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Epidemiological Thinking and Population Health

( PPol/Geron/Nursing/HighEd 797, Fall 07, PPol/Nursing 753/CCT653, Fall 09, Spr 11, 13, 15, 17, 19)
(Previously: Pathways of Disease & Development: Epidemiological Thinking for Non-specialists)


Initial Goals
Arrange a set of readings that introduces the concepts of epidemiology and enables students to interact thoughtfully with specialists. The course does not require the students to become proficient in the mathematics or software packages. Students are assumed to have a statistical background, but the course goal is methodological "literacy" not technical expertise.
Case studies and course projects are shaped to accommodate students with interests in fields related to health, gerontology, education, psychology, sociology, and public policy.
To cultivate skills and dispositions of critical thinking and of life-long, cooperative learning facilitated by the resources of the internet. To pilot the use of a wiki for assembling resources beyond what the instructor can provide the diverse students who would take the course.
For the instructor to see which of the programs the students come from and become acquainted with the interests of students from a range of programs.
See structure of class meetings and written assignments, which emphasized student-led seminar discussions, not lectures.
The conventional notion of teaching as transmission of knowledge from instructor to students still has some place. The instructor will provide in advance an introduction to and motivation of each sessions' readings and cases. Discussion leaders may arrange for the instructor to give a mini-lecture, if this seems appropriate, or the instructor may add a response to the substantive statement. The one-on-one interaction around course projects and in preparation for discussion leading provides opportunities for individualized attention. The instructor will provide assistance with technical questions of concern either to the whole class or to the individual student, refer to relevant sections of Gordis and Kirkwood, and/or help students create a network of specialists they can consult with during and the semester and after the course is over.
It is expected that students (and the instructor) will have to employ strategies of reading that allow us to extract take-home lessons from readings even as we skip sections that become too technical for us.

Challenges and Responses
2007: See instructor's self-evaluation, which, after student feedback to this self-eval., led to the following revised structure of class meetings and written assignments, even as the basic flow of topics remained mostly unchanged.
See revised structure of class meetings and written assignments and revised syllabus as a whole.

2013: To accommodate online students and put them on an equal footing with face-to-face students, each session centers on a "dialogue hour" (
2015: Emails and posts to listservs pointed me to recent publications that I might add to the syllabus.
Two students undertook the course asynchronously (because of their time zone or a course time conflict). They were to replace participation in class sessions with a blog post check-in by the time of class and another post by the weekend consisting of reflections from 4 points spread across the hour-long discussion and initial thoughts about applying the themes of the current session (which were recorded and made available). They also had to post comments on the blog on another student's sketch. The two students did not keep up with these as well as regular course expectations. My inclination is, in the future, to insist on withdrawal if an asynchronous online student falls well behind and misses the mandatory conferences with me.
(8/17) Few of the students had a strong statistical background so the course discussions (and my comments on submissions) had to focus more on getting insights from texts that are more technical than the student is prepared for. It might have been helpful to students if I had prepared some primers on the statistics, but I did not have (or make) time to do this.
(8/19) The summary evaluations (Q4) of the course were very appreciative even though the materials were out of the comfort zone and preparation of most of what turned out to be a small class. My goal for the next offering is to recruit more students, especially at doctoral level.
Since the last offering of the course, I have published an article, "Critical epidemiological literacy," for which the course provided the basis.

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