Outbreak Investigation: An Immersive Approach to Online Course Design

Concurrent Session 5
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

Online learning environments are a key platform for teaching and learning, but they often try to simply recreate the classical in-person classroom. Our goal was to develop, implement and evaluate an immersive, online course where students are key players in a captivating epidemiologic outbreak investigation using a multidisciplinary team approach.  


Dr. Jessica Smith Schwind is an epidemiologist and public health program evaluator. Dr. Schwind joined the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at Augusta University in January 2015.
As Director of Instructional Design and Development for Augusta University, I lead a group of designers and developers that create mobile applications, educational games, multimedia and Instructional Design assets. I have over 20 years experience in design and development in both the business sector and in higher education.
I am responsible for directing the reference and instructional services provided by the Greenblatt Library for research and teaching faculty, students and staff. I perform comprehensive literature searches that incorporate evidence based practice searching techniques. I assist researchers in selecting appropriate information resources, developing effective search strategies and appraising the results to find quality evidence. is the embedded librarian for the Medical College of Georgia and serves on the Curriculum Oversight Committee. She creates curriculum for a library and research introduction and teaches first and second year medical students. She is currently working with colleagues to restructure the library/research class and integrate it with the bioinformatics component, with am Evidence-Based Medicine focus. Kathy has published peer-reviewed publications with both Augusta University and library faculty. Recent publications include creating online tutorials for medical education and a column on cultural competency resources.

Extended Abstract

Online learning environments have been a key platform for teaching and learning in the 21st century. However, many online courses simply try to recreate the classical in-person classroom with little adjustment for the unique characteristics associated with a web-based learning environment. When face-to-face and online learning environments were compared, face-to-face courses typically outperformed online courses on key measures, such as learner satisfaction with instructor and overall course quality. Several factors have been shown to influence student satisfaction with web-based learning, including course design, instructor facilitation and social interaction. With these findings in mind, limited research has examined learning outcomes in an online, immersive epidemiology course environment. Therefore, our goal was to develop, implement and evaluate a an immersive, online course and its ability to help transform the didactic learning experience of graduate students at a research university to an open learning approach where they are the key players in a captivating epidemiologic course narrative.


In order to accomplish this goal, a multidisciplinary team across various departments at the research university was established. From Information Technology Services, two instructional designers and a web & graphic designer led in the creation of a multimedia applications that encouraged meaningful learning while completely redesigning the current online learning environment for the graduate students. From Library Sciences, a research librarian assisted in the development of rich content and encouraged students to take advantage of resources, both on and off-campus. Finally, the course director served as the storyboard creator and primary content developer, which were guided by accepted epidemiology competencies from the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health. Throughout the curriculum, students gained first-hand knowledge of the power of community engagement and leadership as seen through the lens of a public health disaster. The online environment was built around case-based learning principles where students navigate through an infectious disease outbreak scenario using epidemiologic study design methods, statistical analysis techniques and critical thinking skills in order to prevent a catastrophic global pandemic from occurring.


Through this panel discussion, conference attendees will learn about the process of immersive, online course development from the perspective of different disciplines. This panel will facilitate the exchange of ideas, methods, and experiences related to online learning from the viewpoint of information technology, library sciences, and public health. Furthermore, this panel will discuss how innovative tools and methods can be utilized through a multidisciplinary team-based approach to create a rewarding online experience for graduate students by encouraging active participation as they navigate course content. Finally, findings from the course outcome evaluation will be discussed and will contribute to the growing body of literature regarding evidence-based practices for successful online learning, in public health education and beyond.