Program extension gives opportunity for early adoption of new teaching methods

This year, the WSU College of Pharmacy and the Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences (PNWU) finalized an agreement to offer the WSU Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree on the PNWU campus in Yakima, Washington. The collaboration between the two universities will allow WSU student pharmacists and PNWU students of osteopathic medicine to learn to care for patients as a team.

This partnership follows the College’s vision to be a leader in protecting, promoting and improving human health, and its mission to develop outstanding healthcare professionals. The goal of this academic collaboration is to prepare pharmacists to care for patients in new and different ways to match the evolving health care landscape, ultimately expanding the availability of health services to underserved populations in rural settings. We will be preparing future pharmacists in Yakima and Spokane who specifically want to provide care to these populations.

In order to ensure that our future pharmacy practitioners display exemplary skill and knowledge aligned with our college mission, the College transitioned to an “Honors-Satisfactory-Fail” curricular grading model that began in fall 2013. The curriculum will be delivered by the same methods in Spokane and Yakima.

The traditional grading model (also known as grading on a curve) evaluates student performance relative to the performance of other students in the class. With the Honors-Satisfactory-Fail (HSF) grading model, one student’s success is not dependent on the poor performance of another student, and the model allows faculty to measure student competency and achievement on well-defined learning objectives.

After the first year of the HSF grading model it is clear that we are doing something right. Traditionally, students are most likely to fall behind between the fall and spring semesters of their first year, meaning they will not be allowed to move forward as result of failing a class. Under the previous grading model, the College would normally see about 10 percent of students falling behind within the first year, with the majority falling behind between the first and second semesters. Within the new HSF grading model from fall 2013 to spring 2014, every first-year student pharmacist moved forward after the first semester with only one student required to be held back at the end of the first year, giving the Class of 2018 an attrition rate of only one percent after their first year.

The extension of the WSU Pharm.D. curriculum to Yakima has presented a unique opportunity to the College to further adopt curricular innovation.

The College faculty have agreed to move forward with a “flipped” classroom model, where content will be recorded ahead of time, and other reading and coursework is assigned prior to class. Faculty will be present in both Spokane and Yakima to lead classroom time that is focused on assessing understanding of pre-class material, clarifying concepts and answering student questions, working on problem-based activities, engagement in team-based learning, or active participation in case discussion that provides context for the learning that occurred prior to class.

Classroom time is therefore “freed” from the traditional lecture model, and we can dedicate the liberated classroom to improving the learning experience not just for Yakima student pharmacists, but everyone. Lectures are poorly suited to the likes of collaboration, problem-solving, engagement, active-learning, peer-instruction, discussion, or discovery, and yet these are the key ingredients for better learning, higher learning, and happier learning. Instead of offering classes of lectures, we offer classes that deliver all of these components.

The practicalities of the Yakima extension and our principled commitment to the best possible educational experience for all students necessitates this transformation, and fortuitously provides us with an opportunity to adopt the model incrementally and iteratively. However, though the territory is new to many of us, we are blazing a well-marked trail. The proposed classroom model follows a clear trend in higher education toward learner-centered teaching, and is built upon sound pedagogical knowledge. Integrating this flipped classroom with a competency-based HSF grading model equates to a learning environment that is truly innovative and effective.

The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) released a draft of their revised standards for accreditation in February 2014. These new accreditation standards will go into effect in the fall of 2016, and will require all Pharm.D. programs across the country to adopt elements of learner-centered teaching methods that are focused on educational outcomes in order to, “ensure that graduates of pharmacy education programs are practice-ready and team-ready – prepared to directly contribute to patient care and collaborate with other healthcare providers.”

The WSU College of Pharmacy is just, as you could say, ahead of the curve.