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Teaching Basic Science in a Not-So-Basic Way

March 3, 2017

This is one in an occasional series of articles spotlighting courses in the dental curriculum and their directors.

Elizabeth Joyce

Elizabeth Joyce, PhD

In the first-year dental curriculum, there are courses that are narrowly focused on dentistry. There also are courses that take a broader view of the body, its structures and how it reacts to infection.

This is where BMS 117, Infection and Host Response/Cell Physiology, fits in. The course, taught and directed by Elizabeth Joyce, PhD, is one of several microbiology and immunology courses Joyce teaches across multiple schools at UCSF.

It’s not just basic science: “It’s relevant to health care professionals” because it addresses the body’s response to disease. And when it comes to human health, Joyce said, “the mouth is very telling. There’s a list of chronic diseases that have an infection or immunological base” that relate to oral health.

Joyce, an associate adjunct professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and director of the Microbiology Teaching Laboratory in the UCSF School of Medicine, is finishing her sixth year in directing the course.

“It’s evolving. It’s important to stay current,” she said — not just in content, but also in technique. Joyce uses various teaching tools: from online sources and video to labs and new technologies. She has developed digital microbiology lab manuals for dental and medical students, and currently is interested in a mobile app, Explain Everything — “it’s sort of an interactive whiteboard” — as a tool to foster both explanation and collaboration.

Joyce also is a proponent of small-group learning. “When students focus on a piece of material” — for example, pharmacology — “peer-to-peer learning can be powerful.” The approach is beneficial for many students: “This is not easy content; I’m looking for what we can do to help.

“Students are excited about [small groups]; teams often stick together through the whole term.”

That excitement is reaching out to include the course content. Joyce is delighted to see that “many [students] have an ‘awakening,’ developing an authentic interest in the material.”

Students also are developing a willingness to provide feedback.

“I’m very grateful to those students who’ve offered their thoughtful comments,” Joyce said. “They’ve made the course better by letting me know what’s working, what’s not working.”