A Rapid Transition to Blended Learning

The Journey of a Dental Degree Programme Pivoting Online


  • Robert Allen McKerlie University of Glasgow https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4910-2764
  • Jennifer Malcolm Unversity of Glasgow
  • Ourania Varsou Unversity of Glasgow
  • Christopher Edward Kennedy Unversity of Glasgow
  • Laura Colgan Unversity of Glasgow
  • Victoria Harper Unversity of Glasgow
  • Wendy McAllan Unversity of Glasgow
  • Andrew Forgie Unversity of Glasgow
  • Paul Rea Unversity of Glasgow
  • Aileen Bell Unversity of Glasgow




Collaborative learning, Co-production, Dental education, Flipped classroom, Social contructivism


The University of Glasgow Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) degree programme is a practical clinical professionally regulated discipline. Given the mode of transmission of SARS Cov-2 the dental profession and associated programmes of study have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, necessitating a rapid pivot to online and blended learning. This case study shows how the work of early adopters of technology enhanced learning and teaching (TELT) at the dental school, and a timely staff-student partnership helped to lay the foundations for this pivot in response to the challenges brought about by the pandemic.

A large amount of teaching required modification and adaptation to support remote delivery and, through collaboration, innovation and supported creativity, we were able to produce some very effective models for learning and teaching. To illustrate this, two specific examples have been presented: a novel approach to support the delivery of essential local anaesthesia training for second year dental students using collaborative wikis and online learning; and the use Microsoft Teams to support student integration and a sense of community among our first year dental students through active, small group collaborative learning.

The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have provided the opportunity to align the teaching of practical skills with technology and instil a positive shift in institutional practices. The effectiveness of this shift within the BDS degree programme and the impact on the development of our students will remain the focus of the school’s TELT partnership.

Author Biographies

Robert Allen McKerlie, University of Glasgow

Robert McKerlie is a Senior Lecturer, Course Lead for Year 2 of the BDS Programme, and Lead for Digital and Online Learning for the University of Glasgow Dental School. The focus of his scholarship is on the utility of technology-enhanced learning & teaching and active student engagement, in particular co-production.

Jennifer Malcolm, Unversity of Glasgow

Jennifer Malcolm is a Lecturer in Biomedical Science at the University of Glasgow Dental School. Jennifer is an Early-Career Lecturer, with an interest in technology-enhanced learning and teaching. Jennifer led on the implementation and use of Microsoft Teams within BDS1 BAMS theme.

Ourania Varsou, Unversity of Glasgow

Ourania Varsou is a Lecturer in Anatomy at the School of Life Sciences, University of Glasgow. Ourania’s research includes imaging with a strong focus on ultrasound, clinically applied anatomy and scholarship of teaching and learning. Ourania led the development and implementation of the semi-synchronous anatomy wikis for the local anaesthesia symposium.

Christopher Edward Kennedy, Unversity of Glasgow

Christopher Edward Kennedy is a Learning Technology Specialist at the University of Glasgow. He has promoted and supported the use of learning technology within health professionals’ education for over 10 years and specialises in online and blended learning. Christopher led the TELT partnership which redeveloped the Dental School Moodle VLE.

Laura Colgan, Unversity of Glasgow

Laura Colgan is a Clinical University Lecturer in Oral Surgery at the University of Glasgow Dental School. Delivering Oral Surgery undergraduate teaching across all year groups, Laura’s scholarship interest is in technology enhanced learning and teaching. She has led the transition to a digital learning environment within the Oral Surgery Department. 

Victoria Harper, Unversity of Glasgow

Victoria Harper is a Senior Clinical Lecturer/ Honorary Consultant in Restorative Dentistry and Course Lead for Year 1 of the BDS Programme. She teaches across the Specialty of Restorative Dentistry. She is a member of the Dental Education Training Board of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. 

Wendy McAllan, Unversity of Glasgow

Wendy McAllan is an E-Learning Systems Developer based at the Dental School working on the Scottish Dental Education Online project. After obtaining an honours degree in Multimedia Systems, she has over 20 years of experience in creating online content, with a particular interest in 3D and AR technologies.

