Internet Edition

Issue No. 2, October 1997

Tutorials Online in the Near Future

"Developing discipline-based multimedia applications to enhance student learning"

by Dr Kelvin Foong and Dr Keson Tan

The traditional model of teaching, the lecture-presentation style, may no longer suffice as the method of education in a global environment of change. Coping with societal pressures for educational reform requires that universities raise the quality of the educational experience. In many situations, this has led to the revision of curricula and rethinking on the use of information technology.

Information Technology (IT) can make education better. Incorporated in a learning environment, IT tools create a dynamic environment, employing a combination of human and non-human resources to facilitate effective learning. This is in contrast to the traditional concept of an encapsulated classroom where information transfer is structured, providing very little leeway for students to navigate the learning environment. While acknowledged as one of the most efficient way of transmitting knowledge to a large group of students, it does not recognize students' differing abilities and pace of learning.

Leveraging information technology for teaching has been one of the primary aims of the Multimedia Application Development group, comprising Dr Keson Tan, the Principal Investigator, and collaborators Assoc Prof S.B. Keng, Dr Adrian Yap, Dr Kelvin Foong, and Mr Tok Wee Wah. Funding from the National University of Singapore has been secured for the development of multimedia tutoring applications using robust authoring tools and networking technologies. Not all topics can be taught using multimedia applications. Areas of Dentistry that require skills of abstraction, system thinking and experimentation are well placed for development. Four topics have been identified:

1. Orthodontic Diagnosis and Treatment Planning,
2. TMJ problems – Evaluation, Diagnosis and Treatment Planning,
3. Radiographic evaluation and diagnosis, and
4. Occlusion.

How will multimedia applications help students learn? The key area lies in the learning environment. It is unstructured, and the learner is free to navigate the vast universe of information. Multimedia applications integrate animation, sound, graphics, and video to create an engaging, interactive and effective learning environment. Such software allows students to exercise more control over the pacing and sequencing of their own learning. Students are also able to obtain feedback on how they are progressing. In short, it is a type of virtual classroom with an entrance, an exit and a number of learning stations. Students are provided with a map, an overview of the entire course structure, and may choose to visit as many stations (content modules) as they need. They can take self-assessment tests at any time they wish, and backtrack to any station for revision. Essentially, the objective of a multimedia tutoring system is the creation of teaching and learning environments that are more learner–centred, more flexible, more effective and more efficient.

The oft expressed fear that a multimedia tutoring system could somehow replace the mentoring function and personal attention of an excellent and caring teacher is unfounded. These tutoring systems will only be one of the many methods employed at the Faculty, and certainly there is no lack of interactivity between students and staff.

The beauty of employing IT resources in teaching lies in its universality. Why should learning be confined within campus grounds? Dental students, equipped with the relevant hardware and passwords, could in future log onto the Faculty's network and revise their courses at home or anywhere in the world. The traditional constraints of time and space (i.e. access only during structured working hours) will now disappear.

The development of multimedia tutoring applications is a fresh approach to teaching and learning of Dentistry in Singapore. As IT becomes more pervasive in society, the next few years will see the Faculty of Dentistry adopt and adapt information technologies on an even larger scale.

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