|Year : 2016 | Volume
| Issue : 1 | Page : 23-28
Qualitative assessment of student-teacher communication using focus group discussion in a Dental College in India
Mahasweta Joshi1, Nikhil Joshi2, Sailee Patankar1, Harshal Pandve3
1 Department of Public Health Dentistry, Sinhgad Dental College and Hospital, Pune, Maharashtra, India
2 Department of Prosthetic Dentistry, Sinhgad Dental College and Hospital, Pune, Maharashtra, India
3 Department of Community Medicine, Smt Kashibai Navale Medical College and General Hospital, Pune, Maharashtra, India
|Date of Web Publication||15-Mar-2016|
Department of Public Health Dentistry, Sinhgad Dental College and Hospital, Room No. 8, Pune - 411 041, Maharashtra
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
Introduction: The communication between faculty and students is a vital component of optimal facilitation of knowledge and learning. Various factors influence this dynamic. Aim: To assess communication levels between students and teachers in a dental college scenario via focus group discussion. Materials and Methods: The focus group discussion consisted of 10 groups; 5 groups representing the teachers, and 5 groups representing the students. Each group consisted of 6 participants. Hence there were a total of 30 teacher and 30 student participants. Focus group discussion was conducted for each of the groups for 30–45 min duration in the presence of a moderator and a note-taker. Open-ended questions were put across by the moderator to initiate and continue the discussions. The hand-written data taken by the note-taker were transcribed onto a computer on the same day of the discussion. Based on the transcription, domains were created for the student and teacher groups. Results: The issues raised by both the teacher and student groups in this focus group discussion were broadly classified into the following themes: (1) Past versus current scenario, (2) attitudes toward communication and learning, (3) hindrances to effective communication, and (4) potential solutions. Conclusions: Focus group discussion exposed many differences in the perceptions of teachers and students to communication. Each group, however, felt that bridging the teacher-student communication barrier was crucial to improve the teaching-learning experience. Many constructive solutions were provided by both the groups which can help to improve the quality of teaching-learning experience resulting in better quality of education.
Keywords: Dental education, focus group discussion, qualitative assessment, student-teacher communication
|How to cite this article:|
Joshi M, Joshi N, Patankar S, Pandve H. Qualitative assessment of student-teacher communication using focus group discussion in a Dental College in India. J Indian Assoc Public Health Dent 2016;14:23-8
|How to cite this URL:|
Joshi M, Joshi N, Patankar S, Pandve H. Qualitative assessment of student-teacher communication using focus group discussion in a Dental College in India. J Indian Assoc Public Health Dent [serial online] 2016 [cited 2021 Sep 25];14:23-8. Available from: https://www.jiaphd.org/text.asp?2016/14/1/23/178720
| Introduction|| |
The quality and quantity of communication between teachers and students are an ever-evolving phenomenon. It is affected by individual dynamics, social and cultural milieu, and policy decisions at administrative and institution levels. The student's dilemma when facing a teacher is how to communicate knowledge or lack of it so as to set a platform from which to improve cognitive, affective, psychomotor, and affective skills. This problem is accentuated in the present scenario where the student is expected to acquire a high level of the above said skills in a short period from a cross-section of teachers with different backgrounds, experience level (number of years in teaching), and academic experiences (individual experiences as a teacher). The teacher, on the other hand, is affected by unfavorable student:teacher ratio, ever-evolving changes in teaching-learning methods, limitations of communication techniques, and policies of university and institution. Hence, the evaluation of the student-teacher communication becomes critical. Though there is an ongoing debate in literature about the validity of standard quantitative course evaluations, the majority view is that these evaluations are valid.
Nevertheless, researchers also criticize traditional means of gathering student feedback as failing to capture critical elements of student response to a course. A predetermined set of closed items does not enable students to provide unexpected and possibly valuable feedback. Even the open items present on many
course evaluation forms do not allow students, who often hastily scribble nonspecific comments so they can get out of class, to provide appropriately rich feedback. Other methods of soliciting student feedback may assist in providing instructors with more varied kinds of responses.
