Jones & Bartlett Learning Health Blog

    Guest Teachers from Afar– Teaching Global Health

    Posted by Cassie Peterson on Aug 27, 2012 11:27:10 AM

    Richard Skolnik – Author of Global Health 101

    Teaching global health in Washington, DC is a delight in many ways. Students in DC have a keen interest in Global Health. There are Global Health activities everywhere, all the time. In addition, it is easy to get friends from institutions involved in Global Health to guest teach for you. They can do their regular work before class, join you for lunch or coffee, guest teach, and then get back to their jobs at PAHO, the World Bank, or a host of other organizations.

    If you are teaching outside of Washington, DC, or a few other centers of Global Health, such as Atlanta, Boston, or London, however, then bringing guest teachers into your classroom may not be so easy. There may be few teachers at your institution who are engaged in Global Health research or practice. There may be few local organizations involved in Global Health. Even if you do have a budget to bring in guests, it may be difficult to convince potential guests that it is worth taking a day out of their busy schedule to join your class.

    Last semester, while teaching “Critical Issues in Global Health” at the Yale School of Public Health, a number of questions arose about getting guest speakers from other places to join my class. First, there were topics we planned to cover that I could not address with sufficient authority for a graduate school course. Second, it was important to expose my students to researchers and practitioners “at the top of their game” on some of the most important Global Health topics. Third, it was also essential that students got to see other teachers than me during an intensive three-hour class period. Yet, despite the need for it, I was reluctant to ask friends to come to New Haven, given their busy schedules and the time they would have to spend to get there.

    I had no choice but to try to bring my friends to the class remotely, which we did via Skype. After considering a variety of options for how we would manage the class with a remote guest speaker, we settled on the following, relatively simple, approach:

    • My teaching assistant and I briefed the guests on the aims of the class, how we would manage the connection and run the question and answer session, what we would do for back-up if needed, and how the guest teacher should act during the session, “as if they were in the room with us”
    • The guests sent their slides to us a few days in advance of the class – (or sometimes a few minutes before the class, of course!)
    • We circulated the slides to the students electronically
    • We connected my laptop to the room’s AV system and pointed my camera at the room
    • We broadcast the video of our guest onto a large screen at the front of the room and we broadcast the audio of the guest on an external speaker that was part of the room’s AV system
    • The students followed the presentation on their own computers, sometimes with several students sharing one computer
    • Students were asked to attend class prepared with questions for the guest. I moderated the question and answer session, repeating any questions that our guests could not hear – if the students, for example, were too far away from the microphone to be heard clearly through the Skype connection

    From a technology point of view, this arrangement worked very well. Yes, the audio got a little garbled from time to time. Yes, the pictures of our guests occasionally froze on the screen. However, these problems were always short lived and never interfered substantively with the class.

    None of my students had ever had classes in which so many guest teachers joined them via Skype and I was concerned that this approach might not be conducive to learning or might “turn off” some of the students. However, about one-third of the way through the course, we polled the students about their comments on this mechanism and almost all of the students thought it was working very well and giving them a chance to meet people from outside of the Yale community who they might never meet otherwise. The overwhelming majority of students remained appreciative of this approach as the course ended. Moreover, using this approach, we were able to have as guests a well-known economist from Delhi, the former Assistant Director General of WHO from London, as well as an array of speakers based in the US.

    I will be teaching four courses at Yale this year, three for undergrads and one for graduate students. I will be asking friends from Yale and outside to join some of my classes physically. In addition, I am now lining up a range of guest teachers to join my classes remotely.

    Even those who are relatively new to teaching global health should be able to find outstanding guest speakers from afar for your classes. You could approach potential guests directly or through the organizations with which they are affiliated, such as universities, USAID, or other development assistance agencies, or consulting firms that work on global health. You could seek introductions to such speakers through friends and faculty who may know them. You could also seek help in meeting potential guest speakers through some of the advocacy organizations that work on global health, such as RESULTS. Of course, the people you would like to be your guests may be very busy. Nonetheless, Global Health is a field to which people have deep commitments and I have found many people willing to help, despite lots of other things to do.

    In another blog, I will write about what I have learned about how to teach effectively when you are the one operating remotely.

    Richard Riegelman, Jared Augenstein, Victor Barbiero and Aaron Skolnik kindly offered comments on the draft of this blog.

    Richard Skolnik is a Lecturer at the Yale School of Public Health, where he teaches global health courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Richard was previously an Instructor in Global Health at The George Washington University, the Vice President for International Programs at the Population Reference Bureau, and the Executive Director of the Harvard School of Public Health PEPFAR program. Richard worked at the World Bank from 1976 to 2001, last serving as the Director for Health and Education for South Asia. Richard is the author of Global Health 101 a comprehensive, introductory text on global health.Richard Skolnik is a Lecturer in the Health Policy Department of The Yale School of Public Health and the author of Global Health 101. He has taught Global Health since 2001 and has more than 35 years of experience in global health and development work.

    Topics: Richard Skolnik, Global health

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