Andrew Forgie, Unversity of Glasgow

Andrew Forgie is a Senior Clinical University Teacher at the University of Glasgow Dental School, where he is teaching lead in Restorative Dentistry. His scholarship involves 3-D and haptic learning within dentistry and the development of an on-line learning platform used by all dental education providers and NHS staff in Scotland.

Paul Rea, Unversity of Glasgow

Paul Rea is Professor of Digital and Anatomical Education and an internationally recognised academic specialising in the applications of digital technologies in biomedicine. He is Programme Director for the world-first MSc Medical Visualisation and Human Anatomy. He has led multi-institutional projects in implementing technologies for students, patient education and public engagement.

Aileen Bell, Unversity of Glasgow

Aileen Bell is Director of Dental Education and Senior Lecturer/Honorary Consultant in Oral Surgery at the University of Glasgow Dental School. Her Scholarship and Educational Research focuses on curriculum delivery and assessment, and she leads the assessment pod of the Dental School’s Educational Research Group.


Adekola, J. , Dale, V. H.M. and Gardiner, K. (2017) Development of an institutional framework to guide transitions into enhanced blended learning in higher education. Research in Learning Technology, 25, 1973. (doi: 10.25304/rlt.v25.1973)
Akcaoglu, M. and Lee, E. (2016). Increasing Social Presence in Online Learning through Small Group Discussions. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning Volume 17, Number 3.
Augar, N, Raitman, R and Zhou, W. (2004). Teaching and learning online with wikis. In: Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference, Perth, 5-8 December 2004, ASCILITE, pp. 95-104. Available from: https://www.ascilite.org/conferences/perth04/procs/pdf/augar.pdf.
Bergmann, J., Sams, A. Flip your classroom: reach every student in every class every day. ISTE-ASCD, 2012
Biasutti, M. (2017). A comparative analysis of forums and wikis as tools for online collaborative learning. Computers & Education, 111, pp.158–171.
Biggs, J., 2003. Aligning teaching for constructing learning. Higher Education Academy, pp.1-4.
Boling, E.C., Hough, M., Krinsky, H., Saleem, H., Stevens, M. (2012) Cutting the distance in distance education: Perspectives on what promotes positive, online learning experiences. The Internet and Higher Education, Volume 15, Issue 2, Pages 118-126 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.11.006
Burgess, A. and Ramsey-Stewart, G. (2014). Elective anatomy by whole body dissection course: what motivates students?. BMC Medical Education, 14(1), pp.272.
Cameron, D., McKerlie, R., & Mathew, B. 2006 Oct 28. A comparison of teaching methods for teaching dental technology to undergraduate dental students: a pilot study. PESTLHE 1(2): 73-93, 2006.
Crothers, A., Bagg, J. & McKerlie, R. (2017) The Flipped Classroom for pre-clinical dental skills teaching – a reflective commentary. British Dental Journal 222б 709–713.
Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York, USA: Macmillan Company.
Driscoll, Adam, Jicha, Karl, Hunt, Andrea N., Tichavsky, Lisa, Thompson, Gretchen. 2012. “Can Online Courses Deliver In-Class Results? A Comparison of Student Performance and Satisfaction in an Online Versus a Face-to-Face Introductory Sociology Course.” Teaching Sociology 40(4):312–31.
Exley, K. and Dennick, R. (2004) Small group teaching: tutorials, seminars and beyond. Abingdon: Routledge Falmer. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203465066
Garrison, D.R., Anderson, T. and Archer, W. (1999). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), pp.87–105.
Gunawardena,C, N,. Hermans, M, B,. Sanchez, D., Richmond, C., Bohley, M., & Tuttle, R. (2009) A theoretical framework for building online communities of practice with social networking tools, Educational Media International, 46:1, 3-16.
Hamann, K., Pollock, P, H., & Wilson, B., M. (2012) Assessing Student Perceptions of the Benefits of Discussions in Small-Group, Large-Class, and Online Learning Contexts, College Teaching, 60:2, 65-75, DOI: 10.1080/87567555.2011.633407
Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey, USA: Prentice-Hall Inc.
Kowalczyk, N.K. 2014, "Perceived barriers to online education by radiologic science educators.", Radiologic technology, vol. 85, no. 5, pp. 486-493.
