Innovation Spotlight: Pharmacy tech instructor makes learning more accessible, budget-friendly

by Courtney Morris

San Jacinto College professors are taking the College’s goal of continuous improvement to a new level.

Sara Byars represents one of many faculty members who have gone the extra mile to make learning more accessible to students.

Byars, North Campus clinical liaison and lead faculty for the pharmacy technician program, recently created two workbooks as supplemental discussion and practice material for her pharmaceutical math classes.

Not only are the workbooks tailored to her classes, but they are also easy on the wallet.

Students will pay about $12 for both workbooks rather than $130-150 for the textbooks Byars originally considered for the classes.

Kudos to Byars and other San Jac faculty who constantly seek to improve the classroom experience!

Here is what Byars had to say about her experience writing and implementing her own workbooks:

What prompted you to create these workbooks?

I had not written anything this long before. The two workbooks are both around 150-160 pages and developed slowly over time.

As a pharmacy technician instructor for the past four years, I have had to create supplemental worksheets for my students because the information I found already in print was not sufficient to cover the topics we needed to discuss.

After reviewing seven to eight pharmaceutical math-specific textbooks, I found that the cons definitely outweighed the pros for each. Rather than continue to develop side content and integrate it into whichever textbook was required for the course, I realized I had enough for a workbook through the worksheets I had been creating and honing.

So this spring semester (2019), I took a leap of faith with my leader’s support and put the workbooks together in a very rough first version. I told my students I would not be referencing any other textbook so they could return whatever they had bought if they felt comfortable.

Which classes use the workbooks?

Pharmaceutical Mathematics I (PHRA 1309) and Pharmaceutical Mathematics II (PHRA 1347).

I have ideas on expanding and shaping the workbooks to fit our nursing, EMT, and medical assisting programs, but those are going to require more input from my colleagues and will come later. I am very interested in making sure all of our allied health students at San Jac get the very best resources they need to be successful in their career at the lowest possible cost.

What topics do the workbooks cover?

I cover everything from basic math (numbering systems, measuring systems, fractions, decimals, etc.) to complex pharmaceutical math (alligations, IV flow rates, and dosage calculations for pediatric use).

The workbooks teach students everything they need to know to be in the pharmaceutical industry. No prior math knowledge is required, and by the end, they will be able to use critical thinking and concept mapping to solve any math problem thrown at them in the industry.

I also focus heavily on what I call math literacy, helping students understand how to read math problems and set up the work. The rest is a natural progression to the correct answer. Often, I find that to be the main challenge for most students: they can read and solve independent math problems, but they find synthesizing the two concepts confusing. I guide them through the process — help them identify what they need from a word problem, how to set it up, and how to get the answer it’s asking for.

How long did it take you to write the workbooks?

About four years. I plan on creating my second version this summer, so you could say it’s going to be more intense these next two months.

What were some challenges you faced?

The biggest hurdle was that I am obsessive, with high standards for myself and a very analytical, often critical nature. I tend to nitpick everything from content to spacing and so much more. I have a laundry list of things I check off, so it probably could have been done sooner but not to my standards.

How have your students responded?

I am looking forward to reading their comments in the course surveys, but within the classroom, they seemed happy to get the workbooks and found them useful for studying both for classroom exams and for their national licensing exam.