UT Austin’s first pharmacy-related Massive Open Online Course engaged participants from all skill levels looking to become better informed about today’s healthcare environment.
By Jane E. Rooney
The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy marked a technological milestone this fall when it introduced its first Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) in partnership with edX, a nonprofit that offers MOOCs worldwide. “Take Your Medicine,” taught by Dr. Janet C. Walkow, executive director and chief technology officer of the Drug Dynamics Institute at the College of Pharmacy, explores the process and challenges involved in developing pharmaceutical products. The free course covers drug development, FDA approval and consumer issues, and is geared toward scientists, healthcare professionals and consumers.
After collaborating with edX in October 2012, UT Austin held a competition to select four courses to be its first MOOC. Walkow said she was in the process of putting together a set of drug development tools for researchers on campus when the university announced the call for proposals. “We were very fortunate to have a technology guru as part of the team for developing the content and using an instructional design approach intended to engage distance learners,” Walkow noted. “Several people from the College of Pharmacy supported these efforts, and there was tremendous support from the Center for Teaching and Learning as well as the office of communications. It was a true team effort.”
The course has two parts: a review of the drug development process and a look at how to be a savvy consumer. Topics covered include drug development, personalized medicine, counterfeit drugs, personal diagnostics, the role of university research, drug costs and communicating with healthcare professionals.
“The course was designed to reach a broad audience—both scientists and consumers,” Walkow said. “The feedback we’ve received has been very positive for both general learning as well as professional enhancement.” She added that information was presented in basic terms so the average consumer could easily understand it. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took considerable time explaining its role in ensuring product quality and protecting consumers. Walkow made more detailed information available for students who were motivated to learn more.
“The demographics of the course were quite interesting,” she said. “We had more women enrolled than in any other MOOC run by UT, and our population was more highly educated than most other MOOCs. From the discussion forums we found out that we had healthcare professionals, pharmacists, industry workers, parents, high school students and a mix of other participants.”
Approximately 22,000 people enrolled in the course, 4,500 of whom were from the United States. The remaining students represented more than 20 other countries. The eight-week course will be offered again, perhaps with slight variations to target specific demographic groups.
During the design phase, Walkow and her team decided to bring in experts to cover each topic. Twenty-eight speakers were taped for the course. These included individuals who were diagnosed with a disease and spoke about how novel medicines played a role in their recoveries; doctors who spoke about clinical trials, cancer drug development, personalized medicine, why drugs cost so much, the role of university research in drug development; and leaders in the field who explained how to talk effectively to healthcare providers.
“People really liked this model” of hearing directly from experts, Walkow said. “Part of the challenge with this kind of course is keeping people engaged. Having a variety of speakers helped, and also having an expert explain things had more of an impact.”
Walkow added that consumers absolutely will be looking to MOOCs to educate themselves about today’s healthcare climate. “Based on our online discussion forums and feedback, many participants said it made them happy just to understand how drugs are developed and why they cost so much. They feel safer now that they understand. It’s very practical, useful information. And that was the point of the course—we want people to be healthier. This arms people with information so they can make good decisions.”
Jane E. Rooney is a freelance writer based in Oakton, Virginia.
Through charitable bequests and other planned giving efforts, pharmacy educators can positively affect the future of their institution and the profession.
By Maureen Thielemans
Think back to your years as a student pharmacist. Was there a special faculty member or unique experience that helped mold you and your career? Or maybe it’s the camaraderie you’ve built with current colleagues and students that has enriched your personal and professional life.
Whether it’s your alma mater or current academic home, one group of AACP members is asking you to remember that special place in your planned giving efforts. Making a positive impact on the future of pharmacy education is something educators do every day through their teaching, research and service, but making a planned gift to your institution of choice is leaving an even deeper legacy.
The idea to get pharmacy educators thinking about planned giving began about three years ago during a Development Directors SIG workshop on the topic. Recognizing that every pharmacy school is unique in its access to planned giving programs and resources, a team of development professionals suggested partnering with the national campaign, Leave a Legacy.
The program’s goal is to raise the general public’s awareness of planned giving and inspire individuals to make a charitable bequest. This type of charitable giving is not realized until after your death. Ellen Carfagno, director of development at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy and former chair of the SIG, said the group decided to promote the idea within academic pharmacy. “The idea is about pooling resources to raise awareness and therefore increase giving for everyone. If just 10 percent of pharmacy faculty left an estate gift to their school, it would have a significant impact on private philanthropy to pharmacy education.”
There is no shortage of ways pharmacy faculty can make a planned gift. Below are just some of the giving opportunities available through your school’s planned giving office.
Charitable Bequest—A popular and simple option, individuals can remember an institution in their will, with a letter stating the intended future gift.
Retirement Plan or Life Insurance Beneficiaries—Life insurance can be distributed to a school of pharmacy if it is named as a beneficiary of the policy at the time of your death. Request a change of beneficiary form from the insurance company and then decide what percentage of the policy’s value you would like your school to receive.
Charitable Remainder Trust—A charitable remainder trust enables you or other named individuals to receive a set income each year during your life. Your gift assets create a trust, which is invested and generates income annually. As the donor, you (or your named beneficiary) receive the income and at the time of your death, the school of pharmacy receives the principal investment.
Carfagno stresses that pharmacy faculty at any age, and at any point in their career, should begin having planned giving discussions with their school’s development office. Academic Pharmacy Now will feature a series of faculty vignettes highlighting those who are remembering their alma mater or employer in their estate planning. As you read each story, think about how your school has provided you with a professionally fulfilling career, and consider how you can leave a legacy that will give back to the profession for years to come.
Maureen Thielemans is Communications Manager at AACP and editor of Academic Pharmacy Now; firstname.lastname@example.org.