Public health science communication is back

Yes, Public health science communication is back again – and in more than one way. First of all, after a way too long time of silence on this blog – Public Health Science Communication 2.0 – I intend to be a bit more active in the time to come. There are lots of good articles, blog posts and experiences from the past couple of months to follow-up on, and now a bit more time to do so.

Public health science comm pageThe other public health science communication which is back soon (takes off from early February) is the short Masters course ‘Public Health Science Communication’ at the Institute of Public Health Sciences, University of Copenhagen. In the fall of 2012 I was given the opportunity to develop and teach the course (read more about it here) to students of public health sciences. However, being located in Bonn and busy with many other things in the spring to come the course will now – in a new and great version II – be orchestrated by my colleague from Medical Museion, Associate professor Louise Whiteley. Louise has a Masters in Science Communication from Imperial College London and is one of the coolest people I know in Science Communication. She was a great help in developing the first version of the Masters course Public Health Science Communication, so version II will surely be great.

I would have loved to take on the course myself, but am happy that I get to teach one session on Public health risk communication. It’s a topic I have always found super interesting so it fits me well. My younger sister Caroline has enrolled in the course, which means that I will get to teach my own sister. A bit surreal, but hopefully someone who can give me some unfiltered feedback.

Anyhow, it is great to be back on the blog and I look forward to blog away, with my posts also featuring on Medical Museion’s great website.


Creating a niche of public health science communication

When you sit in your own little world working on your things, it can be hard to assess how all the different loose ends relate to each other and whether there is any direction and overall frame for what you do. But then an external observer (in this case a journalist) comes along, interviews you for 45 minutes, based on which he picks 7 quotes and writes a short article. And Voila! All of the sudden it sounds like you are super focused, which you probably are, it’s just see hard to see for yourself.

This is what happened to me recently. I agreed to act as a ‘case’ for a journalist writing an article about the opportunities in Denmark to get government support for taking additional education. When I chose to do a one-year degree in Journalism, I was so lucky to be approved for SVU (the State’s Adult Education Support) which meant a monthly allowance during my studies equal to 80% of unemployment support.

The article was published this week in the magazine of the The Association of Danish Lawyers and Economists (and lots of other academics, including people with degrees in Public Health Sciences). Its in Danish, which may prevent lots of my readers to read it, but none the less: below is the article (you can also read it on page 26-27 in DJØFbladet).

DJOEF

What was pleasant for me to read was that the journalist, based on our talk actually assessed that I had created a niche for myself:

“Today, Nina has created a niche for herself where she mixes the methodologies from both of her tool boxes [public health sciences and journalism & communication, edit], when she communicates in her field or teaches at the Faculty of Health [at University of Copenhagen]”.

A field of Public Health Sciences and communication, or Public Health Science Communication. The sound of it feels right to me, and I guess its time to embrace and articulate the niche more to myself and in my introduction of myself to others. I guess it also shows that I wasn’t completely off, when I some time back chose the to name this blog Public Health Science Communication 2.0.


More disaster management & social media

Sometimes opportunities presents themselves out of the blue. When I was asked to give a lecture on social media in emergency settings at the Master of Disaster Management at University of Copenhagen, I didn’t quite feel like an expert on the topic (as I wrote about in an earlier post). But it did not take much research to realised that the combination of social media and disaster/emergency management is super interesting and an example of how social media can play a role in saving lives. It doesn’t get much more public health relevant than that.

Both preparing for the lecture and teaching was a good experience, and I feel I managed in the 3×45 minutes available to get around the topic in a comprehensive way – although with that time frame it can only be an introduction. In addition, I got great feedback from the students who, coming from all over the world, had different experiences with dealing with disasters, which they could contribute with in the discussions.

programme

Since I couldn’t assume students to be familiar with social media for other than private purposes, I chose to allocate some time to introduce social media before going into examples of its use in disaster and emergency situations. For those interested, I thought I’d just share the programme with you:

More than communicating a message

Social Media & Crisis Comm: A Whole New Game

Social Media & Crisis Comm: A Whole New Game

In my experience the first (and sometimes only) thing that comes people’s mind when they think of what social media can be used for in emergency settings is dissemination of information and messages to the public. Social media are simply categorized as yet another communication channel equal to radio, tv etc. But as it is well illustrated in the YouTube video on the right (click the picture) it is much more than that.

