A change is as good as a holiday right? In this case we’re talking an iLearn change.

iLearn units can be tricky to build and quite labour intensive. This week we take a (quite a reflective) look at HSYP801, Foundations of Public Health, a core unit in the Master of Public Health.

Foundations of Public Health introduces students to:

  • public health’s core functions and its history and development
  • global health and health in Australia, including current population health issues
  • public health ethics
  • policy in public health

Unit convenor Alexandra Bhatti completed a Masters in International Public Health after coming from a background in physiotherapy and, among other roles, working as a health research analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit in London. Drawing on her experience, she uses a variety of learning tools to deliver content to students including short introductory videos, discussion boards, interactive timelines and online activities that are authentic to the sort of tasks students are likely to encounter in their future public health roles. The unit was offered for the first time in Session 1 2017 but for Session 1 2018 Alexandra consolidated student and teaching staff feedback to redesign the delivery.

We take a look and what worked, what didn’t (and why it didn’t), and how Alexandra hopes the changes will enhance the experience for both staff and students.

Master of Public Health students come from a wide variety of backgrounds; they may come from a medical or health sciences background, some have public health work experience while others have none. There is also a mix of international and domestic students.


In the first iteration of the unit, ‘there were a lot of activities and content and I think the first students felt overwhelmed; it’s been really helpful in thinking about what is absolutely essential’, Alexandra commented.

Last year, students were introduced to unit content weekly through short videos and required to attend a one-hour tutorial fortnightly. This year, the one hour per fortnight tutorial has been replaced with weekly two-hour face to face sessions. Alexandra believes the face-to-face time is not only beneficial for students but also gives the lecturers and tutors a chance to better check in with how the students are going.

Throughout 2017 Alexandra worked closely with Learning Designer Matthew Robson from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences to create a variety of engaging online resources, which were carried over into the 2018 unit.

‘I was trying to make it a bit more exciting’.

Matthew created ‘HIV/AIDS: a comparison of responses’, an interactive timeline using Adobe Animate.

Using the timeline, students are able to see how the HIV/AIDs epidemic responses of two countries since the 1980s shaped the pattern of the disease in these countries. Matthew also created an interactive history of public health timeline based on content Alexandra developed. This took a content area that was somewhat dry and made it a more engaging experience for students.

Originally, students were given weekly online activities such as readings and quizzes and Alexandra indicated in iLearn how long each activity would take, e.g. 30 mins. Unfortunately, she found this approach in some instances counterproductive for students, “some reported that they were finding the markers stressful because they thought the activity should only take 30 minutes, but were actually spending a lot longer on it”.

This year Alexandra will leave the time markers off, or she will give more specific guidance such as “do not spend any longer than 30 minutes on this activity”.


Originally a reflection was included in the assessment tasks, due in Week 4. Alexandra decided to take this out, as she found asking students to complete a reflective piece so early on in the program, was too much of a higher order thinking skill for Week 4 of a foundational unit. Alexandra replaced this task with a quiz, to better gauge where students’ content knowledge was at.

The second assessment task was a 1500 word essay. Dr Jane Williams, who runs the public health ethics part of the unit, decided this year to break the essay into three short answer questions, to be able to better evaluate the students’ understanding of often difficult concepts.

The last major change Alexandra made was on how topics were delivered. This year, lecturers will deliver topics in an order relevant to how the final written assignment is structured, so students can start thinking about the topic in that way.

“In the written assignment, students are asked to identify a major communicable disease relevant to a specific population then asked to consider issues from a local perspective and a global perspective, then comment on how two either historical, social, political or environmental factors have affected the disease. The lecturers will now deliver content where relevant in that order so students get an understanding of what we’re looking for in the final assessment.”

If you too are thinking about updating your unit, make an appointment to see your Faculty Learning Designers.

Posted by Lauren Bacigalupo

Events and Project Officer, Learning and Innovation Hub

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