A. Sanchez-Anguiano, S. Srinivasan, C. Montoya

College of Public Health. University of South Florida (UNITED STATES)
One of the recognized advantages of courses taught in class is the possibility of organizing discussions that will exercise the critical thinking of the students and also improve their ability to express their ideas.

Once a course is set to be transformed to an online platform, the most important challenge is finding ways for students to continue their communications with each other. In a course about epidemiological research methods for studying infectious diseases, it is of the primordial importance that students do not lose the opportunity of expressing their ideas and thoughts around the subject matter. They need to continue exercising their critical skills, and improving the ways they express ideas and make synthesis and evaluation of the multiple topics and conclusions being drawn.
In this course, with assistance from an Educational Technology and Assessment office and lead Course instructional designer, the professor decided to use an online blog for supporting communication. In googling the term, blog, the informal definition is, “a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group that is written in an informal or conversational style”. A blog is a chronicle of thoughts over an extended period of time.

In this course the blog is much more than that. Students use blogs in every module and maintain their postings for the whole semester. The idea is to observe and analyze an ongoing dialogue regarding issues raised in each module. Thanks to blogs, not only do the students make progress in their critical reasoning skills, knowledge, expression of ideas, but also show evidence in the progression on skills which can be monitored by the instructor or teaching assistant.

One important advantage in an online course over an in-class course is that everyone should participate. Grading Rubrics are developed so students know what is expected and outcomes are clearly defined. Skills such as critical thinking, rich content and insightful, clear connections to ideas learned from lectures, new concepts, timeliness, style and grammar are all assessed. Because these are also response blogs the timeliness, clarity and substance with length, quality and relevance are also graded.

Examples of blog uses within this course are student introductions, analysis of epidemiological lectures and the methods used, ethics, surveillance, vaccine safety, critical review of movies on pandemics, discrimination and racism, vector borne disease around the world, behavioral risk factors in the transmission of infectious diseases and the development of mathematical models of diseases.

Another important and crucial use of the blogs is the work in groups. They discuss topics such as nosocomial infectious and end up elaborating a brochure from that discussion. Another group project that a blog is essential for is the discussion and elaboration of a memo that could change policy in public health.

In conclusion, blogs are important tools used to assessment student outcomes and are important pedagogical innovations in education. Its use and effectiveness in online courses is clearly demonstrated in this course with students exceeding expectations and meeting learning outcomes.