Friday, December 2, 2011

 Thoreau: We have become the tools of our tools...

The Minnesota Daily Pulls Another Tooth -

 Technology Worship at the Dental School?

DentSims: to teach or to tout?

When the School of Dentistry brought 20 DentSims to the University, it characterized them as something that would revolutionize learning. But the lab is vacant 85 percent of the time, and some say the product doesn't match the publicity.

In 2008, leaders of the University of Minnesota’s School of Dentistry got what they were looking for — a clinic to put the institution at the forefront of dental education.

Part of the clinic featured DentSims, a virtual simulation tool that the University said could revolutionize the way dental students learn. The school was the first in the Big Ten to get them.

Each DentSim features a mannequin with an adjustable head, a lifelike mouth and a set of plastic teeth. An infrared camera tracks students’ work and displays it on a screen. A computer offers instant feedback on how students perform and provides a 3D representation of the tooth they’re operating on.

The University spent $1.5 million for 20 DentSims during a roughly $10 million renovation of Moos Tower’s fourth-floor clinic area. The DentSims cost $75,000 each and sit in the School of Dentistry’s Advanced Simulation Clinic, part of a larger simulation area.

Nearly four years later, the dummies sit unused about 85 percent of the school year, according to a Minnesota Daily records analysis. The lab is in use for an average of 8.4 hours a week.

But only half of that use is for classes, and they’re mostly introductory ones. Tours, cleaning and maintenance take up the other half of the lab’s schedule.

Judith Buchanan, interim dean of the University’s School of Dentistry, has been researching virtual reality teaching tools since the late 1990s.

Buchanan found students learn almost twice as fast with the technology, she told the Daily in 2006.

Former School of Dentistry Dean Patrick Lloyd celebrated the University’s new DentSim units when the lab opened in 2008.

“The equipment has made us re-evaluate the way we educate dental students,” Lloyd said in a statement from that year. “It’s dental education designed for students raised in the digital era.”

But nearly four years later, the machines sit largely unused. Faculty members and students say the lab is often empty when they walk by it.

Schedules from fall 2010 through fall 2011 show the clinic is unused about 85 percent of the time. The clinic is booked for an average of 8.4 hours a week.

“They sit there vacant most of the time,” said one clinical faculty member who asked to remain confidential for fear of risking his job.

The previously mentioned clinical faculty member called the machines an “administrative toy.”

“When they wanted to impress the president with the School of Dentistry, what did they show him?” he said. “They held his hand, they brought him into the computer simulation area and they turned on all the lights and bells and whistles. They let him play with it because you can do that.”

He said DentSims fool people who aren’t familiar with dentistry and the machine’s actual capabilities.

Many directly involved in using the clinic for courses, research or demonstrations declined to comment publicly about the lab or didn’t return multiple requests for comment.

Lloyd also declined to comment.

An upper-level dentistry student who asked for confidentiality because of a student leadership position came to the University because of the DentSims and other technological upgrades in the school that were touted at the time.

The student said it’s well-known within the school that the lab is rarely used and that there are problems with the technology.

“Everybody that’s there knows it,” the student said. “The students all know it, the faculty all know it and the administration thinks it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

Dentistry second-years Nicole Haus, Salma Helal and Amy Ott said the clinic was plugged during their interviews at the School of Dentistry, but its use never really materialized.

“When we did our interview, that was huge,” Ott said. “They were like, ‘Oh, look at this, no other school has this.’”

The three agreed that their introductory class in the clinic wasn’t very useful and glossing over the material was easy. If she messed up drilling a tooth, Ott said she would just redo it.

“I wouldn’t do it the right way,” she said. “You can totally cheat the system for the class.”

In Pennsylvania, Maggio said she has used “superglue and gum” to hold parts of her older models together. But, like Buchanan and others, she stands behind the technology because of its educational potential.

The upper-level student disagreed.

“You have administrators who think that’s the new way of dentistry, and it doesn’t work.”


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