Dr Darius Widera, School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy
After a successful application to act as one of the early adopters of Blackboard Collaborate at the University of Reading, this technology platform was used for a series of cross-campus tutorials within the Fundamentals of Physiology (PM1AM) module between the University of Reading’s Whiteknights and Malaysia campuses. The format was well-received, and contributed to an enhanced student experience.
The official inauguration of the University of Reading Malaysia (UoRM) campus in EduCity, Johor Bahru, in early 2017 and the start of the MPharm (Malaysia) programme in the academic year 2016/17 offer excellent opportunities for further internationalisation of the University of Reading and specifically within Pharmacy education.
The University of Reading Malaysia offers a double accredited (UK and Malaysia) 2+2 MPharm (Hons) degree where the students study for two years at the Malaysia campus followed by two consecutive years in Reading.
The PM1A module and its UoRM counterpart, PM1AM, cover the basics of biology and human physiology including genetics, biochemistry and cell biology. According to student feedback, these topics tend to be challenging for the students, especially in light of the fact that significant numbers of Pharmacy students do not have A-level biology to provide background knowledge.
In response to this feedback, several tutorials have been introduced to provide students with interactive opportunities to revise the content of lectures and practical sessions and to close any potential knowledge gaps.
Thus, there was a need for the development of a cross-campus solution to ensure that both MPharm cohorts (UoR and UoRM) are provided with a similar form of tutorials.
- To explore if Blackboard Collaborate can be used for cross-campus delivery of tutorials covering the content of the genetics lecture series within the PM1A/PM1AM module.
- To investigate if cross-campus virtual classroom/teleconference represents an appropriate pedagogical tool for delivery of tutorials in Pharmacy and how this deliver method affects student engagement and interactivity.
- To assess if these sessions could help 2+2 MPharm students to prepare for their two years of study in Reading.
The Blackboard Collaborate platform was used to develop a series of tutorials in genetics. The online sessions were led by Dr Widera (live video capture via a webcam) at the University of Reading’s Whiteknights campus and streamed to students at the UoRM. The student group was composed of 11 Malaysian Part One MPharm students. The content of the tutorials was covered in the respective lecturees. It was expected that students would have factual knowledge of the topic, although at heterogeneous levels.
All students were equipped with PCs with headsets and webcams. Blackboard Collaborate functions including ‘raise hand’, virtual whiteboard, chat, and direct interaction with all or individual students (either via audio or video) were used. In addition, external tools (e.g. Microsoft PowerPoint presentations and the Poll Everywhere app) were used via the ‘share screen’ function of Blackboard Collaborate. For the tutorial, an introductory PowerPoint presentation was designed and a screencast deposited on YouTube as a contingency plan. Multiple choice questionnaires (MCQs) were set up on the Poll Everywhere platform, and short answer questions (SAQs) were included in an additional PowerPoint presentation. After each MCQ/SAQ, students were given time to decide on an answer (individually via Poll Everywhere), followed by an interactive discussion.
The overall length of each tutorial session was 50 minutes. Individual anonymous post-hoc feedback was collected to evaluate student opinions on the usefulness, overall style, and delivery. In addition, a technical report and an experience log was collated and submitted to the Technology Enhanced Learning team. Finally, the content, deliver and potential changes were discussed with students and peers during a visit to the UoRM.
During the tutorials no serious technical issues were encountered, although students at UoRM did experience slight lagging in their connections (with video and audio becoming slightly out of sync). Students showed high levels of interaction and successfully used most of the Blackboard Collaborate features. Importantly, other than in UoR in-class tutorials, students engaged and interacted early on. This is reflected in the feedback collected after the first session (“I like how it is interactive and fun”). The tutorial format also seemed to help students to revise the content of the lectures (“Useful to enhance my biology knowledge”, “It helps me to revise”, “It helps me to find out my difficulties with previous lectures”). Moreover, students appreciated that the session was different compared to conventional lectures (“It was different from just sitting in the classroom and listening to lecturers”, “it was another way of learning outside the classroom”). Last but not least, it was appreciated that the tutorials were run by Reading-based staff that the 2+2 students would meet during their two years in Reading (“can meet Dr Widera and learn from him”). No negative feedback was received.
Following the feedback received, further tutorials involving other lecturers teaching on the PM1A module will be developed and implemented.