Health Sciences

UCF Online Course Uses ‘Harry Potter’ Potions Theme To Teach Pharmacology

*Author’s Note: This course was an honorable mention for the 2020 Chuck D. Dziuban Award for Excellence in Online Teaching*

Written By: Drexler B. James '13 | October 2, 2019

A faculty member in the Department of Health Sciences has taken the idea of magic in the classroom to a whole new level, theming her online Introduction to Pharmacology class after the Potions class in “Harry Potter.”

Martha Garcia-Stout, a health sciences lecturer (and self-declared Slytherin), casts her own spell over the online course to make the material memorable and engage students in what could be considered a boring topic.

“I knew I wanted to create case studies to get students interacting with the material,” Garcia-Stout said. “And that meant creating a lot of different characters. And I thought, ‘Hmmm, Harry Potter has a lot of characters and you can assign a diagnosis for some of them.'”

As she thought through it, she started to see she had a lot of material to work with: “Mad-Eye” Moody needs eye drops for glaucoma, Bellatrix needs antipsychotic drugs for schizophrenia, Vernon Dursley needs high blood pressure medication, Harry needs nerve pain medication for migraines. It wasn’t hard for her to prescribe for the characters since in addition to being a pharmacist, she is a huge fan of “Harry Potter”.

Each time students are introduced to a new classification of drugs, they first meet the “Harry Potter” character who needs the drug or “potion” to cure them.  Garcia-Stout says this helps make pharmacology memorable. Otherwise, the long, complicated names of drugs can cast a sleeping spell over students.

The inclusion of fictional characters in her case studies has proven to be the magic ingredient in student success. Garcia-Stout says students are discussing and engaging more in this online course than any others she has taught.

One student, Bonnie Kerlin, enjoyed making the connections between her favorite characters and the medicines they could benefit from. She said the class offered her a way to connect with the material unlike any class experience she had before. She even found herself discussing the content with other “Harry Potter” fans at her work.

“We would relive some of the injuries and wounds they got in the books and talk about how they would’ve been handled in the Muggle world,” Kerlin said.

Ashley Appadu is enrolled in the course this semester and said she loves it.

“The class is interesting itself, and I am a huge ‘Harry Potter’ fan,” she said. ” Adding the theme to the class makes it that much more enjoyable. I wish more of my classes incorporated themes like this.”

Not a “Harry Potter” fan? Not a problem. Even Muggle-born students can find success in this class.

“Even if you’ve never come across the characters before, you can still make the diagnosis based on the symptoms I’ve given,” Garcia-Stout said.

Garcia-Stout is proud to see students enjoying the curriculum and learning important concepts that will set them up for a successful career in healthcare.

“If I were a student, I wouldn’t want to see just words, writing and no pictures or videos in an online course,” she said. “I’d want to see anything that makes it interesting. I just wanted to bring some life to the class.”

Her course offers a dose of creativity to student learning. So far, it seems to be working. In addition to the positive feedback Garcia-Stout has received, students haven’t needed any special potions to remember the material.

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