The Public Health department within the Graduate Center is only 5 years old, and is comprised of mostly full-time working people. As such, there has been a lot of organizing among the student body to find ways to unify the students and create a greater sense of community. We used Google Groups in the first few years to share information (eg, jobs, advice about classes, etc) and then transitioned to Facebook (46 out of over 100 have joined). “Buddy Groups” were created as well, to facilitate communication and information sharing on a more “first line of contact” modality, and was organized through email. “Interest Groups” based on research interests have also been created and is organized through BlackBoard. All of these attempts were made in response to student requests, but to date there has been limited activity. We have an amazing APO who has done wonders in bringing us together, fostering these opportunities and keeping us abreast of the ongoings of the department. But because of the nature of our program, there are still many challenges to finding common meet space/time to interact. This brings us to Public Health on the Commons, a portal housed in the CUNY Commons that allows for students, teachers and staff to easily connect, share and come together as a community. Ultimately, this would also get professors to switch to the Commons for course management/discussion purposes, as currently many GC public health courses use Blackboard and more and more we are hearing about and experiencing the rigidity and clunkiness of Blackboard.
* New public health grad student works full-time as a senior program officer and is taking 1-2 courses a semester. He wants to quit his job and be in school full-time but isn’t sure how to handle that. All of his classes are at night, so everyone rushes off to go home afterwards, and there have been few opportunities to meet other students and talk about the work/life/school balance. He’s also interested in finding other students with similar interests — to possibly collaborate, share advice, or just to get to know.
* 3rd year public health grad student is in school full-time, working on her proposal, and is trying to find students to start up a dissertation writing group. She’s feeling the isolation of being a doctoral student as the majority of her fellow students are not around at the GC during the day and she’s done with coursework.
* Professor X is a DPH faculty member interested in trying to integrate more out-of-class discussion into his classes. He tried using Blackboard as a place for students to post discussion questions, but there was very little interactive conversation — mostly just students posting questions which were later read in class.
Use Case Scenario
During the new student orientation, students will be given information about the Public Health on the Commons site and encouraged to register and join the group. On the website, students can see the profiles of other fellow DPH students, connect with new and current students who share similar interests, locate information about courses, professors, exams, find upcoming relevant events, and post information of interest.
The full version would incorporate both student- and teaching elements. Students can create profiles, post events/information, find resources and information, ask questions about course sequencing, etc. Teachers can also create profiles and interact with students, but also (learn how to) create course websites, post syllabi, generate discussion, share documents, etc — and make certain elements available to students not enrolled in class (eg, syllabi). Students can thus easily access basic information about all relevant past and current courses, as well as department-related information (eg, upcoming meetings, student updates, etc). A wiki of some sort may also be useful (eg, FAQ), given the newness of our program. This version would be able to pull in current information already stored in Blackboard (eg, exam guidelines, student resources, etc).
These would both entail installing WordPress and BuddyPress.
The MVP version would focus on the student elements and developing a platform that’s useful to new and current students. This would include the WordPress, BuddyPress, calendar of events, and wikis.
6 months to develop the full fledged; 2 months to develop the student-centered MVP. I’d have to learn how to create wikis within a WordPress site, and see if there’s a way to connect Facebook with the WordPress site.