Dental Hygiene eLearning Program Development – 2007-2010

DH master's students_ClassOf2016_Web
MS Dental Hygiene Class of 2016, with their computers

In 2006, department chair Laurie McCauley charged Wendy Kerschbaum and Anne Gwozdek with developing an online dental hygiene degree completion program to better equip dental hygienists for the next decades of the profession and to increase sagging program enrollment.

Wendy and Anne contacted me to help them shape every aspect of the program, from the highest-level planning through the creation of 11 individual courses. I also helped them develop a curriculum-wide portfolio that keeps students engaged with and oriented to program competencies throughout the 2-year program. When the degree completion (BS) program was complete, we then developed a 2-year online master’s degree program based on the same model.

Importance and Impact of Project or Work

Active learning, online

A major goal of this curriculum redesign was to “raise the bar” of student learning. Results from the first 10 years of the program show that students are, indeed, learning more material at a deeper level than students in traditional face-to-face classes. We achieved this by:

  • increasing student responsibility for reading and understanding course texts,
  • creating assignments that ask students to apply what they’ve learned in realistic scenarios and in the field with community partners, and
  • developing challenging grading rubrics to guide student performance.

A portfolio to keep an eye on

The portfolio asks students to critically analyze what they’ve learned at the end of each course. This metacognition gives students a chance to place each course’s content into he context of the program as a whole and to orient themselves before beginning the next course. The DH portfolio has been held up at the campus and national level as an exemplar of this much-touted teaching technique.

Program successes

  • Students and faculty report that students learn more and do more active learning in the online vs. face-to-face bachelor’s degree program.
  • Success of the BS program led to the development of the MS program, especially after multiple BS graduates complained to faculty that the master’s programs they entered were not as rigorous as the bachelor’s program they had just left.
  • Of the first six cohorts of the BS program (first group graduating in 2009):
    • 25% are enrolled in grad school or professional school/or have graduated
    • 23% are working at community-based clinics and/or involved with PA 161 Programs
    • 33% have received awards/publications
    • 28% hold leadership positions in professional associations


My role was primarily that of consultant and facilitator. I asked my colleagues to describe their goals and make their implicit assumptions explicit. I reviewed drafts of syllabi and assignments, offering suggestions for changes to increase student learning or decrease faculty workload. Faculty always had control over course content and the final say in the content and format of assignments.

Working closely with administrators and faculty, I helped shape the development of:

  • High-level program goals – specifically, explaining how to achieve academically rigorous online education
  • The overall structure of the program – including the Portfolio
  • Eleven individual courses – from course outline through the writing of individual rubrics
  • Co-taught final portfolio course – leading students through developing a final presentation portfolio
  • Faculty development – in online teaching techniques, giving feedback, and inter-rater reliability in grading portfolio entries

Publications related to the program

Published by Emily

I'm an instructional designer and gardener based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Free moments find me in my garden or the forest, hugging trees and all that jazz.

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