Rethinking public health education

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Flashed on screen at a recent Harvard symposium was an illustration from the year 1308 showing students in a lecture-style class. Some are fooling around. Some look bored. One is even sleeping.

Next on screen: a modern-day photo of a lecture-style class, surprisingly similar to the 1308 illustration. The professor is at a lectern — and the students, sitting in rows before him, look just as bored as their medieval counterparts.

The images were presented during a series of talks on innovations in education at the 9th Teikyo-HSPH Symposium, on “Training Public Health Leaders for the 21st century,” held Thursday, Sept. 4 at the Harvard Medical School’s Joseph B. Martin Conference Center. The symposium, held every two years, is jointly sponsored by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Teikyo University Graduate School of Public Health in Japan.

Sanjay Sarma, MIT’s director of digital learning, showed the two lecture hall images to make the point that while other industries — publishing, retail, and music, for instance — have undergone seismic changes because of new technologies, “nothing much has changed” with Western-style education.