Students University

Augusta University students to save the world, virtually

Students at Augusta University will soon be saving the world from a deadly and rapidly-spreading outbreak, albeit virtually.

Dr. Jessica Schwind, an assistant professor in the Medical College of Georgia Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, has designed a new way to teach her Introduction to Epidemiology course – through the lens of a virtual pandemic that her students must learn to stop.

Schwind admits that some of the nuts and bolts of epidemiology can be dull. “My students are traditionally pretty excited after the first lecture when I tell them about how we can affect public health with epidemiology,” she says of the branch of medicine that studies patterns, causes and effects of health and disease conditions in defined populations. “But then I break out the statistics formulas and their eyes glaze over. I am passionate about the field and I knew I had to find a better way for that to come through to my students.”

Her solution was to modify the course, which was largely taught online through recorded lectures available in Desire2Learn, the university’s online learning management system. But she wondered how the program’s standard format could be modified in a different and engaging way.  “I had seen apps out there, like the CDC Outbreak app, that made epidemiology interesting and were interactive, so I knew there was a way to do it,” Schwind says. “And so began my pursuit to break away from the template.”

The pursuit began in March. This January, she and a cross-campus team will debut the updated STAT 8130 course. The web-based course is designed around a mysterious outbreak that starts in Augusta, and it’s spreading quickly. “My students are going to save the world through what they learn in this course,” Schwind says.

Some interesting features of the course include “Nick,” a virtual assistant who gives students weekly missions and quizzes and acts as an assessment tool; an interactive outbreak map so students can see how the mystery virus is spreading; and an Epiguide or field guide, which presents the course material in an interesting way. The site also integrates relevant library resources to help students assess the epidemic’s status.

Schwind will have weekly “staph” (pun intended) meetings that provide students a chance to get together to go over the basics and walk through the coursework as a group. “Those provide me with a chance to check on the students and make sure people are feeling engaged and learning the material,” she says.

The “outbreak-themed” course would have never become a reality without the work of a team from multiple departments across campus, Schwind says. Team members include Ashley Cullum, instructional design manager, Jeff Mastromonico, director of Instructional Design and Development, Aaron Burkhart,  web & multimedia developer, and Kathy Davies, associate director for research for Augusta University Libraries.

“What we hope is that this course can provide a good start for others who want to teach in a new and exciting way,” Cullum says. “Anyone on campus can use these tools to set up their own unique approach to a course.”

The STAT 8130 preview website along with a preview trailer can be viewed at outbreak.jaguware.com. The course is open to any graduate student.

About the author

Jennifer Hilliard Scott

Jennifer Hilliard Scott is Senior Communications Coordinator at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. Contact her to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at 706-721-8604 or jscott1@augusta.edu.