The Department of Veterinary Tropical Diseases (DVTD), Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria (UP), South Africa presents a web-based master’s programme in Veterinary Tropical Diseases (MSc). This programme is presented in collaboration with the Department of Animal Health, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium, and the Department of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, the Netherlands. Candidates can also register for individual modules for Continuing Professional Development (CPD). The programme targets mainly students and candidates from Africa but will also appeal to students from all over the world.
Infectious animal diseases are of importance with regards to domestic and wild animals all over the world. Outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease or bird flu not only pose a threat to farmers in the affected area but are also frequently accompanied by hysterical media campaigns causing irritation and fear amongst the population. Even worse, many of these diseases have the potential of transgressing international boundaries and consequently affecting the international trade in animals and their products with serious socio-economic consequences for the respective countries. In addition, highly contagious diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, rinderpest, African swine fever and those that have public health implications, such as Rift Valley fever and anthrax, may be used as bio-weapons or in agri-bioterrorism.
When a disease breaks out, veterinaries need to be equipped with profound knowledge, practical skills and the ability to apply these competencies in integrated animal health management.
To provide countries in Africa and other parts of the world with significant numbers of graduates who will be well-informed and sensitive towards infectious and parasitic diseases and their management, the University of Pretoria (UP) developed a web-based master’s programme (MSc) in Veterinary Tropical Diseases.
46 Notified Diseases
The programme caters to the broader needs of veterinaries who would like to acquire information on the epidemiology, diagnosis, and control and eradication of infectious and parasitic diseases of domestic animals and wildlife. Students can develop specific technical knowledge and skills that are required to make a diagnosis in microbiology, parasitology and molecular biology laboratories. The programme comprises various modules that can also be taken for non-degree purposes in support of their continuing professional development.
The curriculum includes 46 diseases that are notifiable to the Office International des Epizooties (OIE), the World Organization for Animal Health’s classification of economically important diseases. All aspects of the diseases are discussed in detail, with the emphasis on the potential that they may have to spread to other countries of the world where they either have been eradicated, often at great cost, or have not previously occurred.
Web-based Learning and Peer Interaction
The educational model is primarily web-based distance education, with the exception of a number of modules which require hands-on practical training, for example, laboratory diagnostic modules. The programme was implemented during 2006 and consists of a number of compulsory core modules and elective modules which students can select according to their field of interest. Blackboard 8 is the current Learning Management System (LMS) used by UP.
The e-learning platform is linked to the administration system of the university to ensure that only registered students have access to the learning material.
Learning material and facilitation is presented to the students via the LMS but is supplemented by in-house-developed multimedia CD-ROMS and video materials provided on CD or DVD. The supplementary teaching materials are distributed to the students and cannot be delivered online due to the limited bandwidth available in South Africa. Students have access to electronic databases and journals via the library services of UP.
Students from all over the world are enrolled in this programme, from countries such as Sudan, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. For this reason online communication – mostly asynchronous – is used extensively by facilitators. Students are also dependent on the communication tools in the LMS for peer interaction due to their geographical distribution. Although the facility for synchronous communication exists (chat tool), it was not really used due to some technical difficulties.
Continuing Professional Development
There is an increasing need for short topic-specific courses for practicing veterinaries to obtain the necessary credits for continued registration with the professional bodies. To address this need, the DVTD is in the process of developing a Veterinary Information Hub (internet portal). The CPD courses will be delivered online via this platform. In addition to the CPD courses, relevant information will also be available for para-veterinaries, farmers and the broader public.
These courses will be globally relevant for practitioners in the veterinary field. Some veterinary tropical diseases are unique to sub-Saharan Africa but are becoming increasingly important to Europe and the USA due to the effects of global warming and increased international trade on the transmission of these diseases.
Students registering for any of the available short courses will be presented with learning content and other resources (articles, research reports, DVDs, etc.). After completion of the course, the candidates will be assessed and the relevant credits will be awarded. These courses will also be facilitated by content specialists from the different institutions.
Positive Student Feedback
Students have been requested to give feedback online at the end of each module. The survey includes questions pertaining to the content of the module, the quality of facilitation, assessment practice, interaction between fellow learners and the facilitator, and open questions about their learning experience and interaction in the module. An opportunity is also provided to comment on the module as a whole and to suggest measures for improvement.
Students especially value the relevance of the study material in the work environment as well as the enthusiasm, understanding and knowledge of facilitators. Some also mentioned the improvement of computer skills as an added benefit, especially as technical assistance was assessed as being very good.
For students and facilitators, the implementation of this programme was a huge challenge on many levels. They had to deal with a new and different educational approach, new technologies and software, and acquire additional computer, teaching and learning skills. Feedback from students and facilitators is an important barometer of the learning experience and the value of the programme. It is important to incorporate the feedback from the facilitators and students in order to continually revise and improve the presentation of the modules.
More information on the course http://web.up.ac.za/default.asp?ipkCategoryID=5237
Dr El-Marie Mostert and Linda Venter will present in session GLO60 on Friday, December 5th at 11:45 – 13:30.