Opportunity for Interdisciplinary Education

Health Communication: Opportunity for Interdisciplinary Education

By Mike Mackert

I’ve taught an online health communication campaigns class in the summer for the last six or seven years. The class is designed to be asynchronous, too, so that students can take the course from anywhere in the world and time-shift if necessary due to other work or school commitments. Basically, I designed the class to work for graduate nursing students who I thought would be interested but would never be able to make it all the way to the other side of campus for a traditional course during a fall or spring semester.

Every summer the class is (roughly) half students from the Moody College of Communication and half students from health-oriented majors and fields. I put them into mixed teams, and they are challenged to develop health communication campaigns for various real world clients. As examples, students have worked with the UT Office of Health Promotion, the Lang Stuttering Institute, Mental Health America of Texas, and IT’S TIME TEXAS.

One of the things that makes this class so fun every single summer is the way students have their eyes opened to new ideas and career options related to health communication. Students from Moody often start to realize that while their training has been in one context (e.g., advertising students learning how to sell products and services), their skills could be transferred to health communication very effectively. And students from health fields often start to see the benefit of communication skills in better caring for their patients; nursing students will often talk about thinking of “persuasion” as a bad thing prior to taking the class, but they start to understand how promoting health behavior change for their patients maybe can’t be just about providing education to their patients.

Perhaps the best part of the class, though, is that in the educational context a lot of the real teaching and learning happens within the student teams. Communication students share things they’ve learned in their previous coursework with students from health fields, while the health-oriented students bring knowledge of public health and health issues that communication students simply do not have. Health communication by its nature is an interdisciplinary field, and every summer the students say that one of their favorite parts of the course was this chance to work with and learn from students from all around campus with different backgrounds and skills.

It can be challenging in the university context to design courses that can work for students from across the campus, but my experience with this class shows it can really pay off – it’s a fun class where students get to learn together and develop health communication campaign ideas that can help clients do better work in the real world.