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Students Learn Interactively—From Anchorage to Istanbul

By Kathleen Nelson

In Baltimore, surgeon Marcelo Cardarelli performs heart surgery. In Anchorage, Jeffrey Killip represents the state of Alaska in child protection and civil commitment cases. From Chicago, Sarah Sellers advises the FDA about substandard drug manufacturing, while in Virginia, Laura Burns hops between school districts coordinating asthma management projects. And in Turkey, Nuriye Ortayli, MD, works to improve the quality of reproductive health care.

All five of these full-time professionals are enrolled or freshly graduated from the School’s Internet-based MPH program. While they may not attend Epi I in the physical presence of “classmates,” they communicate with each other and their professors in a flexible program that allows them to complete their schoolwork when and where their schedules allow.

Fifty-one students enrolled in the distance education program in June; another 25 will begin together in January. Each cohort has three years to complete the necessary coursework. The Internet-based MPH program has the same requirements and grants the same diploma as the full-time MPH, notes Ron Brookmeyer, PhD, chair of the MPH program. The same professors teach the courses, which are taped in a recording studio used specifically for the online courses.

“We used the Internet and multimedia technology to create an interactive learning environment,” says Sukon Kanchanaraksa, PhD, director of the School’s Distance Education program. The online degree program, launched in 1999, “emphasizes a community of learners,” he says, “Students are only a fingertip-distance away from peers and professors.”

Ortayli, a clinical director at the Medical School of Istanbul, can attest to that. From her home in Turkey, she spent weekends listening to streaming audio of lectures while viewing the accompanying slides on her computer screen. She communicated with classmates via e-mail and instant messaging, and even participated in study groups. Occasionally, she would log on to real-time “LiveTalk” sessions, listening to professors and using chat software to interact with students around the world.
She also spent a fair amount of time at the School. Students in the program must complete 25 percent of their coursework in face-to-face classes at Hopkins, usually by attending summer or winter institute sessions.

Laura Burns, who coordinates asthma education programs for children, families, and physicians, was lured to the Internet-based MPH by its 43 online classes and her classmates’ wealth of experience. Of the 164 students enrolled in the Internet program in 2002–2003, more than half were physicians, with a sprinkling of engineers, lawyers, chemists, health educators, and others representing 39 states and 14 countries.

Jeffrey Killip will use his MPH to “shift away from assisting individuals and families already in crisis to an upstream approach of prevention on a population level.” Cardarelli, who successfully led a medical team in separating conjoined twins last year, hopes to transition from one-on-one patient treatment to international health care system policy-making.