Behind the scenes with online learning at the School of Pharmacy

Monday, June 29, 2020

 Female student working on a laptop.

Online learning is the new norm at the School of Pharmacy this Spring Term as a result of COVID-19. Like other faculty members, William W.L. Wong is exploring a variety of innovative methods to deliver content and assessments in a virtual space. Together, he and Pharmacy support staff devised a solution to continue offering a hands-on learning experience to his remote students.

When he was in the classroom, William W.L. Wong was known for his ability to break complex concepts down and give his students opportunities to apply the concepts he taught using software in the School’s Professional Practice Lab. Wong specializes in health informatics and pharmacoeconomics, and students appreciated how he brought these complex topics to life with examples drawn from Canada’s health-care system.

“Through demonstrating the practical application of informatics, I help students appreciate that many key concepts in this discipline are actually simpler than they initially seem,” he says. “It was important that I was able to find a solution to replicate this in the current online learning environment.”

When on campus, students worked with a pharmacy management system called Kroll software to complete informatics lab tasks but Kroll is only available on computers in the School’s Professional Practice Lab. To further complicate the issue, most students didn’t have a lot of experience with remote access and the School had never tried to run the Kroll software in this manner.

But everyone wanted to make sure learners had the same opportunity no matter the circumstances.

Through collaboration with Robin Andrade, professional practice instructor, and Steve Bradley, IT manager, they found a way to ensure students could access the computers via Remote Desktop and Virtual Private Network technology.

“It was vital our first-year students had remote access to Kroll, as many of them haven’t seen the dispensing software program before,” Andrade explains. “Like many applied labs, the richest form of learning comes from performing the task instead of only ‘watching’.

Bradley was physically present in the Professional Practice Lab during scheduled lab times and kept the computers running so that the students could use Kroll remotely. While Andrade created three videos and assignments so the students could watch the task, and then complete it on their own. The videos helped increase student confidence to use the software without having an instructor beside them.

“As an instructor, I had to not only familiarize myself with the course and lab contents in a digital space, but I had to know how to solve connectivity issues for students in real-time on both Windows and Mac environments,” Wong reflects. “So far however, all students have been able to participate. If there were difficulties during the scheduled lab times, I offered alternative times for them to participate, and I used a live WebEx session throughout the duration of the lab so that I could solve problems in real-time.”

Wong has now successfully run three lab sessions, and his students appreciated the experience.

“I really enjoy the labs,” reflects Sarah Fallis, a student in Wong’s informatics class. “I’m glad we can still get this practical lab experience while in person classes and labs are cancelled. I completed Exercise One and it felt like I was in a pharmacy again. Lots of fun!”

Prof Wong, who recently received Outstanding Performance Award, which recognizes exceptional teaching and scholarship, plans to survey his students. The data will be used to determine how to modify the course content to enhance student learning experiences in the future offerings.

“This is a learning experience for myself and the students, and it wouldn’t have been possible with support from our staff here at the School,” he says. “We’ll continue to try new strategies and collect feedback so that the educational experiences can be as effective as possible for everyone.”

Read the full story on the Waterloo Stories page.