What does the pharmacist of the 21st century need? Advanced educational development at the UP Faculty of Pharmacy

26 September 2023

Improvement of the course average by one grade, enthusiastic and motivated students, better absolvable courses - these are the results of the university’s four-semester educational development work at the UP Faculty of Pharmacy, a leading initiative in Hungary launched to equip the future 21st-century pharmacists with the most up-to-date and useful tools. The development of an output-oriented rather than subject- and curriculum-oriented approach yielding promising results has shown that it is worth rethinking the methods we have been using.

Written by Viktor Harta

The unconventional educational development work dates back to September 2021: this is when the professional discussions between the management of the University of Pécs Faculty of Pharmacy and the University of Pécs Faculty of Humanities Institute of Educational Sciences Higher Education Pedagogy Working Group started, which led to the beginning of the fundamental transformation of several key pharmacy courses in the light of 21st-century pharmacist competencies. The aim of the development - of which there are several examples in the international scene - was to provide the Faculty of Pharmacy in Pécs with a toolbox that effectively supports the shift from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning, thus helping improve the processability and receptibility of the curriculum and the motivation of students.

“The project was launched on a completely voluntary basis with six working groups, involving nearly 30 teachers from the Faculty of Pharmacy and five departments/institutes (Department of Pharmacognosy - Pharmacognosy/Pharmacobotany, Department of Organic and Pharmacological Chemistry, Department of Pharmaceutical Biology, Department of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, Institute of Pharmaceutical Technology and Biopharmacy)”

– Dr. Ferenc Arató introduced the project; he is a senior lecturer, Deputy Director for General, Scientific and Educational Affairs of the UP Faculty of Humanities Institute of Educational Sciences, and head of the working group. The process was divided into four distinct phases, each lasting one semester, for a total of four semesters.

Medicine-centred vs. client-centred

The first important stage was the preparation period, during which the groups were introduced to several professional materials offered by the field of educational science, which presented them with a wide range of methodological resources. These included cooperative learning organization, Bloom’s taxonomy for improving performance, and the Kolb model.

The second phase, experimentation, involved the delivery, testing, and correction of the courses. The third phase was the evaluation, during which the redesigned and improved courses were assessed in terms of training and output requirements and tested pedagogical practices. The fourth and final phase was the modelling, where the development results that were validated in the evaluation phase were finalized for use at model level.

According to Ferenc Arató, before the start of the project, a survey was conducted on student motivation at the Faculty of Pharmacy in Pécs, and the skills and competences needed for future pharmacists were also examined.

“A 21st-century pharmacist is client-centred rather than medicine-centred, lifestyle-centred rather than cure-centred, with the attitude of a contemporary competitive employee. With this in mind, the development has been launched with the aim of reducing the rate of dropping out of the university,” said the Deputy Director.

The main direction was to redesign the lectures, but the use of digital platforms was also a prominent feature of the development. The latter included, for example, pre-modules on Moodle, which students could access at the time of enrolment to make sure they had the knowledge they needed to pass the course.

“There was one other area of development we focused on, which was to broaden the thinking repertoire. We looked at how and what types of questions could be used to help students’ grey matter recall, interpret, apply, analyze, synthesize, critically judge, and create. For example, it came up in this process that there are tests containing only memory questions, which could practically be replaced and extended with other types of questions,” added Ferenc Arató.

Improved academic average, more motivated students

The experiences of the four-semester educational development were evaluated in the summer of 2023 at the UP Faculty of Pharmacy, detailing the results achieved in the case of specific subjects.

In the case of the learning material for the second semester of Pharmacobotany, the two mid-term exams could be replaced by taking Quizizz tests with a minimum completion of 80%. At the end of each class, students could test their knowledge by taking a 5-question Quizizz test that lasted approximately 5 minutes. During the preparation phase of the lecture, they were given a list of aspects and topics that could be covered in the test at the end of the class.

This proved to be an effective tool: students paid attention to the class more actively, they received the questions positively, which helped them prepare for the exam, and the course became more absolvable overall. However, it also pointed out what needs to be changed in the long term, such as keeping the most important parts of the curriculum for practicing pharmacists, keeping the good practices, eliminating unnecessary repetitions, and directing students towards resource-based learning.

The practical part of Pharmacobotany has also been improved: audio files were used to practice the pronunciation of Latin names, weekly Moodle tests were introduced where students had to reach a threshold of 80%, and they could take the tests five times at most. Two more online tests were created, which were larger than the weekly quizzes, with students having to achieve 60%. The aim was to encourage pharmacy students in Pécs to learn and practice continuously, and the teachers prepared varied, useful, and practical questions for this purpose. Students were given situational tasks, group work and independent analysis were stimulated at the same time, and in class they could receive feedback on their current knowledge by answering questions like those in the test. The method was successful among the students, with both Hungarian and international students positively evaluating the innovations and their usefulness.

Under the auspices of pedagogical development, the Pharmacognosy practice has also been renewed, which is structured in a somewhat unusual way: one half is a laboratory practice, preceded by a longer lecture with delivering the necessary body of knowledge. Students’ demotivation, the inability to actively involve them in the work were problems in the course, as were the regular delays in the laboratory practices, the exceeding of the practical training, and the numerous corrective exams students had to write during the course.

To facilitate joint work and thinking, the seating plan was changed (working in teams instead of rows, facing each other instead of the teacher), activity leaders were chosen, they worked together on the material after a preliminary discussion, and tasks were set in a way that their success required the results of each group. This gave them a sense that everyone’s work was crucial, since without it, the whole would be incomplete, and this proved useful in terms of student motivation.

Unlike before, the completion was not only based on lexical knowledge, but also on presentations, situational tasks and case studies, and oral exams were also introduced. The educational development has yielded promising results in this regard as well: students became more active, cooperating with each other, not only within groups but also between groups, making flashcards; a workflow that the whole year divided up among themselves. A telling metric is the improvement in the subject average, which has risen by roughly 1.0 in four semesters in the case of students participating in both the English and Hungarian programs.

Pharmaceutical biotechnology, consisting of lectures and seminars, has also undergone a major change. The course is open to students participating in both the English and Hungarian programs and is taught in the first semester of the fourth year. Under the auspices of faculty educational development, complete, interactive learning materials have been developed, which were welcomed by the students in Pécs. A further innovation was the creation of a so-called introductory “must-know”, which also helped students understand the material and indicated the areas in which they needed to improve their knowledge. In addition, self-testing exercises were incorporated, with the possibility of answering test questions at the end of each module, which effectively supported course completion, material receptibility and continuous monitoring of knowledge.

Problem-based learning is the future

“We had an extremely enlightening four semesters. What took place at the UP Faculty of Pharmacy is unprecedented, such developments have not really started either at the overall university level or in the Hungarian higher education scene, although everything points to the fact that they would be professionally justified" - emphasized Dr. Ferenc Arató, summing up the faculty’s educational development. As he said, we need to see that we should not think in a subject-, teacher- or curriculum-oriented way, but in an output-oriented way.

“Problem-based learning is the future. Students need to work together, cope with different situations together, be trained to solve practical problems, be accustomed, be navigated with careful guidance. The knowledge of the learning process acquired by the teams involved in the development of the Faculty of Pharmacy in Pécs needs to be disseminated more widely, and the philosophy needs to be transferred to teachers and students alike.”

The development is supported by EFOP-3.4.3-16-00005 and RRF-2.1.2-21-2022-00018.