Many teachers of epidemiology find it boring to repeat the same basic facts again and again. It would be fine, if we could let students study until they are ready to ask questions that justify their parents' and/or the tax payers' investments in their education. Computer assisted learning programmes have been developed.1 Internet-based teaching is an option. Now we also have ActivEpi, which comes with a CD-ROM. Perhaps the time has come to reserve valuable teaching time for a dialogue between teachers and students.
ActivEpi is the best self-learning programme in epidemiology I have seen. It starts at a very basic level and takes students through design, measures of disease frequencies, bias, and confounding. The CD-ROM introduces the topics through educational and very short lectures. Throughout the book there are plenty of exercises, questions, and answers. The book as CD-ROM provides ample opportunities for the students to check if the authors' thinking has been understood, before they proceed to a new chapter. It is all very well done and it covers a curriculum suitable for a pregraduate course in epidemiology for, say, medical students. The CD-ROM even includes software for doing the analyses mentioned in the book and links to useful websites. Each topic is introduced by a short lecture, almost like a small prayer you can listen to five times per day, while you turn your head towards Atlanta.
The package cannot entirely replace the teacher. Only the more technical part of epidemiology is included. The discipline's history, its concepts, and its relation to modern medicine and public health are not given much attention. Many of the included technical aspects also need to be discussed, and many students can probably find other answers to the multiple question exercises they provide. Some of these alternative answers may be even better alternatives than those offered by the authors. Many would probably prefer to link design aspects of the case-control study to the measure of effect which the study is to estimate. There are also other aspects that could and should be debated.
Some of these problems are inherent in a book that aims at being easy to understand and to follow. Students, who like a technical approach to learning epidemiology, will find no better book on the market today.
1 Florey CdV. Computer-assisted learning-principles and practice. In: Olsen J, Saracci R, Trichopoulos D. Teaching Epidemiology. A Guide for Teachers in Epidemiology, Public Health and Clinical Medicine. Second Edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, pp. 351-58.
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