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Transforming pharmacy school instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic


Pharm 155: Introduction to Drug Information Fundamentals, is a required course for first-year pharmacy students at the University of Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy.  As the School’s librarian and co-instructor for this course, my role is to provide instruction on distinguishing types of literature and study designs, locating clinical information using common drug information databases and conducting a systematic search for evidence in databases like PubMed.  The second half of the course is taught by a faculty member, Dr. Sherilyn Houle, who focuses on the critical appraisal of research articles, calculating and interpreting biostatistics, and communicating the findings to patients.  The skills acquired in this course are foundational for students and are applied in subsequent courses, as well as during co-op placements and patient care rotations.

Due to the increasing number of Covid-19 cases, it became apparent in winter 2020 that the spring offering of Pharm 155 would need to be offered online, instead of in-person.  The instruction I provide on locating high-quality evidence is very hands-on and interactive and I was not particularly keen on recording videos, or narrated PowerPoints of me performing searches in the different databases.  While speaking with one of my Library colleagues, I became aware of a subscription-based e-learning product called Articulate, which can be used to build online courses or modules.

In the spirit of experimentation, I decided to convert two of my four lectures into online modules using Articulate.  The first module focused on types of literature (primary, secondary, tertiary), various study designs (e.g. systematic review), and an introduction to evidence-based practice. The purpose of the second module was to introduce students to the process of creating an answerable question using PICO, and to perform literature searches in PubMed, Ovid International Pharmaceutical Abstracts, Ovid Embase, and the Cochrane Library databases.  The second module included real-world scenarios from the community and hospital pharmacy perspective.  To keep students engaged throughout both modules, several “check your understanding” questions were incorporated for the students to answer, in the form of multiple choice, sorting, and matching questions.  In addition to these types of assessment questions, Articulate offers fill-in-the-blank and flashcard questions.  Within Articulate I was able to record and add my own audio narration to each of the modules, which I did so that students had the option to listen to me explain the content, or read through the sections of the modules on their own.

Student feedback on the modules was overwhelmingly positive. To collect feedback, I setup a brief survey question in Top Hat, an audience response system used at the School of Pharmacy.  Students really appreciated the audio narration, as it gave them a break from reading; they noted that the modules were engaging, well-organized, modern, easy to navigate, and professional-looking; and they liked having the opportunity to practice what they were learning via the ‘knowledge check’ questions embedded throughout the modules.  Several students indicated that the modules were a nice alternative to watching narrated lecture videos.

In addition to what I’ve described above, Articulate offers other functionality – for example, the ability to build virtual patients.  When building your modules, you can choose from hundreds of course templates and millions of royalty-free images.  You can also embed videos and attachments of various formats into your modules.  Most importantly, Articulate modules can be uploaded into your learning management system (LMS), so that you do not have to send your students to a separate platform, or require them to subscribe to Articulate, in order to access the content.

If you are interested in using Articulate, you can read more about the product and its capabilities at They offer a 50% academic discount and you can find out more at .

Since using Articulate in Pharm 155, I have created a module on systematic reviews and meta-analyses for a graduate-level course at the School of Pharmacy, Pharm 618:  Pharmacoeconomics. I plan to keep using this software to keep my teaching fun and engaging for students during these unprecedented times.

Caitlin Carter
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