Faculty Development Program Explores Art and Dentistry

(l-r) Dr. Neal Fleisher, Dr. Judith Jones, Alexa Miller, and Hannah Burr
(l-r) Dr. Neal Fleisher, Dr. Judith Jones, Alexa Miller, and Hannah Burr

Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine (GSDM) held its annual December Faculty Development Program on December 16 and 17, 2013. Both days were fully booked, with 30 faculty members in attendance both days.

Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of General Dentistry and Director of Pre-doctoral Periodontology Dr. Neal Fleisher and Professor and Chair in the Department of General Dentistry Dr. Judith Jones organized the program. Drs. Fleisher and Jones retained the services of ArtsPractica, a medical education consultancy committed to improving healthcare quality, reducing misdiagnosis, and increasing arts engagement. It marked the first time ArtsPractica was chosen as the presenter at a GSDM faculty development session. ArtsPractica Founder Alexa Miller and Visual Artist and Creative Consultant Hannah Burr led the sessions with a program titled, “An Introduction to Visual Thinking Strategies: A Teaching Tool for Engaging Group Discussions and Critical Thinking, with Art.”

Drs. Fleisher and Jones began the program by introducing Burr and Miller from ArtsPractica. The ArtsPractica team presented a background on Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). According to ArtsPractica’s “Introduction to Visual Thinking Strategies for Clinical Teachers,” VTS engages students in critical observation of art and encourages them to find evidence-based meaning for themselves. Its companion professional development program helps teachers become skilled facilitators of their students’ development and learning. Over time, VTS reliably teaches the skills of observation, critical thinking, and language development.

The goals of the program were to develop knowledge and skills of VTS, prepare GSDM faculty to engage with pre-doctoral students utilizing VTS at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and energize faculty interest in art experiences and pedagogy for critical thinking and group engagement.

Burr and Miller demonstrated VTS to the group, followed by a group discussion on “What is art for?”, and a demonstration of coaching using VTS. The attendees broke into two groups in classrooms to practice coaching techniques.

After a lunch break, practice continued with reflections and questions on VTS. Burr and Miller described VTS and its current use in medical education. The program ended with their closing remarks.

GSDM faculty in attendance learned the basics of the VTS teaching methodology, experienced being a student of VTS, deconstructed that experience, and practiced facilitating VTS.

Drs. Fleisher and Jones were pleased with the outcome of the program. “At a time when the world and clinics are going at breakneck pace, the Visual Thinking Strategy approach uses art to train students and faculty to slow down, take the time to make sure they connect with their patients, collect all the pertinent information about their patients and record it,” said Dr. Jones.

“Providing our faculty with innovative approaches to dental education is essential to faculty development,” said Dr. Fleisher. He continued, “Alexa Miller of ArtsPractica has developed a program to teach systematic observation to dental students, which brings a fresh perspective. It enhances these critically important skills, which traditionally have been quite difficult to teach in an organized fashion.”