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Global Classroom

Illustrations by Joe Cepeda

Global Classroom

Technology and pedagogical savvy are revolutionizing public health education. LiveTalk, anyone?

It’s just after 7 p.m. on a Wednesday night in Baltimore, and from a recording studio on the second floor of the Bloomberg School’s Wolfe Street building, John McGready is on the air. Wearing a DJ’s headset and working from notes jotted on a small green cheat sheet, McGready has the easygoing banter of a drive-time radio host. The content of his monologue, however, is anything but drive-time.

“This is complicated material,” he says, reaching out with his left hand as if toward an imaginary blackboard. “You can’t hear it once and ‘get it.’ You have to ruminate on this material.”

His listeners—there are currently 70 signed in from as far away as Abu Dhabi—seem to agree. They are texting questions that appear on a large flat screen display mounted on the wall opposite where McGready is sitting, asking him to clarify issues of z scores and degrees of freedom and other subject matter covered in his class, “Statistical Reasoning in Public Health.”

Thanks to “LiveTalk” technology, McGready can respond verbally, and write and draw on a tablet that transfers the images to his and his students’ screens during the session.

McGready, PhD, is an instructor and assistant scientist in Biostatistics. He is also an Internet pioneer, having taught this and other online classes in the School’s distance education program for the past 10 years. He says tools like LiveTalk are very useful in helping him gauge how well students are following the material—something that’s easy to do in a traditional classroom lecture but trickier when teaching online.

“When we began this effort in 1997, there was no existing model, so it was largely a matter of saying, ‘Let’s try something entirely new.’ We ended up creating features that have helped to change teaching and pedagogy across the School.”  —James Yager, senior associate dean for Academic Affairs

The sessions, which McGready holds weekly, are one of several feedback loops built into the Bloomberg School’s distance education program. Other tools include hours of pre-recorded lectures; direct email contact with faculty; a threaded, content-rich bulletin board discussion system that encompasses polls, private work spaces, document sharing and DED Messenger—a live-streaming audio conferencing capability that allows small groups to work collaboratively on group assignments and faculty to hold virtual “office hours.” Taken all together they represent, not so much a different way of doing the same old thing, but a new and improved way of teaching and learning, say faculty proponents.

“When we began this effort in 1997, there was no existing model, so it was largely a matter of saying, ‘Let’s try something entirely new,’” says James Yager, PhD, senior associate dean for Academic Affairs. “We ended up creating features that have helped to change teaching and pedagogy across the School, and have greatly improved it, in my opinion.”

By removing the geographic constraints of the traditional classroom, the Bloomberg School has also vastly increased access, redefining the profile of the School’s typical MPH student. Currently there are 210 students enrolled in the full-time, 11-month-long MPH program in Baltimore and more than 430 students in the part-time program, which is generally completed in two and a half to three years. The number of students matriculating in the part-time program has increased by 50 percent over the past five years.

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

    very innovative for distance learning

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