Elena Cunningham came to NYU Dentistry as the College was launching an experimental approach to teaching anatomy. Students would no longer dissect; rather they would study dissected or sliced cadavers that have been preserved in a safe, strong, dry polymer – a process known as plastination.

Elena worked on all aspects of the course, from revising the dissection manuals for use with plastinates, to meeting with Deans and architects to design the classrooms and storage areas, to experimenting with teaching techniques to fully engage the students with the plastinations.
Elena directs the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE Part I) Review Course. To guide the students through the anatomy review sessions, Elena created workbooks. In addition, she initiated an Honors Course in Anatomy to involve fourth-year students in helping third-year students prepare for the Boards. In the first year, NYU students went from a 63% pass rate to an 89% pass rate in anatomical science and the scores have continued to improve. Elena has also introduced an online adaptive learning platform called Cerego to help students prepare for the Boards. Cerego uses principals of retrieval learning and spaced practice to help students achieve mastery of foundational knowledge. When students actively use, or retrieve, information – for example by answering a question – they are far more likely to remember the information than if they read and reread a passage or listen to a lecture over and over. The optimal interval between practice sessions is the longest space that can be tolerated without producing a high degree of memory fading. Since Cerego was introduced the performance of NYU on the Anatomical Sciences section of the Boards has averaged 1.7 SD above the national mean.

In collaboration with faculty and learning technology experts, Elena has recently designed and launched to a course to help students prepare for the Integrated National Board Dental Examination which will be introduced in 2022. The 23 hours of the course will be spread out over three years using an online format. Each week students will be presented with a quiz, consisting of a case history and three to six multiple choice questions. Upon submission of the quiz, students will receive feedback and targeted review material. The course incorporates the principals of retrieval learning and spaced practice to help students retain foundational knowledge from completed courses and apply foundational knowledge to clinical cases.

Elena was on the Executive Committee of the Academy of Distinguished Educators, an organization which is committed to enhancing teaching at the College. As a member of the Academy, she started the Teaching and Learning Journal Club in which faculty read and discuss articles from peer-reviewed publications. She is currently a Fellow of the Academy.

Elena serves on the NYU Faculty Committee on the Future of Technology Enhanced Education and Teaching and Learning Needs Assessment Project. At the College she is a member of Senior Academic Leadership Team, The Instructional Technology Committee and the Council on Humanitarianism and Culture Change.