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Students Bolster Learning With New Virtual Dental School

First in real life and now first in virtual life, the University of Maryland Dental School is the first U.S. dental school to introduce sophisticated "Second Life" education, according to Dental School officials.

Founded in 1840, the Dental School offers a high-technology dental education for a new generation of dentists, says Dean Christian S. Stohler, DMD, DrMedDent. Earlier this year, Stohler authorized his faculty to take his passion for high-tech dentistry education a step further.

The faculty has introduced educational applications of "Second Life," a three-dimensional modeling software. Students can venture into Maryland's virtual dental school to "experience" aspects of dentistry ranging from lessons in best dental hygiene practices to infection control and anatomy.

The software allows students to control a second life figure of themselves, called an "avatar," by mouse and keyboard or voice-controlled headsets. Although students can design the appearance of their avatars, there is a strict code of behavioral conduct for the virtual school.

In the fall, the virtual dental school option will be part of orientation for first-year students, says Carroll-Ann Trotman, BDS, MS, associate dean for Academic Affairs.

"What we are doing is developing a 3D virtual world that we can use to engage in global outreach, teaching, and perhaps collaboration," says Trotman. "So far, it has been reasonably well received by both students and faculty. This is another tool-one of several instructional tools that faculty can have to work with. Each faculty member will approach this with their own ideas."

Trotman says the virtual dental school tool can be used to help reinforce learning about dental issues such as preventive care, overcoming fear about dental visits, enhancing collaboration with other dentists anywhere at anytime, delivering student and faculty lectures, and addressing various competences related to dental courses.

Julie Gilliam, MS, the School's instructional technology specialist who is creating the virtual programs, says that use of the second life tool "is not just a game."

Gilliam says it is a "solid system that a lot of people are using," including entertainers and those in business and religion and law and business colleges, and that more than 200 universities and colleges are using it for educational purposes. "What's most awesome about this is the ability to simulate activities-that may include greeting a new patient or taking a patient's health history," adds Gilliam.

Unlike the nine-story University of Maryland Dental School building made of brick and glass in downtown Baltimore, the Maryland virtual dental school is located on a virtual scenic island. The horizontally expansive, three-story structure, also made of red brick and glass, houses clinics and laboratories, lecture halls, a library, and interactive posters and paintings. There is also a separate building housing a simulation laboratory.

The Dental School's virtual world is under way with programs that show students how to practice infection control, help children overcome fear, and practice role playing in dental practices. In any single use, as many as 75 students can operate within the virtual dental school.

Other high-tech instructional innovations at the University of Maryland Dental School include digital dentistry technology in its preclinical curriculum, including the capability to first create a computer-generated dental impression and then a final restoration in less than an hour. Such digital dentistry replaces not only the use of clay mold impressions, but also outsourcing the final restoration to a laboratory and multiple patient visits to the dentist.

The School also offers advanced dental education programs in seven of the recognized clinical specialties including endodontics, oral and maxillofacial pathology, orthodontics, pediatric dentistry, periodontics, and prosthodontics.

Stohler says, "Leading-edge technologies uniquely position our students to become the leaders who will transform the environment in both education and practice." He notes that current practices in dentistry are far behind medicine in the use of technology, and that dentistry has not changed very much in the past 40 years.

"Now, however, we have a new kind of student who is part of a digital revolution. This is the first time in history when we have a generation of students who can outsmart their teachers when it comes to technology," says Stohler.

Posting Date: 04/24/2009
Contact Name: Steve Berberich
Contact Phone: 410-706-0023
Contact Email: sberb001@umaryland.edu