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Expanding Voluntary Active-Learning Opportunities for Pharmacy Students in a Respiratory Physiology Module

Article excerpt

Objectives. To expand voluntary active-learning opportunities for bachelor of pharmacy students enrolled in a third-year human physiology and pharmacology course and determine whether the additional course components improved learning outcomes.

Design. Additional voluntary active-learning opportunities including a large-class tutorial, additional formative assessment, and an online discussion were added to the Respiratory Physiology Module of the course. Examination scores were compared with those from previous years. A questionnaire was administered to assess students' perception of the active-learning components.

Assessment. Mean examination scores increased from 69.3% [+ or -] 24.4% in 2003 to 88.9% [+ or -] 13.4% in 2004 and 86.9% [+ or -] 17.6% in 2005, after the addition of the active-learning components. Students' overall perception of the value of the active-learning activities was positive.

Summary. The addition of voluntary active-learning course components to a required pharmacy course resulted in improved student examination scores, and decreased failure rate, and were accomplished at low cost and with little additional staff time.

Keywords: active learning, respiratory, online discussion forum, formative assessment

INTRODUCTION

Learning is an active process. (1-3) Active learning is defined as "the process of having students engaging in some activity that forces them to reflect upon ideas and how they are using those ideas." (4) Active learning can occur when students become actively engaged in the learning process by participation in activities that require them to consider their understanding and incorporate new information into their personal conceptual framework. Furthermore, interactive respiratory physiology lectures with embedded active-learning activities have been shown to significantly improve learning outcomes. (5-7)

Accordingly active learning had been incorporated into the third-year human physiology and pharmacology course of the bachelor of pharmacy degree program at the University of Queensland, Australia. However, despite the active-learning activities included in 5 lectures and 1 laboratory class, there was high variability in student performance in the summative assessment of this module, and over 20% of students did not achieve a passing grade. The active-learning activities within the interactive lectures and the laboratory class, while tremendously valuable, offered only a limited time for the students to apply newly presented information and key physiological concepts, thereby limiting the effectiveness of these activities in promoting knowledge construction and developing problem-solving skills. In order to decrease the number of underachieving students and further improve learning outcomes, we redesigned the module to include additional voluntary course components that offered the students further opportunities for active learning outside the lectures and the laboratory class. The objective of this intervention was to determine whether the introduction of voluntary active-learning activities outside the official contact hours decreased the number of underachieving students.

DESIGN

The human physiology and pharmacology course we selected for this study is the last of a series of 3 integrated physiology and pharmacology courses in a 4-year bachelor of pharmacy degree program. It is offered concurrently with 5 other courses in the second semester of the third year of the program. The course contains 4 main content modules: treatment

of infection, cancer chemotherapy, respiratory physiology, and respiratory pharmacology. Students' mastery of all 4 modules is assessed in an end-of-semester examination, with respiratory physiology comprising approximately 30% of that examination.

In 2003 the respiratory physiology module was delivered by five 50-minute interactive lectures to all students and one 2-hour laboratory class, which was repeated 3 times to a smaller class size of approximately 60 students. …