With this experience it was important for me in my lecture to highlight some of the other key functions of social media in disasters. Below are 4 broad categories for the potential use of social media in emergency situations. There are surely other ways social media can be used and as said the four below are quite broad and thus covers lots of sub-functions.

  1. Disseminate disaster information to the public by governments, emergency management organisations, and disaster responders
  2. Share disaster information with the aim of having journalists and others pick it up so that it can be further disseminated to the affected members of the public
  3. Communicate and enter into dialogue with the public, other institutions etc.
  4. Gather information about the emergency by monitoring the situation, identifying areas of need and picking up rumours and misunderstandings.

Safe & Well

One advantage of teaching (and of blogging) is that you get so much feedback and suggestions for new things to read, websites to visit etc. I thought I’d share two of these tips with you. The first is a website that a student in the class recommended. It is called Safe & Well and is provided by the American Red Cross. The idea is that after a disaster, people in the affected area can through this website let their family and friends know that they are safe and well. By clicking the button “List Myself as Safe and Well” you register on the site. Relatives can then search the list of those who have registered themselves as “safe and well” by clicking on the “Search Registrants” button. The results of a successful search will display a loved one’s first name, last name and a brief message.

Facebook and extreme weather events

The posts on this blog are double-posted on the Medical Museion’s website and there my previous post on social media and disaster management was commented by a researcher from Aarhus University, Andreas Birkbak, who had authored an interesting article about the use of Facebook for informal emergency collaboration during a snow blizzard on the Island of Bornholm in Denmark. A very interesting article that I might use next time I teach. Read the article your self: Crystallizations in the Blizzard: Contrasting Informal Emergency Collaboration In Facebook Group. Thanks for sharing it on the blog, Andreas!

Take home messages

As said, I have quickly come to find social media and disaster management is a very interesting topic and I have a feeling I’ll continue digging deeper into it. This will probably result in more posts on the topic here on this blog, so I think I’ll stop for now. As I ended my lecture I will also end this blog post – with four take home messages:

  • Social media is there in the world and will be used in disaster situations whether you like it or not – you can’t afford to disregard it!
  • Social media can (and should) be used for much more than dissemination – take advantage of its possibilities to monitor and get into dialogue!
  • Social media is not just a tool for you – it is also a tool for the people affected by the disaster – victims as well as relatives
  • When working with disaster management don’t hold back from social media because you’re afraid of making mistakes, because you will make mistakes – just make sure you learn from them!

Social media and disaster management

Social media and public health is a diverse field, and there is always some new corner to explore! These days I am increasing my knowledge on the use of social media for disaster management and coordination. The reason for this is that I next week will be giving a lecture on the topic to students at the Master of Disaster Management at University of Copenhagen.

It has been exiting to dig into a new field and to experience how social media really presents great new opportunities, but of course also new challenges. Since I haven’t previously worked specifically with disaster management, I choose a few weeks ago to ask my Twitter followers for help on finding good literature and resource people in the field. And once again, Twitter didn’t let me down.Tweet

Blogs, website and hashtags

I got a lot of great inputs to blogs, websites, Twitter chats, hashtags and people to follow and hook up with on Twitter (a big thank you to all of you who responded!).

The blogs are a good starting point, especially since most of them offer great links to other resources. The most helpful so far have been the website/blog Social Media 4 Emergency Management. From here there is access to wikis, archives of Twitter chats (#smemchat), videos, blogs etc. on social media and emergency management. The only ‘problem’ with the website is that there is almost too much information.

Another super helpful resource is the blog idisaster2.0 (primarily run by @kim26stephens). It have lots of informative blog posts as well as a good bibliography of selected academic and government resources on social media and emergency management.

