A multi-media CD-ROM based approach to the development of distance-learning

Courses in pharmacology

V.Raman, S.J. Bennett and P.A.Hudson,

University of Hertfordshire

The Department of Biosciences at the University of Hertfordshire has a long history of the provision of training for local pharmaceutical companies, by the delivery of both day-release study programmes (HNC, BSc and MSc) and short courses supplied by lecturing staff either at company premises or at the University. However, there is an increasing demand for training needs to be met by the distance-learning mode which has the advantage that students can adjust their learning to fit in with current professional demands as well as their own background and experience.

We have therefore developed a CD-ROM based teaching package as part of a proposed distance-learning msc in Molecular Pharmacology designed for independent study. The target clients are perceived as professionals/returning professionals, predominantly in the pharmaceutical industry who Require an understanding of recent developments in pharmacology from a molecular and biochemical point of view and how these have influenced current approaches to drug discovery and development. The material covers a basic introduction to the cellular transduction mechanisms employed by G protein-coupled receptors, consideration being given to the mechanisms underlying events linking the initial reception of a signalling molecule and the production of a functional response. The actions of adrenaline on beta-receptors and of acetylcholine on muscarinic receptors in the heart are used as illustration. Also discussed are techniques currently in use in industry for the study of G protein-coupled receptors.

The format incorporates slides with key text accompanied by animated graphics, a voice-over commentary, and videoclips of experimental modelling of functional responses recorded on film. A text of the complete script is available as an option, and the package is therefore entirely self-contained. Student participation is encouraged by in-built self-assessment, and some analysis of the incorporated experimental data. Thus we hope, by use of the full multi-media capacity, to have simulated the experience a student would have gained by participation in face-to face teaching.

The material has been developed as web pages, and can be made available via the WWW. Hence it has the potential for use not only for training, but also to support existing undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. Minimum requirements are a suitable web browser (e.g. Internet Explorer 4.0 or newer) with plug-ins for Shockwave, Flash and Quicktime 3.0. Navigation through the package is straightforward, but, unlike most web pages, the emphasis is less on text, and more on sound and the accompanying, synergistic animations. We feel that this approach provides a learning style combining the benefits of a conventional live presentation with the flexibility afforded by the new technologies.

The CD-ROM has attracted interest from some pharmaceutical companies, and we are encouraged in the view that it provides a novel and stimulating approach to the subject, and that its message is accessible. The family of G protein-coupled receptors is one of four major receptor superfamilies employed by the body to respond to chemical signals. We hope to develop future packages to deal with different types of receptors and their mode of operation, and, at a more advanced stage, to marry pharmacological and molecular biological information to provide an up-to-date animated view of events in receptor-response coupling at a molecular level.

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