The decision to adopt a hybrid approach to experiential learning where online discussions augment what students learn in their placements was certainly hastened by the pandemic, but it is proving to be a boon to students and faculty alike.
Dr. Ryan S. Ades, PharmD, BCPS, is an Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice with Manchester University’s Pharmacy programs and Director of Experiential Education. This semester, he has about 70 students in his Community Pharmacy class, all of whom spend at least four hours every week in practice settings. Combined with a heavy academic workload, “that doesn’t leave a lot of time for meaningful discussions,” Ryan told us.
During the pandemic, he began using Harmonize to facilitate discussions. “I really wanted to get students to think critically about hard topics and discuss them with their peers. And, hopefully, in a best-case scenario, open their minds to some new perspectives on difficult questions,” he said.
Neither Ryan nor his students had much experience using an online discussion platform. It took Ryan about 15 minutes to familiarize himself with the features in Harmonize and create a fun icebreaker post to get his students talking. “This year, our students really haven’t had a lot of chances to connect socially,” he said. His students had no trouble responding to that initial post; in fact, Ryan has never had a student ask a technical question about Harmonize — ”they just get it,” he said.
Soon, of course, students in his class were discussing issues that many newly minted PharmDs face: What are the legal and ethical issues facing pharmacists today? Should pharmacists sell hypodermic syringes without a prescription? Do pharmacists have the right to refuse to sell a product on religious or moral grounds? Should pharmacy technicians be administering immunizations?
To manage discussions more consistently, Ryan opted to use Milestones in Harmonize. Students were required to make one initial post at the beginning of each week and leave responses to peer posts throughout the week. Using both Harmonize Milestones and Auto-Grading, Ryan has found it much easier to track submissions and calculate baseline grades for discussions.
“Auto-Grading provides me with a baseline for student performance. That helps me focus on what they are contributing to discussions so that I can adjust their grades according to the quality of their responses,” said Ryan.
Before the pandemic, Ryan met with students for an hour each week. When those face-to-face meetings were no longer safe, Harmonize provided another option.
“It’s certainly a different type of engagement,” Ryan admits. “But I do think that this approach has really engaged students. They are buying into the process and, in most cases, posting quality responses and thoughtful answers,” he said.
In addition to Milestones and Auto-Grading, Ryan’s favorite feature in Harmonize is the Activity Tab, which provides an overview of where and how students have engaged in discussions. “It allows me to review each student’s participation and that really helps me with grading,” he said. “With the Activity Tab I can understand how engaged a student has been. If they’re looking at only two or three posts a week, I’ll deduct a point. If I see that they’re engaging with at least 50% of the posts, I can tell that they’re really trying to form an opinion and work it through.”
Today, Harmonize is an integral part of Manchester’s University’s Community Pharmacy programs. “It’s simple to figure things out and we can do a lot of unique things to create an immersive discussion board and provide students with a new way to hone their skills,” Ryan said.
Ryan uses the Harmonize Milestones, Auto-Grading, and Activity features in his Pharmacy classes, but there are many more features you may find helpful in increasing student engagement.