Professor Sue J. Goldie Shapes the “Foundations for Public Health”

October 15, 2019
Professor Sue J. Goldie speaking in front of student audience.

The beginning of the school year is always full of energy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health—students with diverse backgrounds and experiences, arriving with curiosity, nervousness, and enthusiastic anticipation for the year ahead. Professor Sue J. Goldie, Faculty Director of the Global Health Education and Learning Incubator (GHELI), eased the Chan School’s incoming graduate cohorts into the beginning of this journey earlier in the summer with the launch of a new course—Foundations for Public Health (FPH). 

The genesis for an orientation course prior to the start of formal classes dates back to 2015, when Dean Julio Frenk identified the need for a common public health foundation for all incoming graduate-level students. Dean Frenk partnered with Professor Sue J. Goldie, and they worked closely for several months to conceptualize the core curriculum and develop the instructional materials—teaching it together in 2015. Goldie, together with support from GHELI, further enhanced the course in 2016.

This past year, Goldie was invited to re-think what the ideal “public health foundation” would be for incoming graduate students, and to design an instructional model in which content would be delivered in a largely online format in the summer prior to students’ arrival. Of note, the online format would be supplemented with an in-person case study session in the first week of school. Goldie established a core set of learning objectives—taking into account public health education accreditation criteria—and employed backwards design to develop the curriculum, create core content, experiment with different pedagogical approaches, and produce the final teaching materials. 

The development months were chaotic but energizing for Goldie and the GHELI staff! On any random day in May and June, the Incubator was teeming with palpable, vibrant, creative enthusiasm, with desks covered in camera equipment, colorful markers, dot paper, and diagrams. Ultimately, the instructional model produced consisted of four integrated modules: foundational principles of public health; diseases, injuries, and epidemiological trends; equity, human rights and social determinants; and societal responses through public health functions, health systems, and global governance. Each module contained three lessons, and each lesson consisted of 2-3 short videos, interactive “knowledge checks”, learning support materials, and assessment exercises. As is characteristic of Dr. Goldie’s interactive teaching style, she created a digital space that was informal, inclusive, and non-intimidating, often breaking down complex interdisciplinary content into “plain English words” and emphasizing core principles and fundamental concepts that would provide students with organizing cognitive constructs for the year ahead. Among the most novel components of the course was the multi-modal pedagogical approach—using multiple camera angles, real-time drawing, sketch-notes, and conceptual diagrams. Access the welcome video.

Given the online asynchronous delivery platform, Goldie felt a robust website for the course was integral—one that would support students with markedly diverse and heterogeneous backgrounds, and one that they could utilize as a “resource portal” for the entire year. Leveraging the Incubator’s experience with the GHELI educational repository, Goldie worked closely with GHELI staff to curate resources, tip sheets, data primers, glossaries and annotated bibliographies. After weeks of website design and resource curation, at the onsite orientation session in August, a tired but committed GHELI team made their way across the river to welcome the incoming cohorts and disseminate a host of educational support materials. And on this first day of orientation, Professor Goldie had the opportunity to meet the students face to face, synthesize and integrate core themes and concepts, and provide encouraging words for the year ahead. 

Reflecting on the course after it was over, Goldie described the collaboration between the school and GHELI as a testament to the ways that “creating, piloting, and incubating” multimodal instructional strategies have the capacity to transform the way we design learning experiences for our students. With these words in mind, the Incubator wrapped up a journey, while the incoming graduate students began a new one.