Bulletin of Dental Education

How to Survive in a Wired World

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By Nicole Fauteux

On the closing day of the ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition, March 19, attendees received welcome guidance on how to survive in today’s wired world from Rahaf Harfoush, a digital innovation strategist whose resume includes employment with the Obama Presidential Campaign and the World Economic Forum in Geneva.

In her presentation, “Education Revolution,” Ms. Harfoush described recent developments in the use of social media. Inspired by the protesters who used social media to mobilize people to connect with the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, Ms. Harfoush coined the term ArchiTechs to describe the unprecedented power of individuals to create change.

Rahaf Harfoush

Illustrations of this phenomenon abound, including some with dental relevance. Ms. Harfoush acquainted the audience with a  travel toothbrush  in development that comes with its own floss and paste. The inventor walked around with the idea for years before his children harnessed the Internet to make his invention a reality. They sought investors through the online funding platform  Kickstarter  and raised enough money to fund the prototype this past February.

Ms. Harfoush offered many other examples, but focused the bulk of her talk on changes occurring in the education arena.

“For decades the educational journey was very linear,” she observed, “and when you hit the end, those skills were enough to carry you through the rest of your career. Now information is coming so fast…that education is something people need to be doing all the time in their careers. It’s not a one-time stop.”

She introduced the audience to a number of new ventures that are stepping up to address this need. Perhaps the best known of these is  Coursera , a social entrepreneurship company that partners with dozens of universities to offer online courses for free. Another start-up is  Knewton , an adaptive learning platform that harnesses the power of data to customize education for each individual learner.

“The days when you sat in a classroom and somebody lectured to you, and whether you understood something or not didn’t really matter, those days are disappearing,” says Ms. Harfoush. She also spoke about the importance of continuous learning, one of the themes of this year’s annual ADEA gathering. “It is no longer enough to be a good doctor or dentist or lawyer,” she says. “We need to understand how the world is changing in order to do what we do effectively.”

To help ADEA members grasp these changes, she highlighted several digital trends.

  • Micro influence or the ability of an individual to influence change. Think no further than  Rate a Dentist , which gives every patient the ability to influence the success of a dental practice—for better and for worse.
  • Data-driven accountability through smart devices and radio frequency identification (RFID). When an app on a phone or another smart device can track people’s fitness activities, current locations, or how long they brush their teeth, people become more accountable for their behavior, and start to change.
  • Gamification, or the use of games to engage people and solve problems. Examples range from  Patient Shuffle , which helps players understand the complexities of running a virtual hospital, to  Tiny Dentist , an app that lets kids work on virtual dental problems.
  • The “makers” phenomenon, in which anyone can be an ArchiTech. People are becoming the architects of all kinds of products and services that were previously only provided by experts or those with access to expensive technology. While few would dispute the benefits of using 3-D printing to fabricate dental crowns, Ms. Harfoush pointed out that the makers phenomenon may also have a dark side. She acquainted the audience with a website called  DIY Dentistry  and noted that 39,000 people had downloaded documents on how to treat their own caries. 

She ended her talk with some words of advice. “This is not a digital revolution, but a people revolution. No one will be spared,” she warns.

The remedy she proposes? “Never stop learning. It’s an evolve-or-die situation. Continuous learning has become a survival imperative.”

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