group discussions

Students taking online courses are generally satisfied, although there is not necessarily any difference in terms of academic success compared with those taking a traditional classroom course. In the course described here, no significant differences were observed in terms of the distribution of marks within the 4 cohorts. Leasure and others3 found no difference in results obtained by students taking a nursing course via the Internet and those taking a more traditional course. Mehta and others found no difference in results obtained by medical students studying an oncology module through the Internet or using traditional methods. Goldberg and others found that the grades of students taking a neuroscience course in a virtual environment were 14% higher than those of students taking the course in a traditional classroom environment. In that study, the majority of students (70%) found the virtual environment more effective in providing information than the classroom approach and felt it was a better medium for content transmission. Maki and others16 found that students taking an online psychology course obtained better results on 4 exams during the semester, which led the authors to believe that learning was enhanced through the Internet. However, grades on the final exam were not statistically different between the 2 groups. Ryan and others found that students in a nursing course felt that the subject matter was covered better by the traditional approach, that there was better interaction, and that better communication skills were required. There was no difference between the 2 groups in terms of the time required for the assignments and the need for a critical attitude and an analytical mind. Several descriptive studies have evaluated online teaching. They report the necessity to simplify the technical aspects, to respect the students’ pace, and to set markers for time management.

As for the use of electronic discussions, also known as forums, as a component of academic courses, several authors believe it is necessary to develop quality exchanges among the students as well as between students and the teacher in order to increase the knowledge base; to stimulate further discussion, reflection and writing skills; to allow the application of theoretical concepts; to help develop personal opinions; to initiate students in the use of new communication media; and to democratize teaching. This approach has been noted to give students a fairer opportunity to express themselves than in a classroom, where each student tends to adopt a particular role over the years. However, the effective use of discussion forums requires advance preparation, rules for participation, well-targeted discussion subjects, an appropriate evaluation method, and availability of the technology.

The students’ satisfaction rate for the course described here was high (greater than 85%), both for the online aspect and for the course in general. The authors have not evaluated any other platform for Web-based teaching because WebCT is currently the only tool available at these 2 universities; however, WebCT was viewed as a valuable tool, because it allowed faculty members to group the teaching material and the exchange elements within the same platform and included tools allowing the teacher to monitor students’ frequency, quantity, and quality of participation. It did not come as a surprise that satisfaction was higher among the students intending to practice in a hospital environment, given the nature of the course itself.

Satisfaction was also higher among those with access to a home personal computer and those who were in favour of information technologies.

CONCLUSIONS

Web-assisted teaching can be a valuable complement to traditional teaching methods. The experience described in this article suggests that online forum discussions are useful in pharmacy management courses.