Course to foster dialogue on U.S. health care system

By Ian Dillingham, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 5, 2015

Imagine using “House of Cards” as your political science education.

Members of the School of Public Health are launching a course this semester that they hope will engage students in a unique dialogue about the U.S. health care system based, in part, on lessons from the entertainment industry. First-year medical and dental students will be required to take the course.

The six-week online class beginning Jan. 12, titled “Understanding and Improving U.S. Healthcare,” is the brainchild of Matthew Davis, professor of public policy, pediatric and communicable diseases and internal medicine, and Public Health graduate student Michael Rubyan, the course producer.

Students from any department on campus — as well as those at the University’s Flint and Dearborn campuses — are able to enroll in the course, which will feature a variety of documentary-type video segments, video interviews with faculty and interactive elements such as games and online forums.

The course creators said they sought to approach online education in a unique way not yet seen at the University, which has made efforts to implement a range of online offerings in recent years.

“This is the first time a course has been offered in this way,” Rubyan said. “Not that we’re presenting a drama, but what we try to do is bring different nuggets of that type of thought process into this space, so that when people are watching they have a sense of scope and feel like it’s moving, it’s dynamic.”

Presented in hour-long weekly installments, the course aims to provide students with knowledge of the U.S. health care system, Davis said. The lessons will help students learn their place in the system — an effort that frustrates and confuses many Americans — and, more importantly, learn how they can work to improve the system in the future.

Though ongoing health care reforms, such as the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, will be discussed, Davis said the course is designed with ample historical context. He wants to demonstrate that many of the current issues have been going on for at least 70 years. Davis and Rubyan pulled videos from historical archives and presidential libraries to demonstrate how various administrations have approached health care since the time of former President Harry Truman.

“The Affordable Care Act becomes so much more understandable through this lens of history,” Davis said. “We’ve taken the time to boil down 70 years of history into key themes that have an arch through all these presidents.”

The course will also feature filmed interviews and panel discussions with experts from the University’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. Unlike some online courses, which consist of a professor lecturing over a video slideshow, Davis said the format is intended to engage students and make the material entertaining to watch.

“Another benefit of the online format … is the chance to combine many different teaching and learning approaches,” Davis said. “In many cases, online learning at (the University) is a video of a lecture — that’s not what this is.”

As is typical with online courses currently offered through the provider Coursera, students have the ability to earn a certificate acknowledging their completion of the course, but cannot get University credit. Davis said the course is intended as a “co-curricular” opportunity, one which students from across the University could use to supplement their standard course schedule.