An Evaluation of Information Technology Use Among First Year by abh88058


									An Evaluation of Information Technology Use Among First Year
Pharmacy Students

Michael H Sosabowski1, Katie Herson and Andrew W Lloyd
School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, University of Brighton, Cockcroft Building, Moulsecoomb, Brighton, BN2
4GJ, United Kingdom.

Peter Bell
Centre for Management Development, University of Brighton, Mithras House Annexe, Lewes Road, Brighton BN2 4AT,
United Kingdom.

             This work examines the previous Information Technology exposure of a group of first year pharmacy stu-
             dents, and solicits their opinions as to the validity of a curriculum which incorporated Information
             Technology (IT) workshops in pharmaceutical chemistry. Attention is focused toward the role that
             Information Technology makes in the learning experience of mature students. It has been found that such
             students (and others without the prerequisite qualifications) particularly benefited from IT in their learning.
             Certain subjects, in particular stereochemistry, the 3-D structure of molecules, were areas in which IT
             proved to be a most valuable aid to understanding. The use of IT as a learning resource is likely to be
             enhanced by the provision of suitable training.

INTRODUCTION                                                           support and encouragement. The same theory applies to
Information Technology (IT) and associated tools such as               electronic mail communication to and from tutors. The lit-
Computer Aided Learning (CAL) are probably among                       erature on this type of endeavor is sparse, with the excep-
the most dominant forces of change in the educational                  tion of the work by Kaplan, Patton and Hamilton(2).
process over the last two decades. In this paper, we have              These workers have reported that postgraduate pharmacy
focused on the most recent findings about Information                  students on a distance-learning course felt ‘more attached’
Technology, and the part it plays with respect to the edu-             to the university after it was adapted to on-line delivery,
cation of pharmacy students.                                           and that this type of approach is successful in terms of
     Pharmacy as a subject has a strong background of                  quality provision. Student evaluation and results of exam-
Information Technology, with many CAL packages being                   inations measured the quality of such delivery. The advan-
developed to assist students in understanding conceptual-              tages of such a delivery are clear, time constraints associ-
ly demanding topics(1). The effective development of                   ated with direct access to University-based resources (e.g.,
these CAL packages has required student interaction and                libraries, tutors etc.) disappear, proximity to the
monitoring using questionnaire sampling of populations                 Institution is not an issue, and group learning is promoted
to ensure the adoption of an appropriate strategy.                     through the use of electronic communication.
     One of the aims of this study is to address the added             Disadvantages are that the student must have a suitably
value and increased quality provided by the provision of               powerful home computer with modem, and there will be
distance-learning material as part of the pharmacy course.             associated costs of on-line time and telephone usage.
This is not considered in the context of distance-learning             There are also issues regarding confidentiality of course
courses per se, but in respect of support for students who             material that must be considered.
fail to achieve the required standard in the end-of-year                    Sylvester(3) adds to the issue of implementation of IT
(June) examinations. These students may be given the                   initiatives, citing successful introduction of World Wide
opportunity to retake their examinations in September.                 Web sites into pharmacotherapy coursework. Initially, stu-
     Over the summer vacation, these students may                      dents exhibited signs that they were not accustomed to
require access to material pertaining to their course above            using such databases but after a short time became used to
that which may be found in their textbooks and notes.                  using them. Again, evaluation of the benefit to the student
However, many of these students live overseas, and there-              was by questionnaire, both qualitative and quantitative.
fore will not be able to have such access. The School of               Both methods of survey indicated that the inclusion of
Pharmacy Homepage (                   Internet-based assignments was a positive attribute to the
cy/) is one possible route to allowing access to such mate-            course. Haworth, Bolger, and Eriksen have also com-
rials. An additional advantage of this method of learning
material delivery is that these students may feel less iso-
lated from the University at the very time when they need               1
                                                                         For correspondence, e-mail address:

                                   American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education Vol. 62, Winter 1998                           433
Fig. 1. First year undergraduate pre-university occupational back-     Fig. 2. Age profile of first year undergraduates (n=113).
ground (n=113).

