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Global Classroom

Illustrations by Joe Cepeda

Global Classroom (continued)

The online learning format is sometimes referred to as the classroom without walls, and the ability to hear from and interact with faculty and fellow students engaged in public health activities around the globe presents unparalleled educational opportunities. But it also offers another, more prosaic advantage that is especially important in an era of critical public health workforce shortages. A classroom without walls is a classroom that can accommodate—theoretically at least—an unlimited number of additional students. The potential this technology offers for filling the urgent need for more and better trained specialists was evident when McGready casually announced at the start of his first LiveTalk session that the class had reached a new record of “upwards of 180” enrollees.” In online learning, take 18 enrollees or 180 and the class experience should remain largely the same.

“Onsite courses are limited by the number of seats in a classroom, but in an online course you effectively accommodate many more students,” says Diener-West, the MPH chair. “Sukon Kanchanaraksa and I went from having about 35 students in 1998 to over 150 students in 2009 in our Fundamentals of Epidemiology course, and we have adapted by adding additional teaching assistants and forming small working groups of students.”

The Center for Teaching and Learning with Technology reports that as of the new academic year, the Bloomberg School offers a total of 73 courses online, with another 10 in development. Faculty are encouraged to keep their courses fresh and up-to-date by going back to the studio to revise the lectures every three years. To date, this approach has worked well, and Center director Kanchanaraksa predicts the School will have no fewer than 100 online offerings within the next year or two. “I think the use of this technology will only grow in the future,” he says. “Yes, we have students who can come to Baltimore and take face-to-face full-time courses because they have the opportunity to do so. But there are a body of students who can’t—and that’s a large portion of the population.”

One such student is Jessica Knupp, a clinical science liaison representative for Celgene Corporation, who covers nine states in the southern U.S. “This is the only way I could earn this degree,” she says of a schedule that commonly involves 12 hours of travel time for a single 30-minute meeting. “I am in the hotel room, at the airport, in the plane, and what’s great is that I can take class everywhere. Not long ago I had a flight delayed for two hours—and that was two hours of studying.” It is, she says, ideally suited for busy, but focused professionals. “The only challenge from my perspective is that I sometimes talk to older people who ask me, ‘Is that a real degree?’ But I have no doubt this will take hold. It’s the wave of the future.”

For Dean Klag, the proof-of-concept for the School’s distance learning program lies in the numbers. “I think it’s extremely significant that about a quarter of our online enrollments come from our students who are here onsite in Baltimore,” he says. “That says something important about the quality of these courses. I’m bullish that our distance education efforts will continue to develop new technologies that will improve teaching across the entire School, both online and in the classroom.”

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  • ROBERT E. DEDMON MD MPH FACP FACOEM

    wisconsin 11/20/2009 11:17:25 AM

    very innovative for distance learning

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