ActivEpi, the longstanding dream of Emory University Professor of Epidemiology David Kleinbaum, is now a reality. Under development for four years, ActivEpi is being billed as the first electronic textbook in CD-ROM that provides a multimedia interactive course on the fundamentals of epidemiology. Kleinbaum himself has called the new publication “by far the most unique and innovative educational text ever developed for epidemiology.”
In a private demonstration for the Epi Monitor, Kleinbaum displayed some of the numerous features of the new CD-ROM. It allows users to see and hear narrated video presentations on topics of interest such as famous outbreaks in epidemiology. It provides quizzes on material just covered with multiple-choice questions which users can check instantly for correctness. Sometimes presentations are interrupted to prompt users in midstream with questions about the material being discussed. Graphical elements help users visually to grasp concepts. Animation in tables and graphs help users to follow the lessons being explained by the narrator. Exercises are provided to test the knowledge being transmitted, and links to related resources on the web are included.
All in all, Kleinbaum says he is uncertain about the market for this new type of text, but he believes ActivEpi will be well received because it makes the material easier to learn, more interesting, able to be used in pieces rather than as whole chapters, and it reinforces the material better. Kevin Sullivan, an Emory colleague who co-authored the companion textbook, told the Emory Report, a school newspaper, that ActivEpi “adds to the learning environment. Some students are able to just sit down with a book, while others need a little more, and that’s where the CD ROM comes in. It also will allow me to spend less time on the basics and more time on the complicated things.” On the other hand, some users during
the beta testing phase expressed a preference for the companion hardcopy text without all of the extra multimedia features, presumably in the interest of time.
According to Kleinbaum, the new course encapsulates the knowledge and skills he has acquired about teaching epidemiology and statistics since 1975. And this knowledge is not trivial since Kleinbaum has taught over 130 short courses all over the world during his career, including 7 courses just this summer! He has won numerous teaching awards during his career from both UNC and Emory where he has held faculty appointments, including Emory’s prestigious Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award in May 2000.
Kleinbaum describes himself as a “communicator” and said “I am told I have a good knack for explaining things and that I could make a course on dirt interesting.” Despite his skills, development of ActivEpi was arduous for Kleinbaum. “This project made the work I did on my other textbooks seem easy. Kleinbaum is the author of four other well known texts in epidemiology and biostatistics.
The new course has been a collaborative effort between Kleinbaum, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Paul Velleman at Cornell whose company Data Description first produced ActivStats, a related course which served as the template on which Kleinbaum constructed ActivEpi. The two courses share many of the same features. Because of its support for the development of ActivEpi, CDC has retained rights to distribute ActivEpi on to government employees. The current publisher is Springer-Verlag which expects to have the course ready for distribution and shipping in September 2002.
ActivEpi will have a companion spiral textbook which contains all of the textual material from ActivEpi. The CD ROM will cost $69.95 and the textbook will be $36.95.
The audience for the new course is very wide, according to Kleinbaum and includes students and professionals in the health sciences (including epidemiology), medical students as well as practicing physicians, and even high school kids for some of the simpler concepts in the book. The material for the course is presented in 15 chapters and each contains approximately 15 activities for the users taking about 5 minutes each to finish. At that rate, chapters should take about an hour and a quarter to complete. The book covers topics normally found in most introductory textbooks.
ActivEpi is intended to help the CDC address increasing demands to provide broad training to public health professionals in the US and abroad. Dr. Stanley Foster, one of Kleinbaum’s Emory colleagues with extensive experience in developing countries, believes the CD ROM format will be very well suited to those countries where access to speedy internet services is more limited.
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