merited on the use of case-study approach in a similar                 their ‘Total Learning Experience’.
     Brimberry and Riffee(5) have also examined stu-                   INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY INITIATIVES IN THE
dent’s attitudes toward use of computers in the classroom,             UNITED KINGDOM
comparing an otherwise similar course with and without                 In the United Kingdom, a collaborative approach has
computer-based learning. They reported a significant dif-              been taken to Computer Aided Learning in pharmacy
ference between the computer-based and non-computer-                   teaching, through the Pharmacy Consortium for
based semesters. Their overall conclusions were that                   Computer Aided Learning (PCCAL) involving all UK
“...students have a more open-minded attitude towards                  schools of pharmacy, who have a common strategic aim to
active learning and a greater acceptance of the use of com-            collaborate, collate, develop and pool CAL resources
puters as a platform for active learning....”                          between themselves(8). Moreover, in the United
     A number of other studies have looked at first year               Kingdom, specific areas within pharmacy and related sub-
pharmacy students’ computer experience and attitudes. In               jects are also receiving significant funding to collate,
the United States, Tysinger and Armstrong(6) identified                develop and distribute teaching and learning related soft-
seven key points:                                                      ware. The PCCAL project received funding of £650,000
•    most (70 percent) students had used a computer                    (circa. $one million) over three years from the UK Higher
     before they entered the Pharmacy School;                          Education Funding Council to develop Computer Aided
• most students had a favorable response toward com-                   Learning packages for teaching aspects of pharmacy(9).
     puters;                                                                Also relevant to this work is the Computers in
                                                                       Teaching Initiative (CTI). Briefly, the CTI was set up by
• some (22 percent) students said they were apprehen-                  the Computer Board for Universities and Research
     sive about using computers;                                       Councils in the UK in 1985. The first phase led to 139
• while many (54 percent) students have a computer at                  courseware projects being developed across the country in
     home, some students (40 percent) need access to                   most disciplines(10). In 1988 the initiative was changed to
     school-based computers;                                           being a subject-based one for which 21 discipline-based
• most (80 percent) said they could use a word-process-                dissemination centers covering 90 percent of all under-
     ing program;                                                      graduate courses were established at various Universities
• many students rated themselves as novices in the soft-               across the UK(11). The CTI Centers for Chemistry and
     ware programs they could use;                                     Biology are based at the University of Liverpool and the
• most students said that they would attend extracurric-               CTI Center for Medicine is based at the University of
     ular computer workshops to improve specific com-                  Bristol. Each center produces a yearly-updated catalogue
     puter skills.                                                     of courseware, and a unified catalogue is also available
    One of the main uses that CAL has in this School of                over the UK Joint Academic Network (JANET).
Pharmacy is in stereochemistry, which involves visualizing             Newsletters are distributed to all participants. Each par-
three-dimensional concepts. Generally, this topic has been             ticipating university has one CTI representative within
considered difficult; either in terms of explanation in the            each discipline, and there are CTI specialist centers.
lecture theatre, or for the student to visualize in two
dimensions(7). Stereochemistry is a particular topic for               CURRENT INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
which a dedicated IT workshop is provided in the first                 There are two main computing areas available for
year in this Department. This is an area in which IT can,              Pharmacy Degree students at the School of Pharmacy,
and has, increased the value for our students in terms of              Brigton University. In the School computer room there

434                                 American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education Vol. 62, Winter 1998
Fig. 3. Chemistry backgrounds of first year undergraduates           Fig. 4. Previous computer experience of first year undergraduates
(n=113).                                                             on course admission (n=113).

