Comparisons in Basic Science Learning Outcomes Between Students in PBL and Traditional Dental Curricula at the Same Dental School

  • Charles F. Shuler
Part of the Innovation and Change in Professional Education book series (ICPE, volume 8)


Comparison of student achievement on external assessment measures constitutes an important criterion for program evaluation. Standardized national dental board exams exist to permit comparisons between different dental curriculum structures. In the United States, the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE) Part 1 is one of the required steps for licensure. The NBDE Part 1 assesses dental students with respect to their knowledge of the basic sciences that establish the foundation for clinical dentistry. Some US dental schools have incorporated successful completion of NBDE Part 1 as a requirement for promotion to the clinical patient care component of their dental curriculum. The outcomes assessment processes that are required for accreditation of US dental schools have also incorporated NBDE scores as an external metric of the effectiveness of the dental curriculum. Thus NBDE Part 1 achievement can be a useful criterion for measuring the effectiveness of different pedagogies to provide the basic science content of a dental curriculum. The University of Southern California School of Dentistry (USCSD) began using a problem-based learning (PBL) pedagogy to provide the dental curriculum in 1995 to a subset of students learning in parallel to their peers enrolled in a traditional lecture-based system. Between 1997 and 2002, six classes of the PBL pilot and the traditional lecture-based students completed the same NBDE Part 1 examination. In 2001 the entire dental school adopted the PBL pedagogical approach for all students enrolled in the dental education program. This chapter compares the achievement of dental students on NBDE Part 1 at USCSD prior to the beginning of the PBL pilot program, during the 6 years when PBL and traditional ran in parallel and after the entire dental education program became PBL-based.


Dental Student Dental School Standardize Examination American Dental Association Dental Education 
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The scientists at the USC Center for Craniofacial Molecular Biology made a commitment in 1995 to develop a new approach to dental education and parts of the success of that endeavor are described in this chapter. In particular I would like to acknowledge Drs. Bob Baehner, Yang Chai, David Crowe, Alan Fincham, Matt Lee, Wen Luo, Janet Moradian-Oldak, Michael Paine, Alvin Rosenblum, Malcolm Snead, Hsing Chi Wang, Carol Wuenschell, and Margarita Zeichner-David, who were essential to the initiation of the PBL pilot program and added this teaching/curriculum development activity to their already full schedules of outstanding research. There are too many to name additional colleagues who played a critical role in the continued development of the pilot program and the implementation of the PBL program school-wide and I greatly appreciate all they contributed. The three Deans at USCSD during the period 1995–2006 were all essential and the contributions of Deans Howard Landesman, Gerald Vale, and Harold Slavkin were greatly appreciated. The last group I want to acknowledge is the dental students. Twelve classes of dental students entered in either the pilot PBL program or the school-wide PBL program while I was on the faculty of USCSD. Every group of students continually demonstrated its passion for learning and its incredible level of achievement on the NBDE Part 1, which made this chapter possible.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles F. Shuler
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of DentistryUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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