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ASPPH Presents: Strategies for Effective Teaching of a Target Skill to Undergraduate Public Health Students

Originally scheduled for the 2017 Undergraduate Summit for Public Health and Global Health Education, this webinar features three presentations:

  • Building Undergraduates’ Skills in Reading and Evaluating Research (presented by Corrie Paeglow, DrPH, MPH, George Mason University)
    • Learning objectives:
      • Develop a strategy to help undergraduate students read and evaluate public health research
      • Plan a series of assigned readings that are appropriate for building students’ skills in reading and evaluating public health studies
      • Formulate an assessment plan to measure students ability to read and evaluate research articles
  • Developing Undergraduate Research Skills through a Scaffolded Learning Process (presented by Laura Wheeler Poms, PhD, MPH, MA, George Mason University)
    • Learning objectives:
      • Formulate an integrated, curricular approach to developing undergraduate students’ research skills
      • Create signature assignments appropriate to the level of scholarly experience
  • Improving Written Communication of Quantitative Information (presented by Tracy Ruscetti, PhD, Santa Clara University)
    • Learning objectives:
      • Communicate quantitative information

Find out more about each presentation below.

Building Undergraduates’ Skills in Reading and Evaluating Research

Public health is an evidence-based discipline, making it vital to teach undergraduate public health students how to read and evaluate research articles. Often the biggest challenge is getting students to do the reading. They may also feel overwhelmed by the task of thinking critically about each section of a paper or be demotivated by papers that are of little interest to them or are overly complicated. I will present a comprehensive strategy for building undergraduates’ skills in reading and evaluating research articles. This begins with selecting a series of assigned readings that captures students’ interest and starts simply but grows in complexity as students’ skills develop. Students are taught about each section of the paper and how to read and understand it and encouraged to read the articles through a low stakes reading response assignment. Once students are able to understand the major points of a paper we move on to more complex topics, such as assessing its internal validity. I will present a simple tool that allows students to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each section of the paper. Finally, I will share how students’ achievement of these skills is assessed and present several examples of student work.

Developing Undergraduate Research Skills through a Scaffolded Learning Process

Public health is a discipline that is built on research and evaluation. It is imperative that undergraduate students develop these competencies so that they are prepared to enter the workforce with the appropriate analytical and critical thinking skills needed to be successful. We will present the successes and challenges experienced in redesigning our BS in Community Health curriculum to support a scaffolded approach to developing undergraduate research skills. We will detail the creation of courses focused on three levels of scholarly experience — discovery, inquiry and creation of scholarship – using a team based approach involving full time and adjunct faculty members and our librarian. We will discuss signature assignments focused on these three levels to ensure that all students share a common, sequential and appropriate pedagogical experience. We will share how we assess whether our student learning outcomes are met and provide data related to our assessment process. Implementation challenges, including working with an array of faculty members with different interests and teaching these courses across multiple sections, will be covered.

Improving Written Communication of Quantitative Information

Quantitative Reasoning (QR) is broadly defined as the competency to manipulate, evaluate, and communicate numerical data. We are particularly interested in developing students’ skills in written communication of quantitative information. The ability to communicate complex, quantitative data is important for Public Health students in a variety of contexts. This skill is specified in the Critical Component Elements of an undergraduate major in public health and has direct applications in fields from health education to health policy . Instructional support for undergraduate science writing focuses on the genre level (i.e., the general structure of a grant proposal or which elements belong in the introduction, results, or discussion of a research article). Despite this support, students continue to struggle to communicate their thought process particularly in the quantitative evidence that supports their interpretation of experimental data. We wanted to help students communicate quantitative information, but there were no sentence level resources to support this kind of writing. To build instructional resources at the sentence level, we decided to focus on comparative evidence statements (e.g., The incidence of X is 3 times higher than the incidence of Y). We found these types of statements, which we called quantitative comparative statements, are used in results sections of published research articles across all evidence-based disciplines, including public health. We defined the critical components, rules, and principles (syntax) of quantitative comparative statements. We developed student-centered activities to improve student writing of quantitative comparative statements and we developed a coding scheme (4C coding) to measure the syntax of those statements. We found that instructional support at the sentence level improved mean 4C scores by 37% (p <0.001). We also used 4C coding to measure individual components of a quantitative comparative statement and correlated those scores with targeted in-class writing interventions. Finally, we identified a negative correlation between 4C mean score and increasing contextual complexity, as measured by the amount of data being considered for a comparison. By defining the syntax of the quantitative comparative statement, we have developed a method for supporting science writing at the sentence level. We can use 4C coding to measure the effectiveness of instructional intervention and the impact of complexity on student writing ability.