Meaningful Assignments That Live Beyond the Classroom

July 13, 2017
Meaningful Assignments That Live Beyond the Classroom

As midterm season passed and the end of the Spring 2017 semester was in sight, students in Professor Sue J. Goldie’s course “Global Health Challenges: Complexities of Evidence-Based Policy,” offered both at Harvard College and Harvard Extension School, were told that they would be spending the second half of the semester learning about, proposing, and executing final projects on a global health topic of their choosing. These projects would consist of two components: a problem analysis and a problem-inspired product. The problem analysis was a short, conventional report that should demonstrate an understanding of the health conditions, underlying determinants, and possible responses to the health problem they chose to study.

For the problem-inspired product (PIP), students could choose from three main categories of projects, all meant to engage with and respond to their chosen health problem, such that the project could be of use beyond just helping the students complete the course requirements. For their PIPs, students could choose to prepare a policy brief, a multimedia campaign product, or a letter of intent or innovation pitch. A policy brief is a two- or three-page document, targeted at a policymaking audience, with key information (delivered via both text and visual representations) about the chosen health problem, how it affects a population of interest, options for response, and one specific policy recommendation. A multimedia campaign product could take the form of a video, poster, podcast, or any other medium that could effectively deliver a message about public health. Students had to select and gear their product towards a specific audience who would benefit from learning about the health problem of interest. Some students even included suggestions for how the consumer of their product could take action to help prevent or respond to the health problem. Finally, a letter of intent or innovation pitch was a short proposal directed at a potential sponsor, such as a foundation or development agency. Many students chose this option for their PIPs and suggested innovative solutions to the health problems they had analyzed.

The resulting student projects ranged widely in format and topic. Some examples include:

  • “Mind Your Head”: An informative video made by Cole Durbin to spread awareness about traumatic brain injury and how to recognize, prevent, and respond to it.
  • “HIV: The Unknown Epidemic Gripping the Russian Federation”: A blog post written by Meg Zakar as a follow-up to the research she conducted for her final project, which was a podcast to encourage listeners to get tested for HIV. The post was published by the Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice in Russia.
  • Food packaging podcast: A short podcast or radio segment made by Stephanie Chan that advocates for labeling that states the exercise equivalent of eating a particular food item.
  • “From Violence to Violence: Addressing Intimate Partner Violence among Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon”: A policy brief by Cayanne Chachati.

In order to manage this innovative final assignment, course staff and additional staff from the Global Health Education and Learning Incubator (GHELI) prepared detailed student guidelines for the problem analysis and each of the PIPs. Teaching Fellows (TFs) also received training in how to prepare students to complete their projects and how to grade each component of the assignment. Students completed scaffolding activities during the second half of the course in weekly assignments and discussion sections, aided by the TFs.

Now that the semester is over, those students who wish can take their projects and disseminate them beyond the course. GHELI staff communicating with each student to see if they would like support in spreading or publishing their work, either by sending their work to a relevant organization which could make use of it or by including it as an educational public good in GHELI’s online resource repository.