Numerous studies have shown that students' self-evaluation is very important in the teaching process.15–18 In this study, we used students’ self-rankings and scores to evaluate the influence of the dental skills competition on students' comprehensive competency.
In the students’ self-ratings for the four domains of their comprehensive competency, the PG was significantly higher than the CG in critical thinking, professional practice competency, and learning enthusiasm. However, the difference in the ratings of professional theoretical knowledge between the two groups was not significant. The reason might be that the dental operation skill competition did not test all the professional learning of the students. Theoretical knowledge, operation skill training, and clinical training are all very important for dental education. The final theoretical and practical scores were consistent with the above statistical results.
At the beginning of the fourth year, about half of the PG students ranked last their mastery of critical thinking competency, followed by professional practice competency. Most of the students in the CG as well, ranked these two items last in terms of mastery. Professional practice competency is the domain in which students had the least experience because the courses in this field began in the fourth grade at the university, and critical thinking was lacking for students.19 It is worth mentioning that at the beginning of the semester, 44.4% of the PG students ranked their learning enthusiasm first, compared with 20% in the CG. This showed that the learning enthusiasm of the PG at the beginning of the semester was much higher than that of the CG, which may explain why they voluntarily signed up for the skill competition.
Through the self-evaluation of students' final operation performance and practical competency, it was evident that the PG was significantly better than the CG. This may be related to curriculum design. Practice courses are generally arranged 1–2 times a week, and students rarely have the opportunity to use the equipment for operation practice after class. Limited practical curriculum arrangements and the lack of a practical atmosphere are unfavorable for the improvement of students' practical competency. In contrast, students’ participation in the dental skills competition offers more practical opportunities, and they learn and practice in a more positive and diligent atmosphere.
In the domain of critical thinking and learning enthusiasm, the ratings of the PG were significantly higher than those of the CG. First, the PG students spent more time studying related aspects to obtain good results in the competition, which indirectly improved their learning habits. Moreover, the dental operation skill competition enhanced the students’ ability to transfer knowledge to a live performance. Second, the evaluation machines used in the competition, with real-time feedback, allowed students to identify their mistakes in real-time. Tutors could also single out students in practice. This effectively promoted students' self-evaluation and reflection. Competitions always set up rankings, and the best operator is given the highest reward. The trend in recent years has been to move away from ranking or competition as a learning strategy and reward all participating students. However, the different characteristics of students’ practice results should be pointed out, summarized, and praised. The encouraging role of competition for students’ learning may be used for maximum benefit.
Skills competitions, which provide a platform for students to practice and operate, do not require additional investments in equipment or the training of specialized personnel. Along with being a low-cost teaching promotion method, it also has satisfactory teaching results. Further, for the newly established stomatology school, competitions are conducive to the rapid accumulation of teaching experience. This may also be suitable for worldwide implementation.
A limitation of this study is that since students rated their competency levels before and after the competition only after participating in the competition, their pre-competition ratings were based on memory, which may be flawed and/or affected by their post-competition perceptions. In addition, the study may have limited generalizability because it was conducted at only one dental school. Additionally, since most of these students do not have formal jobs in hospitals, we will continue to watch the long-term impact of the competition. Despite these limitations, this study demonstrates the value of dental skill competitions in improving students' comprehensive ability from their perspective.
The results of this study suggest that dental operation skill competitions should be vigorously promoted in dental colleges. Competitions should be developed for students of all years.