Volume 13, Number 6 November 4, 2005

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Web becomes new tool for dental education

By Colleen MacPherson

Dr. David Tyler in the College of Dentistry's Simulation Clinic.

Dr. David Tyler in the College of Dentistry's Simulation Clinic.

Photo by Colleen MacPherson

Dr. David Tyler fires up his office laptop and after a few clicks of the mouse, the screen fills with an image of him discussing the merits of amalgam fillings versus modern composites with a patient/actor. What he’s displaying is just a sample of a much larger undertaking that will use new technology and the web to change the teaching, practice and profession of dentistry.

Conceived in 2001, the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL)-supported College of Dentistry project has grown to include production of web-based resources for dentistry students, creation of the patient education CD-ROM Tyler demonstrated on his laptop, development of continuing education units and a website for practising dentists, and even agreements to customize the materials for other institutions. For the developer though, the focus remains unchanged: “What is being done is in the best interest of patients.”

Tyler, who heads up operative dentistry (fillings, repairs and restoration of teeth) in the college, said the primary target for online materials will be dentistry students who can follow up and reinforce what they learn in lectures by accessing the information later. The online format also creates opportunities to further enhance that learning with components like quizzes and chat rooms.

Dentistry lends itself well to this technology, he said, because it is a very visual profession. The college and faculty members have massive collections of slide and photos “and almost all of that material will be in digital form”. The result, said Tyler, will be a shift in instruction style to “far more seminar-type teaching where we can unpack the students’ understanding. It will be far more interactive than a lecture.”

First-year materials have been produced in CD-ROM format and released to students for comment and critique, but are not yet online, he said. Work is underway to “redesign and retool” that material for the web, as well as to lay down the elements for upper-year courses. The project “is coming together like a large puzzle, and it’s giving us the opportunity to produce some really wonderful teaching materials.”

Those materials will also be a boon for programs taught off-campus. Tyler said the First Nations University of Canada’s School of Dental Therapy in Prince Albert as well as the Dental Hygiene and Dental Assisting programs at SIAST’s Wascana campus have all become involved in the college’s project.

“They are teaching with a different emphasis” – but using customized CD-ROM versions of the college materials to support those programs will provide a “useful perspective on how dentists are trained. It will help them to get onto the same page”.

A third aspect of the TEL project is to provide continuing education modules and a website. “People spend a lot of money going to continuing education programs all over the country but it’s expensive to be away from your practice and travel funds are often limited. There is also a limit to how much you can absorb in an event. It would be a benefit to do this in the comfort of your own home or during down time in the office.”

Tyler added that working with other institutions and providing continuing education are both important parts of the University’s mandate to disseminate information.

The breadth of Dentistry’s TEL project has created particular challenges for instructional designer Gale Parchoma with the Extension Division’s Instructional Design Group. Work is happening “on many fronts” and presenting many exciting opportunities, the first being creating small modules that can be customized for use in many different settings, she said. Another is accommodating the move from traditional to problem-based learning. This requires incorporating features like problem-solving exercises to engage students as well as co-operative learning opportunities, she said.

The designers are also trying “to keep our work attuned to the College of Medicine which is also moving toward problem-based learning,” Parchoma said. “That means we’re trying to work collaboratively with internal project partners that include Computer Science, Extension, Dentistry and Medicine as well as external partners (SIAST and FNUC). We have to be sure that the size of the content package meets their needs and is in a format they can use.”

The project is vast and the potential is mind boggling, Tyler said, “but what a wonderful way of pulling together everything from my career as a research scientist, as a dentist in private practice, and in teaching operative dentistry. It’s forcing me to take a fresh look at what I’ve been teaching, which is what we should all be doing as educators. And it’s very interesting to hear an instructional designer says, ‘That’s good, but it could be so much better if we do it this way’.”


For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca


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