Since the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 and with its pandemic all over the country and daily increases in the number of new cases, there have been great changes in people’s lifestyle and needs, and members of the society have faced several challenges. Similarly, students have not been immune to changes and difficulties, and they are the most impacted group with regards to education and academic programs. Closure of schools and universities with the purpose of preventing the further spread of the disease has turned preparation and implementation of educational programs for continuity in home education during lockdown into the biggest challenge for educational systems. This challenge has been imposed to all countries including ours. International structures and organizations like WHO and UNICEF were forced to prepare academic programs and educational and training guidelines for this new situation. One of the important and serious programs that was proposed and implemented by higher education organizations was education through cyberspace . In fact, virtual education is a great opportunity to face the limitations of in-person education, make real the dream of education for all and plan consistent and balanced development of the country.
In-class education has been the most common method of learning and education for many years. In this method, students are expected to attend classes at certain times and in specific places, and receive face-to-face education mostly through verbal communication . Nowadays, due to the developments of science and technology, constant need to learn and reeducate because of increasing expectations, limitations of resources compared to population growth, increasing demand for educational opportunities and most importantly, COVID-19 pandemic, attending in-person classes is not an option . When people choose online education, they will no longer need in-person classes. They can receive all of the academic contents individually and independently of time and place either online through multimedia files uploaded on institutes’ websites or offline through provided educational multimedia CDs. Developments in information and communication technology, further access to computers in higher education, the need for economic activities to access new financial sources, and applications of information technology in the presentation of educational services in the global market has forced universities to revise their old methods and create new organizational structures . E-learning is one of the advancements of technology in educational areas. The process of education which includes teaching and learning is the result of 3 elements: teacher, student and content . In order to elevate the quality of education, it needs to be formed based on people’s learning methods . Furthermore, there must be a chance for learners to be able to gain personal skills, manage their motivations and search and integrate information for problem solving. For this purpose, state-of-the-art technology must be used to improve and develop executive programs and gain the desirable results .
Cyberspace educational methods was reported by UNESCO as the most effective teaching-learning method in 2005. The experiences gained in this area are very useful. Higher education can no longer continue educating with previous models, and it needs to give priority to structural and digital changes. In a state of crisis like COVID-19 pandemic in Iran and all over the world and with the long-term closure of the universities, the need for implementing virtual education is felt more than before. Considering the problems imposed to global educational systems, virtual education growth and its opportunities for students and teachers, the best educational method is virtual education .
Due to its efficiency in educating with lower expenses, its availability in all places and times and elimination of traditional education’s problems (e.g. the need for classes and faculties), virtual education has become an invaluable element of education. In addition, virtual education can meet people’s expectations which is one of the most important reasons behind educational and learning success in all different methods . This is because it is considered as a type of individual education and learners can achieve their academic goals based on their individual talents. In this method, teachers and learners are physically apart, but they stay connected with the help of products of technology . Essentially, virtual education means transferring information to students through technologies like internet and communicational networks like internet and cellphones. Virtual education is a combination of demonstrative and vocal elements that can present the contents and tests related to an educational system, facilitate access to topic-related information and create an interactive environment .
Benefiting from the developments in information and communication technology, virtual education is one of the novel solutions to expand educational equity in the contemporary world. According to the experts of information and communication technology, cyberspace-based virtual education will become the common educational method. IT-based education gives students the opportunity to think innovatively and share these ideas. From a medical training perspective, due to the increased number of students, lack of communication between students and teachers, large educational courses and difficulties of teaching students that are condensed in a class, new alternative methods must be taken into account. Virtual education can be used as a method of medical training either alone or in a blended educational environment .
Focusing on student satisfaction enables the universities to detect students’ needs and adapt accordingly. A constant supervision system can be designed to evaluate efficiency in fulfilling students’ needs. Therefore, a perspective based on student satisfaction is crucial for developing culture and improving the quality of education . During the COVID-19 pandemic, the instructors and training staff were required to adapt quickly to the online and available training system to present courses, exams, and other required teaching and learning activities. While the sudden transition to online teaching was a necessary and mandatory action for ensuring the continuity of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was never an easy and simple process and it created many challenges for instructors, students, and their parents[14, 15]. Student's mental health, lack of motivation, difficulty in adaptability to online learning methods, technical and bandwidth problems, and creating appropriate educational content for training courses were among the main challenges of online training. Other challenges include the economic impact on families and high demands for IT training and support.
