iPads Provide Dental Students with Fast, Formative Feedback on Clinical Performance

panoramic-imagerLast week, a new piece of equipment was introduced for the Panoramic Imaging exercise DMD students were expected to complete in The Dental Center. This particular piece of equipment was not a sophisticated CT scanner or other hi-tech imaging device, but a simple iPad programmed to provide students with a higher quality of formative performance feedback than had previously been possible.



As with other tablet-based assessment projects IT has developed ( links to related articles at the end of this post), at least part of the incentive to develop such a tool was based on the time constraints of providing individualized feedback to students. A process that once took 3 to 4 minutes per student has been reduced to under a minute thanks to a combination of touchscreen technology and an ingenious set of performance rubrics designed give students more qualitative, meaningful feedback. Jedediah Burton, a CDM graduate and currently Assistant Professor for the College of Dental Medicine, had a major
ipad-closeuprole in developing the rubrics. “We realized we needed to develop two different rubrics for this kind of procedure. The first was a general performance rubric that instructors could use to evaluate students’ preparation for the procedure, process performance, and overall professionalism. This rubric can be applied with most any clinical procedure. The second was more specific to the Panoramic Imaging procedure itself.”  Click the links to see examples of the General Performance Rubric and Panoramic Imaging Rubric.

One of the major distinctions between the CDM tools and other, similar evaluation tools is that the quantitative side of evaluation is kept on the back end, freeing the instructor to provide meaningful qualitative feedback on student performance. Dr. Alexander Lee, who spearheaded this project as well as other innovative uses of technology in the College of Dental Medicine, describes it this way: “Instead of forcing the instructor to rate students using a standard point scale on some novice-to-expert continuum, the tool we’ve provided allows instructors to select any and all behaviors that accurately describe the student’s performance.  Students don’t have to guess or infer what the numbers mean because their specific behaviors are articulated and opportunities for improvement clearly understood.”  Having the quantitative data on the back end allows the instructor to go back into the software later and quickly scan for performance trends that suggest the need for remedial intervention or other forms of assistance.  

While Drs. Lee and Burton are no strangers to information technology, lack of time and resources provided a strong incentive to partner with ITDL’s programming staff to bring their idea to fruition.   Azhakesan Thangamuthu (“Alagesh”), worked on similar tablet-based projects for the College of Veterinary Medicine and became the lead programmer for this project.  “Our earlier work with tablet testing was based on a simpler pass/fail strategy – the student either completed the task or didn’t, and the rubric reflected that logic. This project required a more complex algorithm to rate the student’s performance, and in a way that didn’t oversimplify the more meaningful, qualitative feedback.”

For the project, Alagesh devised an interface that allowed evaluators to access either performance rubric or simply download grades to an Excel spreadsheet.   


A screen cap of the general performance rubric can be seen below, as well as a sample screen from the panoramic imaging rubric, showing the point distribution for an individual student once the evaluation has been completed.











A more detailed view of student performance with respect to the panoramic imaging procedure is shown below.



iPad based evaluations are merely the tip of the technological iceberg for Dr. Lee. “Our future plans include building peer-to-peer assessment capabilities into this software. We’ve also been working on a way to equip each incoming student with a ‘tech package’ that would be contained on a virtual machine and provide all the apps, tools and resources he or she will need to complete the coursework, regardless of platform or device.

To learn more about this project, we encourage you to contact Dr. Lee or Dr. Burton.

lee-alex-thumbAlexander Lee, DMD
Coordinator of Dental Informatics, Assistant Professor, College of Dental Medicine


burton-jedediah-thumbJedediah Burton, DMD
Assistant Professor, College of Dental Medicine


For more information on WesternU’s Dental Care Center, visit http://www.westernupcc.com/dental.html

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