Own experiences with disasters and social media?

When I was asked to give the lecture, I hesitated for a moment, because what did I know about emergencies and disasters? Apart from my solid knowledge of social media in public health, including some superficial insight into its role in disasters, I had never had anything to do with disasters or least of all experienced it… However, the later is not true, I quickly realised. I have actually to some extend been in an emergency setting and I have in fact experienced the role of social media in a disaster situation.

Earthquake in Japan in 2011

japan earthquake

I was in Japan, when the big earthquake, subsequent tsunami and finally the Fukushima nuclear plant crisis occurred in March 2011. Being relatively far from the epicenter of the disaster (I was based in Kobe in the Kansai region), I wasn’t directly surrounded by flooded buildings, elevated radiation risks or other immediate danger. But I was surrounded by potential danger, by worried friends and family in Denmark and by Japanese friends and colleagues with close relatives in the affected areas.

helpjapannowLooking back on my Facebook timeline, I can now see how social media actually played an important role for me during the emergency. I used Facebook to assure others that I was okay and kept them updated on my situation. I started following the Danish Embassy in Japan’s Facebook page through which they several times daily shared information about risks, advice on how to act and the organisation of potential evacuation. I encourage the mobilization of emotionally and financial support to Japan by sharing links and QR-codes. And I experienced how a Japanese colleague of mine after days of no contact with her sister living in Sendai where the tsunami hit, finally through Facebook got in contact and found out that her and her were safe…

So yes, I have actually experienced a disaster, and experienced how social media can be used in this kind of situation. I plan to share my experiences as a case with the students next week and hope that this real life experience can contribute to the understanding and some discussions.

Your help

Although I already got great tips from people on Twitter, I am still the happy receiver of inputs on social media and emergencies/disaster management. Suggestions on discussion topics, assignments or any other ideas on how to involve the students are more than welcome as are links to guidelines, scientific articles etc.


Experiences with teaching Public Health Science Communication

On my list of things to do writing a blog post about my experiences with teaching Public Health Science Communication to graduate students at the University of Copenhagen has been high-up for a while. However, moving to Bonn, Germany and other minor things have somehow managed to overrule the writing of this post. But its time – also to avoid the experiences being stored too far back in my mind to be brought forward.

So how did it go? Did the students find it useful? What went well? Would I repeat a course like this again? And if so, what would I do differently? There are lots of questions to answer, so I thought I’d go through them one by one.

How did it go?

Overall, I think it went quite well. At least all students passed and it wasn’t criticized apart by the students. I’d even like to think that the students learned something new and useful. And just as important: I learned a lot! Both about science communication in relation to public health and about teaching public health science communication.

Did the students find the course useful?

It is very often difficult to get a clear impression of whether students found a course useful or not, and the fact that only few students filled in the online evaluation questionnaire and that only about half of the class attended the last module, where we did a short oral evaluation of the course, makes it even more difficult. However, based on the students who did participate in the evaluation I think it would be alright to conclude that the students on the whole were happy with the course. From the online evaluation most of them indicated that the study objectives of the course were met (and I assume they to some extend joined the course on the basis of these), and they rated their overall study-relevant benefit as ‘very good’ or ‘good’. I was also very happy to see that a most of the students who filled in the online evaluation found the course very relevant to their general Public Health education.

From the oral evaluation the comments were also in general positive. The students expressed that it had in many ways been a very different course, with much less hardcore theory than many of their other graduate courses. Some also mentioned that the fact that the centre of attention to a much higher degree than in other courses had been on themselves as individuals and researchers, had been interesting but at the same time a challenge. They expressed that they were more used to focus on the objective of Public Health, which is usually the public and not so much on their own role in this. I found this interesting, and recalling my own time as a Public Health student it is true that it was rarely about ourselves and our current and future roles in public health (one could talk about our subjective role), but much more about all the other players in public health, of course including the public itself.

