Move to Electronic Texts Prompts Dental Student Frustration

UB's School of Dental Medicine is among the first in the country to require students to purchase electronic textbooks, or "e-texts," an innovation questioned by many students because of the high costs of adopting the technology.

Incoming dental students were required this year to purchase a comprehensive curriculum DVD containing 120 medical textbooks, along with a laptop computer capable of handling the program's massive volume of multimedia material, including text, digital images and video.

The move towards electronic texts is not cheap. Students must pay $1,500 a year for the DVD, and are required by the university to own an Apple iBook laptop computer. Combined, the expenses can run upward of $10,000 by graduation.

Despite the additional expense, some students have opted to discard their new computers in favor of printed texts.

"People in my class have sold their computers on eBay," said a sophomore dental student who asked that her name be withheld for fear of worsening faculty-student relations within the school. "I know people who are refusing to pay [for the DVD]."

Others object to the program because of the myriad technical problems that accompany the software. Students pointed to frequent computer crashes, the slowness of the DVD and printing problems as justification for a return to traditional textbooks.

"We all went to print notes for histology at the beginning of the semester," said one student. "There were so many problems printing that we didn't even get the notes until a week before the final."

The school chose to support only the Macintosh platform because, at the time, it offered a superior version over the PC DVD. PC versions of the DVD are now available, but are not supported by the school.

"The DVD could not be used on just any laptop; the students had to go out and buy a specific computer," said Bill Adamcyzk, textbook manager at the University Bookstore. "If they had a Dell or Gateway, they had a lot of trouble getting technical support. I don't think the students would be balking too much if it were a simple CD that could be used on any computer."

Despite student complaints, the transition to electronic-based readings is already underway. In two years, all UB dental students in the school will be using the DVD.

The project began a few years ago with a consortium of dental schools, including New York University and Boston University.

UB's dental school had a variety of reasons for getting involved in such a project, said Joseph Zambon, associate dean for academic affairs for the dental school. Publishing company mergers have resulted in fewer books related to dental topics, which caused administrators to question whether the school would be able to obtain appropriate texts.

Copyrights have also been a matter of concern for the dental school. Faculty use of photocopies from textbooks has occasionally raised questions about copyright infringement. With e-texts, the school maintains digital license to all of the content on the DVD.

Also, students simply weren't buying books.

"The actual number of textbooks that students buy is very, very low," said Zambon. "If you require students to buy 20 textbooks a year, surveys are showing that students are buying one or two."

"I think that it's critical for us to provide them with all the material they need in a health profession. If you go to a dentist, you would hope that your dentist bought the book on root canals."

In addition to text, a DVD can offer course manuals, syllabi and instructional videos. Beginning in January, the DVD will integrate videos on administering local anesthesia and emergencies taking place in the dental office.

The DVD curriculum is part of the dental school's larger program for becoming more technologically integrated.

"We used to do histology labs using microscopes. Now, we use computers with software programs that cover the same material, except it's more efficient and there are things you can do with the software that you couldn't do with microscopes," said Zambon.

In addition to running the DVD, students' computers may be used in courses and managing patients, Zambon added. As upperclassmen, dental students schedule patients, order instruments and assess clinical progress using computers.