How Can We Foster E-learning in Pharmaceutical Studies Courses?

E-learning aims to provide more learning opportunity and flexibility to learners. How can it be fostered in Pharmaceutical Studies courses? To understand this area, the E-learning Team interviewed Dr Liu Shiu Lam Edgar, Mr Lee Chi Wai Terence and Mr Ambrose Kwan, Senior Programme Director and Programme Director of College of Life Science and Technology and College Senior Lecturer of HKU SPACE Po Leung Kuk Stanley Ho Community College (HPSHCC) respectively, on Thursday, 3 May 2018. They shared their successful experience and valuable best practices of the use of E-learning in Pharmaceutical Studies courses. Below is a record of our conversations.


How do you use E-learning in your programmes?

Dr Liu: We apply E-learning at different course levels, from foundation certificates to post-graduate programmes. With the basic SOUL 2.0 functions, we disseminate learning materials such as lecture notes, laboratory preparation procedures and the relevant protocols. Through SOUL 2.0, students submit their assignments online with the use of Turnitin to check for plagiarism. Our teachers and students use communications tools, for instance, Forum to conduct online discussions.

As for the various distance learning programmes offered in collaboration with UK universities, students communicate with overseas teachers and students on Chatroom and they can easily make virtual appointments with their teachers without physical constraints. Thus, collaboration and communications can be further enhanced with the use of E-learning.

Since November 2017, we have worked with the E-learning Team to employ virtual reality (VR) in our teaching and learning.


Why do your programmes use VR as E-learning pedagogy?

Mr Lee: Firstly, it is costly and highly demanding in terms of space, resources and facilities to set up a pharmacy section in our teaching environment that supports clinical knowledge, expertise and technical skills development and practice. In addition, there are almost 300 students annually on our full-time and part-time programmes. It is quite difficult for us to apply for access permits and not feasible to arrange all students to visit the laboratories and pharmacy section in public or private hospitals. Thus, the use of VR is indispensable and economical.

We find VR useful for demonstrating the arrangement and facilities in the pharmacy section.  Students can ‘visualise’ the real environment and understand the detailed workflow in the whole dispensing procedures. Besides, VR fits our part-time students who have tight schedules, for they can visit the VR content anytime.

pharmacy room
VR pharmacy section tour

Mr Kwan: I think it is quite hard to arrange students’ visits to hospitals, especially in the areas like cleanrooms where access is highly restricted. Owing to high risk of contamination after outsiders’ visits, the arrangement with the hospitals is very difficult and challenging. In addition, the number of students that can be accommodated for each visit is very limited.

In the past, students viewed photos of different sections in pharmacy environment, like the patient waiting area, prescription collection and vetting stations, etc. But now with VR 360-degree videos, students can ‘visit’ the ‘real’ pharmacy environment. VR video tours with annotations help students understand the facilities and setup, and their relevant operation functions. Most importantly, they can familiarise themselves with the whole workflow in the dispensing procedure without physically going there.


How do you plan to use VR in your programmes?

Mr Kwan: After we have developed the VR video tours of pharmacy environment and cleanroom, we will work with the E-learning team to develop an augmented reality (AR) application to demonstrate the aseptic technique employed in Total Parenteral Nutrition preparation in a laminar flow cabinet. This technique is very important to assuring a germ-free and particulate-free nutrition solution that is reconstituted for patients’ use. Through this AR application, we want our students to comprehend the aseptic technique and the equipment handling procedures.

Interactive VR application for cleanroom


What are the lessons you have learnt from your E-learning pedagogy in your courses?

Dr Liu: With this new E-learning pedagogy, I think students will get a worthwhile and unprecedented learning experience they have never gained from the 2D learning materials such as books or photos. Students’ feedback has been positive, and so the result of using this pedagogy is encouraging.

Mr Lee: Our students get used to adopting new technologies for learning. We are happy to see the promising outcome of the employment of this pedagogy in both full-time and part-time programmes.

One significant point I wish to stress is that the success of this initiative is the concerted effort of various parties including the Programme Team, the E-learning Team, our teachers who provide professional skills and support, HPSHCC’s senior management and our School’s top management. The administration support from the last two parties is indispensable.


What are the challenges encountered?

Dr Liu: The major challenge is the technical requirements for developing VR applications. The implementation of VR is still new to the industry and there are not many resources available. In addition, the communication with hospitals for venue shooting is complicated and time-consuming. However, we are delighted that all these challenges have been overcome.

The other challenge is that we need to encourage our part-time and full-time teachers to accept and introduce new technologies in teaching and learning. Moreover, we need to train them to use the new technologies.


What is your advice to Programme Teams which may experience with E-learning?

Dr Liu: The first advice is to approach the E-learning Team to seek for professional assistance when the Programme Teams have an E-learning initiative. Secondly, it is of utmost importance to choose the right partner if a third party will be involved in the development. The reason is the mutual synergy to be gained. If the development can be used on the partner’s side as their training resource, both sides will benefit at the same time.

Mr Kwan: The Programme Team should first understand the students’ needs and define a clear objective of the implementation. Then they need to design and generalise the E-learning idea. In the process of generalisation, they can search for relevant references on the Internet. In order to come up with a user-friendly application, teachers, students and even professionals are required to participate in each stage of the development. In addition, the Programme Team may consider setting a budget for venue shooting.

Mr Lee: My advice is to start from something basic, for example, a simple VR video and then progressively move to something more advanced such as interactive VR applications. Through this process, the Programme Team will gain more experience so as to develop more sophisticated applications.

We foresee that VR is a trend in E-learning and is being increasingly used in education and training. And our students expect more interesting learning pedagogy and the Programme Teams need to employ emerging technologies that can foster students’ learning interests in their learning processes.


What do you want to improve in your programmes by using E-learning pedagogy in the future?

Mr Lee: Assessment is an area in which we want to implement VR. With the use of VR in assignment, learning will become more interactive and interesting. Teachers can easily evaluate learners’ performance and provide their feedback. We hope the implementation of E-learning pedagogy will benefit both teachers and learners.

Regarding further development, we aim to introduce VR or AR into subjects like Chemistry or Physiology. We believe that the 3D structures of molecules can provide a direct and interactive view of the molecular changes in chemical reactions. The provision of the 3D structures will help students understand abstract concepts in Pharmacy.

Programme Team of Pharmaceutical Studies
Mr Ambrose Kwan (left), Dr Liu Shiu Lam Edgar (middle) and Mr Lee Chi Wai Terence (right)