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Academy in Action 

MOOC Helps Consumers Decode Drug Development

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.

Something For Everyone

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.

Examples From Experts

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.

A Gift That Keeps On Giving

Through charitable bequests and other planned giving efforts, pharmacy educators can positively affect the future of their institution and the profession.

By Maureen Thielemans

Building Awareness

Meeting Multiple Needs

A Personal Choice

Maureen Thielemans is Communications Manager at AACP and editor of Academic Pharmacy Now;

Last updated on: 12/20/2013 12:40 PM 

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