One-way of soliciting additional student feedback which is particularly valuable is the focus group. This method of collecting data encourages students to reflect on the instructional process in a much more ruminative fashion, considering the opinions of other group members as they refine their own insights. Through addressing a series of loosely-structured open questions, small groups of students provide more detailed feedback which enables instructors to have a different perspective on how the course has been received.
Hence, a study was conducted to assess communication levels between students and teachers in a dental college scenario via focus group discussion.
| Materials and Methods|| |
Before conducting the study, clearance was obtained from the Institutional Review Board and Ethical Committee. The focus group discussion consisted of 10 groups; 5 groups representing the teachers, and
5 groups representing the students. Each group consisted of 6 participants. Thus, there was a total of 30 teachers and 30 student participants. The set of open questions framed for this discussion was scrutinized and approved by three FAIMER approved domain experts.
There were 119 teachers in Sinhgad Dental College and Hospital (at the time of the study). Of these, 67 voluntarily consented for the study. Out of these, 30 teachers were selected by convenience sampling. They were then divided into 5 groups, each group consisting of 6 teachers. The consistency of each group was such that each group had 3 males and 3 females teachers, and no group had more than one teacher belonging to a single department. There was at least one assistant professor, one associate professor, and one professor in each group.
Thirty students were selected and divided into 5 groups, each group consisting of 6 students. Each group had students from every academic year (I, II, III, IV and internship), wherein 6 students from each year were selected by simple random sampling. The consistency of each group was such that each group consisted of 3 male and 3 female students.
There was one moderator and one note-taker. The hand-written data was transcribed onto a computer on the same day of the discussion. Based on the transcription, themes were created for the student and teacher groups.
| Results|| |
The issues discussed by both the teacher and student groups in this focus group discussion were broadly classified into the following themes: (1) Past versus current scenario, (2) attitudes toward communication and learning, (3) hindrances to effective communication, and (4) potential solutions.
Past versus current scenario of student-teacher communication
Teachers were of the opinion that communication is better at present than previously. They felt that there was “more respect” earlier than now. Students believed that the level and type of communication should be different for every academic year. For example, they would not mind “spoon feeding” approach in BDS I and II years. However, during clinical years, viz., BDS III, IV, and internship, the students felt that there was “fear factor” and that is not addressed by the teachers adequately. The students meant that they were intimidated to approach teachers for guidance and queries. Overall, the teachers felt that teacher-student communication (TSC) has improved over the time while students felt that communication could be improved by eliminating the fear of approaching the teachers.
Attitudes toward communication and learning
On subject of the teachers' role in communication, the teachers' opinion was divided: Some thought that “only teachers take the lead” both in initiating and maintaining communication while others thought that “teachers should change” and shed their barriers and be more “approachable” to the students. Students thought that many teachers are biased and opinionated, and hence, students are categorized as mischievous and not attentive based on their attire, hair style, etc., and never given a second chance. They also thought that opinions are spread by word of mouth among teachers thus, forming preconceived notions about students. Such students felt humiliated and that there was a bias toward “famous” or “popular” students and students who topped regularly in examinations. Students felt that the system of allotment of a set of students to a particular teacher caused peer pressure and was not helpful. They said that all teachers should teach all students. They felt that teachers were not going that extra mile to help them, that teachers had “ego problem.” The students wondered why lack of theory knowledge was considered by teachers as lack of interest in the subject by the student.
On the role of students, the students had this to say: “Students could be more sincere and punctual” and that “Students should perform better during clinical classes.” Overall, all teachers and students agreed that there was a definite communication barrier and that teachers and students should identify causes and resolve them.
Hindrances to effective communication
Many teachers thought “generation gap” and “IQ of students” affected communication (“Quality of students is deteriorating”). They further said students did not come prepared for discussions or practical classes and were hesitant to ask questions/give answers. Class communication tended to thus become one-way.
