Flexible Learning with Public Health Online

Over the Fall and Winter terms, the Dalla Lana School of Public Health undertook an exciting new pilot project to develop and run a series of four quarter-course credit e-modules (6 weeks in length each). Under the guidance of graduate coordinator Ann Fox with the assistance of the online learning strategies portfolio the school worked with four leading instructors in a course redesign process to bring the modules to life. The instructors and course topics included:

  • Susan Bondy: Representative Sample Surveys in Public Health Disciplines: development and use of population data on large and human scales
  • Paul Bozek: Introduction to Environmental Health
  • Robert Mann: Public Health, Mental Health and Addiction
  • Blake Poland: Building Community Resilience

Beginning in January 2015 the first two courses ran for six weeks. When they were complete the remaining two opened and ran until the end of the Winter term. The pilot was driven by the need to meet the school’s wide ranging student body which includes students, managers and experts operating across public health related disciplines in various locations in Canada and worldwide. In order to reach these busy professionals, practicum and distance students, the online format and condensed course structure allowed for greater flexibility to fit studies into full schedules.

The e-modules were structured around both asynchronous and synchronous activities and strategies. On their own time students could access readings, videos, assessments and discussions. For a minimum of once a week the instructors also led their students in live webinar sessions where they delivered lectures and were able to field question and answer periods using Blackboard Collaborate. Although there was a balance of activities, a lesson learned was to offer less synchronous sessions structured around a rigid weekly timeslot to offer even more flexibility.

For a first time offering in this format the feedback has been positive, with students expressing interest and support for both the online environment and the quarter course format.

When asked about their experiences with teaching online the instructors agreed that they benefited from the capacity building and even applied the course redesign work to their other courses. They also felt that teaching online was on par with instructing a face-to-face (f2f) class and that the online environment even offered some possibilities that the f2f could not (sharing videos to study at own pace).

This project is another innovative example of how online course design can transform teaching and learning.

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