Distance learning has enabled Florida A&M University (FAMU) to help the city of Crestview meet a growing demand for pharmacists.
Through videoconferencing, the university has expanded its pharmacy program beyond its Tallahassee campus to what is now known as FAMU’s Crestview Education Center satellite campus. The distance learning program allows the university to reach more students without the cost of hiring additional teachers. It’s been so popular, FAMU plans to implement the distance learning solution into existing College of Pharmacy instructional sites in Davie, Jacksonville and Tampa.
Making Pharmacy Education More Available
Over the past several years, Crestview has become one of the fastest-growing cities in the state, but not everything there has kept pace with this growth, including the number of pharmacists. One of the challenges was the 150 miles — a two and a half hour drive — between Crestview and FAMU’s College of Pharmacy campus in Tallahassee. That distance was too great for easy commuting, especially for students with other commitments.
In January 2011, the Florida legislature designated funds for FAMU’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (COPPS) to expand and create a remote campus in Crestview to serve as a pharmacy school for the area. However, as the College began to plan faculty coverage for those courses, they realized that the distance was also a constraint for teachers. The college would have to hire additional faculty to support these new satellite classrooms.
Videoconferencing to the Rescue
To minimize cost and optimize convenience, FAMU COPPS decided to provide distance learning via videoconferencing instead. Faculty would deliver lectures from the main Tallahassee campus to smaller satellite campuses and vice versa. In January 2012, the College of Pharmacy hired Jason Mobley as senior computer support specialist, to support the FAMU College of Pharmacy’s distance learning program.The college then began exploring videoconferencing solutions.
“FAMU’s network is on a Cisco backbone infrastructure, both wired and Wi-Fi, so we of course were going to look closely at offerings from Cisco,” says Mobley. “But we’re looking for the best match of features for our requirements, so we also looked at products from Polycom.”
As part of the evaluation process, a team consisting of Mobley plus four or five College of Pharmacy professors whose classes would be delivered using the proposed technology, paid on-site visits to pharmacy schools already doing real-time distance education with teleconferencing products. “We visited the Florida State University College of Medicine, which, like the main FAMU campus, is in Tallahassee, and uses Cisco gear, and we went to Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, which uses Polycom gear,” says Mobley.
At Auburn, says Mobley, “We got demos, talked with their Pharmacy department’s Dean and interviewed professors regarding how they liked the Cisco teleconferencing gear for distance learning. We also went to the satellite location in Mobile, Alabama to see what it looked like at that end.”
After investigating several different vendors, FAMU decided to go with Cisco. The initial deployment was for eight classrooms at the Crestview campus, which have about three dozen seats each. On the Tallahassee end it was eight classrooms with about 150 seats each.