Research is currently being undertaken into the effectiveness of online delivery strategies on learning outcomes for students from different cultural backgrounds and with different learning styles. Judi Baron of the University of Adelaide is collaborating with the Sharjah University in the United Arab Emirates. A Dental Amalgam eSim has been developed by the School of Dentistry and Centre for Learning and Professional Development, University of Adelaide using Blackboard LMS and 110 second year students of Sharjah's College of Dentistry are presently considering the pros and cons of the use of amalgam for restorative purposes over a three week period. The trigger was the announcement of a public inquiry into the use of amalgam by the Sharjah Dental Board. In the past this has been conducted as a face to face debate and it is still too early to ascertain the comparative effectiveness of using an online roleplay. The eSim will also be run at the University of Adelaide later in 2008 and repeated in 2009 in both places.

There are various roles including Adult Patient, Parent of a child patient, Government Dentist, Private Dentist, Restorative Specialist, Government Official, Health Journalist, Consumer Representative, Public Health Official and Lawyer. The eSim has been split into Group A and Group B in order to cope with the total number of students. Students are required to liaise within their private groups (there are 5 students per role on average) on the group discussion board. Class level resources have been provided including transcripts and audio files of interviews with an Australian dental specialist. Each group is required to make a public posting on the class discussion board once a week, culminating in a final report to the Dental Board.

A face to face orientation to the eSim took place at Sharjah University, a day or so after all students had been sent an email with instructions on how to access the eSim and what to do to get started. A face to face debrief will also take place at the end of the eSim. Assessment requirements include completion of an online quiz (which will be released after the deadline for submission of final reports) and online group participation. The students have also been informed that there will be dental amalgam questions in the mid year examination.

There were some initial problems that have been largely rectified, including students not receiving the initial email with their login details (due to full mailboxes) and the damage to an underwater cable between India and the Middle East which affected connectivity in the first week of the running of the eSim. Some students who live on campus are still having connectivity issues. Other students initially expressed concern about taking on a persona and also being placed into a group where student identities remain anonymous. Many have 'found out' the real identities of their group members and the anonymity aspect will be analysed further via student feedback from an online evaluation. Initial student postings were largely ice-breakers, however the majority of roles in both group A and group B are now making constructive posts.

While the Dental Amalgam eSim is in progress, Judi Baron has also been distributing Values/Beliefs and Learning Styles surveys to all three year levels (Sharjah University currently only offers Foundation, Year 1, 2 and 3 Dentistry). A further survey, Readiness for Online Learning will also be distributed once the second year students have completed the eSim.

Judi Baron will return to Adelaide at the end of March 2008 and intends to publish her research findings after final analysis takes place. If anyone is interested in further preliminary findings or would like to consider a collaboration of some kind, or has information that may be of assistance, please contact Judi at:

Judi Baron, EnRoLE Cluster Co-Leader for the University of Adelaide, is the Convenor of the Graduate Certificate in Online Learning (Higher Education) and the Online Education Coordinator for the Centre for Learning and Professional Development, University of Adelaide.

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