Teachers viewed the unfavorable student:teacher ratio as a deterrent for communication. Most teachers opined that students with vernacular language background had “language problem” implying that students with vernacular language background tended to have more problems with English language syllabus and terminologies of dental education. The teachers take on regional differences affecting communication were verbalized thus, “Students from rural areas are more reluctant to approach teachers for help.”
One issue which hindered communication, according to the teachers was the effect of parents and society on communication. Many teachers had different opinions on this pertinent issue, “when students are chronically absent parents should come to know,” “up-bringing has influence and students have become more carefree…we are scared to discipline them…we are afraid they may take detrimental steps like inflicting injuries upon self, committing suicide, etc.,” “peer pressure is too much for nonacademic concerns and this may affect the students' academic performance.” Teachers stated that the present curriculum needed upgrading, especially considering the time constraints and that syllabus should be more “pragmatic” and “unnecessary” topics should be omitted from the syllabus. They thought that “clinical and basic science needs more interaction to improve integration.”
Language was considered a barrier by many students. The place from where the students came was a factor that affected communication. Most students from metropolitan cities (e.g. Mumbai, Delhi, etc.,) felt that staff conceived them to be “bad” “the teacher presumes that you are a particular type of person based on your roots.”Students also complained that allotted teachers were not always available.
The students had very interesting and eye-opening observations on lectures via PowerPoint presentation. “Lectures put major emphasis on slide shows…teachers just keep reading, but they need to explain the matter… we pay attention and write but it gets difficult to follow.” They said that lectures were monotonous and some also went to the extreme, saying that “no PowerPoint Presentation should have text… only pictures should be included… subject to be only explained by teacher.” Students thought that videos ought to be used more often since it “registered more effectively in their minds.”
Overall, teachers considered the intellect, language, and “upbringing” of students as critical areas that determine effectiveness of communication. They thought syllabus needed to be trimmed down and more effort was needed from the students' side to improve communication.
The students thought teachers sheltered preconceived notions and biases toward students and that affected communication. In addition, students thought that lectures needed to be more interactive.
The teachers felt that the present generation of students took “teachers for granted” and did not put required efforts to improve communication. They also stated that the university is student friendly, and hence, the students get complacent, the quality of students taking up dentistry is deteriorating, and so is the importance of “values” of the family in the attitude of the students toward teachers. Students thought that teachers are prejudiced, and do not give a second chance to the erring students to reform. Students thought that the teachers are intimidating and hence approaching them was difficult, the availability of teachers was a problem, the teachers expected the students to know everything about the case/treatment plan even before explaining anything (“Teacher asked me, why didn't you read and come to the class?' and I was left wondering why I would come to class if I had read and understood the lesson!”).
The teachers view was that electronic means of communication could be harnessed to improve communication as students were more comfortable with these media. Some senior faculty thought that a certain barrier should exist between students and teachers: The extent and level of barrier to be decided by individual teachers. When asked to be more specific, they said communication must be mainly related to academics, and use of resources such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and mobile texts should be kept to a minimum after college hours except in cases of emergencies. They all agreed that two-way communication should be established.
The students urged teachers to take the time to form opinions and judge students on the basis of their work, improve teacher availability, allow students to work under guidance. They wanted the teachers to give more time to them. The student
groups were unanimous in requesting for empathy and understanding from teachers (“we need teachers to be unbiased,” “acknowledgement should be there for improvement by the students,” “don't ridicule us,” “don't punish the whole batch for mistake of one student and respect students,”:”When we wish our teachers and they don't even look back then we feel its a waste and why to do it”, “teachers should not have ego problems with students or amongst themselves as it affects us”).
Uniform, unbiased, and unanimous evaluation of examination-theory and practical was perceived as important for improving communication as it enhanced trust (“Give feedback forms and model answers and ensure anonymity of answer sheets,” “exam evaluation should be standardized uniform and unbiased”).
The students looked up to the teacher to initiate communication (“Teachers should encourage communication and inspire,” “teachers should take the lead in approaching students,” “practice what you preach”).
