You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

I recently chatted with Kevin Tuohy, assistant director of the online pharmacy pathway at Butler University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. Kevin walked me through his history with Butler’s program and what led them to expand with an entirely new program pathway. He discussed how they’re fulfilling the necessary practical component of the program for their online cohort and other challenges the faculty and College have faced working in this new modality.

Q: Tell me a little about your personal background. What’s your history with Butler’s original pharmacy program?

A: I’ve been a licensed, practicing pharmacist since 1995, and moved to the Indianapolis area to complete a postgraduate residency after earning my Doctor of Pharmacy in 2001. During that residency, I had the opportunity to work with students at Butler University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and after it ended, I began a full-time clinical faculty position in their pharmacy practice department, where I both taught at the university and did patient care at my practice site. When the college decided to implement a new online pathway for our Doctor of Pharmacy program in 2022, I was named the assistant program director tasked with building and implementing the new venture with our first cohort starting that Fall. That’s been a really exciting transition that’s opening a lot of opportunities for our students and faculty.

The original campus-based pharmacy program at Butler dates to the early 1900s; it has a long history of preparing well-educated, highly sought-after graduates. But it was clear that we didn’t really have a national reach to serve those who couldn’t relocate to the area. That’s one reason that this new online pathway was conceived—to expand our reach to students throughout the United States who wanted to continue their studies with Butler. Our Doctor of Pharmacy program currently has both a campus-based and online pathway; we’ve matriculated two cohorts thus far, with a third scheduled to begin this Fall.

Q: You mentioned national reach being an issue with the original program, but what else needed to be changed and how does the new program improve upon it?

A: Given the current landscape of education, it was easy to identify that our faculty needed more experience with online course creation and teaching. Other than the abrupt pivot we had to make during the pandemic, there just wasn’t much experience in the online space; we needed to learn the most effective way to deliver course content to an online cohort of digital natives.

We chose Noodle to help with the new program; they helped create a vision for it by studying our current methods, then taking a close look at our curriculum and assisting in the entire course-building process. Course builds for each semester started between seven and eight months before the start of the term, and each course was assigned a Noodle learning designer (LD) who helped to create a blueprint that was guided by the successful incorporation of course outcomes. That was a really valuable experience to be a part of because most of our faculty hadn’t ever been involved in that—it helped us to truly match our learning activities with each outcome and objective for our material.

Working with the LDs helped us improve our outcome and objective writing. That has enhanced both the online and campus-based programs, and many of our courses have adopted those improved objectives. And now that each course has a budget for newly created media, most faculty have taken advantage of that by creating interactive learning objects (ILOs), which have been enthusiastically used in both online and campus-based learning.

We’ve also ensured each course is peer-reviewed by members of the pharmacy program’s leadership team and Noodle’s Academic Director. That has really opened the eyes of many faculty members. They’re actually seeing what is being taught in each course and understanding how it helps to identify areas of redundancy and areas where courses can collaborate to improve the student experience. Faculty are telling us that their classroom-based teaching has improved due to their involvement with course builds and online live-session teaching. It’s been a total win.

Q: Were there any unanticipated challenges or roadblocks you discovered with this new program and way of working?

A: There have definitely been some challenges. The addition of the online pathway essentially doubled the faculty workload, so we’re monitoring that closely to avoid potential burnout issues.

Another is that our accreditation is based upon the consistent and equitable experience of both the online and the campus-based pathways, and it’s challenging for faculty to envision achieving the same outcomes with the two different teaching methodologies necessary for those. For example, a course that meets on-campus for 2.5 hours per week only meets for a 1.5-hour live session with the online cohort. There’s a learning curve for some faculty to deliver their content and that same experience with less face-to-face time. At the same time, we’ve heard from students in both cohorts that feel the faculty’s time might be focused on the other cohort, and that they may get short-changed. That’s a really interesting dynamic that we expect to improve as we complete course builds for the entire program.

There are certainly practical challenges around fully completing the curriculum in an online environment, including pharmacy laboratory competencies—things like making IV medications, compounding medications, patient simulations, etc.—and patient-care competencies such as blood pressure measurement and administering vaccines. Those things have to be done in a live setting, so we have our online students come to campus for a week on three different occasions to learn and demonstrate their ability to complete these skills.

We’ve found that some students are successfully completing the didactic portions of the courses in the online setting but struggle in the live practical setting. That’s really shown us that we need to improve how we incorporate more practical “high-stakes” assessments in the online environment so that we can identify these struggling students before they come to campus. Another lesson we learned from the early campus visits was they were jam-packed with activities that physically and emotionally drain students, so we’re working to streamline that experience and balance the activities while still meeting our program outcomes and accreditation expectations. Remediation of online students has been a challenge for us, and we’re working to improve our processes for both pathways.

We’re seeing other challenges in supporting our online cohort in the final year of the program, which consists of on-site clinical or other experiential rotations. Our campus-based program has many sites and preceptors to choose from due to longstanding and mostly local relationships within a regional area. The online pathway necessitates that we create new relationships and find many new practice sites nationwide.

Even with these challenges, the online pathway leaves us in an exponentially better position in terms of delivering our pharmacy students the most well-rounded experience possible and providing access to students who would otherwise not be able to obtain a PharmD degree.

Next Story

Written By

More from Learning Innovation