Online learning has changed the dental education trend in this pandemic condition. Undoubtedly, the necessity of having creativity in using available technologies, types of instructors' training, and internet access are among the most important challenges of virtual training.
The role of instructors is also very important in the successful adoption of educational technologies. Time, effort, and the necessities for gaining IT skills are some of the concerns of instructors related to online training. Universities should contribute to the efforts of faculty members in e-learning by holding training courses on the use of online tools.
In order to constantly improve educational programs, teaching and facilities, it is necessary to evaluate teachers and students’ satisfaction with higher educational services. A study was conducted by Salimi et al. in 2020 to evaluate the role of corona virus in virtual education with an emphasis on opportunities and challenges. Based on the results, challenges and opportunities were classified into three levels: macro, medium and micro. At the macro level, the challenges of lack of strategic thinking among managers and planners, poor policy-making, poor educational technology, and inefficient management were met. At the medium level, the challenges of the weakness of the introduced technologies, the lack of independence and freedom of action, and the disruption of the budget proposed in micro level were achieved. In addition, from the participants' perspective, the impact of the corona virus has provided opportunities at the macro level (providing context for change, attention to strategic planning, and attention to online and virtual education), medium level (creating equal educational opportunity and creation of new educational innovations) and micro level. According to the results of the study, providing academic programs by combining in-class and electronic education are the most effective educational methods .
Rezai et al. published a study in 2020 on evaluation of students’ learnings during COVID-19 pandemic with an emphasis on equal and fair evaluation. In order to gather data from other sources, the opinions of bachelor’s, master’s and PhD students were used through sampling and open questionnaire. Results showed that the most important evaluation methods during corona pandemic (virtual education) are in-person exams (if authorized by related principles), written virtual exam, oral virtual exam, oral question-and-answer sessions, virtual presentations, electronic cartable and multiple (integrative) evaluation. According to respondents’ opinions, contenting yourself to one method discredits the evaluation. Therefore, it is necessary to use multiple (integrative) methods. In 2019, Khatoon et al. conducted a study to understand the challenges, opportunities and attitudes that both dental students and tutors experience when using electronic learning. Both groups reported active use of mobile learning applications. However, students need training and further guidance when searching for, evaluating and generating evidence-based information online. Likewise, tutors need to become familiar with e-learning tools so that they may better support their students. According to this study, participants need training workshops to ensure that students are not only accessing evidence-based information, but can differentiate between evidence-based and non-evidence-based applications. The tutors in this study require information on how to provide their students with advice on using mobile technology. Institutions involved with dental training take such challenges into account . In 2021, in a review article, D'Souza et al. argued different aspects of the e-learning process that must be considered before implementing and also strengths and weaknesses of online training during the COVID-19 pandemic and stated the necessary measures to increase the efficiency of e-learning in the future. Among these cases, we can mention the implementation of e-learning at all levels of the university with the latest equipment and technologies and the promotion of the scientific and practical level of students and staff in the use of e-learning methods.
In 2020, Sarwar et al. researched to evaluate the effectiveness of virtual training during the COVID-19 pandemic in Pakistan national universities. The main purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of online courses. This study was conducted in a cross-sectional way using an online survey. The participants of the study were asked about access to resources and the effectiveness of online education. The results of the current study showed that the dental students of Pakistan had dissatisfaction with the various elements of the online teaching sessions. The findings of this research help the academic intuitions to create skillful learning platforms by concentrating on the improvement of students' training experiences.
In 2021, Vivek et al. used a modified questionnaire to investigate the understanding and preparation of students regarding the online training system during the COVID-19 pandemic in a descriptive and qualitative study conducted in Dehli. This study showed that students had a positive perspective on virtual training and they accepted this type of training as a new training system. However, in contrast to the Viok study, qualitative research was conducted by Samra et al. in 2021 showing that undergraduate dental students have a different perspective on e-learning. However, the students were optimistic about the increased participation in online learning of their future curriculum.
The aim of this study was to evaluate the level of student satisfaction with virtual education in Alborz dental school during COVID-19 pandemic.