are thirty 486 PCs (six with multimedia facilities) running
Microsoft Windows for Workgroups. These machines                     RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
have ethernet connections with access to the Internet and            The data in this paper are taken from the PCs used by the
the Pharmacy CAL server. Additionally, there are over                BSc Pharmacy students over the period January 6
100 Pentium computers in the site library, running                   1997(June 27 1997.
Microsoft Windows 95TM all with access to the Internet                   The five most accessed CAL packages over this peri-
and Pharmacy CAL. The Pharmacy CAL packages are                      od were:
stored on a dedicated Windows NTTM server.                           • ‘Chiral Molecules’—a package for teaching basic
     To access the CAL packages from either location, the                stereochemistry;
student clicks on the “Pharmacy CAL” icon on the desk-               • ‘Elementary Radioactivity;’
top. They are prompted for their University username,                • ‘NMR’—two alternative packages dealing with
which is recorded on the server. In this way a log is creat-             nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy;
ed of all student accesses to the packages. Students are             • ‘Labeling Dispensed Pharmaceutical Products.’
presented with a hierarchical menu structure to help them
select the package they require.                                     STUDENT DEMOGRAPHICS
     To access e-mail and University web pages, the stu-
dent clicks on the appropriate icon on the desktop. All              One hundred and thirteen first year undergraduates from
students are given a University username and e-mail                  a total of 120 on the BSc Pharmacy degree course com-
address upon initial University registration. To access              pleted the survey. Figure 1 shows the pre-university occu-
external web pages and Internet resources, the students              pational background of the undergraduates. Although 66
must log onto the University Firewall, a password protect-           percent of entrants in this year have traditional back-
ed security gateway for the University network. Similarly,           grounds, having entered university directly from High
if a student has Internet access at home, they can log into          School or equivalent, a significant proportion have non-
the University Firewall to access the University resources.          standard entry backgrounds having been previously
     The University of Brighton, School of Pharmacy                  employed within the pharmacy sector or having another
World Wide Web (WWW) site (                   occupation. The number of mature students (those aged
uk/pharmacy/) contains information for prospective stu-              26 years or greater) is reflected in the age profile of the
dents on all courses available within the School, contact            undergraduates shown in Figure 2 with over 22 percent
details for all staff members, details of research within the        being mature. This spread in student ages and back-
School, and a list of pharmacy-related links useful to stu-          grounds offers a significant challenge to the educator as
dents and staff. Past examination papers for the Pharmacy            the mature students have spent a significant period away
degree course are available over the Internet for printing.          from the learning environment. Analysis of the student
These files are password protected, so can only be                   backgrounds in chemistry (Figure 3) demonstrates the
accessed by registered students from within and without              2
the University. Currently under development is a student             The highest level of pre-university leaving certificate in the UK is the
                                                                     Advanced Level Examination (A-Level). A-Levels are normally stud-
Intranet with resources for all available courses.                   ied between the ages of 16-18 years. Students normally study three A-
     A total of 70 CAL packages are available to students:           Levels, the subjects of which are normally directly related to their
36 PCCAL (Pharmacy Consortium for Computer Aided                     future degree choice. By example, potential pharmacy students might
Learning) packages, 18 Pharma-CAL-ogy packages and                   take A-Levels in chemistry, biology and mathematics. The grades
16 C-Cubed packages (CAL packages produced by the                    awarded are dictated by national performance in a given year’s exami-
UK Chemistry Courseware Consortium coordinated by                    nation. The most competent students are awarded an A-grade whilst
the Department of Chemistry, University of Liverpool).               the lowest grade conferring a ‘pass’ is an E-grade.

                                   American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education Vol. 62, Winter 1998                                     435
Fig. 5. Self-rated computer literacy of first year undergraduates on      Fig. 7. Independent use of IT resources by first year undergradu-
course admission (n=113).                                                 ates (n-113).

                                                                          ing the first year of the BSc Pharmacy course. Figure 7
                                                                          shows the specific ways in which students used the
                                                                          resources outside their timetabled sessions to assist them
                                                                          with assessed work in the first year. Student use CAL
                                                                          material to aid their understanding of particular topics is
                                                                          particularly prominent with 67 percent of respondents
                                                                          making use of these facilities in their own time (Figure 7).
                                                                               Sixty-nine percent of respondents had no previous
                                                                          Internet experience (Figure 6), and the students were not
                                                                          provided with any specific training in Internet usage.
                                                                          However by the end of the study period, only 39 percent
                                                                          had still not used the Internet û there was therefore an
                                                                          observable 44 percent shift of students who had previous-
                                                                          ly never explored the World Wide Web, becoming
                                                                          Internet users (Figure 8). However, many respondents
                                                                          found it difficult to gather suitable amounts of relevant
                                                                          information from the Internet; 80 percent of the students
                                                                          felt that the Internet provided either too much or too lit-
                                                                          tle information for their own requirements (not shown).
Fig. 6. Previous Internet experience of first year undergraduates         This highlights the need to provide undergraduates with
on course admission (n=113).                                              suitable training on Internet searching if these students
                                                                          are to ultimately benefit from the availability of this
wide-spectrum of basic chemistry knowledge across the                     resource.
group. While some students have obtained a degree in                           In general, students were less likely to use the IT
chemistry before embarking on the pharmacy degree
course, others have only limited chemistry backgrounds.                   resources to assist them in the preparation of laboratory
Course admission guidelines recommend that students                       reports and essays than CAL (consider Figures 7 and 9).
should have a grade B in Advanced-level2 chemistry or                     Interestingly, mixed responses were obtained from the stu-
equivalent before embarking on the Pharmacy degree.                       dents when asked their opinion of the supply of CD-
The students’ computer experience prior to entering the                   ROMs with chemistry texts. Fifty percent of respondents
course was also found to be diverse with only 28 percent                  showed a positive attitude toward such packages (Figure
of students routinely using a computer (Figure 4).                        10). This is perhaps a curiously low number, as our data
Although 60 percent self graded their computer literacy as                show that CAL is a widely used medium for aiding under-
average or above (Figure 5) it was interesting to discover                standing - the same might therefore apply to additional IT
that only 31 percent of students had previously used the                  resources such as CDs.
Internet (Figure 6).                                                           On asking the students to give details of examples of
                                                                          resources which had aided their understanding of a partic-
                                                                          ular topic many of the students identified the use of the
                                                                          stereochemistry CAL packages as being particularly use-
All the first-year Pharmacy undergraduate students at the                 ful. These CAL packages offer an opportunity for stu-
University of Brighton used the various IT resources dur-                 dents to visualize and manipulate molecules in three-

