Penn Dental Medicine Designated Apple Distinguished School for its Classroom Technology


To date, 76 AppleBooks, or digital textbooks, have been developed at Penn Dental Medicine, becoming primary classroom resources; this one being used in the preclinical simulation lab.

Philadelphia—With a one-to-one initiative that provides every dental student with an iPad, a robust program of faculty-developed AppleBooks that tackle complex dental topics, and the use of software that makes taking notes and exams easier and more convenient, Penn Dental Medicine is wholeheartedly embracing the concept of digital learning and transforming the way it delivers a dental education.

“Our goal is always the advancement of learning,” says Chia-Wei Wu, Director of Learning Sciences and Technologies and head of Penn Dental Medicine’s Learning Technology Team (LTT), which works with faculty to develop education technology solutions. “We strive for a level of digital literacy where students and faculty are so comfortable with technology that it is integrated seamlessly into the learning experience.”

An Apple Distinguished School

This fall, Penn Dental Medicine became one of only a handful of higher education institutions worldwide to be selected as an Apple Distinguished School for 2019-2022 – a three-year designation. Apple Distinguished Schools are centers of innovation, leadership, and educational excellence that use Apple products to inspire creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking. They showcase innovative uses of technology in learning, teaching, and the school environment and have documented results of academic accomplishment.

“The Apple Distinguished School designation honors our long-term commitment to using innovation and technology to enhance teaching and learning,” says Penn Dental Medicine’s Dean Mark Wolff.

iPads for All

In 2015, Penn Dental Medicine rolled out its one-to-one iPad initiative, which provides each first-year student with an iPad, along with the digital learning content and comprehensive support to use it as an educational tool. The first week of school, incoming students receive “learner-ready” iPads with the relavant applications and settings pre-installed.

“We wanted to provide a consistent platform to deliver educational content and provide a schoolwide user experience,” says Melissa Miller, Senior Director of Information Technology. “When everyone is using the same device, there is less need for troubleshooting, less classroom disruption, and less time wasted preparing multiple versions of the same content. That means more time for teaching and learning. With iPads for everyone, we are optimizing the student user experience.”

Customized Digital Textbooks

As iPads have become fixtures in Penn Dental Medicine classrooms, faculty members have steadily adapted lecture materials to digital format. To date, 76 AppleBooks, or digital textbooks, have been developed with the support of the School’s LTT, becoming primary classroom resources. The AppleBooks cover dental education subjects ranging from fixed and removable dentures to surgical documentation and nutrition. (One was even created by students as an honors project on the topic of bulimia nervosa and oral health.) They can be continually updated and offer a variety of high-tech features, including interactive components, HTML5 widget, instructional video, online quizes, and animation, which bring complex topics to life—not just for Penn Dental Medicine students, but for users around the world.

“The iBook is a great vehicle for free, direct information sharing with others. The mission of Penn is to share knowledge globally, and this technology definitely supports that,” says Dr. Bekir Karabucak, Chair and Program Director of Endodontics, whose Surgical Documentation iBook has been featured in the Journal of Endodontics and downloaded by people around the world.

A Digital Learning Revolution

This digital technology is transforming the learning process at Penn Dental Medicine as the passive lecture hall model is being replaced by “blended learning” and “flipped-classroom” models, which supplement traditional content with online resources and small group discussion. Students use their iPads to access material ahead of time through videos and interactive lessons, opening up more classroom time for discussion, analysis, and mentoring. In addition, the iPad’s features make studying and note-taking more convenient—and more creative.

For third-year dental student Hannah Stern, the iPad’s doodling feature with Apple Pencil is a key to understanding intricate aspects of physiology and dental procedures.

For third-year dental student Hannah Stern, the iPad’s doodling feature with Apple Pencil is a key to understanding intricate aspects of physiology and dental procedures. She uses it to create colorful, complex study guides on human anatomy and dental structures.

“Creating these doodles allows me to go carefully through the information and organize it into functional, helpful tables,” says Hannah, a self-described ‘dental doodler.’ “As my knowledge grows, so do my doodles.”

“The iPad is the perfect tool for studying,” adds Nikita Gupta, also a third-year dental student. “I can take endless notes on my iPad without ever running out of space, and I can easily organize my notes into folders and sections.”

In addition, many exams and quizzes are now done on the iPad, using ExamSoft software, which allows students to make notes on the screen, highlight material, and cross off answers they had ruled out. Quick and accurate grading makes the exam process more efficient for both students and faculty, who are also using data generated from students’ iPads to evaluate learning.

For Wu, the Apple Distinguished School recognition pays tribute to a team effort by faculty, students, and administrators dedicated to a digital environment that takes learning to a new level.

“At Penn Dental Medicine, we are all speaking the same language,” he says, “and it’s the language of education technology.”