Campus Spotlight(3)

University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Dental Branch

In another two years, faculty and students at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Dental Branch (UTDB) will move into a new, state-of-the-art building, but they aren't waiting for the big move to change their approach to education. Even before breaking ground in December 2009, the faculty was hard at work planning for and implementing an approach to educational delivery that incorporates the latest technologies. What spurred this embrace of technological innovation? The intrinsic potential of a new facility, the opportunity to reevaluate practices prior to an upcoming accreditation, and a widespread recognition that the current, tech-savvy generation of students learns differently than their predecessors did.

"We wanted to create the best learning environment possible," says ADEA CCI Liaison Dr. Paula N. O'Neill, UTDB's Associate Dean for Educational Research and Professional Development. "These changes were not driven by the technologies. They were driven by our educational objectives and our desire to reach all our students, whatever their learning styles."

Getting there has been a painstaking process. The faculty formed task forces to examine curriculum, research, simulation, patient care, and educational technology. They considered which technologies to adopt in each of these arenas, and how to configure the new physical plant to maximize their utilization. They informed the faculty on what was available and offered training to get everyone up to speed well before the big move in 2012. They looked at how to configure the new building and its classrooms to take advantage of the new technologies.

"We decided to make many of the rooms multi-functional to give us the flexibility to teach in different ways," says Dr. O'Neill. "The rooms can be used for theater-style seating or divided for small-group instruction. They can accommodate laptops and other technologies such as the automated response system, which is already an established practice among a quarter of our faculty."

UTDB also has put in place electronic patient records, a digital imaging system for x-rays, and a sophisticated clinical simulation center with high-fidelity full-body mannequins. The school is also in the process of developing a library of virtual patient cases to allow students to supplement their clinical experiences with a wider range of diagnostic and treatment planning processes.

Despite this impressive record of innovation, UTDB is considering what more might be needed to improve educational delivery. The Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, ADEA CCI Liaison Dr. Leslie Roeder, is leading an effort to map the curriculum. This should give the faculty additional clues about how well they are achieving their goals and what they might want to teach differently.