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For Online Lectures, YSPH Educator Prioritizes Engagement

June 03, 2021
by Matt Kristoffersen

When lecturing about social justice and health equity to more than 150 students last semester, Yale School of Public Health’ Danya Keene knew how to keep her online audience engaged.

Her strategy? It’s all in the discussions.

Between Zoom breakout rooms, online chat boards and weekly discussion questions, Keene, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, managed not only to excite the students who watched her live lectures, but also to make asynchronous students feel included. Specific icons on each slide helped students understand when and how to participate. And for those who missed a session, she made sure to sum up key takeaways from the previous class — along with the musings, debates and questions raised by her students — in the first few minutes of the next one.

It’s a strategy that worked well during remote learning. Next year, she will work to include this strategy in the more traditional lecture hall.

“There’s a way that Zoom facilitates participation. For example, the chat function not only allows many students respond, but also allows them to respond to each other. I thought that was a really useful tool and will be thinking about ways to recreate that in a live lecture,” she said.

Keene, whose research focuses on housing as a determinant of health equity, is the first to be highlighted in a new YSPH series called “Spotlight on Teaching.” Her expertise, combined with her innovative efforts to bolster engagement with the course material, combined to produce a welcoming and effective learning experience for her students.

YSPH Director of Academic Affairs Mike Honsberger, Ph.D., said that the reviews for her course, EPH 507, Social Justice and Health Equity, were overwhelmingly positive.

“The teaching evaluations were unanimously glowing— and that’s saying a lot because this is a hard course,” he said.

Keene’s teaching skills went beyond engagement. Despite there being a wide variety of topics surrounding health equity to choose from, she managed to make the class cohesive by pervasively tying back into three central themes: Attention to power, attention to agency and resistance, and reflection on professional and personal actions.

Students really took the assignment seriously because, I think, it was meaningful to them to do it.

Danya Keene

Keene also exposed her students to the value of qualitative methods in public health — and showed them how these research strategies can be particularly impactful when it comes to health equity.

Her practices in the classroom, designed to elicit strong and robust learning, made sure that the content in her lectures was more likely to be used and applied throughout her students’ careers, Honsberger said. And for a field that has played a large role in today’s national conversations, Keene’s investment in her course could provide an important foundation.

Her most impactful assignment, she said, was when students were asked to hone their qualitative skills by interviewing a loved one about a topic relating to events of the past year.

When students’ reflections on their interviews poured in, Keene said she was surprised to find out that her assignment provided a much-needed opportunity to connect with friends and family — especially since the coronavirus pandemic has been so isolating.

“Students really took the assignment seriously because, I think, it was meaningful to them to do it,” she said.

Keene also noted how high levels of student engagement made her first time teaching this course an incredibly meaningful and enjoyable experience. “I actually think teaching the class helped me get through the difficult year. It was an opportunity to reflect on and discuss this challenging time period in community with others,” she said.

She also expressed gratitude to her “amazing” teaching fellows and guest lecturers who contributed invaluable expertise, experience as well as wisdom to the course.

Spotlight on Teaching is a new series that will appear several times a year to explore excellence in education at the Yale School of Public Health.

Submitted by Ivette Aquilino on June 03, 2021