Lambropoulos, N., Faulkner, X. and Culwin, F. (2012), Supporting social awareness in collaborative e‐learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43: 295-306. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.gla.ac.uk/10.1111/j.1467-8535.2011.01184.x
Maslow, A.H., 1943. A theory of human motivation. Psychological review, 50(4), p.370-396.
Mayer, R.E. (2017). Using Multimedia for e-learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 33, 403-423.
Mayer, R.E. (2019). Thirty years of research on online learning. Appl Cognit Psychol., 33:152–159
McCulloch, A. (2009). The student as co-producer: Learning from public administration about the student-university relationship. Studies in Higher Education, 34(2), 171-183. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075070802562857
McKerlie, R. A., Rennie, E., Hudda, S., McAllan, W., Al-Ani, Z., McLean, W., & Bagg, J. (2018). Facilitation of student-staff partnership in development of digital learning tools through a special study module. International Journal for Students as Partners, 2(1), 121-129. https://doi.org/10.15173/ijsap.v2i1.3235
McLeod, S. (2018). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs [online resource]. Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html [accessed on 01 March 2021].
Microsoft (2020) Welcome to Microsoft Teams [online] Available at: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoftteams/teams-overview. [Accessed 01 March 2021].
Mills, D. and Alexander, P (2013). Small group teaching: a toolkit for learning. The Higher Education Academy.
Nordmann E, Horlin C, Hutchison J, Murray J-A, Robson L, Seery MK, et al. (2020). Ten simple rules for supporting a temporary online pivot in higher education. PLoS Comput Biol 16(10): e1008242. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1008242.
Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (1999). Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective strategies for the online classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc. pp29.
Phillips, J.A., Schumacher, C. & Arif, S. 2016, "Time Spent, Workload, and Student and Faculty Perceptions in a Blended Learning Environment.", American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, vol. 80, no. 6, pp. 102.
Rovai, A. P. (2002). Building sense of community at a distance. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 3(1). Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/79/152
Salmon, Gilly. E-Tivities : The Key to Active Online Learning, p46 Taylor & Francis Group, 2013.
Smith, S.U., Hayes, S., & Shea, P (2017). A critical review of the use of Wenger's Community of Practice (CoP) theoretical framework in online and blended learning research, 2000- 2014, Online Learning 21(1), 209-237
Steffe, L. and Gale, J. (1995). Constructivism in education. New Jersey, USA: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.
Terrell, M. (2006). Anatomy of learning: Instructional design principles for the anatomical sciences. The Anatomical Record Part B: The New Anatomist, 289(6), pp.252–260.
University of Glasgow (2020). Graduate attributes framework [online]. Available at: https://www.gla.ac.uk/media/Media_183776_smxx.pdf [accessed on 01 March 2021].
University of Glasgow (2021a). Remote and blended teaching – Glasgow’s 7 principles of remote and blended teaching [online]. Available at: https://www.gla.ac.uk/myglasgow/anywhere/blendedteaching/ [accessed on 04 March 2021].
University of Glasgow (2021b). Learning and Teaching Strategy 2021 – 2025. Available at: https://www.gla.ac.uk/media/Media_775156_smxx.pdf [accessed on 15 March 2021].
Vygotskij, L.S. and Cole, M. (1978). LS Vygotsky. Mind in society. The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press. Wenger E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organisation, 7(2), 225-246.
Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of practice and social learning systems: The career of a concept. In C. Blackmore (Ed.), Social Learning Systems and Communities of Practice (pp. 179–198). London: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-1-84996-133-2.
Wenger, E., White, N., Smith, J.D., Rowe, K. (2005). Technology for communities. In L. Langelier (Ed.), Working, learning and collaborating in a network: Guide to the implementation and leadership of intentional communities of practice (pp. 71–94).