A Model for Assessing Digital Image Use and Needs: Report of a Study into Digital Image Use in North American Dental Education

Article excerpt

This study is presented as one possible model for assessing image use and needs that can inform planning for and creation of a digital image repository. The study described here specifically sought to provide basic knowledge about the current use of digital images in North American dental schools, as well as what future needs might occur among digital image users. It was conducted as part of an ongoing needs assessment for possible construction of an online repository of digitized dental images. The research team conducted semistructured interviews with a purposive sample of dental faculty members at a representative dental school, as well as a brief survey of academic deans. Findings indicated use of digital dental images is nearly ubiquitous among faculty members, but that not all of their needs are being met. The faculty members would benefit from access to an online repository of high-quality digital dental images with accompanying metadata.


Many institutions and disciplines are exploring the creation of digital image repositories. The research project described here investigates questions pertinent to most types of digital image repositories--namely, the needs that drive image use, whether these needs can be met through an online repository, the functional elements that image users would be most helpful, and whether individuals would be willing to contribute images to a shared repository. The process followed in conducting the research reported in this paper can be applied to research into other types of discipline-based image repositories.

The needs assessment described in this paper was prompted by the presence at the University at Buffalo's (UB) School of Dental Medicine of a collection of high-quality dental slides donated by a retired faculty member to be made available to the educational community. The extensive collection includes slides that could be professionally digitized and made available online as the core of a repository of digital dental images. The collection is currently in physical form.

Rather than simply making the images available within the school, the research team decided to assess the feasibility of making the images available to the broader community of dental faculty members and researchers. This needs assessment was designed to determine the image-related needs of dental faculty members and to determine whether an online repository of digitized dental images could meet any needs discovered during the study.

To provide basic knowledge about dental-image use by faculty members at North American dental schools, and how efforts to provide an online repository of digitized dental images might help the work of those faculty members, this study asked the following research questions:

RQ1: What needs drive digital image use by dental faculty members?

RQ2; Can the respondents' needs be met by the creation of an online repository of digitized dental images?

RQ3: What functional elements of the proposed online repository of digitized dental images would be most helpful to users?

RQ4: Would members of the larger dental community be willing to contribute further material to the proposed online repository of digitized dental images?

The research team conducted the needs assessment in three stages. In the first stage, members of the research team conducted semistructured interviews with dental faculty members at the UB School of Dental Medicine. The second stage involved a brief national survey of academic deans from North American dental schools. The third stage involved a longer national survey of dental faculty members from North American dental schools.


While several articles have addressed the use, or potential use, of images in dental practice, little is documented about the content and types of images needed or how they are collected, stored, and retrieved by dental professionals, faculty, researchers, and students. …