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Arianna Pranger: ‘I pack as much creativity as possible into my teaching’

Arianna Pranger has lost her heart to teaching. A senior lecturer on the master’s programme in Pharmacy, she won the LUS Teaching Prize 2020. The programme trains students to be pharmacists.

We speak through Teams, and Pranger seems to be trying to laugh off a mild bout of shyness. ‘It’s true. I love teaching and feel completely at home when I’m doing that. But now I have to talk about myself and that feels very different.’

Arianna Pranger LUS
Arianna Pranger: ‘It was important to keep the students engaged.’

Pranger initially taught one day a week on the three-year Master’s programme in Pharmacy, alongside her job as hospital pharmacist at the LUMC, but this ratio was flipped at her request last November: she is now primarily a lecturer, but works one day a week in the hospital pharmacy to maintain her links with the practice.

Pranger coordinates the two-month infectious disease and immunology block, teaching, among others, the sections on antibiotics, tuberculosis and therapeutic drug monitoring. She spends the rest of the year teaching in other blocks, and has been a member of the Board of Examiners for the Pharmacy programme since June 2020. Her nomination for the LUS Teaching Prize will come as no surprise: she won the Prof. dr. G.J. Tammeling Prize for best lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine/LUMC in July.

What was your first reaction on hearing you’d been nominated?

‘It felt like recognition for something that I actually really enjoy doing and it confirmed my decision to significantly increase my teaching last year.’

Why do you think your students have nominated you?

‘I think that teaching should be more than a lecture and tutorial. Students should acquire knowledge and understand how processes work. And I’m always looking for structured and creative ways to bring them to that point. The moment of comprehension must follow on logically from what they have learned or done before. I try to achieve this by using many different teaching methods and by getting students to do plenty themselves. They evidently appreciate that, perhaps also that I enjoy the interaction with them. Teaching gives me energy.’

Can you give an example of teaching methods that you use?

‘I make knowledge clips about the essence of each part of the material. These are spoken PowerPoints with pictures to illustrate. Students can watch these clips at a later date too. I also get the students to make their own knowledge clip or brief explanation (micro-teaching) with quiz questions about the subject matter. And I hold competitions or challenges: for instance, I get them to explain the side-effects of a drug in a certain patient or to come up with a playful depiction of a drug using pictures but no words.’ 

Pharmacy in Leiden
The three-year Master’s programme in Pharmacy is a fledgling programme for Leiden. At least, there used to be a Pharmacy programme, but this was scrapped in 1985 in a national programme of cuts only to rise again in 2016 as a three-year master’s programme. The hallmark of this programme is that it is closely integrated with the practice: students work at a pharmacy from the outset. 

Pharmacy programmes originated from the ‘art of drug preparation’. Physicians have been around for almost as long as humanity itself – or at least people who have (or are presumed to have) medical skills. In their wake came the apothecaries to whom the physicians outsourced the preparation of their (herbal) medicines.

And then came corona…

‘My block started a week after the measures were implemented. It was bizarre to see how the subject matter – infectious disease and immunology – coincided with real life. I set to work with Kaltura Classroom and immediately began a current affairs section to keep the students updated on developments in COVID-19 treatment. I always worked one day ahead with my teaching plans while also attempting to show students what would come next. It was hard work, more so because after the block had finished I took over another one from a colleague who was on maternity leave. But it all worked out in the end.’

Arriana Pranger
One of the results of the challenge to portray a drug for the other students not in words but in pictures. The illustration is about adalimumab, an anti-inflammatory drug used here to treat psoriasis.

‘For me it was important to give the students structure by offering plenty of activating teaching, getting them to work together online and asking for scheduled and ad hoc feedback about the teaching methods. I used the comments straight away where possible. The students could also mail me at any time if they had any questions or problems. It was important to keep them engaged.’

‘Then we still had the problem of the residencies in hospital pharmacies. Thanks to corona only nine of the 48 students found a place. For the others I rapidly developed teaching that was as close as possible to the professional practice. This proved to be the missing piece that I wrote about in my improvement plan last year: about thinking. Something like this will definitely remain on the curriculum after corona.’

What will you do with the 25,000 euros if you win?

‘I wanted to make the infectious disease and immunology block very clear and comprehensible for students. I now want to develop an app that will support this for my favourite topic, the pharmacokinetics of drugs (what they do and where they end up in the body), and in relation to this, issuing individual dosage advice. This advice depends on various factors, each of which is the focus of a different part of the curriculum. I want the app to provide an interdependent overview. In my opinion that forms the basis of a pharmacist’s unique knowledge. Once you have that you can explain why, for example, you administer a lower dose of digoxin to an older patient with arrythmia. If the sections of the Master’s programme connected and interacted better with each other… That would be great.’

Short film by two students about the characteristic features of the antibiotic vancomycin.

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About the LUS Teaching Prize
The LUS Teaching Prize – temporarily christened the Leiden Remote Teaching Prize – is the initiative of the Leiden University Student Platform (LUS). At the opening of the academic year, this year on 31 August, the lecturer will be honoured who has been of the ‘greatest merit to the teaching.’ All students at Leiden University can nominate a lecturer. The LUS visits a few lectures by the nominated lecturer and chooses three finalists based on criteria such as teaching innovation and interaction with students. The winner wins a five-year post at the Leiden Teachers’ Academy (in Dutch) and a 25,000 euro grant to spend on educational improvements during this period. Alongside Arianna Pranger (Medicine), the nominees for 2020 are Nuno Atalaia (Humanities) and Aris Politopoulos (Archaeology).

Text: Corine Hendriks
Photos: Melissa Schriek
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