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College Starts Summer Online Adventure for High Schoolers

Posted May. 5, 2014
Upward Bound

The College of Public Health (CPH) will offer a free three-week summer online program for high school students this July, in which participants will learn about the five disciplines of public health, then form virtual teams to compete in developing prototypes for a health-related mobile application or game.
 
Called Mobile Technologies for Public Health, the program will be a MOOC, or massive open online course, an emerging approach to distance learning that features interactivity and permits unlimited participation from anywhere in the world.  The program is a collaboration between the CPH and the College of Education, Health and Human Services (EHHS).
 
Enrollment in the program is free and open to any high school student, and registration will start in early May.  The only requirements are computer access to the program website and an interest in learning about the field of public health.  The program will be taught by prevention science doctoral student Diana Kingsbury, who is designing, implementing and directing it.
 
The concept originated with CPH Dean Sonia Alemagno, who observes that she’s “really jazzed” about the program, because of “its potential to inspire high school students about public health issues and create awareness of rewarding career paths.”  To test Alemagno’s ideas and gain perspectives, CPH Director of Advancement Margot McGimpsey visited several local high schools early in the year.  The CPH then sought proposals from its graduate assistants for designing and leading the program, and Kingsbury submitted the winning approach.
 
“For three weeks over the summer, starting July 7 and closing July 27, students will access public-health-related content through the MOOC, and they’ll also learn what it takes to develop a mobile app or game,” explains Kingsbury.  “The students will form three- to five-person teams to come up with an idea for an app or game to address a public health problem.  The concepts will be judged, and winning teams will get cash awards,” she says.  “The goal is not just to disseminate information, but to develop new knowledge through the teams,” she adds.
 
The program is envisioned to provide an overview of what public health professionals do, covering the five disciplines of public health:  biostatistics; environmental health sciences; epidemiology; health policy and management; and social and behavioral sciences.  Students will then engage in selecting a problem or issue in one of those areas to address through a mobile app or game.  Students will explore what apps and games currently exist in the “serious games movement” to understand characteristics of effectiveness.  Then students will employ development tools to design a prototype.
 
“Given how widespread mobile technology is now, and where it’s projected to go, we see an opportunity to use it in public health to address pretty significant social issues,” says Kingsbury.  “It’s a great time to start a program like this, given how tech-savvy high school and younger students are.  This will be a good way to get them interested in the future of public health,” she predicts.
 
While Kingsbury brings the public health content and program oversight, Summit Professor of Learning Technologies Richard E. Ferdig, PhD, is providing technological guidance and support.  A leading-edge thinker in instructional technology on the faculty of EHHS, Ferdig ran Kent State’s first MOOC this past year, K12 Teaching in the 21st Century, attracting 850 high school students and teachers from around the world.
 
“This is a great opportunity for students to engage with others about public health, find out about careers, learn about the current state of games for health and study and participate in app development,” says Ferdig.  “I’m not aware of any other health-related MOOCs aimed at high schools students and none with competitions associated with them,” Ferdig says, stressing the uniqueness of the program.
 
Students will be recruited through local outreach, digital forums and online K12 schools, as well as through Kent State’s contacts with researchers and universities involved in the serious games movement.  “If the program were taught solely face-to-face to local students, we would probably be able to host only 15-20 participants,” Ferdig says.  “But by broadening the program using technology-based tools, we can reach many others who may not otherwise have been able to participate,” he observes.
 
Enrollees can drop in and out with no obligation.  While social media and the MOOC framework will foster individuals to assemble into teams, Ferdig and Kingsbury will provide support as needed to match up students.  All program details are still being finalized, but there may be a special Kent campus gathering or field trip for local students.
 
The app and game prototypes will be judged on a number of factors, including originality and design.  The first-place team will receive $500, and there will be two $250 awards specifically for Northeastern Ohio teams.  Winners will be required to verify they actually are high school students.  Kingsbury and Ferdig will reach out to members of the local public health and educational technology communities to help judge the student competition in early August.
 
“Sometimes people wonder why we do things like this for free,” says Ferdig.  “But one of our roles as a university is to disseminate information for practitioners and policy makers, to share the word about the fields of public health and education, to generate interest in and knowledge about careers and to research the impact of technology on these goals,” says Ferdig.  “This partnership also provides another opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration and research between the two colleges,” he says.
 
“The program also will help us with recruiting future students and on broad outreach to engage others outside our region, while not losing focus on our region,” Kingsbury says.  “We’re helping to demonstrate how well-positioned Kent State is in the world,” she concludes.
 
“Please consider a gift to assist us in this exciting program to engage our future public health leaders,” urges Director of Advancement McGimpsey.  Organizations and individuals can contribute to the program’s financial support through Kent State’s website.  Please be sure to designate the gift as supporting the Public Health Academy.