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.

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 UniversityCollege of Veterinary Medicine's first Web-based business course.

The Internet class, designed as a two-credit elective for veterinarystudents and as continuing education (CE) for DVMs, is the start of an entrepreneurialtraining program known as wVet, which teaches the fundamentals of buyingand running a veterinary business.

"It takes them through all the steps that they need to know to buya practice, purchase a practice or start their own practice," saysDraper, the course's head instructor. "Many veterinary programs donot have staff available to teach these specific topics. The benefit withWeb-based classes is now students and veterinarians can get the informationwithout leaving their institutions."

At presstime, Draper was working on the course's approval by accreditedveterinary colleges, so it can be offered to students nationally.

Inside the class

Formed in alliance with the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), thecourse takes students through business plan writing, developing strategicplans to improve efficiency, productivity and profitability, as well asleadership management strategies. They also will study financial strategiesby 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 theirinstitution's credit hour rates (Iowa State students pay $170). There areno restrictions, but Draper prefers students be in their third or fourthyear.

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 veterinariansbecause they are extremely busy people who, many times, don't have a fortuneto spend traveling to classes.

"Online study also is particularly attractive to women who are sometimesdual career people, study for a degree and raising a family. Web classesmight 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 bankingon 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 veterinaryinstitutions, says Dr. Christine Merle, a UI clinical assistant professorand Veterinary Education Online's marketing coordinator, but it's usuallyoffered as a compliment to normal class curriculum. Right now, UI's veterinarydepartment runs only CE courses that are fully supported by the Web.

College officials are exploring the possibility of classes based solelyon the Internet, but Merle says she's concerned that some knowledge andexperience could be lost without face-to-face instruction.

"Students are computer savvy, so it makes natural sense to use onlinestudy as a compliment to what we already offer," she says. "ButI 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 youa 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 studentsacross the country.

"Students nowadays expect more and using online education is a wayto give them that," Merle says. "At the University of Illinois,we're doing everything we can to realize a future that goes from the studentand beyond."

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