The Dalla Lana School of Public Health has recently offered, for the first time, a gateway course in global public health, “Grand Opportunities in Global Health.” The course invited first-year undergraduate students from all Arts and Science programs to explore the complex and multifaceted field of global public health, outlining its history, reflecting on key concepts, examining major past and current developments, and looking at the future of this field.
Led by Course Directors Professor Abdallah Daar and Professor Andrea Cortinois, students had the opportunity to meet and interact with many among the most creative researchers and mentors working at the University of Toronto. More than this, the course followed an innovative format that included both online and face-to-face classroom components to promote the inverted classroom model. Contrary to a traditional format, the inverted classroom encourages students to learn content online and practice what they’ve learned in the classroom. In Grand Opportunities, students were able to view short video lectures by leading researchers, complete readings and interact among themselves using peerScholar , all of this online, before attending classes. During the live class, students participated in small-group discussions and other group activities. Early evidence suggests this innovative approach was very well received by students and instructors alike.
We asked the lead instructors a few questions about their experience teaching this for the first time.
1) What were some of the benefits you saw for the learners?
Many of the advantages of the inverted or ‘flipped’ classroom model most commonly identified in the literature have been confirmed by our experience. In particular, students loved the convenience of learning at their own pace and at any time, by watching short online video lectures. Given the complexity of many of the topics covered in the course, this was particularly important as students had the opportunity to ‘stop & rewind’ as many times as they needed.
In addition, the video lectures made it possible for our students to interact with a large number of colleagues – more than 30 – who work in global health at the University of Toronto. This level of exposure was essential to achieve one of the central goals of the course: to give young students the opportunity to understand the multifaceted nature of global health and stimulate their curiosity and involvement by showing them how many ways are there to contribute to this field from a large and very diverse set of disciplines. Also, each week a new topic was discussed by multiple lecturers, therefore adding critical depth to the analysis.
Before each class, students had the opportunity to ask questions on concepts or examples they found particularly challenging or confusing. These ‘muddiest points’ were then discussed in class with the help of some of the faculty who had previously contributed a video lecture. The majority of face-to-face time, however, was spent discussing the weekly topic in small groups. This approach made students feel that they were right at the centre of the process, actively involved, and themselves an important resource for the course. Learning became a truly interactive process based on the complementary contributions of students and faculty.
In addition, the use of peerScholar to answer a reflective questions related to the topic of the week was a useful starting point to stimulate the critical thinking process that is essential to sustain a rich small-group discussion session. Also, students had to peer review some of their colleagues’ responses. This was a way to further enrich the reflective process while at the same time building a community of learning.
2) Were there any surprises or unexpected outcomes you witnessed?
A very positive surprise was the truly wonderful level of enthusiasm expressed by virtually all students who completed the course. While we were hopeful that the course content and approach would stimulate a positive response, the feedback we received from students during the course and through a final, internal evaluation greatly exceeded our expectations!
Another surprise was to realize how much many of the colleagues who contributed to the course enjoyed the experience. Some of them were so inspired by the ongoing class discussions and the level of enthusiasm shown by students that they decided to attend additional sessions. Over time, the course became a sort of ‘Thursday evening club’ for friends passionate about global health!
3) What advice would you offer to instructors who wish to try an inverted classroom model?
When learning and experimenting with the use of technology in the classroom, it is important to constantly invite students’ feedback and react to it in flexible and creative ways.
In particular, video lectures should be kept short, 12-15 minutes being the upper limit. If more material needs to be presented, it is definitely preferable to break it down into multiple, shorter videos. In general, video lectures should play an introductory role and present students with an overall frame of reference that can then be enriched through the careful choice of appropriate weekly readings and class discussion.
It is also very important to facilitate face-to-face activities so that the time spent in class becomes a real opportunity for students to contribute and lead. The role of instructors should become a facilitating one.