Indian Journal of Pharmacology 2001; 33: 280-282 SHORT COMMUNICATION
COMPUTER-SIMULATED PHARMACOLOGY EXPERIMENTS FOR
UNDERGRADUATE PHARMACY STUDENTS: EXPERIENCE FROM AN
Clinical Pharmacology, School of Biomedical Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga,
NSW 2678, Australia.
Manuscript Received: 27.4.2001 Accepted: 14.5.2001
SUMMARY Objective: To assess students’ views on computer-simulated pharmacology experiments.
Methods: A questionnaire survey was conducted in 85 undergraduate pharmacy students who completed
seven computer-simulated pharmacology experiments. Students’ opinions on the objectives, effectiveness
and utility of these simulated experiments were analyzed.
Result: Almost all respondents (98.7%) indicated that they achieved their learning objectives and
enhanced understanding and confidence of the subject after the simulated experiments. All respondents
(100%) preferred computer simulations to live animal experiments for pharmacology practical lessons,
and would recommend this type of learning to other students. Provision of instruction sheets with
detailed learning objectives and specific working tasks was found to facilitate students’ performance with
Conclusion: Untergraduate pharmacy students find computer-simulated pharmacology experiments to
be an effective alternative to live animal experiments since it assists them in acheiving their learning
KEY WORDS Pharmacology computers pharmacy undergraduate computer assisted learning
INTRODUCTION a limited number of drugs at a given period of time.
Furthermore, animal experiments, in particular whole
Pharmacology is the study of the manner in which animal studies, are often labour-intensive and costly3.
the function of living systems is affected by chemical
agents. Practical lessons are an important part of A variety of computing programs have been devel-
pharmacology curricula of various undergraduate oped for undergraduate and postgraduate teaching
courses, such as medicine, nursing, science and of pharmacology4-8. Previous evidence has shown
pharmacy. In vitro and in vivo animal experiments that this innovative educational technique, either as
have been widely used in the practical lessons to an adjunct to the traditional teaching methods such
help students gaining hands-on skills of pharmaco- as lectures, or as a sole teaching tool for distance
logical experiments, and more importantly, reinforc- education or home studies, facilitates students’ learn-
ing their knowledge learned from lectures and text- ing and improves overall study outcomes in pharma-
books. cology7,8. Pharmacy students’ perception on using
simulated experiments as an alternative to animal
Although traditional live animal experiments are in- experiments, however, is unclear. The purpose of this
valuable, they do have shortcomings, and their cost- study is to evaluate pharmacy students’ views on ef-
effectiveness has been questioned 1,2. Apart from be- fectiveness and utility of computer simulations at an
ing time consuming, animal experiments can only test Australian university.
Correspondence: Lexin Wang
COMPUTER-SIMULATED PHARMACOLOGY EXPERIMENTS 281
Table 1. The outcomes of computer-simulated pharmacology experiments.
Overall the simulations were good/excellent 75/75 (100%)
I have achieved my learning objectives 74/75 (98.7%)
My understanding of the subject has improved as a result of using these simulations 74/75 (98.7%)
I enjoyed using it 75/75 (100%)
I would recommend this form of practical to other students or friends 75/75 (100%)
I prefer current simulations to live animal experiments 75/75 (100%)
I prefer 1.5-2 hours per practice 75/75 (100%)
The written instructions were helpful 72/75 (96%)
MATERIALS AND METHODS ity of the simulated experiments (Table 1). Partici-
pants had the option to remain anonymous; they were
Background information: Computer-simulated clearly informed that the survey was not a formal as-
pharmacology experiments were first introduced in sessment and not related to their final grade.
June 1998 to a 4-year undergraduate pharmacy
course at Charles Sturt University, Australia. The Given the small number of possible respondents and
major teaching strategies for pharmacology, a full year diversity of answers expected, no statistical analysis
subject, were formal lectures, small group tutorials or cross correlation was proposed: only descriptive
and practical lessons in laboratories. statistics are therefore used.
The practical lessons comprised of seven computer RESULTS
simulations and one live animal experiment. Compu- Overall outcomes: Seventy-five of the 85 (88.2%)
ter-simulated experiments took place in the Phar- participants returned the questionnaires. All respond-
macy Laboratory at the University where 16 personal ents found the simulated experiments either excel-
computers were equipped. Students worked in pairs lent or good and their understanding and confidence
on a computer for each simulation, which usually took in pharmacology were improved by these practical
2-3 hours to complete. A member of academic staff lessons (Table 1).
was present at all times during the practical lesson
to provide assistance. As shown in Table 1, most students indicated that they
had achieved their learning objectives in the simulated
The simulated experiments covered receptors in lessons, and would recommend this type of learning
guinea pig ileum, adrenergic and cholinergic phar- to other students. All respondent preferred computer
macology, cardiovascular pharmacology, epilepsy, simulations to live animal experiments (Table 1).
schizophrenia and drugs of abuse. The software pro-
grams used in this study were developed by the Uni- Some students provided additional comments on the
versity of Bath. Some of these programs have re- simulated experiments. The contents of the addi-
cently been evaluated and reviewed9. Detailed de- tional comments were diverse, from the usefulness
scription and evaluation of the contents of these pack- of the simulations to the way that academic staff
ages are beyond the scope of this paper. The objec- members conducted these simulations. Most the
tives and specific working tasks for each topic were comments were that the simulated experiments have
provided in written format at the beginning of the made many pharmacological concepts much easier
teaching semester. Students were required to read to understand and hence, to memorize.
these instructions before the practical lessons.
Most respondents found that the provision of written
Survey: A total of 85 students participated in the instructions on objectives and specific working tasks
questionnaire survey. Each questionnaire had eight of these simulations excellent strategies (Table 1),
questions, ranging from the effectiveness to the util- reducing the time they would have spent on the
282 LEXIN WANG
non-essential contents in these exercises. All re- contents may have already been covered by previ-
spondents indicated that 1.5-2 hr practical session ous lectures and there is no need to repeat them in
was preferable to a 3-hour session (Table 1). these practical lessons. Handouts with detailed learn-
ing objectives and specific working tasks have en-
DISCUSSION hanced students’ efficiency and motivation to these
The primary finding of the study is that computer- exercises, which in turn ensured the best use of this
simulated pharmacological experiments are well re- novel learning modality.
ceived by undergraduate pharmacy students, who
In conclusion, computer-simulated experiments appear
believe that their understanding of pharmacology is
to be feasible and effective as a major part of practical
enhanced by these simulations.
lessons of pharmacology. Given the learning objec-
We have used computer-simulated experiments as tives of pharmacology practical lessons in undergradu-
a major means of practical lessons in pharmacol- ate pharmacy is to enhance students’ understanding
ogy, because we believe that hands-on skills on live of the subject, computer-simulations may serve as an
animal experiments pertinent to a pharmacological alternative to the traditional live animal experiments.
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