SFOK22001U Public Health Communication after COVID-19

Volume 2022/2023
Education

MSc in Public Health Science - elective course

MSc in Global Health - elective course

MSc in Health Informatics - elective course

MSc in Health Science - elective course

MSc in Human Biology - elective course

 

The course will also be open to PhD students. PhD student should apply as external students in order to obtain a slot in the course:

https://healthsciences.ku.dk/education/student-mobility/guest-students/

Content

Public health is often in the media - from debates about vaccine safety and how much people should drink during pregnancy, to the relationships between cancer and environment. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, public health research has become headline news. It has become critical to how health authorities respond, how governments balance competing political imperatives, and how communities and individuals manage uncertainty. And it’s not just research results that are making the news – people want to know how research works. Methods have been described in far greater detail than would usually be the case, from how statisticians model infection rates, to how epidemiologists work out risk factors, or how physicists work out how sneezes travel.

But increased media attention to research doesn’t necessarily lead to increased understanding, or to people being more willing to follow health guidelines. Science communication needs to be clear and accurate, but it is not a one-way street where experts deliver simple packets of information to an ignorant and trusting public. Rather, it is a complex and two-way process, where trust has to be built through transparency and dialogue, and where publics often know things about their own health that science doesn’t take into account. In the last twenty years, the advent of social media has massively increased opportunities for research communication, but has also brought its own challenges. How can we know who to trust online? How can we communicate with publics who distrust science in general? Should governments regulate ‘fake news’? How can we reach our audiences when there is an endless flow of appealing content?

Indeed, early in the pandemic the WHO declared that we were also entering an ‘infodemic’; an overwhelming flood of information, much of which is misleading or inaccurate. The impacts of this are all too clear – from protests and riots to people taking dangerous ‘cures’ – but the pandemic has also generated a flood of inspiring new communication tools. From viral social media videos to snappy public health posters and accessible infographics.

This course will ground the specific topic of public health communication during COVID-19 in the field of science communication studies, and connect COVID-19 communication to wider debates about trust, scientific expertise, and knowledge in an era of 'fake news'. The course takes its starting point in the conviction that despite the challenges, public communication has the potential to support research and improve its social robustness.

The course will be structured around case studies spanning a range of media; e.g., news articles, online video talks, public health campaigns, cartoons, and museum exhibitions. Each example will be paired with relevant empirical or theoretical articles to guide our analysis. This is not a practical skills training course. Instead, the course helps students to use interdisciplinary literature to develop a reflective understanding of public communication that can then inform their future media work and interactions with other professionals in interdisciplinary public health contexts.

Learning Outcome

After the course, students should be able to:

Knowledge:

  • Describe some of the diverse goals, effects, and challenges of communicating about public health research with public audiences, and some of the advantages and disadvantages of different media
  • Describe some central research questions and methods of science communication and public health communication studies, and consider how this applies to practical public health contexts
  • Describe some key theoretical concepts from the science communication and public health communication literature
  • Outline key issues for public health communication during the COVID-19 pandemic

 

Skills:

  • Analyse real-world examples of public health research communication, in terms of their goals, methods, and possible effects, using theoretical and empirical literature to guide analysis.
  • Critically analyse how health, bodies, and research are represented in media communication
  • Critically discuss how trust and truth are determined in online communication, and how the relationship between research and politics can be communicated in times of crisis.
  • Reflect on how and when public health practitioners, researchers, and institutions should communicate with public audiences.

 

Competences:

  • Apply the reflective skills gained during the course in future interactions with the media, whether giving interviews, writing popular articles, or working on health promotion campaigns
  • Apply the critical analytical tools developed with respect to examples of public health communication to other media and cultural products

Literature will be uploaded to Absalon, along with reading guides. 

Key texts include:

  • Bultitude, K. (2011), The Why and How of Science Communication. In: Rosulek, P., ed. Science Communication. Pilsen: European Commission.
  • Bernhardt, J. M. (2004). Communication at the Core of Effective Public Health. American Journal of Public Health, 94(12), 2051–2053. 
  • Logan, R. A. (2008). Health campaign research. In M. Bucchi & B. Trench (Eds.). Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology. Oxford: Routledge. 
  • Davies, S., & Horst, M. (2016). Science Communication: Culture, Identity, and Citizenship. Springer.
  • Wakefield, M.A., Loken, B., & Hornik, R.C. (2010). Use of mass media campaigns to change health behavior. Lancet, 376, 1261-71.
  • Heldman, A.B., Schindelar, J., & Weaver, J.B. (2013). Social Media Engagement
and Public Health Communication: Implications for Public Health Organizations Being Truly “Social”. Public Health Review, 35(1), 1-18.
  • Nabi, J. (16th June 2021). What the pandemic has taught us about science communication. [Blog] World Economic Forum. https:/​/​www.weforum.org/​agenda/​2021/​06/​lessons-for-science-communication-from-the-covid-19-pandemic/​
Class work will include student presentations, group work and plenum discussion of the case studies, with short lectures by the course leader to draw out key points. Students will be asked to look at the case studies provided before each class, so that we can make the best use of the class time.
This course is open for student enrolled in the MSc in Health Informatics, Global Health, Human Biology, and Health Science without pre-approval.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 20
  • Preparation
  • 78
  • Exam
  • 40
  • Total
  • 138
Written
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester

Discussion and class activities will provide ongoing feedback about students understanding of the literature and analysis skills.

Credit
5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment, 7 days
Type of assessment details
The course has a 7-day exam with a portfolio element. Reflection diaries will be written during the course, and then edited during the 7-day exam period. The exam will also include essay questions and a longer case study analysis. Students may work in groups but must hand in individual exams.
Aid
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Second internal examiner
Exam period

Please see the exam schedule at KUnet 

Re-exam

Please see the exam schedule at KUnet 

The exam form in the re-examination may differ from the ordinary exam. Should this happen, students registered for the re-examination will be informed as soon as possible.

Criteria for exam assesment

The evaluation will assess whether the learning goals listed above have been achieved. Students should use the exam to demonstrate that they can critically analyse public health communication, combining their knowledge of public health issues and personal reflections on the media with theoretical and empirical literature. An awareness of the methodological difficulties in planning and evaluating public communication should inform their analysis. 

Excellent exams will demonstrate the following: 

Knowledge:

  • Describe some of the diverse goals, effects, and challenges of communicating about public health research with public audiences, and some of the advantages and disadvantages of different media
  • Describe some central research questions and methods of science communication and public health communication studies, and consider how this applies to practical public health contexts
  • Describe some key theoretical concepts from the science communication and public health communication literature
  • Outline key issues for public health communication during the COVID-19 pandemic

 

Skills:

  • Analyse real-world examples of public health research communication, in terms of their goals, methods, and possible effects, using theoretical and empirical literature to guide analysis.
  • Critically analyse how health, bodies, and research are represented in media communication
  • Critically discuss how trust and truth are determined in online communication, and how the relationship between research and politics can be communicated in times of crisis.
  • Reflect on how and when public health practitioners, researchers, and institutions should communicate with public audiences.