Online classrooms broaden student learning
Distance education is the "wave of the future."
That might sound farfetched, but it's exactly what Donald Draper, DVM, MBA, suggests as he prepares this month to launch Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine's first Web-based business course.
The Internet class, designed as a two-credit elective for veterinary students and as continuing education (CE) for DVMs, is the start of an entrepreneurial training program known as wVet, which teaches the fundamentals of buying and running a veterinary business.
"It takes them through all the steps that they need to know to buy a practice, purchase a practice or start their own practice," says Draper, the course's head instructor. "Many veterinary programs do not have staff available to teach these specific topics. The benefit with Web-based classes is now students and veterinarians can get the information without leaving their institutions."
At presstime, Draper was working on the course's approval by accredited veterinary colleges, so it can be offered to students nationally.
Inside the class
Formed in alliance with the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), the course takes students through business plan writing, developing strategic plans to improve efficiency, productivity and profitability, as well as leadership management strategies. They also will study financial strategies by developing a budget and a personnel management system. VIN provides e-mail, threaded discussion tools, online testing through PowerPoint, and audio- and word-processed documents.
The course runs $25 per CE credit. Students fees will be based on their institution's credit hour rates (Iowa State students pay $170). There are no restrictions, but Draper prefers students be in their third or fourth year.
Twenty-eight Iowa State students have signed up already.
"I probably didn't imagine this 10 years ago," Draper says, "but this type of course is particularly good as CE for veterinarians because they are extremely busy people who, many times, don't have a fortune to spend traveling to classes.
"Online study also is particularly attractive to women who are sometimes dual career people, study for a degree and raising a family. Web classes might take some time to catch on, but I'm sure they will."
On the forefront
That's exactly what University of Illinois (UI) officials are banking on as they build the College of Veterinary Medicine's own online curriculum, including a CE program called Veterinary Education Online.
At least some form of Web-based education is available at most veterinary institutions, says Dr. Christine Merle, a UI clinical assistant professor and Veterinary Education Online's marketing coordinator, but it's usually offered as a compliment to normal class curriculum. Right now, UI's veterinary department runs only CE courses that are fully supported by the Web.
College officials are exploring the possibility of classes based solely on the Internet, but Merle says she's concerned that some knowledge and experience could be lost without face-to-face instruction.
"Students are computer savvy, so it makes natural sense to use online study as a compliment to what we already offer," she says. "But I don't know if we're at that point right now to rely entirely on the Web. I can't imagine looking at general pathology just online could give you a comparison to what you can do in the laboratory."
Still, the online element takes learning to a higher level, she says, and allows the opportunity for experts in specific fields to teach students across the country.
"Students nowadays expect more and using online education is a way to give them that," Merle says. "At the University of Illinois, we're doing everything we can to realize a future that goes from the student and beyond."