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iPad initiative prepares pharmacy students for practice, improves program efficiency

Published December 02, 2013

The usual logjam of NDSU pharmacy students at the office printer is gone. Handouts from professors are a thing of the past. There is no longer a need for some textbooks.

All of the formerly essential materials have been replaced with an iPad and a few applications. The Department of Pharmacy Practice’s iPad Technology Initiative was instituted as a pilot program this academic year in an effort to give students a more streamlined learning experience, reduce printing costs and help students gain valuable experience with a mobile device being used by pharmacy professionals across the country.

“I feel so lucky to be part of a college that is not afraid to be at the forefront of issues and try new things to improve education,” said pharmacy student Sarah Schmidt. “Not only does this technology create convenience for pharmacy professionals, it increases the quality of care we are providing our patients.”

Cynthia Naughton, senior associate dean and associate professor in the College of Pharmacy, Nursing and Allied Sciences, recognized the issues. There was a large amount of study materials in all pharmacy classes provided by faculty at a significant cost to the university. Students often waited until the last minute to print out class notes, which led to a lengthy line at the pharmacy practice printer. Some students were late to class as a result.

Naughton brought to faculty last spring an idea to create a permanent solution by putting an end to printed handouts and instead requiring a laptop computer or tablet.

A committee studied several options, including laptop computers, and tablets and notebooks from Microsoft, Android and Apple, to find the best fit to optimize a students’ learning experience. The iPad was adopted as the instructional device of choice due to battery life, technical support capabilities and a wealth of available, easy-to-use applications, Naughton said.

An iPad is now mandatory for all first- and second-year pharmacy students. Third-year students can choose a less costly alternative this year, but beginning next year the device becomes mandatory for everyone in the pharmacy program.

“We tailored this program for our department,” said Naughton. “Other universities have implemented similar requirements. I knew as a practicing clinician that iPads are being used in practice. By using them in the classroom, our students will be ready when they go into their fourth-year rotations.”

To help defray the financial burden of purchasing an iPad, which can cost more than $700 depending on the model, the Department of Pharmacy Practice worked with the NDSU Bookstore, Information Technology and the Office of Student Financial Services to ensure students would be able to use financial aid dollars. The bookstore allows the purchase to be placed on a student account with the balance to be paid back over several semesters. An Apple representative was brought in to answer technical questions and a Facebook page was set up to monitor feedback of students.

There has been a learning curve for both students and faculty, but the feedback has been mostly very positive, Naughton said. The initiative was highlighted by ESPN College GameDay Eco Challenge during the television program’s visit to Fargo in September.

Naughton said the more than 200 students using iPads as part of the initiative are most pleased with an application that allows them to make personal annotations in the margins of downloaded books. It helps students learn crucial material, but the information also can be saved and used when they become professionals. Another application allows professors to receive immediate feedback from students in class, similar to the Personal Response Systems used throughout the campus.

“I find it convenient to have access to all of my class notes in one place,” Schmidt said. “In order to do homework or study, I don’t have to carry around seven heavy binders full of printed notes.”

The program will be monitored throughout the year to help enhance the student learning experience. Naughton said another NDSU program has already expressed interest in following the Department of Pharmacy Practice’s iPad-only model.

More could follow.

“I think it’s bound to go that way,” Naughton said of others at NDSU adopting the iPad Learning Initiative. “Our society is very tech-savvy. Things seem to be moving in that direction.”


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