When classes begin next fall, dental students at seven higher education institutions across the country will buy four years’ worth of textbooks and manuals on one digital video disk (DVD). Soon, developers say, students in elementary and secondary schools also will be able to use individual DVDs to access all their curriculum materials.

From slides to movie segments to handouts, the dental school DVDs will house all the course materials students will use throughout their program. To keep the disks up-to-date, they will be replaced every six months.

The idea of an all-inclusive DVD is not about replacing books, it’s about making text part of the curriculum in a high-tech society, said Todd Watkins, founder and chief executive officer of Raleigh, N.C.-based Vital Source Technologies, which produces the dental school DVDs.

The disks will make course material interactive, expansive, and more manageable, Watkins said. Students will be able to search the material by keyword. Their texts will cover more material than what is targeted just to their current level of study. And they won’t have to lug heavy books.

“We were looking for ways to improve student learning,” said Fred More, associate dean for academic affairs at the New York University College of Dentistry, one of the schools trying the digital curriculum.

“Students saw books as somewhat optional,” he said, and so they were not buying most of the assigned reading materials. He also found content is changing so quickly that the books a student bought in the first year of the program would be out of date by the time he or she graduated.

Brigit Glass, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, hopes the DVDs will enhance the lessons the professors give.

“We expect that the faculty will become more motivated to develop web-based curriculum,” Glass said. The faculty also will be able to incorporate more problem-based learning, where students are given a problem they have to solve independently.

“The students have to scatter all over to find these resources,” she said, but now, using DVD, they will be able to search for the answers in many textbooks more quickly and all at once.

After Vital Source sees the results of the digital curriculum at the dental schools, the company plans to begin producing curriculum DVDs for sixth- to 12th-graders, Watkins said.

“We have just now started doing tests in [the upper K-12 grades],” he said, especially in science subjects.

Using this technology, students are challenged to work beyond their year of study, because the DVD can contain several years’ worth of curriculum content.

“We put artificial limits on our students, because we categorize them by grade,” Watkins said. The DVDs will offer students deeper content than what current textbooks can provide, which will encourage students to learn beyond the minimum requirement, he said.

Watkins also said that, because of reduced publication costs, the DVD could house several different textbooks on the same subject, giving students more information than does the single text currently issued to students.

The DVD uses a proprietary keyword search engine. Students type in a topic such as “the human skull,” and all relevant information relating to that topic appears for them to study.

Educators can customize the DVD by choosing what textbooks and materials they want it to contain. Vital Source is trying to work with as many publishers as possible to increase the choices available to teachers.

“We are not trying to replace paper. There are just some things that are stupid to put on paper,” Watkins said.

Gary Shapiro, senior vice president for intellectual property at Follet, a company that operates college bookstores, thinks that not all school subjects are ideal candidates for this kind of searchable software.

“The way dental students interact with their books is different from the way a history student uses books,” Shapiro said.

Watkins agrees, admitting the graphic-driven health/science field is more suited for this kind of technology. “If you’re reading things from cover to cover—I mean from beginning to end—there are other technologies that are better for that,” he said. “Where our technology really shines is where you need to build relationships between things.”

New York University College of Dentistry

University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

Vital Source Technologies