436                                    American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education Vol. 62, Winter 1998
Fig. 8. First year undergraduate usage of the Internet for gather-      Fig. 10. First Year undergraduate attitude toward CD-ROM/text-
ing information (n=113).                                                book packages (n=113).

                                                                        was instigated with the ALCHEMY package, a generic
                                                                        stereochemistry CAL package, in a change from the more
                                                                        traditional lecture format. The success of this approach
                                                                        was measured in terms of student evaluations and com-
                                                                        parison of the examination results of that year with previ-
                                                                        ous years. Harrold’s results show (as far as they can) that
                                                                        all other factors being equal, this population of students
                                                                        could significantly benefit from the use of a CAL package
                                                                        when studying stereochemistry. Other workers(12,13)
                                                                        have also added weight to the evidence that CAL can be
                                                                        particularly helpful in this area, and in other specialized
                                                                        fields within pharmacy(14). There is yet further prece-
                                                                        dent(15) to confirm the effective use of CAL and CAP
                                                                        (Computer Assessment Programs), and that the IT skills
                                                                        of students at first year level require enhancement.
                                                                             Many of the students in our study had used a number
                                                                        of other chemistry-based packages but only limited use
                                                                        was made of other available CAL based resources cover-
                                                                        ing topics in the biological sciences. This may reflect: (i)
                                                                        the differences in approach adopted by the staff in the dif-
Fig. 9. The use of information technology by first year under-          ferent subject areas to encouraging students to use the
graduates to enhance laboratory reports and other assessed              available CAL resources, and (ii) the lack of specific train-
coursework (n=113).                                                     ing on accessing the CAL based materials.
                                                                             Qualitative comments as part of this survey demon-
                                                                        strated that the mature students (particularly those with
dimensions thereby allowing them to develop a feel of the               low A-level scores) felt that they benefited from the avail-
relative positions of the various components of the mole-               ability of the CAL material to a greater extent compared
cule in space. In addition the students were actively                   to those students who had entered the course directly
encouraged to use the package by the lecturing staff teach-             from school or college. These students more readily
ing this topic and were shown how to access the package                 embraced the use of learning technologies as they allowed
as part of a timed practical session. This may have been an             them to work through the material at their own pace and
important determinant in the student usage of this CAL                  to revisit specific topics as necessary. Furthermore, many
material.                                                               cited the ‘limitless patience’ of the computer as a teaching
                                                                        and learning resource. Those students who had not stud-
DISCUSSION                                                              ied A-level chemistry found the packages useful for estab-
These findings support those of others who have investi-                lishing the necessary grounding in the subject areas. In
gated the incorporation of stereochemistry based CAL                    some cases it was felt that the CAL packages were more
packages into the pharmacy curriculum. Harrold(6) has                   useful than the lectures, as these were difficult to follow as
commented on the introduction and evolution of CAL at                   a consequence of the students’ lack of background knowl-
Duquesne University. A program of workshop tutorials                    edge. We therefore propose that mature students are more

