November 30, 2011
As students work at their lab benches, associate professor Bob Shrewsbury, PhD, and his teaching assistants circulate through the room to answer questions. As he reaches one end of the lab, Shrewsbury checks in on one particular group.
These students are working on the same exercise as the rest of the class, following the same directions, and using the same equipment and materials. The only difference is that they are working at the School’s satellite campus in Elizabeth City—about 200 miles from where Shrewsbury is standing—and he is observing their progress on a TV screen.
The School has been using videoconferencing to deliver doctor of pharmacy courses to its Elizabeth City satellite campus since 2005 and began doing the same for its new Asheville satellite campus in fall 2011. The aim is to provide the same learning experience that students in Chapel Hill receive, and the School’s approach has worked for the laboratory compounding component of the Pharmaceutical Care Laboratories, according to a study published November 10 in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education.
The study compared grades from laboratory compounding exercises and found no difference between the overall pass rates of students at Elizabeth City and their counterparts in Chapel Hill.
“This shows that the School has achieved the same success in using videoconferencing for its laboratory-compounding component as it has with the rest of its doctor of pharmacy program,” says clinical assistant professor Jennifer Robertson, PharmD, first author on the paper.
Shrewsbury, coauthor on the paper, is currently on a task force that is examining how other schools of pharmacy teach laboratory compounding at distance campuses. He was also part of the initial group from the School that drew up plans for its Elizabeth City satellite campus. He says no other school is using videoconferencing to deliver its compounding laboratory exercises.
The two-way video feed stays on throughout the lab session, and Shrewsbury, the lead instructor, can move and zoom the camera to see what a particular student is doing. When students have questions for Shrewsbury, they can go up to the camera and have a screen-to-screen chat with him.
Robertson, who oversees the lab at Elizabeth City, says Shrewsbury makes it a point to share information with the Elizabeth City students during lab and that the students like talking to him because of their rapport. However, she says it’s not often that students at her site have questions for Shrewsbury, because she and her teaching assistants are on hand to answer most of the questions. That is another aspect of the School’s effort to ensure that students at the satellite campuses receive the same experience as their classmates in Chapel Hill.
In addition to having on-site faculty and teaching assistants at all three campuses, all students receive the same prelab instructions online and work with the same equipment. Shrewsbury prepares the supplies for the exercises and sends them to the satellite campuses. After an exercise, the students’ compounded preparations are sent back to Chapel Hill for analysis.
“The analysis of the preparations depends a lot on the skill of the person who’s doing it and on the equipment, so you can get a lot of the variation if you run separate analyses at different sites,” Shrewsbury says.
The biggest challenge, Robertson says, is making sure that the faculty at the satellite campuses are completely integrated into the planning and implementation of the lab activities. She says conducting the compounding lab via videoconferencing has become smoother over the years in part because she is now more integrated into the School’s faculty.
“This fosters an important sense of team,” she says. “It would be very easy for the faculty facilitator at the satellite campus to just understand surface things, but there is so much planning and advance coordination that’s necessary, and if something is left out or forgotten, the students at the satellite campus will suffer and the learning activity will be flawed. Getting faculty buy-in from all the campuses decreases the odds of that happening, and faculty at all campuses are taking responsibility for the activity’s success.”