The Elevate Fellowship by the Numbers

February 17, 2017

Six School of Public Health faculty members have been named Elevate Fellows for 2017, way up from just one SPH professor last year. 

Drs. James Butler (Behavior and Community Health, BCH), Typhanye Dyer (Epidemiology and Biostatistics, EPIB), Dylan Roby (Health Services Administration, HLSA), Natalie Slopen (EPIB), Faika Zanjani (BCH), and Jing Zhang (EPIB) are all in the process of transforming one of their large-format undergraduate courses into a more dynamic, student-centered experience. 

Elevate Fellows are chosen by the Teaching and Learning Transformation Center from schools and departments all over the campus. They attend a total of 16 weekly workshops and seminars to guide them through the process of rethinking and redesigning their courses, applying research to create active teaching and learning environments.

“The kids get bored, I get bored when I lecture,” Dr. Faika Zanjani said. Dr. Zanjani teaches HLTH 244, a broad overview course on public health and aging issues. “I want to make it more fun.” She tells a story of a seven-year-old who was present at one of her lectures, and afterwards said to her, “In my school, we do all the work. In your school, you do all the work.” Dr. Zanjani was struck by the truth of this as it applies to traditional lecture hall courses, with a lecturer presenting materials while students passively listen. 

She recalls her own favorite college professors, who would show up with no books and no notes, and just talk, engaging everyone in the room. “I want to create that kind of essence,” she said. “I would love to somehow give that back.”

Dr. James Butler will redesign his undergraduate “Personal and Community Health” course (HLTH 140). In its current form, HLTH 140 is an introduction to the meaning and significance of physical, mental and social health. The class draws 150-200 students per semester from 30+ majors. This semester the class is “somewhat business as usual,” Dr. Butler says. However, he is introducing a service component to the class as part of a departmental effort to fold more service work into the curriculum. 

Dr. Butler has paired up with Comfort Cases, an organization that provides children in foster care with basic toiletry supplies packed in small suitcases. He explains that children in foster care have to move from home to home, often on short notice. “Here’s a child who is in a home, and at 9:00 at night, they have to move. In a plastic bag. A trash bag.” 

Each student in HLTH 140 this semester will put together a basic set of supplies and a blanket for a foster child, and pack them in a suitcase or duffel bag. They will also each write a personal letter addressed to the child receiving the suitcase. The CEO of Comfort Cases, who experienced the foster care system himself, will come and address the students. Dr. Butler is also considering the idea of having students “experience the indignity of this trash bag” by carrying their own belongings in one for some period of time. 

And this is before he uses the techniques he learns as an Elevate Fellow to transform the class.

The five School of Public Health faculty members will complete their Fellowship coursework during 2017, and will roll out their transformed courses in the Spring 2018 semester.

Dr. Natalie Slopen hopes to apply what she learns as an Elevate Fellow to the growing student population in the Public Health Science major. “I was excited about the Elevate program because this is my first time teaching a large course, and I want to learn about active and student-centered learning in a large course format.” 

Dr. Slopen said that it’s easier to engage students in smaller seminar courses, but the enrollment in EPIB 301, “Epidemiology for Public Health Practice”, is exploding. “Last year, when I taught it, it had 30 people. Then it had 70 people. This spring it has 150 people, and next fall 200!”

Dr. Slopen and Elevate Fellow Dr. Typhanye Dyer both teach this course, and Dr. Slopen said they have three goals: to improve the incorporation of active and student-centered learning, to design projects geared toward students’ personal interests, and to increase the use of case studies and case-based learning. “That is considered to be a gold standard within public health education,” she said.

“For a lot of us, we are very used to learning through the traditional lecture format, so the challenge as a faculty is to be instructors in a way that we never experienced ourselves,” Dr. Slopen said. “Evidence shows students learn so much more and retain more if you can incorporate more of these techniques. We really want to ensure that we make it as good as possible for the students.”

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Typhanye V. Dyer, Natalie Slopen, James Butler III, Dylan H. Roby, Faika Zanjani, Jing Zhang