Education in health risk communication has been made accessible to a global audience with the launch of the University of Hong Kong’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), Epidemics, developed in conjunction with the Journalism and Media Studies Centre (JMSC).
The 10-week, interactive course examines the science, prevention and control of infectious diseases, and was designed by the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health and the JMSC.
Associate Professor Thomas Abraham of the JMSC worked closely with the School of Public Health on the risk communication component of the course, which teaches professionals the most effective means of managing and providing information during an epidemic.
“Perceptions among people in an epidemic can be very, very different, and really the aim of the (health risk) communication part of this course is to arrive at some form of common understanding of what the risk (of the epidemic) is, and what we should do about it,” Abraham said.
“That process, arriving at this understanding, can only come through communication.” He cited the current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa as an example. “One of the main things is for people who are in affected communities to be able to communicate to health authorities and for health authorities to be able to communicate with the public,” he said.
The JMSC has developed and delivered several types of open courses over the past five years, many within the area of health risk communication, but this is the first time this information has been made available to a global audience through the edX education website.
Three additional MOOCs covering the areas of media education and health risk communication are being developed by the JMSC for launch over the next eighteen months.
The JMSC’s e-learning officer, Darcy Christ, said that MOOCs were a great way to provide information and expertise to thousands of students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to such education. But he acknowledged that there are challenges involved in making a MOOC successful.
“I’m excited about it and I think there is a lot of potential…and we are trying to change and innovate education by using the Internet,“ he said. “But e-learning has been worked on for many years and the innovation in it has sometimes been problematic.”
These difficulties, which include reshaping classroom material for online delivery, filming the lectures in a way that keep students interested, and developing interactive course materials that engage the audience, were something that Thomas Abraham said he encountered when adapting his approach from teaching in a workshop to “being mediated by technology”.
“MOOCs are one of the hot things in education now, but I think everybody is still learning because, to be honest, there’s probably not one single answer on what works,” he added. “It depends on the material, it depends on the teacher, so (as a teacher) you need to be fairly creative I think, and nimble.”