In creating a course called Intro to Pharmacy Technician, I was privileged to work with the Department Chair who was also the subject matter expert (SME), and the chief instructor.
My SME was doubtful this PHAR course could ever be taught online. Furthermore, she wasn't sure it was even a good idea to try. After all, she was training the people we would eventually count on to accurately fill prescriptions and deliver medicine in hospitals. It really was a matter of life or death. She liked to look students in the eye and might even refuse to move on until she saw the facial expressions and spark of "light" in the eyes that great teachers watch for.
Here's How We Did It
The course format was fairly typical, including:
- An approved medical/pharmacy tech textbook.
- Weekly, graded discussions with response rubric.
- Weekly, graded reflection journal.
- Supplemental self-paced weekly lesson highlighting textbook chapter details, with additional activities like looking up pharmaceuticals on the FDA website or other professional sites relevant to future work duties. (Articulate Rise)
- Quizlet Flashcards (Canvas-embedded and printable) for key terms.
- Weekly quiz on key concepts (low stakes) to prep for Final Exam.
High impact teaching practices like student reflection and review were leveraged with Canvas tools based on the idea that students communicate differently when they are 1.) writing assignments directly to please the instructor, 2) writing to fellow classmates about assigned topics, and 3.) reflecting on their own learning in a required personal journal. (meta-learning)
Each type of communication provides writing practice and encourages critical thinking, yet with a different flavor.
A key point of difference in the course was making the SME's professional ethics and priorities tangible within the course. The goal was to make this subtle yet crucial feature un-missable.
Challenge: How do we impress on students the seriousness and societal trust required in their future careers without scaring them out of the field entirely?
The stories of early drug errors in manufacturing and FDA intervention for Thalidomide were useful. The most moving personal scenario was suggested by the SME. Emily Jerry's story lives in history as a heartbreaking example of the need for accuracy in Pharmacy technology and preventable medical errors. Youtube: Medication Error in the Hospital Kills 2-year-old Emily Jerry.
The Youtube video was presented to students first in a Canvas Discussion with a set of questions to answer and a requirement to respond to other students' posts.
This heartbreaking story and several other examples were referenced in activities and assignments along with multiple other options about which to research. Additional discussions posted followup news articles including legal actions and imprisonment of the supervising licensed Pharmacist who was intended to prevent a lowly tech from making a grave error. Did the students think this was fair since he didn't commit the error? What about the technician who had mixed her own IV solution when a pre-mixed option was at hand?
As the course drew to a close, the topic was revisited again with videos detailing the child's heartbroken father, including his anger and crumbling life, then his newfound purpose in driving licensure, training, and other legislation through a foundation honoring his lost child. What did students think of this? Did they see the story differently by the end of the course?
The students' writing throughout the course detailed a complete emotional journey documenting how each individual viewed rising to a position of responsibility and sacred trust in the community.
The "tough cookie" SME was convinced. Not only did she feel the course was equal to her in-person teaching attention, in many ways it was better. She could track the change in students, and they could track it for themselves.
- The course was fast-tracked as a General Ed. Sciences exploration course for non-majors as well as a program intro.
- Key strategies and Canvas tools were implemented as improvements in the remaining program courses, whether lecture, online or hybrid.
After decades as gate-keeper for the program, the SME saw the potential that this course might finally be entrusted to other worthy colleagues because the key components were built-in to the course! She didn't have to deliver content one-person-at-a-time. She had duplicated what mattered most to her, and the personal-touch of the teaching burden could be shared.