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Pharmacy Students Find Success Despite Adjusting to Virtual Learning

By Nicole Carrera

Published on August 24, 2020

As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) rapidly caused changes and shutdowns across the country, USciences students and faculty had to adapt quickly to a virtual educational experience. In the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, courses and certificate programs were made virtual and still showed student successes.

The overall success is true even for courses with a large number of students. A prime example of this is Pulmonary (RX365), a required course for the 113 students in their first professional year of the Doctor of Pharmacy program. 

This class is team-taught by Karen Tietze, PharmD, and Shanaz Tejani-Butt, PhD, in a modular format over a three-week period, and integrates pharmacology, medicinal chemistry, pharmaceutics, and more for a diverse experience. 

“We maintained our previously planned synchronous teaching/learning format, but made numerous changes to the course,” shares Dr. Tietze. These changes included the use of Zoom and its many features, schedule flexibility, changes to lab activities to include online resources and asynchronous online feedback for students, creative project presentations, and additional resources for students to access.  

Dr. Tietze and Dr. Tejani-Butt also place emphasis on continued and open communication with students. “We told students that we knew the situation was not what they had signed up for, and that we understood how stressful the situation was for them,” Dr. Tietze explains. “We posted very frequent course announcements and scheduled multiple synchronous communication opportunities.”

In addition to on-ground courses, certificate courses also needed to be moved to a virtual format. Karleen Melody’s, PharmD, course, Medication Therapy Management, is a certificate program sponsored by the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) that consists of both self study as well as a live component. Dr. Melody received permission from the APhA to deliver the live component virtually, and students were still able to complete the course and receive their national certificate. 

“This course is very much focused on patient cases, so the students have to identify drug therapy problems, solutions, and how [students] would write them up.” Dr. Melody explains, “ [the course] is extremely interactive.”

Much like Dr. Tietze and Dr. Tejani-Butt, Dr. Melody also relied heavily on Zoom and its features, including breakout rooms and chat function. She shared that students were able to have very fruitful discussions in the breakout rooms, and the chat function allowed students who typically would not raise their hand in class to comfortably contribute to the conversation. 

Using Zoom and other virtual resources did not come without challenges. Dr. Melody explains nuances of adapting to virtual communication that many people don’t think of. “Even the position of someone on your screen [impacts communication]. If you’re looking at the person on the screen, you still need to glance at your camera to make eye contact.” 

"I think it's going to be a skill set that students need...it's a great thing for us to be teaching our students."

-- Dr. Karleen Melody on telehealth

Moving forward, Dr. Melody feels that integrating telehealth into regular curriculum is imperative. “I think it’s going to be a skill set that [students] are going to need and it’s going to be a marketable skill set. It’s a great thing for us to be teaching our students,” she said,

“I appreciate Zoom and similar technologies and see many future applications regardless of the mode of delivery. However, in-person, face-to-face, student-faculty interactions are essential,” stresses Dr. Tietze. “I don’t know what the optimal balance between synchronous and asynchronous teaching and learning...but I expect that education will change significantly based on what we have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic”

Categories: News, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Students, Faculty, Coronavirus