E-LEARNING SUPPORTS FOR REGULATORY AFFAIRS & TOXICOLOGY
This Learning Enhancement project has been funded through the HEA and the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning.
|PROJECT TITLE:||E-learning supports for Regulatory Affairs & Toxicology|
|PROJECT COORDINATORS:||Assistant Professor Craig Slattery (MSc Programme Director)|
|COLLABORATORS:||Assistant Professor Hilary Cassidy; Associate Professor Tara McMorrow|
|MODULE/PROGRAMME:||MSc in Regulatory Affair & Toxicology (F167)|
|STUDENT COHORT:||(The relevant cohort are Stage 1 students on our Graduate-taught MSc in Regulatory Affairs & Toxicology PG/ Part-time (2-years) and Full-time (1-year) – in total approx. 28 students per year)|
Our M.Sc. in Regulatory Affairs & Toxicology has grown significantly in popularity since its introduction in 2016. Our M.Sc. aims to prepare students for careers in a wide variety of fields including pharmaceuticals, biopharmaceuticals, medical devices, foods and food protection, cosmetics, personal care products, chemical and environmental safety. With such a broad range of graduate destinations, the diversity of backgrounds in our student cohorts is highly diverse. Significant proportions of our annual student intake come from chemical, engineering and environmental science backgrounds. While key concepts in biology and pharmacology are covered in the modules, a significant burden is placed on students to undertake any remedial learning themselves. In the past, our student feedback sessions and module evaluations have identified that additional supports for students who do not have a strong background in life sciences would greatly enhance their learning experience.
The primary goals of this project was to enhance the student learning experience for our in-person M.Sc. students and increase student confidence and self-efficacy in toxicological and regulatory affairs topics. This would be achieved through the creation of supporting digital content and online module content to enhance self-directed learning. We aimed to develop a tailored series of online guided teaching supports including video, self-guided tutorials and peer- and self-assessment tools to specifically enhance and support the learning of our students For M.Sc. students attending on campus, the digital learning supports, and enhancements would significantly improve their learning experience and allow students from diverse background to more easily benchmark key threshold concepts on the identified modules.
As we enroll students from a broad range of qualifying undergraduate degrees, there are often students who would benefit greatly from access to specifically tailored supplementary, supporting material which it is not possible to deliver during core teaching contact hours. There has been significant demand for accessible, self-directed, and relevant online modules for working professionals and registered toxicologists who need to undertake specified CPD activities annually to maintain their accreditations (e.g. medical & veterinary practitioners, nurses, regulatory affairs professionals).
The Innovative Approach
During this project, we engaged directly with current and past M.Sc. students on the relevant modules. We undertook a consultation process to identify specific topics and areas which students found particularly challenging and then drafted a priority list for addressing these identified learning needs. The philosophy we employed was to identify areas that would benefit most students in the first case but to also maintain a philosophy of continuous improvement to address all of the identified learning areas over time.
We also engaged with a number of educational technologists who advised us on different approaches to asynchronous learning and assisted us in identifying the most appropriate solutions for implementation.
One particular area of focus was on clinical trial participant recruitment and retention strategies. We have noted over the last five years, increasing proportions of our graduates gaining employment in the area of clinical trial management and participant relationship management. In this regard, we engaged directly with programme alumni who are currently in such roles and undertook a retrospective training-needs-analysis to identify specific areas we could focus on to enhance the student learning experience in this focus area.
Overall, the project has been very successful. Naturally, the project was largely executed during the Covid-19 pandemic which, while presenting many challenges, also afforded unexpected opportunities. Firstly, with the widespread transition to online, and often asynchronous teaching delivery (due to international students being in widely varying timezones, we were exposed to a wide array of online teaching tools which (i) became available to us and (ii) underwent significant development and updates in the period. Another major boon was the widespread acceptability and technical proficiency in web-conferencing and digital sharing tools. For example, we were able to arrange a number of online focus groups with programme graduates working in diverse areas and bring them together to garner feedback and suggestions. In the pre-Covid world, this would have been far more difficult.
Another surprising benefit of the pandemic-enforced teaching arrangements was that one cohort of students (21/22) undertook the M.Sc. almost completely online with a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities. This allowed us to “review-revise-redo” very efficiently and enabled rapid prototyping. While the input of graduates and programme alumni was critical in scoping the project, the ability to implement our solutions and gain rapid feedback from current students was equally important in achieving the project goals.
In conclusion, the creation of this supporting digital content will allow future M.Sc. in Regulatory Affairs & Toxicology students to access the tailored supporting learning materials to enhance their own learning, particularly for those who have come from a different discipline. It has also added a different modality of learning to the current curriculum which enhances our student engagement and the development of the online versions of the modules for CPD/remote learning purposes. It has also assisted the involved UCD staff in developing their understanding and engagement with e-learning and digital teaching technologies.
We drew upon a wide range of materials and resources in undertaking this project including our own experiences as educators and as students, UCD’s educational technologists, and colleagues in the UCD Innovation Academy. We also utilised resources on the UCD Teaching and Learning website, the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education website, and through the UCD Teaching and Learning Community. Specific module information and resources can be provided on request.