Hands-on learning experiences delayed, moved remote

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As a result of the transition to online classes due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, several academic programs have been forced to reassess how their hands-on experiences operate. For some students, this means changes in clinicals or student teaching.

For the School of Dentistry, clinicals are an opportunity to educate dental students through real experiences while delivering high quality patient care, according to the Marquette School of Dentistry’s website. Yet as the coronavirus continues to spread, these clinicals and student teaching opportunities are taking a step back to ensure the safety of patients, students and faculty.

Marquette’s School of Dentistry offers two community clinics and several specialty clinics like an orthodontics clinic and pediatrics clinic to assist those in the Milwaukee area with dental care needs. In these clinics, along with the simulation lab in the School of Dentistry, students are able to gain hands-on experience by performing dental procedures and assisting upper-level students with their cases.

The dentistry school released an update on its website stating that the community clinics will be closed until further notice. The Marquette emergency clinic will be open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., though there will not be walk-in emergency services for the community. Patients in need of emergency care must call in advance. Faculty in the School of Dentistry are overseeing the emergency treatment. 

Juno Park, a first-year graduate student in the School of Dentistry, said that all other simulation labs and clinicals are closed as a result of COVID-19.

“Lab and Clinic materials are postponed until summer and courses related to it will get an Incomplete grade,” Park said in an email. “We’re still scheduled for the summer term, however the decision from the School of Dentistry is dependent on the stay home order.”

Governor Tony Evers, who first ordered Wisconsin residents to stay in late March, directed the Department of Health Services to extend the current Safer at Home order until May 26, marking just over two months since it began.

This decision affects the graduation of fourth-year dental students, as they must complete a specific number of dental treatments to graduate. The dentistry website says that as restrictions are loosened, they may allow the simulation lab to open for fourth-year dental students that need to complete experiences. Graduation ceremonies are currently scheduled for the weekend of August 29.

“Most of our hands-on experience is merely impossible to simulate online, so most of our waxing and drilling projects have been moved to the summer semester, as we listen to more lectures online during this current spring semester,” Veronica Nakhla, a first-year graduate student in the School of Dentistry, said in an email. 

Classes now take place through live lectures, pre-recorded video or recordings of previous years’ lectures. 

“While it is true that we get to learn each concept and how to perform each of the procedures, nothing beats the hands-on experience,” Park said in an email.

As for other disciplines, the College of Education is also affected directly as a result of the university’s decision to go remote. Student teaching and field experiences are required for any education students who are completing an elementary or secondary education major to both graduate and become licensed. According to Marquette’s website, field experiences are designed to provide students with opportunities to work with pupils from diverse ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds in Milwaukee area schools. Student teaching is the culminating experience for students to actually go out in the community and teach.

Madeline Moster, a junior in the College of Education, was involved in a field experience before the switch to online learning. She said, under normal circumstances, students must complete four semesters of field experience and one semester of student teaching in order to graduate.

“They just told us that we did not have to finish our field placement this semester and did not have to make it up at any point,” Moster said in an email.

With student teaching, students will continue to teach through the end of the semester. Kirsten Lathrop is the Director of Field Placements and Licensure in the College of Education.

“All the student teachers are still working with their cooperating teachers on remote learning activities,” Lathrop said in an interview. “They have stayed connected with each other, with us, with their cooperating teachers of course, and their students, but they’ve really been willing to ask questions if they’re unsure about how to proceed. In most cases I feel like they just sort of shifted gears and figured out ways to still implement their lessons and to still connect with students”.

Dean of the College of Education William Henk said that the College of Education is making sure students still get meaning from their education despite the circumstances.

“Our faculty, professional administrators, and staff worked tirelessly to ensure that our student teachers could complete all of their requirements both for completion of their ultimate field experience and of their degrees,” Henk said in an email.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction said on its website that it will consider experience from the spring 2020 semester valid for those applying for a Lifetime Teaching License.

“I think that the College of Education has responded extremely well with this whole situation,” Hannah Jablonowski, a sophomore in the College of Education, said in an email. “Our college values one thing at the end of the day, which is our success and well-being.”

This story was written by Kaylee Staral. She can be reached at kaylee.staral@marquette.edu.