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HIV in the Classroom: HIV Education From the Dark 1980s to the Digital Masses

Kimberley Hagen, Ed.D., Talks About Massive Open Online Courses in HIV/AIDS

February 26, 2013

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You said you have 10,000 people enrolled in the course. Do you expect there to be varying levels of interaction? Will there be students who just want to listen to lectures and not participate?

The people at Coursera -- which is the first and largest of the MOOC organizations -- tell us that, based on their experience, 90 percent of the people who sign up for a course do not complete the assignment in order to get a certificate for completion. Now, that's a huge number to not formally complete the course -- 10 percent of the people do -- but that doesn't tell me that people aren't participating. I think it means that people are signing up because sometimes you just want to learn this stuff. You don't want to do exercises, you don't want to practice skills, you're just interested in the topic. I think there will be a fair amount of the 10,000 who are just watching the lectures because they're interested in them. They won't necessarily complete the essays, they won't post to the blogs, they won't do whatever exercises our instructional staff will work with me on coming up with. That's what I'm thinking.

You say that your course deals in history, science and culture. Especially now, the HIV/AIDS field is considered predominantly biomedical, but it's still very much a social disease, as well. How are you going to attack the history/science/culture aspect? Will there be separate sections of the course? Will you teach it thematically or chronologically?

Because I've been in public health for so long -- in fact, I was in public health before I knew what public health was, the whole thing has a sort of public health feel to it. But the very first week will be on the origins of HIV, and Jim Curran will talk about the history of HIV from his early days at CDC.


Then we'll go into the science. Eric Hunter and I will be talking about how the immune system works and then what happens to it when HIV comes along.

Then I move into people. The third week will be on vulnerable populations and why it's so synergistic with vulnerability, specifically picking out drug users, sex workers, and men who have sex with men as being the three vulnerable populations that we'll deal with. But poverty and race are threaded through all of that, as well.

Then there's weeks on behavioral prevention, biomedical prevention and vaccines.

The last two weeks are on challenges around HIV and the last one is on responding to it, where I'll talk about volunteering, the NAMES Project, the AIDS Quilt.

The very last week, which is absolutely by design, is when John Blevins will be giving a talk on the history of AIDS activism and religion as a social force in HIV/AIDS. I want to end this course on a positive note in which people can think about the challenges but recognize that we have a lot of tools that are not just medical tools. They're not just the biomedical interventions, we also have us. We have a history -- not a long history, but a history of responding to this. And we have institutions that respond to this.

"I want to end this course on a positive note. ... We have a history -- not a long history, but a history of responding to this. And we have institutions that respond to this."

What is the difference for you between writing a syllabus and getting the readings together for a traditional course, and this new process of developing an online course?

This is not a course I've taught before, so I have to get everything together. We're going in a slightly different direction from if we were going to teach this class in a classroom, or if we were modeling the university course, which we're not doing.

Bigger than that is the challenge of teaching this way. I mean, literally, the standing up, or as they say, "the sage on the stage," where you're standing and just delivering the material. I have at least three other faculty members who are coming in and giving guest lectures about their areas of expertise, and all of us have years of experience standing in a classroom and giving a lecture and interacting with the students, and taking questions, and doing discussions. Now, we're in a studio -- Emory built a studio for us to do this. Emory's taking this very seriously; they're doing an incredible job. I'm very proud of the commitment that the university has shown to this class.

We're standing in this little studio, in front of a green screen, facing a camera. The camera operators are there. They're very focused on what they're doing. The lighting crew is there. They're very focused on what they're doing. They're not really paying that much attention to what is being said because they're focusing on their jobs. And there's nobody else in the room. And there's radio silence, because they want to make sure they capture your voice perfectly. So, you're talking to nobody! [laughs] There's nobody there to react to what you're saying. There's no body language -- I get my energy when I teach from the feedback I get from my students. If they're energized, I'm energized. If they're having a down day, I walk out feeling like I've been hit by a truck. There's no energy coming at me whatsoever.

It's just very weird to think, "OK, I have to pretend that on the other side of that lens, there are 10,000 faces. There are people watching! I have to pretend that I can see them in my head. It's just so quiet and it's so sensory-deprivationish compared to standard teaching. And, so, it's been a learning curve for many of our lecturers who have been giving lectures for years. Lecture doesn't mean you just stand there and lecture for 50 minutes without stopping, it usually means "Get a discussion going. Guide the discussion." The two terms they use in education are "sage on the stage" and "guide on the side," and over the last few years a lot of college teaching has moved from "sage on the stage" to "guide on the side." You get the students to do the work, and you just help push it along. Well, that does not work when you're standing in a studio facing a camera. [laughs]

Read other articles in this spotlight series.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Read more about Dr. Hagen's early years facing stigma and fear as an HIV educator -- and what's changed in nearly 30 years in the field -- in part one of this conversation.

Mathew Rodriguez is the editorial project manager for and

Follow Mathew on Twitter: @mathewrodriguez.

Copyright © 2013 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.
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This article was provided by TheBody.
See Also
HIV in the Classroom: A Spotlight Series
More HIV Activist Profiles and Personal Accounts

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