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Updated 2:30 PM September 19, 2005




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Spotlight: A helping hand

While most information technology professionals on campus work hard to stay ahead of the latest technology and trends in the digital age, Dental School Chief Media Engineer John Squires faces a unique obstacle.
(Photo by Scott Galvin)

"One of the problems is that dentistry professors are so technologically adept," Squires says. "The challenge is keeping ahead of them!"

Squires says dentistry professors have a tremendous interest in the latest in audiovisual equipment. This allows their students to do things like watch gross anatomy labs on DVD and review dissections.

The faculty members routinely find technology to make teaching more productive and Squires is there every step of the way to implement the pilot programs.

Recently, Squires installed a "personal response system" into a classroom, in which small handheld keyboards are given to every student in class. The system allows professors to ask questions and receive immediate feedback to see if the students understand the concept; they don't have to wait several weeks for a test.

Squires says the greatest benefit of new technology is that it promotes immediacy in teaching. He says 95 percent of dental teaching is done with slides. Since PowerPoint has been employed, the time spent updating lectures has been cut back tremendously, he says, which allows professors to spend more time actually teaching.

"Dentists have teaching requirements, but also have to do research and then have patients to see," Squires says.

The majority of Squires' time is spent setting up and investigating new machinery that enables further classroom productivity. He also provides classroom support, computer support, and maintains old "U-matic" tape players that play more than 1,800 tapes produced during the past 25 years.

"It never ceases to amaze me how versatile he is," says Chris Jung, graphic designer for dentistry. "He has a natural curiosity about technology combined with a practical problem-solving ability that's hard to find nowadays."

Squires arrived at the Dental School in the late 1970s to work in the Caident Center, which ran computer dentistry applications. When he became chief media engineer in the mid-1980s, he took on an Office of Academic Affairs challenge to network all of the computers in the department.

He says the whole school had Macintosh computers and laser printers by the late 1980s, and he wired the department and later the whole building to form networks, in the days before the University had a centrally organized operation.

In order to keep up to date with technology, Squires says he uses journals such as IEEE Spectrum, the Internet and also a network of people at the University who have similar positions—the IT Commons subgroup on classroom design.

Squires says he researches the technology in journals and then finds out more about the products online, as is the case with in-room control equipment, which he hopes to install in the near future.

Room control equipment enables coordination of four or five different pieces of equipment, such as a DVD player, VCR, projector and computer—all controlled through one screen. The room also has a Web site that would allow Squires to view the room remotely, and see what problems may arise, instead of walking across the building just to discover that the wrong button was pushed, he says.

"It's a lot easier to support teaching because of that kind of thing," Squires says. "It's hard for a professor to sit in front of the students waiting for it to work."

Squire's desire to help others permeates both his career and personal life.

This past summer, Squires and his son's Boy Scout troop rode 550 miles in Wisconsin over eight days, including one day the group traveled 114 miles in 11 hours. Squires says he helped teach the boys that they could do more than they imagined.

Squires rides his bike to and from work every day, about a five-mile trip each way.

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