examAnother thing I found interesting, was that when asked about the syllabus, the students in general seemed happy with the selected literature, except many of them expressed that they found the blog posts too chatty and recommend them taken out in future courses. I myself had put a lot of thought into allowing different kinds of literature. In part to illustrate that science communication is not just about text books and peer-reviewed journals. I guess they as university student have by now just been a little brainwashed to prefer good old scholarly texts over the more ‘chatty’ and personal writing styles…

What went well?

videnskab.dkMedical museionIn my own opinion, many things went well. The balance between having myself as the main lecturer and having great guest lectures (thank you to them!) was good (I taught about half of the modules). It also worked well and was a good change to get out of the class room and go on field trips. One to Videnskab.dk, a Danish popular science news website, and to Medical Museion.

I’m happy also that I chose to make a compendium rather than assigning a textbook. Partly due to the fact that there isn’t yet a book out there on Public Health Science Communication, but also because it was good to be able to through different kinds of texts to illustrate the many forms of science communication.

Another things I found was successful was trying to use as many real life examples. Ranging from case studies (although it would have been nice to have more), to YouTube clips, podcasts, blogs etc.

Despite some worrying comments from some of the participants prior to finishing the exam, I also think that the task of writing an introductory chapter on Public Health Science Communication worked well. Some students expressed that they found that an exam more focused on actually trying to communicate a specific public health challenge would have been more appropriate and useful instead of what they regarded being an assignment to refer theory of science communication. I (of course) tend to disagree. Writing an introductory chapter on Public Health Science Communication is also an example of communicating a scientific field – it just happened to be a field (and a way of thinking) that was new to them.

What would I do differently? 

It is funny what time does. Looking back at the course now, with some months having passed, I have a hard time recalling all the things I would have changed. Because at one point I thought there were many. However, some do come to mind:

I think I would have tried to include more real life examples of science communication – both good and bad examples, and perhaps have challenged the students to analyse both and suggest why they worked and why the didn’t.

Despite having the primary focus on the communicator (the public health professional) rather than looking at the receiver, I think I would in a future course try to incorporate a little more on how publics benefits from public health science communication, and perhaps try to allocate some more time to going through how one can become better at understanding and writing to a specific target group. This will present a different challenge, because the course is not a writing course.

Actually, I found the that finding a balance between being a course on principles, trends and theories in science communication and a writing, hands-on course quite difficult. I am sure that in a repetition of the course, this would again be a difficult balance to get right.

It’s always difficult to get students to discuss, but in a future course I’d try to make room for more discussion and student involvement. My own take-home message from teaching this course, is that I should keep in mind, that science communication is not an exact science and that I, despite being the teacher, does not have all the answers…

Would I repeat a course like this again?

Yes, I think I would. For many reasons. One, I thought it was fun and inspiring to teach. Second, I was confirmed in my belief that introducing public health students to the importance of science communication is very much relevant – if not essential. And finally, I learned a lot from the process and I would love to see how a version 2.0 of the course would go about.

Did I forget to mention something important in the post? Probably – but I promise to add them (or do an additional post) if and when things come to mind. I also welcome my students to share their views and correct me if I’m wrong, and I would be happy to answer questions from anyone interested in hearing more of my experiences with teaching Public Health Science Communication.

Public health science communication


Successful exam in Public Health Science Communication

All students passed!

Not only are the students who took the graduate class in Public Health Science Communication this fall semester probably relieved – so is the teacher! The exam was perhaps a test of the students knowledge but just as much was it test of how well they were taught.

examIt has been fun going through the exam papers. The assignment given to the students was to write a short introductory chapter on science communication for an imagined new textbook on Public Health Sciences targeted public health and medical students.

13 students handed in an exam paper and having never corrected exams before it felt all ceremonial seating myself at the desk equipped with a hot coffee, some cookies, a red pen (okay it wasn’t red, but blue actually) and with my critical glasses on. I must admit that it felt strange all of a sudden to be the one to pass judgement on other people’s work.