Some students suggested that teachers should be made more conversant with teaching by updating their teaching skills by attending courses, degrees, continuing education courses, etc., Like the teachers, students also wanted to know what was expected of them. Overall, the students wanted teachers to be unbiased, encouraging, and more engaging. They felt that the teacher should take initiative in improving student teacher communication (STC).
| Discussion|| |
The focused group discussion is one of the most valuable tools for qualitative assessment. Focus group methodology may be described as a research technique that collects data through group interaction on a topic determined by the researcher. The group interaction allows for a different sort of response than that generated by interview questions, and the open-ended questions allow for a very different sort of data than that typically generated by survey instruments. Focus groups allow researchers to explore predetermined topics in depth and can allow for the emergence of previously unconsidered topics as well.
According to Oxford dictionary, communication is defined as, “the successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings.” There is little empirical work in the medical literature that explores the development and
meaning of relationships in medical education and communication between preceptor and student, although there is vast literature about physician-patient communication. Haidet and Stein. stressed the role of hidden curriculum in establishing communication channels between students and preceptors and addressed the role of education content, process, and importance of relationships in adult education. Romano et al. investigated the expressiveness, a component of effective communication, of a university professor during nursing classes in relation to verbal resources from the perspective of students. This descriptive and quantitative study revealed that students and experts agreed in relation to the professors expressive skills, which proved the ability of students to evaluate this communication skill. In a study conducted by Gillespie, unstructured interviews and a focus group were used to collect data from eight undergraduate nursing students to evaluate student-teacher connection in nursing education. Henzi et al. conducted a study with the objective of eliciting the perspectives of dental students from a broad cross-section of US and Canadian dental schools about their education using a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats analysis to communicate their perceptions of the curriculum. The students' qualitative comments were then reviewed and categorized into key issues or themes.
The present-day students have lesser inhibitions and are more forthcoming in approaching their teachers. This is perceived sometimes as a threat or challenge to teachers who grew up as students in a more formal and hierarchical environment and thought that the students of their generation were more respectful to teachers.
This reflects an attitudinal difference between the teachers and students.
All students and teachers agreed that there was a barrier in communication and that hampered teaching. There were some teachers who thought the students were passive participants in the communication process and that the teachers had to take the lead all the time. Others thought it was the teacher's duty to initiate and maintain communication by being more approachable. This represents an important perceptional difference between teachers, and perhaps the most significant. There is a need for the first group of teachers to understand why students feel intimidated by them. The answers were not far to seek: The students were emphatic and clear in their views as to the reasons for the communication gap. Issues raised by students were specific; they were accompanied by head nodding and agreement from majority of their peers. The students felt strong that communication is vital to effective teaching.
Stereotyping of students based on attire, marks, expecting students to be more submissive, and not showing empathy is creating confusion and stress among students. The nonadherence to traditional hierarchical teacher-student relationship because of the changing role of the teacher has created insecurity and confusion in the teachers which inhibits communication.
The societal reasons for communication gap are caused by changing perspectives of students, teachers, and parents. Some teachers feel burdened by these expectations. The reason may be attributed to rapid cultural and educational change that has seen a shift from teacher-centered education to student-centered education. Primary school teachers in India have adopted principles of pedagogy while most professional institutions have yet to adopt andragogy and student-centered education principles. This has given rise to a situation where students of professional colleges feel insecure as their formative education was in an “informal” environment as emphasized by their learning through principles of pedagogy, whereas, in professional college, the teaching methods are more “formal” or “traditional.” The teachers feel threatened due to the changing attitudes of the students, thus resulting in a trust deficit. These factors lead to ineffective, decreased, or nonproductive communication.
The logistics of increasing the number of quality teachers is a huge challenge so as to continually keep the student-teacher ratio favorable. It is obvious that one of the main reasons for effectiveness of small group teaching is, the favorable teacher-student ratio. The pressure of sticking to a prescribed curriculum within time limit hampers teacher's ability to interact more productively with students. Individual needs of students vary from mentoring, hands-on supervision to monitoring. These needs can be addressed if there is flexibility in curriculum program design by teachers based on specific needs. There are facilitators with dental skills educating students, but these facilitators have little or no expertise in teaching skills thus impeding effective interaction with students and improving the quality of education.
