Spring 2015 was Alison Oberne’s first semester teaching Public Health Seminar: Communications in the Digital Age, and she can barely contain how much she enjoyed the experience.
In the course, students explore a variety of related skills and develop communication strategies on topics of their choosing, with the proviso that the topics are public health-related.
“Some of their topics are not ones that I necessarily would have selected, but students are free to explore as long as they use reputable references and sources,” said Oberne, who is an instructor in the Department of Undergraduate Studies at the USF College of Public Health. “The topics they chose really run the gamut, from maternal and child health to mental health to drug use and abuse to nutrition.”
“My experience in Communications in the Digital Age this semester has been one filled with more creative freedom than I have ever had the opportunity to use in all of my time as a public health major,” said senior Laurie Brutus. “All of our assignments allowed us to focus on developing a communication skill and to demonstrate that skill through different communication media.”
Their methods of presentation were as varied as the subject matter, Oberne said.
“They did speeches and posted them on YouTube,” she said. “They’ve posted tweets about their topics. They’ve written letters to the editor. I had some of them, for extra credit, submit them to the newspaper. I have one student who just had hers published on Friday, which is very exciting.”
But, Oberne said, her favorite part of the class was one of the last.
“For their last assignment, they created infographics. So, we learned all about infographics – what they are, how they are constructed – and they have applied their research to developing infographics.
“An infographic,” she elaborated, “is an interesting way of providing information to the reader without being heavily text-based. It’s a combination of graphics, text and images in an effort to try to communicate information easily and quickly. The main focus in developing infographics is to be attentive to content first. Comprehension of the information is everything.”
After that, she said, comes creating something that is appealing and engaging.
“The students went through a multi-step process,” she explained. “They did sketches to lay out their ideas to storyboard. In addition to learning about the mechanics of an infographic, they learned about the resources that are available on campus for them, because I think students sometimes don’t make those connections.
“So, I had the director from the digital media commons come and speak to the class. Digital media commons is an office on campus on the first floor of the library that provides services, tools and media resources for students to help in completing their class assignments, and I encouraged the class to actually use the services that are available to them.”
Evidently, they did. The highlight event, Oberne said, was a mini-symposium in the classroom, a golden opportunity for students to display something impressive. They did not disappoint.
“I was just impressed beyond belief with their skills and capabilities,” she said, “especially because this was foreign to every single student in the class. None had ever completed an assignment of this nature.”
“This particular assignment taught me that there is a way to effectively merge the worlds of graphic design and research in an appealing way,” Brutus said. “My topic in particular, sexual violence against military women, seemed very daunting and heavy at first. When I created my infographic, I was able to use a mixture of images, colors and text to turn what was once disheartening news into an empowering and engaging message.”
So impressive are those first infographic efforts that Oberne wants to be sure she isn’t the only one who gets to appreciate them. Accordingly, she has posted a dozen of them in front of the bulletin board outside of the undergraduate studies office.
Oberne said she also is urging her students to move beyond the classroom assignment by putting their creations to real-life application on and off campus.
“For example, this infographic is talking about MRSA,” she said while holding up an impressive-looking page. “I’ve talked to the student who created this and encouraged her to talk to residence life to try to promote how to get the message out to the larger student community. I want them to take these skills and see the broader impact.”
Delving into a new means of disseminating information was a challenge for teacher and students alike, Oberne said, but well worth the extra effort.
“They’re used to writing research papers, so this really put them outside of their comfort zone,” she said. “But they learned so much in the process.”
“The best part about creating an infographic,” Brutus said, “is that you can tap into a different side of yourself and use skills that you may not have been able to find use for in a field full of data and research like public health. I didn’t realize there was a way to blend my love for design and imagery with skills in public health research and writing. Creating this infographic has opened my eyes to a whole new way of disseminating information, changing minds and impacting social change.”
Story by David Brothers, College of Public Health.