As we started doing focus groups with our graduating cohorts and two-years-out alumnae in the Dental Hygiene Online Degree Completion Program, we kept hearing students say “this program changed my life.” All the faculty and directors of the program had taught in traditional dental hygiene programs for years, and no one had ever heard students us these terms to describe their education. We had already documented the academic rigor of the program, but we felt it was important to capture the transformative nature of the program.
In the dental world, if it can’t be measured, it can’t be reported. So we set out to design a reproducible method for coding any type of student-generated text (written reflections, exit interview transcripts, etc.) for type of change (e.g., leadership, professional skills, clinical skills) and depth of change (i.e., transformative or not transformative). This would not only let us explain the degree to which our program transformed students’ lives, but could also be used by other programs to evaluate their impact.
Over time, programs could potentially compare the impact of one intervention to another and weigh the relative benefits and costs. For example, by analyzing student exit interviews over several years, a department might be able to decide eight-week internships are nearly as beneficial as twelve-week internships, or they might realize a reflective portfolio is worth every minute faculty and students spend reviewing the reflections together.