What do dental students think about mandatory laptop programs?

William Hendricson, Elise Eisenberg, Gary Guest, Pamela Jones, Lynn Johnson, Fotinos Panagakos, James McDonald, Laura Cintron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


In spite of efforts by many dental schools to provide information technology resources for students, only a handful of studies have been conducted to determine what dental students think about these initiatives. There are no reports in the literature describing students' perceptions of mandatory laptop programs, which are now being implemented by at least 25 percent of North American dental schools. In schools that have implemented laptop programs, students are required either to enroll with their own laptops that meet specifications or to purchase a laptop from the school at matriculation. In some schools, students are also required to purchase curriculum support software that is bundled with the laptop. This study was conducted to determine students' opinions at U.S. dental schools with mandatory laptop programs about these aspects of this information technology initiative: frequency of use, perceived necessity of use, note-typing during lectures, effectiveness of training, influence on study habits, benefits, implementation problems, added value in relation to added tuition costs, impact on quality of dental education, overall rating of the laptop experience, and impact of the laptop on use of other electronic curriculum resources. Responses of students at schools that purchased packaged curriculum support software from a commercial vendor were compared with students' responses at schools where faculty provided their own educational software. Responses were also compared among freshmen, sophomores, and upperclassmen in a cross-sectional sample. In 2004, approximately 800 dental students at fourteen dental schools responded to eleven questions that requested their impressions and evaluation of mandatory laptop programs and associated educational software. These questions comprised one section of the IREC Students' Questionnaire (IREC=Institutional Readiness for Electronic Curriculum) that assessed students' perceptions of various aspects of information technology at their schools. The majority of students (63 percent) reported that the laptop and associated software were not essential for successful performance in their courses primarily because few instructors had modified their courses to take advantage of laptop capacities. Slightly more than half of the students reported their training was good or excellent, but felt that classroom-based "one size fits all" training was not effective. Less than 15 percent of the students reported that they had made substantial changes in their study habits as a consequence of the laptop program. The benefits perceived by students were primarily related to enhanced email communication with classmates and instructors and convenient access to the Internet and teachers' PowerPoint presentations. Implementation barriers included the inconvenience of carrying laptops to classes, lack of incentive to use the laptop and software because instructors did not require it, and poor quality software. Only 32 percent of students agreed that the value of the laptop and associated software was equal to the added tuition costs. Less than half of the students perceived that the laptop and software had improved the quality of their education, but more than 70 percent rated their overall experiences with laptops as "okay," "good," or "excellent." Freshmen expressed significantly more positive attitudes about the frequency of use, cost-effectiveness, educational value, and overall quality of laptops and bundled software than did upperclassmen. A significantly higher percentage of students at schools affiliated with a software vendor reported that laptops were essential in courses than students at schools with locally produced software, but students at vendor-supplied schools rated the cost-effectiveness significantly lower. Overall, students' assessment of mandatory laptop programs was mixed although freshmen provided significantly more positive responses than did upperclassmen. Incorporation of the e-curriculum into dental schools appears to be following a similar pattern as problem-based learning (PBL) in the 1980s and 1990s. Recommendations for enhancing future e-curricula are proposed based on lessons learned from both information technology and PBL implementation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)480-499
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of dental education.
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Dentistry


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