When SPH faculty member Kevin Lane was approached five years ago to teach a class for the then-new Population Health Exchange (PHX) at BU School of Public Health, he was excited for the opportunity but somewhat apprehensive at the same time.
He was a brand-new SPH faculty member, having just been promoted from a post-doc research position. At the time, virtually all his classroom work had been focused on traditional students. He had yet to teach online. But the idea of working with non-traditional students from a variety of professional backgrounds interested him.
“I was excited about the opportunity,” says Lane, a GIS mapping specialist. “It was a different kind of group. It was more like presenting an intensive workshop at a scientific conference.”
Lisa Sullivan, Associate Dean for Education at SPH, and a professor of Biostatistics, was teaching academic courses at the time PHX opened for business in 2017. She found a similar experience as Lane. “It was way more satisfying,” she says, of her initial teaching experience with PHX. “There was a lot of energy in the room.”
Lane and Sullivan’s experiences were typical of the reactions of the initial team who helped create PHX as the School of Public Health’s lifelong learning initiative.
One big difference today is that early programs were presented in a traditional, classroom setting, while many of PHX’s classes are now offered online, or in a hybrid version. Neither Sullivan nor Lane had ever taught online before working with PHX. Today, both are veteran online instructors who have not only taught online for PHX, but also now in their SPH classes as well.
“Working with PHX for the past 5 years made me much more comfortable and eager to jump online,” says Lane. “Now I have taught fully online classes. Without my PHX opportunity, I would have been much more hesitant.”
And working with PHX has expanded their teaching styles in often surprising ways.
“My biggest learning? Teaching in-person, I knew where students would get tripped up,” explains Sullivan. “Online, you have to be more proactive and always have to be relevant.”
Among the biggest rewards for the faculty members who worked with PHX then and now has been the consistent exposure to working public health professionals in a non-traditional setting. This has turned out to have some unexpected benefits – including new research opportunities and grants.
“Working with PHX has given me a unique insight into how GIS is being used by professionals in the field,” explains Lane, who has been working with former students on a Massachusetts DPH grant researching and mapping COVID-19 hotspots. “I can understand where the field is going. We both get something out of it.”
Sera Bonds, an MPH alum and PHX instructor, agrees: “The feedback that I received from participants was that this kind of content (digital fundraising), isn’t taught in classrooms during our public health education.”
All faculty say the ongoing growth of PHX has been amazing to witness and be part of during the past five years.
“Everything has gone further by a huge order of magnitude, says Sullivan. “The volume, scope, and reach are incredible. I could never have imagined what you guys (PHX) are doing today.”
“Lifelong learning takes many forms, and the range of options help us reach people near and far,” reflects Leslie Tellalian, Assistant Dean of Lifelong Learning. “Learning on your schedule is important to us. Similarly, we prioritize students working closely with our outstanding faculty in developing proficiency. We want to ensure you have a robust learning experience, interacting in meaningful ways with teachers and peers.”
PHX offers non-credit, competency-based, continuing education programs through our Summer and Winter Institutes. In addition, PHX is supporting SPH broadly with the roll-out of our online-MPH curriculum, and there is much more to come. While the past two years have been challenging for everyone, accessible and high-quality public health learning opportunities online have never been more relevant.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, PHX launched a free, online mini-MPH to provide foundational knowledge in public health to all interested learners. PHX also expanded the lifelong learning pipeline by revamping the PopHealthExperience, a summer youth program for rising 10th – 12th graders that introduces a new audience of young learners to public health. Through the PopHealthExperience, PHX seeks to engage and train the next generation of public health leaders. Later this year, we will also host the first annual Health in Focus Film Festival. The mission of the festival is to improve the health of populations by pairing compelling visual stories with thoughtful discussion.
It has been a great five years. We have enjoyed all of the idea sharing, community building, and feedback we have received. We are committed to advancing your learning, offering new skill and topic areas, and innovating with programs and technology. So, please join us for a few days of online skill-building with our expert faculty, participate in a webinar over a lunch break, or listen to the Free Associations podcast while out for a run. Sign up for our newsletter and join our community of lifelong learners!