Literacy as part of professional knowing in a Swedish dental education

BMC Med Educ. 2021 Jul 8;21(1):373. doi: 10.1186/s12909-021-02800-x.


Background: Academic reading and writing are seen as self-evident literacy competences in most contemporary higher educations, however, whether students also are introduced to professional literacy of relevance for dentistry during their education is a question. The purpose of this study is to analyze one of the Swedish dental programmes, with respect to its design, in relation to possible content of relevance for academic and professional literacy. Secondarily, to identify and analyze Swedish dental students' writing in an academic setting, i.e. what these students are expected to read and write, and how they write.

Methods: Data, for this ethnographically inspired case-study, was produced by observations and audio-recordings of lectures, copies of teachers' handouts and of volunteering students' notes, and a multiple-choice-test. Data-analysis was made in five steps, starting with macro-level data, i.e. curriculum and syllabuses, followed by the syllabuses for the two observed modules, the teacher-provided material, analysis of the students' notes, while in the fifth and final step, the results from the previous steps were compared, to find patterns of what students were expected to read and write, and what in the teacher-provided multimodal material that was emphasized in teachers' talk.

Results: This study showed that students were engaged in several types of literacy events, such as reading, finding and watching videos on their learning platform, writing, and following instructions. The study also showed that there is a recurrent academic content comprised of anatomy, physiology and pathology, while the professional content comprised of patient communication and anamnesis. Further, an integrated content was found and was initiated in teacher-constructed PowerPoints and by student-questions. Note-taking patterns varied between individual students, but the general pattern for this group of students were the use of complementary notes. This type of note-taking was used to make available further descriptions of the teacher-constructed text in PowerPoints, but also an independent text describing pictures shown on teachers' PowerPoints or the blackboard.

Conclusion: Findings from the present study reveal that students either copy text from teachers' PowerPoint-slides, re-formulate text from teachers' PowerPoint-slides, or write complementing text to teachers' PowerPoint-slides. Further, the students individually choses type of note-taking based on situation. The study also revealed that the academic literacy - in the two modules during the fifth and sixth semesters of a dental education analyzed - mainly has a professional basis for reading, writing, and communication purposes. The study also showed that academic and professional literacy are closely connected through recurrent integration.

Keywords: Academic literacy; Dental education; Professional content; Professional literacy; Teaching/learning.

MeSH terms

  • Education, Dental
  • Humans
  • Literacy*
  • Students*
  • Sweden
  • Writing