Electronic curriculum implementation at North American dental schools

William D Hendricson, Fotinos Panagakos, Elise Eisenberg, James McDonald, Gary Guest, Pamela Jones, Lynn Johnson, Laura Cintron
Journal of Dental Education 2004, 68 (10): 1041-57
Electronic curriculum, or E-curriculum, refers to computer-based learning including educational materials available on CD or DVD, online courses, electronic mechanisms to search the literature, email, and various applications of instructional technology including providing laptops to students, multimedia projection systems, and Internet-compatible classrooms. In spite of enthusiasm about the potential for E-curriculum to enhance dental education, there is minimal guidance in the literature to assist schools with implementation. The study objectives were: 1) identify U.S. and Canadian dental schools that have initiated mandatory laptop programs and assess cost, faculty development issues, extent of curricular use, problems, and qualitative perceptions; 2) determine the extent to which twenty-two other E-curriculum resources were available and used at North American dental schools; and 3) identify factors that influenced E-curriculum implementation. A twenty-six item questionnaire, known as the Electronic Curriculum Implementation Survey (ECIS), was mailed to all sixty-six North American dental schools (ten Canadian and fifty-six U.S. schools) during 2002-03 with a response rate of 100 percent. Twenty-five of the twenty-six ECIS questions employed a menu-driven, forced choice format, but respondents could provide amplifying comments. Fifty-three questionnaires were completed by associate deans for academic affairs, three by deans, and ten by instructional technology (IT) managers, IT committee chairs, or directors of dental informatics departments. The survey found that E-curriculum implementation among North American dental schools is following the classic innovation pattern in which a few early adopting institutions proceed rapidly while the majority of potential adopters make modifications slowly. Fourteen U.S. dental schools have established mandatory laptop programs for students. Ten of these laptop programs were created in the past two years; respondents reported numerous growing pains but were generally pleased with their progress. Other E-curriculum capabilities were incorporated into courses more frequently at laptop schools than the fifty-two non-laptop schools including websites, online course evaluations, and instructor use of email to communicate with students. Few dental schools use online courses, and at most schools, few faculty have received training in online instructional techniques. Virtually all North American dental schools have provided substantial instructional technology resources to their faculty, but use of twenty-two components and capabilities of E-curriculum was limited, especially at schools without laptop programs. Various faculty-related issues were reported as implementation barriers including lack of time, skill, and incentive to develop educational software. We conclude that many North American dental schools, especially those with laptop programs, are functioning at the "learn by doing" phase of initial implementation in a four-stage innovation adoption model. E-curriculum planners should pay close attention to implementation problems that occur at this stage where many innovation efforts break down.

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