Dental Education Resources on the Web (DERWeb):

Providing an Educational Resource for the Dental Community Worldwide


by

Rob Duffin*, Linda Davis**, Alan Griffiths* & Ray Winstanley**

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Introduction

The DERWeb (Dental Education Resources on the Web) project was established with the primary aim to delivery a library of dental images to a national (and international) audience. The project has rapidly become established as one of the world's leading WWW sites for dentistry. It is a UK project based at the University of Sheffield, funded under the Higher Education Funding Council - Joint Information Systems Committee, New Technology Initiative. The project started in September 1994, with the Web site going 'live' in February 1995, and is funded under the current initiative until the end of July 1996. The image library and other material on the web site is continually being revised and added to throughout the project. The target for the first phase is approximately 3,000 dental images, with associated educational resources.

There are a number of secondary aims to the project, based around the image library. A series of educational resources are being developed for delivery over the WWW, using HTML as a basis. These resources primarily use images from the library as examples of how they can be used within educational material. Training is being provided to academic staff at the Dental School, University of Sheffield to promote the use of the WWW in their teaching and research activities. Based on the experiences on this, guidelines for integrating the WWW into the teaching and research of dentistry will then be made available to the dental community via the Web site. DERWeb also includes a range of information resources on technology in dental education, and key address lists.


Development of the Image Library

The image library is at the heart of the entire project. It has been set up so that the images are freely available for use within education and non-commercial research, subject to a number of conditions. The DERWeb project uses Kodak Photo CD as the core storage system for the digital images. This is a relatively cheap method of converting the original 35mm slides to a digital format, and this also provides a secure method of long term and high quality storage. Once transferred to Photo CD, the images are then converted to a JPEG format at two different resolutions - 384 x 256 and 768 x 512 pixels. The smaller size is sufficient for the majority of computer based learning applications and the larger size is more appropriate for presentations. The images are converted to a JPEG format so that they can be compressed to a smaller file size without a noticeable loss in the quality of the image, enabling them to be downloaded quicker. The smaller sized image typically takes up between 10-20k and the larger size between 20-70k.

The images are stored on DERWeb together with a unique 4-digit code, a series of keywords and a brief description of the image. The associated text is used in the searching of the library and to help users decide whether they want to view the image. The user can search the image library by typing one or more keywords on a simple form. Any descriptions matching the terms entered are then displayed, together with links to the images. A target of 3,000 images will be made available over the WWW before the end of the project. Detailed information about the setting up of the image library and background details on Kodak Photo CD are also included on the WWW site.


Teaching Materials

In developing the image library, another of the other aims is in the promotion of the use of this facility. DERWeb has a whole host of different resources on all aspects of dental education and information. Teaching is provided for the academic staff at the Dental School to encourage the use of the WWW in the teaching and research. By encouraging its use amongst the staff helps to stimulate ideas for possible uses of the Internet in dental education.

One of the sections that is used to promote the use of the Image Library is the teaching materials section. This was initially established as an experimental section to illustrate some of the ideas for delivering computer based learning materials over the Web, particularly imaged based materials. These experiments included the use of image maps and multimedia authoring software to produce some degree of interaction and useful feedback for the users. At the time of writing, work is underway to produce a series of dental case studies linked to images from the library.

This is a passive method of learning which could easily be reproduced by simply reading a book. The DERWeb project is looking at using the technology of the WWW to deliver useful educational materials. At present HTML (or any of its current variants) does not offer a great deal in the way of interaction, apart from via form completion. Some preliminary investigations using this technology has been carried out but have not yet been made available on the WWW site. WWW technology is still in its infancy and developments are continually happening that are likely to improve both presentation and interaction.


Supporting Materials

DERWeb offers information and/or links to information on all aspects of dentistry. It is the home site for the British Dental Association (BDA) WWW pages, which provide information on the work of the BDA and the services offered. It is planned to expand this section to include some of the other facilities that are on offer from the BDA.

Information is also provided about electronic journals and articles on the WWW that are related to dentistry. These are largely links to other sites around the world, but it does include a dissertation on 'Multimedia in Dentistry: An Investigation of Current Trends' (Osborne, 1994) that is one of the key background documents to DERWeb project.

Other resources include details of dental conferences on educational technology and the Internet, lists of software available for both educational and commercial purposes, contact addresses for many aspects of dental profession and an annotated lists of links to other WWW sites that are regarded as useful from an educational point of view. The project is continually evolving with new documents being added and existing documents being updated.


Who Uses DERWeb?

The project went 'live' on the Web in February 1995 and since then the accesses have increased from an initial 4,483 to over 25,000 per month. These accesses are from a truly worldwide audience - 52 different countries were identified in September and October 1995 alone. Due to some technical difficulties with the server, the access statistics for two months are not available, but using data from the other months it was possible to statistically estimate these accesses enabling a cumulative figure for accesses from February to October 1995 to be obtained. This is estimated to be 153,482 accesses in the first nine months of the project.

Due to the nature of the funding the prshments, however the number of institutions teaching dentistry in the UK is relatively small so it is not surprising that the majority of accesses are from overseas. Besides academia, there is also great interest in the project from practising dentists, commercial dental companies and the professional bodies.


The Future

Funding for the project under the current initiative is due to run out at the end of July 1996, and one of the concerns for the future is to secure funding to allow this valuable resource to continue. Funding is being sought from a number of traditional sources and the possibilities of sponsorship from the commercial sector are also been investigated.

The project is investigating the possibilities of setting up a mirror site(s) in different parts of the world to improve access speed. It is also possible that a CD-ROM version may be produced to run on machines with no Internet connection, primarily with the aim to be used in demonstrations/exhibitions.


Conclusion

DERWeb offers a unique resource to the worldwide dental community. It provides an innovative and educational WWW site freely available to all in the dental profession, which has helped to establish it as one of the world's leading WWW resources in this area. It has attracted a great deal of attention worldwide and will continue to develop new resources and add further images to the library as the project develops, making use of the emerging WWW technology.


Accessing DERWeb

DERWeb can be accessed on the World Wide Web (WWW) at the following URL

http://www.shef.ac.uk/~der/derweb.html

For more information about any aspect of the DERWeb project, please contact (specific dental enquires will be forwarded to the relevant person):

Rob Duffin
Department of Information Studies
University of Sheffield
Western Bank
Sheffield
S10 2TN
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0) 114 282 5095
Fax: +44 (0) 114 278 0300

e-mail: r.duffin@sheffield.ac.uk


Reference:

Osborne, C.J. (1994) "Multimedia in Dentistry: An Investigation of Current Trends", University of Sheffield.

* Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield, UK

** Department of Restorative Dentistry, University of Sheffield

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