Dental surgery at the click of a mouse
New e-learning platform for students of dentistry at Mainz University Medical Center
01.09.2010The new e-learning platform ILKUM (an acronym for "Interaktiver Lernzielkatalog der Universitätsmedizin Mainz" or interactive catalogue of learning objectives of Mainz University Medical Center) is a sign of things to come: Students of dentistry in 2010 now only need internet access to be able to download case studies with film and image material showing disease patterns and surgical procedures directly to their laptop, iPad or iPhone. As Germany's only e-learning platform, ILKUM is oriented towards the "Profile and Competences for the European Dentist" guidelines issued by the ADEE, the Association for Dental Education in Europe, as the basis for its targeted learning program. The advantage: The tool provides students with a guide structure that ensures they are aware of what is most important in the study of dentistry. Not only that, but ILKUM facilitates extremely rapid access to course-relevant topics and information.
Even as late as 2009, the methods used to teach and train dental students almost exclusively required their presence in the lecture hall or operating room. Until then, the typical teaching scenario for prospective dentists would take the form of a group of around twenty students clustered around a dentist's chair trying to peer into the mouth of the patient while their professor explained a particular treatment procedure to them. "This close link with actual practice is unquestionably one of the most important aspects of the training of dental students, and we intend to retain this approach in future", explains the Chief Scientific Officer of Mainz University Medical Center, Professor Dr. Dr. Reinhard Urban. At the same time, Urban is in no doubt that the new e-learning platform represents a real bonus in all respects: "ILKUM is the perfect study aid for our nearly 350 dental students during their clinical training as it provides them with excellent opportunities to individually process and recap the subject matter. ILKUM thus contributes towards long-term enhancement of teaching quality and of medical training." Moreover, he considers that the new portal has been seamlessly integrated in the current teaching concept while providing for cross-over between the medical and dental curricula.
At present, the ILKUM intranet library consists of some 80 anonymized clinical cases that are available in the form of PDF presentations, in some cases with supplementary video footage of the actual surgical procedures. All content can be viewed on a laptop or iPad. As an internal user group, students can access the library using their matriculation numbers. The portal employs a MySQL database on a UNIX-based server in a Java Runtime Environment. The database is linked with the existing ILIAS training platform of Mainz University Medical Center. The portal development team of the Department of Dentistry of Mainz University Medical Center plans to increase the number of anonymized cases available online to nearly 200 by the start of the 2010/2011 winter semester. Another core feature of ILKUM is its powerful search function that enables users to rapidly find information on dentistry-related aspects. The system also has a calendar function that can be used to search an extensive database of current and past lectures.
Jörg Skorupinski, e-learning consultant at the non-profit Center for Higher Education Development (CHE), sees ILKUM as an "exemplary concept that can be employed not only in medicine but also in other disciplines to achieve significant progress both in learning and teaching via sustainable blended learning." Blended learning is a form of integrated learning in which the advantages of face-to-face teaching and e-learning are combined.
In the view of Professor Dr. Dr. Wilfried Wagner, Director of the Clinic and Policlinic for Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, the benefits of ILKUM for students lie in the fact that it is systematically oriented towards the “Profile and Competences for the European Dentist” guidelines set by the ADEE and that it acts as a targeted catalogue of learning objectives. "It is the guide structure provided through the ILKUM learning objective catalogue that I find particularly advantageous as it shows our students exactly what they need to know to be successful." Wagner is thus also convinced that the new e-learning concept is of very real benefit. However, the possible potential of the new platform is by no means exhausted. "ILKUM is already setting benchmarks, but we intend to do far more: Our aim is to transmit live images from the operating room in real-time through the interactive platform", Wagner specifies, pointing out that the necessary technology is already available and implementation would be only a matter of time. It is further planned to include an atlas of oral and mucosal diseases consisting of some 8,000 images and an atlas of the most common dental, oral, and maxillary x-ray diagnoses. Even examination questions on all relevant subjects may soon be available through the platform. The benefit as far as students are concerned is that the platform provides them with the option of monitoring their own progress and obtaining immediate feedback on any inadequacies. In addition, Wagner sees potential for the development of the platform along interdisciplinary lines: "We need to bring other medical institutes on board, such as the Clinic of Ophthalmology, as many disorders of the oral and maxillofacial surgery spectrum are also relevant to other disciplines."