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Incoming dental students power up with laptops (8-9-00)

Starting with this year’s incoming class of freshmen, dental students at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC) have their entire curriculum on a single DVD disk. Several dental schools around the country are considering an electronic curriculum, but the UTHSC Dental School is the first to implement it.

"Other schools have required their students to have laptop computers, but we are the first to embark on a virtually complete electronic curriculum," said Victor Sandoval, D.D.S., associate dean for student affairs in the Dental School.

Each new student purchased a laptop computer, which will replace literally hundreds of pounds of textbooks and course manuals. The laptops have Internet access and e-mail, so the students will be able to access online research sources and receive notices from the faculty.

The search capability is another time-saver. A user can type in a term such as "mandible" and go directly to the publications in which that word appears. With a total of 45 credit hours required in the first year, said Dr. Sandoval, "students are going to be very busy any way you look at it."

Ninety-one students are enrolled in the freshman class, Dr. Sandoval said, and they seem very positive about the new system. The new student orientation was extended to include training in computers, copyright law, e-mail and the Internet. However, said Dr. Sandoval, "I think we may be pleasantly surprised in terms of the expertise these young people already have."

Vital Source Technologies is providing the software that will run on the Macintosh 65 laptops. A former Dental School faculty member, Dr. Todd Watkins, founded the company. He started testing the idea in 1995 while still on the faculty.

Textbooks are very expensive to print and cost as much as $200 each. Dr. Watkins noticed that students weren’t always able to buy as many texts as their teachers required. While the laptop and software are not inexpensive, the cost is comparable to that of a four-year supply of textbooks and materials. In addition, the students will receive an updated version every semester, making current information readily accessible.

"The knowledge explosion being what it is, the way we use and access information is critically important. Our patients are living longer as a result of the medical care they receive; consequently they have more complicated medical histories. It will behoove our dentists to be able to access information very quickly," Dr. Sandoval said.

Students are required to purchase an insurance policy for their laptops, and the Health Science Center is a certified Apple repair center should they malfunction. Apple Computer has a dental student representative on campus as well. At the Dental School’s Welcome to the Profession ceremony for incoming freshmen, each student received a black backpack for the laptop. The stitching on the backpacks was donated by the Dental Alumni Association, which also donated security locks for the laptops and Office 98 software. The total donation was more than $3,000.

Contact: Will Sansom