Have you ever had to deliver lecture materials so cognitively challenging and dull at the same time, that your students either become utterly befuddled or fall asleep before you finish delivering them? I have.
I am the Module Convenor for a pharmacy practice module that focuses on pharmacy laws and regulations relating to medical prescriptions. Materials covered to this module are absolutely fundamental to the students’ future career, since legal and ethical considerations underpin the day-to-day decisions that pharmacists make. It is therefore essential that our pharmacy students have a thorough understanding of the topic to safeguard public and patient safety. However, students have always perceived the topic to be dull and clinically irrelevant. Thus, the principal challenge in teaching pharmacy laws and regulations has always been making the learning environment interesting and engaging. Traditionally, pharmacy law education has relied heavily on lectures, yet lectures alone often fail to engage students effectively to facilitate deep learning. Teaching on the module currently runs as a 2-hour lecture followed by a 2-hour workshop where dispensing activities take place based on materials covered in the lecture. The dispensing activities provide students with opportunities to apply knowledge that they have gained in the lecture. However, since the students find it difficult to engage with the lecture materials in the first place, they are often unable to apply the knowledge in the dispensing activities.
How do you make a seemingly dull topic engaging and captivating to students, such that they are able to effectively absorb, retain and apply the knowledge?
Like most colleagues, I use module feedback, regular informal feedback, peer observation as well as self-reflection to improve my lectures accordingly. Year on year, I collate all feedback and devise creative strategies accordingly to present my lectures, e.g. by adding quizzes, practical examples, interactive exercises to make them more relevant and interactive. Even though I get better feedback each year, I still fail to capture all students’ attention throughout the entire 2-hour lecture.
What else can I do?
The collaborative approach
Our students learn in very different ways, and when it comes to teaching approach, one size clearly does not fit all. I knew from student feedback that the students were not fully engaged or were unable to grasp the content of a lecture, but I usually did not know why. In trying to improve the lectures, I presumed certain reasons based on my own interpretations and perspectives. I have come to realise recently that those presumptions may have been misguiding the ‘improvements’ that I was making to my lectures. Little surprise then that I did not find a solution to the problem. Perhaps, instead of presuming anything, could I ask the students to incorporate improvements into my lectures in a way that they would find engaging instead?
So, this year I have decided to collaborate with my students in re-designing my lecture. The project aims to bring student perspectives to designing a lecture that not only will be engaging to students, but also create an active learning environment that suits their various learning styles. This will hopefully enable the students to gain, retain and apply the knowledge. I have recruited three pharmacy students (Ohn You Kim, Jakub Zurek and Tanzeela Hussain) to re-design a 2-hour pharmacy law lecture that I gave in the autumn term. The students have led the project from the outset in planning and designing the lecture. My role has been to meet with them from time to time to support their discussions, and introducing them to the University Technology Enhanced Learning Team to see how they can incorporate technology effectively. The students have decided to use a range of different delivery platforms within the lecture. They have suggested the use of Prezi, Quizizz, scratch cards, Metimeter and prescription scenarios using the ‘think, pair, share’ approach. They are currently in the final stage of the re-design. I will be using their design to deliver the lecture again to the same cohort of students and gauge their feedback.
I am already excited about what has been happening thus far. I am eager to see and deliver the final design of the lecture. After collating the feedback on the new design, the students aim to write about their design and summarise their findings for this blog, so watch this space!