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Using a WWW-based Module for Problem-based Learning in a Cardiovascular Pharmacology Course

Cracowski, Jean-Luc MD, PhD; Perault-Pochat, Marie-Christine MD, PharmD, PhD; Stanke-Labesque, Francoise PharmD, PhD; Vandel, Bernard MD, PhD; Bessard, Germain MD

Educating Physicians: Essays

The authors have constructed a problem-based learning (PBL) computer program that makes full use of Internet facilities, and is aimed at providing a stimulating supplement to standard teaching practices. The authors report on students' reactions to this new method of teaching.

Dr. Cracowski is assistant professor of pharmacology, Laboratory of Pharmacology, University of Grenoble School of Medicine (UGSM), Grenoble, France; Dr. Perault-Pochat is assistant professor of pharmacology, Laboratory of Pharmacology, University of Poitiers School of Medicine (UPSM), Poitiers, France; Dr. Stanke-Labesque is assistant professor of pharmacology, UGSM; Dr. Vandel is professor of pharmacology, UPSM; and Dr. Bessard is professor of pharmacology, UGSM.

Address correspondence and requests for reprints to Dr. Cracowski, Laboratoire de Pharmacologie, Facultéde Médecine de Grenoble, 38700 La Tronche, France.

Computer-based instruction modules are widely used to teach pharmacology and other related medical courses. However, the use of multimedia World Wide Web (WWW) modules in problem-based learning (PBL) remains rare.

In 1998 at Grenoble and Poitiers Medical Universities, we developed a WWW-based pharmacology module, 〈〉, that makes use of the advantages offered by Internet programming (links, videos, photos, sound, animated sequences, the ability to contact the authors by e-mail, continuous data actualization). In 1990–00, this module was integrated into the PBL course in cardiovascular pharmacology offered to third-year medical students at Grenoble University. This course integrates cardiovascular physiology, biochemistry, pathophysiology, semiology, and pharmacology. The 95 students in the course were given the option of using either the WWW module or standard textbooks; 32 chose the module (21 women, 11 men; median age 22, range 21–23). These students had access to 24 computers connected to the Internet that were available for use from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM three days each week. After the course was over, these students evaluated both the technical and the pedagogic value of this teaching method. The majority of students (91%) were computer-literate and expressed no difficulty in using the module. However, 50% found the computer-availability schedule too restrictive, and 70% chose to take notes or print material directly from the monitor, while only 30% learned directly from the monitor. Further, while 87% found the WWW module “user-friendly” from a pedagogic viewpoint, only 40% reported that this was an effective method of teaching. The students found reading directly from the monitor the most difficult aspect of the module, and they felt that studying from a textbook would be the most efficacious use of their time. Still most of the students involved in this study felt they would be predisposed to use future computer modules as a result of taking this course.

WWW-based teaching programs are well suited for PBL, as they prompt students to answer questions and look for information on their own. The disadvantages noted by our students—in particular, the difficulty of learning directly from a computer screen—may soon be at least partially overcome by virtual books and higher-quality monitors. It remains undetermined whether this method supports better knowledge acquisition than do traditional teaching methods. Such a comparative study is currently being undertaken by Grenoble and Poitiers medical schools, and we hope the results will become available in 2001.

© 2001 Association of American Medical Colleges