                                      American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education Vol. 62, Winter 1998                            437
readily willing to adopt an open-minded attitude towards                           Smith, A., “Computer-assisted learning lessons in drug disposition
active learning and tend to benefit greatly from the accep-                        and pharmacokinetics,” J. Pharmacol. Methods, 20, 109-123(1988).
tance of the use of IT as a platform for active learning.                      (2) Kaplan, I.P., Patton, L.R. and Hamilton, R.A., “Adaptation of dif-
                                                                                   ferent computerized methods of distance learning to an external
                                                                                   PharmD degree program,” Am. J. Pharm. Educ., 60, 422-425(1996).
SUMMARY                                                                        (3) Sylvester, R.K., “Incorporation of databases into pharmacotherapy
This analysis of student attitudes towards computing and                           coursework,” ibid., 61, 50-55(1997).
experiences of IT in the first year of this pharmacy degree                    (4) Haworth, I.S., Bolger, M.B and Eriksen, S.P., “Use of computer-
                                                                                   based case studies in a problem-solving curriculum,” ibid., 61, 97-
course has indicated that:                                                         102(1997).
                                                                               (5) Brimberry, W.M. and Riffee, W.H., “Computers in the classroom: A
•     on entry, most pharmacy students have only a basic                           new form of active learning,” ibid., 59, 1-7(1995).
      experience of computing resources;                                       (6) Tysinger, J.W. and Armstrong, E.P., “First-year pharmacy students’
•     the use of IT resources by students is likely to be                          computer experience and attitudes,” ibid., 59, 43-47(1995).
      enhanced by the provision of suitable training as part                   (7) Harrold, M.W., “Computer-based exercises to supplement the
      of the undergraduate course;                                                 teaching of stereochemical aspects of drug action,” ibid., 59, 20-
•     students find CAL material more beneficial than                          (8) Timmis, S., Brown, K.N., Gilbert, M.J., Gifford, L., John, D.N.,
      other IT resources during the first year of the course;                      Lloyd, A.W., Moss, S.H., Mottram, D.R., Redfern, P., Rostron, C.
•     mature students are more willing to embrace the use                          and Stevens, R.G., “Student Learning Using CAL: Case Studies in
      of learning technologies for active learning and as a                        the Evaluation of the PCCAL Consortium,” Commercial &
                                                                                   Academic Services, Bath (1998).
      consequence benefit to a greater extent than those                       (9) Hughes, I., “Pharma-CAL-ology,” Trends Pharmacol. Sci., 17, 2,
      students entering university directly from schools and                       66(1996).
      colleges;                                                               (10) Bull, G., Dallinga-Hunter, C., Epelboin, Y., Frackmann, E. and
•     specific areas of this course, such as stereochemistry,                      Jennings, D., Information Technology, Issues for Higher Education
      are enhanced to a greater degree by IT than others.                          Management, Higher Education Policy Series 26, Jessica Kingsley
                                                                                   Publishers, London (1994) p. 16.
                                                                              (11) Beetham, H, CTI Homepage [resource on World Wide Web]. URL:
     To further the implementation of IT for student learn-                        _ HYPERLINK Available from Internet.
ing we recommend that first semester curricula should                              Accessed 1998 June 5.
include an element of IT training. This would include                         (12) Davis, P.J., “An introduction to molecular visualization in medicinal
basic word-processing, data handling, electronic commu-                            chemistry,” ibid., 58, (Suppl.), 99S(1994).
                                                                              (13) Kerwin, S.M., “Computer-assisted macromolecular visualization in
nication and the use of CAL and the Internet. Such train-                          medicinal chemistry”, ibid., 58, (Suppl.), 99S(1994).
ing would provide all students with the necessary tools to                    (14) Chisholm, M.A., Dehoney, J. and Poirier, S., “Development and
assist them with their future studies and careers.                                 evaluation of a computer-assisted instructional program in an
                                                                                   advanced pharmacotherapeutics course,” ibid., 60, 365-369(1996).
Am. J. Pharm. Educ., 62, 433-438(1998); received 12/10/97, accepted 7/7/98.   (15) Adamcik, B., Hurley, S. and Erramouspe, J., “Assessment of phar-
                                                                                   macy students’ critical thinking and problem solving,” ibid., 60, 256-
References                                                                         265(1996).
    (1) Aarons, L., Foster, R.W., Hollingsworth, M., Morgan, C.H. and

438                                       American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education Vol. 62, Winter 1998

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