Learning by doing is a central tenet of the Community-Oriented Public Health Practice (COPHP) program at the University of Washington School of Public Health. More formally, the program’s teaching approach is called “problem-based learning.” Rooted in adult learning theory, problem-based learning requires students to actively engage in solving real problems.
Now COPHP faculty have published a book (available free online) to help other schools of public health incorporate the problem-based learning model that COPHP has refined over 16 years.
“Experiential Teaching for Public Health Practice: Using Cases in Problem-Based Learning,” edited by Drs. Ray “Bud” Nicola and Amy Hagopian, details the elements of a successful problem-based learning program and shows how the techniques can be used to teach core curricular content. The book, available for free download from Bentham eBooks, also includes extensive appendices to help implement this unique way of teaching.
“It’s very difficult to move from a lecture-based model into something that’s very active like problem-based learning,” said Dr. Nicola, an affiliate professor in the Department of Health Services who helped design the COPHP program. “It takes a lot of courage, and it takes some guidance. This book provides the guidance.”
Dr. Hagopian, associate professor of Health Services and Global Health, and director of the COPHP program, added: “We’d really like other schools to try this, and not just in public health. We think higher education should be moving in this direction.”
Students work together in small groups to design the steps needed to navigate the problems posed in the cases, which include both hypothetical examples drawn from actual public health situations and real projects for agencies and community groups. Students take turns facilitating the groups, so that they build essential skills working in and leading groups, and in interpersonal communications. Faculty mainly provide coaching and feedback, and strive to “keep their mouth shut while the students struggle,” Dr. Nicola said.
“If other schools want graduates who are fully confident in their ability to do a new job, who feel great about the training they’ve had and are willing to do anything to support the program afterwards,” they should consider adopting problem-based learning, Dr. Nicola said.
“Experiential Teaching for Public Health Practice” can be downloaded for free, and printed copies can also be purchased from publisher Bentham eBooks.
Book contributors include faculty from COPHP, the University of Washington Medical Center and Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, and the Washington State Health Care Authority.