On-line: Public Health
In real time, Lisa Kimbrough oversees a team of disease
intervention specialists at the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention in Atlanta. But for the next 15 months, her life will
be on-line as she pursues a degree in public health offered
almost entirely on the World Wide Web by the Hopkins School of
Hygiene and Public Health.
Kimbrough began her studies in mid-July with a two-week on-campus stint at the school along with 26 other CDC employees, several local public health officers and two full-time master's in public health students who decided to chuck regular school and get their degree via long distance education.
They all are pursuing the first certificate program offered by Hopkins to be conducted on the Web. The Graduate Certificate in Public Health is designed specifically for health professionals who do not want to leave their jobs to get advanced training in their field. For Kimbrough, there was the added incentive of getting a degree that had direct relevance to her work.
"I was already doing the practical part, I wanted the academic background to apply to it," she said. "Plus, what I am learning here builds strengths where I had weaknesses. That makes me more marketable."
Improving the careers of health professionals was one of Robert Lawrence's goals when he first started to work on making long-distance education a major part of the school's curriculum.
"Through distance education, health professionals around the world can continue to look toward the [Hopkins School of Public Health] as their best source for public health education," said Lawrence, an associate dean for professional education and programs.
Lawrence's point person on the project has been W. Henry Mosley, chairman of Population Dynamics. Mosley has directed "virtual" workshops for scholars from across the United States and Canada. The mechanics of setting up animation, chat rooms, power point presentations, graphics and e-mail coordination fell to Jim Stofan, distance education specialist and former education director at Florida's Sea World. For him, the program is a marketing milestone.
"The certificate blends health care and education, the two largest markets in the United States," Stofan said.
Each student enrolled in the distance education course will be expected to master a rigorous mixture of epidemiology, data analysis, statistics, health care systems, communications models and teaching skills. These core courses are the basis for one of four tracks the students will pursue when they return home. The certificate requires 35 quarter credit units, all of which are transferable--upon admission--toward the 80-credit MPH degree.
Each course has its own Web site, where professors can post class notes and slides. Multimedia applications--such as audio files and computerized animation--will be used for lectures. A special mechanism for "office hours" will allow professors not only to talk with students through the sound systems on their computers, but also to take over a student's screen and correct mistakes or make notes to existing documents. Another application lets students who are working on group projects share files and work together over the Internet. As data is entered on problem-solving projects, students can watch as graphs and charts change before their eyes.
When students are not on campus, special prompts built into the certificate's computer program will let them know when homework is overdue and will track their progress.
Funded by a grant from the CDC, the certificate program was initially designed for field workers at the center who wanted master's degrees. Both students and faculty will offer ongoing evaluations of the pilot program. The School of Public Health hopes to extend the program to a full executive MPH for CEOs of health maintenance organizations, politicians and health officers. The Sloan Foundation has awarded the school $250,000 toward the creation of an executive Master of Public Health program to be offered in distance education format.
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