Practice-Based What? Teaching mHealth to the Next Generation

Posted by Marion McNabb on Feb 02, 2013

One of the main reasons I joined the Doctorate of Public Health (DrPH) program at the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) in the United States was because of the philosophy of practice-based learning the school employs. This approach at BUSPH is certainly not limited to the DrPH program - it is the mantra the school uses for teaching public health. So, like any other great approach that has merit, we chose to bring this this type of education to mHealth and the world of mHealth to BUSPH students.

The next generation of public health practitioners will benefit from the chance to learn about a field that is emerging as an important tool in public health programs. But it’s not just about learning how cool this topic is – it’s about learning how to help countries and programs integrate mobile technology in a smart, data-driven and informed way. One year ago, a few faculty members from BUSPH had a brilliant idea – why not teach a mHealth course for our public health students? However, this concept isn’t entirely new. The Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH) has offered a mHealth course for masters of public health (MPH) students for years and is forming a certificate program in eHealth. (We definitely leaned on them heavily in the design of our course! Thanks JHSPH colleagues!) TechChange also partnered with the mHealth Alliance to offer a four week online course on mHealth for public health practitioners. (Thank you TechChange for your help in planning our course too and I really enjoyed taking your course!) We at BUSPH decided we would build off the practice-oriented nature of BUSPH courses for our mHealth course for MPH and DrPH students with practical teaching and learning.

And so here we are. In just under two months, we (Marion McNabb MPH, Jonathan Payne MS, Dr. Chris Gill, and Dr. Jim Wolff) will teach the first mHealth course at BUSPH from March – May 2013. Students will work as consultants for organizations implementing mHealth projects in the field. The premise? We want to expose these bright professionals to what it really means to work in the field of mHealth - as much as any classroom can do this. We have four partner organizations for the course: Partners in Health-Mexico, Pathfinder International - Nigeria, Dimagi LLC, and PharmAccess - Namibia.

Students will learn about the comprehensive theoretical, behavior change, practical and realistic needs of a mHealth project by interacting with these organizations as a “consulting firm” – all guided by the instructors. At the start of the course, students will be given a project task: a real need that the organization faces in their public health programs that mobile technology can address. The students will respond through the course by developing a comprehensive situational analysis, project plan and mHealth application using CommCare and FrontlineSMS platforms. The idea is that partner organizations can use the student products in their day-to-day mHealth programming in the future. Students will present their final mHealth project plan and application to the organizations and members of the public at the end of the course.  What is the end result? Learning by doing.

I selfishly smile in gratitude for BUSPH and my esteemed fellow instructors and teaching assistant for letting me be a part of such an awesome endeavor to give back to the school that has inspired me.

We will be posting more updates about the course and how you can get involved – until then…how would you teach a mHealth course for MPH students?  

Cheers from Marion McNabb and the BUSPH mHealth course teaching team!

Marion McNabb, MPH – Senior Project Manager, mHealth - Pathfinder International, Jonathan Payne, MS – Maternal Concept Lab, mHealth Alliance, UN Foundation and Partners in Health, Chris Gill MD, MS– Associate Professor, Boston University School of Public Health, James Wolff MD, MPH, MAT  - Associate Professor, Boston University School of Public Health and Senior Fellow, Management Sciences for Health, Teaching Assistant: Laura Khurana - Research Associate, Quintiles Outcome

This post was written by Marion McNabb and does not represent the official views of BUSPH. Please contact for further information about the course.

Photo courtesy RTI via flickr

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