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Digital Learning Takes Root


March 23, 2020

Online medical school classes began March 16 at PCOM Georgia.Online medical school classes as well as pharmacy, biomedical sciences and physical therapy courses began March 16 at PCOM Georgia and many students and faculty members report positive experiences.


“The best thing that’s going to come out of COVID-19 is change at the cost of ambiguity and uncertainty.” - Joseph Kaczmarczyk, DO, MPH, MBA, Interim Dean and Chief Academic Officer, PCOM Georgia

Dr. Kaczmarczyk spoke these prescient words to students on Friday, March 13, 2020, just after the decision had been made to move teaching online due to the pandemic known across the globe as COVID-19.

Fortunately, faculty members were ready and had been prepared for such a scenario due to the threat of weather closures. That Friday, members of the campus’ Educational Media and Professional Development and Online Learning departments were gathered in a classroom offering guidance to faculty and staff alike. Huo Lu, PhD, professor of anatomy and course director, said, “They helped us to solve many technical issues onsite. They did a lot of work to make sure we were prepared.”

'The Best Digital Learning Experience Possible'

Online learning began Monday and many students and faculty members report positive experiences. Brooke Shultis, academic development coordinator, said “It’s been amazing to see how faculty who are used to face-to-face instruction have taken charge and revamped their courses to give students the best digital experience possible.”

Shu Zhu, PhD, associate professor of neuroscience, physiology and pharmacology, who co-directs the Homeostasis in Organs and Systems II course with Robert McAfee, PhD, assistant professor of anatomy, experienced “a very interactive session” with 71 students participating in a test class on March 12. She tried various functions including giving students access to the whiteboard where they made “a beautiful piece of art ... students loved it and thought it was fun! Other activities included responding to questions through audio and chat, sharing and explaining pdf documents and slides, polling and even recording attendance. “It took us some time to learn and figure out things together, but overall Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is a user friendly system.”

Online Physical Therapy Classes Successful

Doctor of Physical Therapy student Robert Kane (DPT ’21), said “It is game changing to go from a 2D image in a textbook to seeing how impairments will present in real-life with practitioner resources, patient testimonials and online resources through our learning platforms. The collaboration has only increased among our class.”

Teresa Pierce, PT, DPT, a certified pediatric clinical specialist in the department of physical therapy, reports that she taught her first-online course on March 16 with colleague Jeanne Welch, PT, DPT, a certified neurologic clinical specialist. During her doctorate program, she had participated in online coursework, but had never created a virtual classroom. “This term I am teaching nine hours a week so I knew I needed to figure this out in order for students to continue learning neuromuscular management without coming to class.”

“After much trial and error and several calls to the PCOM Blackboard ‘hotline’, I was able to successfully practice using the Blackboard Collaborate Ultra system with a couple of my students and my teaching partner,” she said. I created step-by-step instructions on how to log onto the online class and sent these out to all the Doctor of Physical Therapy students, asking them to send me their PowerPoint presentations so that I could upload them into the session. At 10 a.m., we were having our first online classroom experience with the seven student groups successfully presenting their information to classmates.”

Dr. Pierce said she plans to poll the students to collect data on their impressions of the effectiveness of online classes.

Moving to a Virtual Classroom

Eric Wang, PhD, associate professor for pharmaceutical sciences, said, “So far my experience with online teaching and learning using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is very positive. A lot of students really appreciate this format of learning and what we have done to make this happen in such a short period of time. They seem more attentive, responsive and engaged than learning in a traditional classroom setting.”

Adwoa Aduonum, PhD, MSc, associate professor of neuroscience and physiology, admitted she was a bit “apprehensive” about using technology to teach, but “realized I could master it with practice” and the help of IT support. “Overall the session was fantastic,” she said. “I taught it as if they were in the lecture hall with our usual interaction. I asked questions that students responded to via chat so the entire class could see the questions as long as they were engaged.”

According to Biomedical Sciences student Jessica Myara (MS/Biomed ’21), digital learning “has gone pretty well. Professors have been trying their best to accommodate students as much as possible and we, as students, truly appreciate that. Biomedical Sciences graduate students have been using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and this has worked really well for us.” 

She added, “It’s a great interactive platform where students feel connected to their professors and can ask questions in real time rather than having to wait for an email response back. Through these uncertain times, it’s nice to know that PCOM is working hard to ensure students continue to get their education.”

Myara shared her current setup at home where she transported part of her desk into the living room so she can use her TV to view lectures. On her MacBook, she is able to “AirPlay” to her TV. She said she uses the function “Use as a Separate Display” and is able to split the screen. 

“In this way, I can use my TV as a projector of the PowerPoint and lecture via Collaborate Ultra and use my laptop to take notes via Microsoft Office OneNote,” she explained.

Associate Professor Sonia Thomas, PharmD, BCOP, believes “online teaching is the new wave for millennials. It’s amazing what we can do with technology and how the comfort of one’s home can increase quality of life and enhance mental health which is very important in performance.”

Lu said, “We, as a team, are all willing to learn new things and we are ready to adapt.”

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  • About PCOM Georgia

    Established in 2005, PCOM Georgia is a private, not-for-profit, accredited institute of higher education dedicated to the healthcare professions. The Suwanee, Georgia, campus is affiliated with Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine which has a storied history as a premier osteopathic medical school. PCOM Georgia offers doctoral degrees in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, and physical therapy and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences and physician assistant studies. Emphasizing "a whole person approach to care," PCOM Georgia focuses on educational excellence, interprofessional education and service to the wider community. The campus is also home to the Georgia Osteopathic Care Center, an osteopathic manipulative medicine clinic, which is open to the public by appointment. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 678-225-7500.

    For more information, contact:

    Barbara Myers
    Public Relations Manager
    Email: BarbaraMy@pcom.edu
    Office: 678-225-7532 | Cell: 770-309-0613

    Connect with PCOM Georgia