interactions with tutors and peers. This included tutors arranging group discussions to clarify processes and outcomes, providing demonstrations and constructive feedback. Feedback focused on mistakes, and not improvement, was reported as being ineffective for learning. However, there was no significant association between students' perceptions of the effectiveness of their learning experiences and subsequent performance.

Conclusions

It was clear that learning in an operative technique setting involved various factors related not only to social interactions and observational aspects of learning but also to cognitive, motivational and affective processes. Consistent with studies that have demonstrated complex interactions between students, their learning environment and outcomes, other factors need investigation.

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