As we embrace new technology for teaching, we have to be mindful of what the stakeholders feel about it. The present generation of students has been exposed to traditional methods of lectures such as chalk and talk as well as newer methods such as computer-aided educational tools (e.g. PowerPoint). PowerPoint Presentations have their place as a teaching aid; but when it is made the primary source of information with the teacher just reading out the slides, students can make out the lack of preparation by the teacher. In the present study, students discussed in-depth the pros and cons of teaching aids and almost all felt that while computer-aided education has a place in teaching, many teachers use it without preparation-lectures become boring and monotonous. The onus is thus on the teacher to use these aids effectively by adequate preparation and optimal use of these aids while recognizing their limitations; any aid is excellent in the hands of a good teacher, and the best aids can be useless in the hands of a bad teacher. This may be considered a presentational barrier as the students are not able to effectively decode the intended message encoded by facilitator.
Students who have failed and belong to “odd” or “referred” batches (these students appear for exams between two regular batches) feel alienated, and teachers do not help matters by branding them as poor students. Administration and teachers need to take concrete steps such as regular counseling, more interaction, and addressing their concerns adequately so that they feel secure and confident.
Breaking communication barriers between teachers themselves can improve Student- teacher communication - teachers who have taught a particular group of students can give feedback to a new teacher who can then interact with the students so that their frequencies match. Teachers from different departments can interact and exchange feedback upon areas of improvement required; the college administration's role is vital here. At the same time, teachers have to be aware that such discussions may easily end up as destructive criticism of a batch or individual and care must be taken to avoid falling in that trap.
To be effective, teachers, like clinicians, need to be interactive, make on-the-spot decisions, and be “emotionally literate.” Waghorn and Stevens. describe a study of ten student-teachers at the end of their training. Descriptions of their experiences confirm the theory-practice gap but they also demonstrate that they are very much aware of the discrepancy between how they teach and how they would like to teach. It is a situation which they feel powerless to change. The authors recommend alignment of preservice course objectives with those of professional development programs for practicing teachers to bring about a convergence of thinking and consequent change in schools.
In the present study, both student and teacher groups agreed that limited interaction time, unfavorable student-teacher ratio, regional and language barriers, and deficiency of communication at inter- and intra-department levels affected the STC adversely. The teachers felt that the present generation of students took “teachers for granted.” They also stated that the quality of students taking up dentistry is deteriorating, as is the importance of “values” of the family in the attitude of the students towards teachers. Students thought that teachers get prejudiced, the teachers are intimidating and hence approaching them was difficult; the availability of teachers was a problem; the teachers had ego problems, and expected the students to know everything about the case/treatment plan even before explaining anything (“Teacher asked me, why didn't you read and come to the class?' and I was left wondering why I would come to class if I had read and understood the lesson!”).
The observations of the students are classical representation of the “hidden curriculum” which needs to be addressed urgently so as to break medical education from the shackles of conservatism and make it progressive. The solutions offered by the teachers and students were mature and sophisticated indicating a latent yearning to connect to each other so as to improve communication which is one of the pillars of effective education.
| Summary and Conclusion|| |
The results of the present focus group discussion exposed many differences in the perceptions of teachers and students to communication. Each group, however, felt that bridging the Student-teacher communication (STC) barrier was crucial to improve the teaching-learning experience. Each group also was very curious to know what the other group thought about them. That is a positive feedback and reference point from which to begin efforts to improve quality and quantity of communication. The changes required are attitudinal, behavioral (at the individual level), and policy level (at department, institution, management, and university level) changes. Considering the limitations of the focus group discussion, it would be prudent to follow-up with multiple questionnaire studies (preferably one each for every theme identified in this study) before attempting to offer any suggestions for improvements.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
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