Luckily, I didn’t have to swing the sword very hard on any student, and as said all students passed. Some papers were of course better than others. On the Danish 7 points grade scale three students were given the top grade of 12. All three papers were so good that they could almost go straight into this imagined textbook. Despite being assigned the same grade they differed a lot, and it has been fun to see that there, as I told the students several times, is not one right way to complete the assignment.

Something that characterized the best exam papers was that they had taken the assignment of writing an introductory book chapter seriously. They had a good understanding of the targeted audience and many of them had used figures and tables to illustrate their points. Secondly, they had managed to have public health as a recurrent theme throughout the paper. Not all papers were equally good at this. For some the public health perspective felt like an added appendix and not as an integrated part of the chapter.

It was also great to see that even in the less good papers the students overall demonstrated a good understanding of the different models of science communication. I guess this is where the new teacher-side of me becomes particularly happy.

Having been a student myself and constantly heard repeated the importance of making sure that your exam papers are free from spelling mistakes, that they grammatically are correct and that you follow the formalities of the exam I can now confirm that this is important. The overall impression of a paper is just heavily influenced by the annoyance of typos, spelling mistakes etc.

All in all, I am very content with the outcome of the exam and with the assignment given in the exam. It was fun to do an exam that sort of had a foot in reality and could potentially be published in a book one day rather than having them write a paper which had me and the co-examinator as target audience.

Despite it being an exam (exams are rarely fun) I hope the students enjoyed writing this introductory chapter just a little bit. I at least enjoyed reading them!


Exam in Public Health Science Communication

Wow, I can’t believe time has passed so quickly. Next to me is a pile of exam papers completed by the students of the graduate course in Public Health Science Communication at the University of Copenhagen. I feel like I just had the first introduction module, but yet I am almost done reading all these papers.

Until the students have received their results I will of course not comment on the actually exam, but what I would like to do is to share the assignment which the students were given with you. The exam was done through a course paper, where the students were presented with the task already on the first day of the course. They have therefore had the opportunity to let it simmer in the back of their minds through out the course.

Course paper in Public Health Science Communication

Assignment: Write a short introductory chapter on science communication for an imagined new textbook on Public Health Sciences. The imagined textbook is directed both to public health students and medical students. The chapter should provide a broad overview of principles of science communication and explain the relevance of looking specifically at public health science communication.

Requirement: Reference needs to be made to at least 60% of texts in the syllabus. Other literature (book chapters, blogs, articles etc.) may also be included, with clear references.

Language: The course paper can be completed either in Danish or in English.

Maximum length: 1 student: 10 normal pages, 2 students: 16 normal pages, 3 students: 20 normal pages

Evaluation: The paper will be evaluated on a 7-points scale

Additional guidance

In addition, the students were given the following guidance:

  • The course paper should illustrate that you have obtained a broad understanding of the principles of public health science communication (not public health communication) and its many dimensions. This means that you know of different medias, different target groups and different objectives/motivations for communicating science.
  • Since a requirement for the exam is that you have to refer to at least 60% of texts in the syllabus, your job is to put the texts into play with each other and demonstrate how their content are relevant for public health science communication – please also feel free to include other references (articles, blog posts, illustrations, radio programmes) if you find that relevant and as long as the references are clearly indicated in the reference list.
  • Apart from living up to the reference requirements and from demonstrating that you have understood basic principles of science communication, the evaluation of your papers will include how you combine your knowledge of public health sciences with your knowledge about science communication.
  • As the assignment is to write and introductory chapter to science communication, you will of course not be able to go into very specific details, but how you weigh different themes, topics etc. is entirely up to you.
  • As for the form of the paper, there are no requirements, rights or wrongs. You may want to write an introductory chapter as you would like to read it yourself (the target group for the paper is yourself and other students of public health related sciences) or try out a new style.  You can choose to write academically, personally, journalistic, with a dash of humor. It is up to you. Please also feel free to include figure, boxes, pictures and other illustrations if you find it relevant for your text.
  • There is no ideal way to complete this assignment and no rights or wrongs when it comes to format, disposition, language or structure for the paper.
  • You are also free to choose what reference system you like, as long as they are clearly marked and complete.