SENCER E-Newsletter, September 2005, Volume 5, Issue 1
SENCER Model of the Month: Tuberculosis Model Helps Uncover Student Interest in Public Health and Health Policy at Franklin and Marshall
Richard A. Fluck, Associate Dean of the Faculty, Dr. E. Paul & Frances H. Reiff Professor of Biology Franklin and Marshall College
While, at its core, my SENCER model course, Tuberculosis (Biology 102, a multidisciplinary first-year seminar), is essentially the same as it was in 2002, I have updated the content to reflect new scientific understanding of tuberculosis, ongoing changes in the domestic and global tuberculosis epidemics, and the evolving policies for addressing the two epidemics. I have also made other modifications that have helped the course to work more smoothly. First, I have changed my level of interaction with students in regards to their group-project work. Now, I meet formally with each group at least twice—after I have returned their proposal and after I have returned their progress reports. These working sessions (the second one was added at the students' request) have been very successful. As a result, I think that a higher proportion of the teams work together more effectively on their group projects and that the overall quality of the projects has improved.
Second, in assigning students to groups, I now take into account other factors in addition to students' interest in the topic. I consider their writing ability, organizational skills, and leadership qualities. My assessment of these qualities is based on the students' self-reporting, the course preceptor's judgment, and my judgment, based on having worked with the class for about two weeks.
Third, in addition to asking students to rate the quality of the contributions that each team member (including him/herself) made to the project at the end of the semester, I now ask for a mid-term evaluation. The mid-term evaluation has enabled me to identify and address problems that a group may be having before the final project is complete. Fourth, the grade for "class participation" is now explicitly based on in-class participation (50%) and on the student's contribution to the group project (50%).
Fifth, I eliminated two writing assignments-a book review and a website review-and replaced them with two short papers (500 words) based on an on-campus lecture. The new assignment does three things: (1) it helps students develop the habit of attending such lectures, (2) it enables students to develop skills in evaluating the quality of lectures, and (3) it enriches the course material, broadly defined. On Sept. 26, 2005, for example, some students attended Paul Solman's lecture on globalization.
As a teacher, I have clearly changed in some ways. Most importantly, I think that I have become better at facilitating discussions. I ask better questions and frame the discussions more clearly. I sometimes use PowerPoint slides to guide the discussion. I am also beginning to see where, within the course, "less is more."
This course, which has been taught since 1999, has also uncovered a strong interest in public health and health policy among our students. Indeed, student interest in these topics was always there; we had simply not provided opportunities for our students to pursue them as undergraduates. Now they can. For example, we will probably have a minor in Public Health in place in our program in Science, Technology, and Society by the end of this academic year. Also, a number of students have already chosen Special Studies majors in the areas of public health and health policy. To be sure, the Public Health minor has not been built on my course alone. It includes courses in the Sociology of Medicine, Bioethics, History of Medicine, and a new course in Epidemiology. In addition, three of my colleagues will be offering a multidisciplinary seminar (for juniors and seniors) on adverse pregnancy outcomes (pre-term births, low birth weight) in Spring 2006 and the two subsequent spring semesters. This course is part of a project funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health to Pennsylvania State University/Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, with a sub-contract to Franklin and Marshall College.
I now watch these exciting developments from the perspective of an associate dean of the faculty. Even though I am now an administrator, I am fortunate to have been able to continue teaching my first-year seminar, and I hope that as Associate Dean I will be able, however modestly, to help nurture our initiatives in public health and health policy.
Full text of the Tuberculosis model is available online at: Tuberculosis Model Course