Teaching in Two Places

medication therapy course

Second-year College of Pharmacy students in Knoxville interact with an instructor and other students in Memphis via video conference. Photo by Wade Payne

By Elizabeth A. Davis

A 59-year-old woman with asthma, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and diabetes walks into a pharmacy for prescription refills. She complains of a sore throat, white plaque on her tongue and osteoarthritis pain. In a team assignment, second-year College of Pharmacy students take on the role of pharmacist and determine how to handle this case. Are there any safety issues with her medications? Does the patient have any problems taking the medications? What should she do for her osteoarthritis?

This medication therapy management class is taught simultaneously in Memphis and Knoxville by videoconference. There are two instructors, Lawrence Brown in Memphis and Michelle Farland in Knoxville, both associate professors.

In Memphis and Knoxville, small groups of students huddle at their desks and discuss the patient scenario. When class resumes, Brown starts the discussion. Questions appear on the projector screen and monitors, and the groups use electronic response devices to answer. Brown asks the groups to explain their answers. A student from one group presses the microphone button on the desk and explains the patient is not using her asthma inhaler correctly and has thrush on her tongue from not rinsing her mouth after each use. At times, Brown calls on Farland to offer her clinical opinion.

The 49 students in Knoxville can see Brown and the questions on the screens around the room. In Memphis, Brown can see the Knoxville students on the screen as well as the 120 or so students sitting in front of him. In other sessions, Farland leads the class, and the circumstances are reversed.

All classes are recorded, so technically students could skip class and watch later. But they would miss the interaction with their classmates and instructors, which is just as important as the information.

“The learning is not different,” says student Chelsey McCoy, who had never taken a class by videoconference before. “We can’t talk to Dr. Brown in person about a lecture, but we have Dr. Farland.”

Working in teams is one type of active learning. Through teams, students learn from each other, and that atmosphere makes sense in education for a profession that requires interaction with co-workers, patients, doctors, nurses and others.

“Active learning gets students in the classroom to interact and think critically,” says Farland, who has taught at UT for six years.

All pharmacy students take first-year classes in Memphis at the UT Health Science Center’s main campus. For the second and third years, they can choose to stay in Memphis or go to Knoxville. The fourth year is spent in clinical rotations across the state. The UTHSC College of Pharmacy opened the Knoxville site, adjacent to UT Medical Center, in 2007.

“We are all moving toward more inter-professional education in the health sciences,” says Peter Chyka, professor and executive associate dean in Knoxville. “This is one effective and efficient means to do it.”