Faculty and Students Adapt to New Ways of Educating and Learning Amid COVID-19

Published on 17 April 2020

When St. Louis College of Pharmacy made the decision to move classes online to keep the campus community safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, professors found themselves rapidly adapting new methods and technologies to keep their courses going with minimal disruption.

Across campus, faculty have been finding creative ways to present their material online while working to stay closely connected to their colleagues and students.

In the School of Pharmacy, faculty in the Department of Pharmacy Practice are working together to make sure students in the professional program stay on track with their education and training.

In recent weeks, faculty members in charge of the College’s direct skills labs met remotely to discuss how to ensure that students receive the same hands-on training in glucose and blood pressure testing that they would normally experience in the first year of the professional program.

“We’ve worked out a plan to let our current P1 students complete their hands-on glucose and blood pressure training in their second year without disrupting their class schedule,” explained Roxane Took, Pharm.D., BCACP, assistant professor of pharmacy practice and ambulatory care shared faculty pharmacist at Schnucks Markets in St. Louis. “One of the advantages to being a small school is that we can work together in this way to help our students.” 

Also within pharmacy practice, Skills Lab 5 is using Skype and standardized patients for patient practicums that are normally held in person, and students in Skills Lab 3 are counseling faculty members or P4 pharmacy students remotely to replace their in-person experience. In addition, several didactic courses have turned quizzes into assignments to decrease the online testing burden on students.

“What I’ve been impressed with is how our faculty have rallied together to help each other,” stated Gloria Grice, Pharm.D., FNAP, BCPS, professor and interim chair of the Department of Pharmacy Practice and assistant dean of curriculum and assessment. “We’ve been bouncing ideas off each other, helping each other think of creative solutions and just supporting each other through the challenges of redesigning and retrofitting our courses for an online learning environment. It’s been amazing to watch, and I am in such awe of how much our faculty care about their students and about ensuring they still receive a high quality, rigorous education that will make them strong pharmacists.”

Meanwhile, faculty in the Department of Pharmaceutical and Administrative Sciences are remaining focused on prioritizing and streamlining content and replicating the classroom experience as much as possible.

“We’re trying to focus on the most important concepts our students need to learn to complete the semester,” explained Stephanie Lukas, Pharm.D., MPH, associate director of the Office of International Programs and assistant professor of pharmacy administration. “In Public Health Fundamentals, we’ve been streamlining our lectures and recreating small group discussions related to group projects through Skype meetings. We’re also providing content for our students outside of our traditional lectures, including videos from the Centers for Disease Control and Ted Talks related to our subject matter. This content gives students the chance to hear multiple voices speak about the topics we cover and gain a more diverse perspective.” 

In the School of Arts and Sciences, faculty have used a variety of tools to adapt to an online format while remaining connected with students.

“With a strong foundation and models for critical thinking, I knew that my students would be able to navigate online material to complete the semester,” explained Brenda Gardenour Walter, Ph.D., professor of history. “The shift to online course delivery, which was necessary to preserve the health of our College family and the greater community, has brought with it anxiety, challenges and a host of interesting opportunities for changing our approach to education.”

Walter explained that she and her students appreciate the additional flexibility that online learning provides. She reworked her course content so that students could move through the material and assignments at their own pace. One of the advantages that the College offers is small classes, which gave Walter the opportunity to connect individually with students before the move to online learning and maintain those relationships long-distance.

Meanwhile, Jeramia Ory, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and undergraduate health professions advisor, has been focused on providing his students with a flexible learning experience by allowing them to provide input on their preferences for live classes or accessible content.

“Overwhelmingly, the students in my Biochemistry class said they did not want me to try and replicate the in-class experience,” Ory explained. “Instead, they wanted class to be as flexible as possible so they could adapt class to their new schedules. In response, I’ve been recording 10-15 minute videos to replace class lecture. During normal class time, I hold open office hours over Zoom, and each Monday I make a short ‘hello’ video to greet my students.”

Classes with lab components have also had to adapt to an online format. Amy Reese, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology, has found creative ways to replicate the lab experience for students at home by focusing on data interpretation.

“In my microbiology lab, we had gotten far enough into the semester that I knew they had learned the key hands-on techniques,” Reese explained. “We had just begun conducting tests and collecting data on a set of known bacterial samples, and they had done the first set before break. Now I’ve provided them with the data from the tests that they would normally be conducting at this time, and they use that data to work backward to figure out how the tests were conducted, based on their previous experience with these samples. I’m also working to create virtual lab experiences that students can use to continue to develop their lab skills.”

Regardless of discipline, faculty are united in ensuring the success of their students, helping them in any way possible and staying connected to them during this challenging time.

“The greatest challenge is that we are a learning community, and I am deeply connected to my students,” Walter stated. “Education is a relationship and learning is predicated on a connection between educator and learner as colleagues. So while the shift to online education has had benefits, including increased student accountability and flexibility, it can never replace the classroom community that develops when we come together in a shared space with the goal of teaching, learning and love.”

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