Learning community and reading strategies for epidemiological literacy

Ideas: Developing epidemiological literacy requires:

1) collaboration with others (of differing skills and interests) and reflection on personal and professional development.

2) establishing our own practices of learning from material we don’t fully grasp at first reading/hearing.

These two ideas are the first in a sequence of basic ideas in thinking like epidemiologists (see introduction).

To begin to address idea 1, students in the first class of my course are asked to identify personal, intellectual, professional interests in relation to central themes about inequality, pathways of development, and policy (worksheet, followed by spoken introductions, in which one member of a pair introduces the other [after the pairs have introduced themselves to each other]).  The worksheets and introductions acknowledge that the students bring a particular set of interests, knowledge, experience into the learning activities and interactions ahead.

To begin to address idea 2, I pre-distribute a newspaper article [e.g., Rabin, R. (2009). “Rare Side Effect Is Seen in Long-Term Use of a Breast Cancer Drug,” New York Times (August 26)], asking students to

make notes on: what you learned; questions the article raised for you; and where you skimmed/skipped because you did not understand/appreciate the technical detail. Think about the specific steps you’d take –- other than waiting for the instructor to explain everything — to address the questions and to understand/appreciate more. In other words, the purpose of reading this article now is not to critically understand the research right away, but to get us thinking and talking about how we establish our own practices of learning from material we don’t fully grasp at first reading.

We compare our readings of the article, then discuss our reading/learning strategies.

Also on learning/reading strategies, we watch John Lynch’s video that relates to effective interventions, absolute versus relative risk, and how health disparities are conceived.

Start to watch the video at http://cpheo4.sph.umn.edu/ramgen/vcontent/healthdisparities/lynch/lynch.smil
(You should see John in the top corner, hear his voice, and see his powerpoints in the large box. If this is not the case, you’ll have to try another computer.)
Again, make notes on: what you learn; questions the video raises for you; and where you skim/skip/stall/rewind because you do not understand/appreciate the technical detail. Stop when you feel too lost or frustrated – overwhelming you is not the point of watching this video now. Rather, the point is as for the article (see above) and also to provide a benchmark against which you can appreciate how much you’ve learned as the semester progresses.

In class we watch some of the video, then discuss our listening/learning strategies.

As an alternative to the activities above, we might examine the progression of the translation of research for the general audience on a particular epidemiological finding (e.g., an activity based on Caspi et al.’s 2002 paper linking the MAOA Gene, Childhood Maltreatment, and Adult anti-social behavior).


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