Public Health Risk Communication – Fall 2012

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Public Health Risk Communication

Fall Semester 2012

Public Health Risk Communication – Fall 2012
Rutgers University, Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy
Course Number: 10:832:403:01

Location: Civic Square Building (CSB), Downtown Campus, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick Rm. 253

Time: 6:10 PM – 7:30 PM
Instructor: Ashley Conway


Office hours: By appointment
Note: This syllabus may be revised during the course. Students will be apprised of all changes.
Course Description:
The way information is communicated can make the difference between a successful or failed response in a public health crisis. This course examines the theory, core concepts, and practice of public health risk communication used in environmental communication, disaster management, and health promotion. The knowledge and skills gained in the course can also be applied to crisis communications in organizations other than public health. The practical application of risk communication concepts will be emphasized through the use of case studies, small group practice, and a tabletop exercise.
This course requires that you:

  • Attend scheduled classes;

  • Take 10 weekly quizzes;

  • Complete the assigned course readings and viewings;

  • Participate in class discussions and activities; and

  • Submit 10 weekly journal entries.

Learning Objectives:

  • Comprehend risk communication theory.

  • Analyze how risk is perceived.

  • Comprehend the ethical and legal responsibilities of risk communication.

  • Evaluate communication strategies presented in case studies.

  • Synthesize and apply knowledge of risk communication in classroom exercises and activities.

Required Books:
You are not required to purchase a texbook. The CDC book Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication will be used throughout the semester and is available online. Other materials such as book chapters, academic articles, articles from the popular press, and video clips will be uploaded on Sakai or can be accessed on the Internet.

Grades will be based on each of the following activities:

_______________________________ Points

Classroom participation 500

Journal entries (10 @ 30 points each 300

Weekly quizzes (10 @ 20 points each) 200

Total 1000

Grading Scale (%):

A 90 – 100

B+ 85 – 89

B 80 – 84

C+ 75 – 79

C 70 – 74

D 60 – 70

F < 60

Extra credit. There are no extra credit assignments.
Taking a Hybrid Course
How will a hybrid course be different?
Time spent in the physical, face-to-face classroom will be less than a traditional class. Time spent online in the “virtual classroom” will likely be more than a traditional class. Instead of a three hour class once a week, this hybrid class will meet for one hour and twenty minutes once a week. The rest of the class will be held on-line asynchronously. Asynchronous means that other students and the instructor may or may not be in the Sakai course site at the same time you are – but it doesn’t matter, you can do the assigned work independent of others. This means that you can log on to hear a lecture, view a video, or interact with students and the instructor when it is convenient for you.
Is a hybrid course less work?
No. The hours students spend on a hybrid course should be about the same as a traditional course. The main difference in this hybrid course is that the lectures will be given online. Classroom time will be reserved for discussion, activities, and exercises using course content and material.
Do I need special skills to take a hybrid course?
No. Even if you have never taken a hybrid or an online class you can be successful in this course. Some computer tools may be new to you, but these will be explained in detail and technical support is available if you encounter a problem or have a question. Because you will be attending lectures online and at a time of your choosing, a hybrid course does take attention to time management.

Classroom Participation:
Communication is interactive; therefore, class participation is 50% of the course grade. Your participation in collaborative small groups to solve problems and discussion of the generated solutions with the whole group will be evaluated based on 1) how often you contribute to class discussions; 2) attentiveness to others’ contributions; 3) the quality of your participation in group activities; and 4) peer and self-evaluation. Refer to the Participation Rubric in the resource section of Sakai for more detailed information about how participation is assessed.
Points have no “absolute meaning,” and in the end, I will use my judgment in translating points into grades for the course. Implicitly, that means that grades are “curved” in the sense that they are comparative. The comparison is both to other students taking the class this semester and with those who took the class in the past.
You should arrive for class prepared to discuss all material assigned the previous week. Keeping current in the assigned readings, viewings, and journal entries will be necessary to effectively interact with others in class.
Each student is expected to contribute to creating an environment that fosters respect and civility by adherence to class norms for discussion, debate, and all interpersonal interaction.
Personal Electronic Devices - The use of personal electronic devices during class is allowed. However, if texting or personal computer use detracts from your classroom participation or is distracting to other students, it will likely be reflected in a lower participation score. Giving your full attention to the process of learning is expected during class.
Course Communications - You are responsible for accessing course materials on Sakai and submitting assignments as instructed. Students must maintain a functioning Rutgers e-mail address and should check it frequently for class announcements or updates. I will also text the class using “Class Parrot” if needed.
Attendance Because this is a hybrid course it is particularly important that students attend each class and arrive on time. Unexcused absences or repeated tardiness will result in a lower grade. Absences for legitimate reasons, such as a documented illness or family emergency, will be excused. Whatever your reason for missing a class, arriving late, or leaving early - please notify me (preferably in advance) by email.
You should inform me of emergencies or problems that may affect your attendance or performance in the course. The sooner I am informed, the easier it will be to make accommodations so that you do not fall behind.
Students participating in sports must submit an official request for class absences in the first week of class.
Class Cancellation - You will be sent a text message via “Class Parrot” if a class is cancelled. Cancellation messages will also be posted on the course site in Sakai. In case of severe weather or a campus emergency check this site: or call 732-445-INFO. It is your responsibility to complete all online assignments if face-to-face classes are canceled.
Journal Entries
Ten weekly journal entries worth 30 points each will be submitted using Google Docs over the semester (see syllabus). Typically the entries will be responses to questions about course content and reflections about the previous week’s class. Completing journal entries will help prepare you to participate in class discussions.
Journal entries are approximately 30% of the course grade. The Journal Grading Rubric in the resource section of Sakai details how the entries will be graded.
Points have no “absolute meaning,” and in the end, I will use my judgment in translating points into grades for the course. Implicitly, that means that grades are “curved” in the sense that they are comparative. The comparison is both to other students taking the class this semester and with those who took the class in the past.
Late journal entry submissions:

  • 25% point deduction for late submissions up to one week after due date.

  • 50% point deduction for late submissions more than one week and up to two weeks after the due date.

  • No points will be given for late submissions in excess of two weeks.

Short quizzes worth 20 points each and comprised of multiple choice, true/false, matching, and short answer questions will be given at the beginning of 10 classes (see the syllabus). If an excused absence results in missing a quiz, there will be an opportunity to make it up online.
Honor Code and Academic Integrity:
Academic integrity requires that all academic work be wholly the product of an identified individual or individuals. Joint efforts are legitimate only when the assistance of others is explicitly acknowledged and permitted by the assignment.
Ethical conduct is the obligation of every member of the University community, and breaches of academic integrity constitute serious offenses. Any such issues will be submitted to the Dean of the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, as appropriate. Students must assume responsibility for maintaining honesty in all work submitted for credit and in any other work designated by the instructor of the course.

Students are also expected to report incidents of academic dishonesty to the instructor or dean of the instructional unit.

Review the Rutgers’ academic integrity statement at this link:
Students in this course are required to view the “Academic Integrity” PowerPoint (in the Resource section of Sakai) and to take the quiz (in the Tests and Quizzes section of Sakai).

Public Health Risk Communication 832:403:01 Syllabus – Fall Semester 2012 – Hybrid

Unit & Week


Topic & Assignments

Unit 1

Risk Communication Foundation – Theory and Tenants

Week 1

9/5 9/11

Understand expectations and learning goals of the course

Introductions and review of syllabus

  • Become familiar with the course site on Sakai

  • Review the syllabus on your own

  • View the “Academic Integrity” PowerPoint and take the quiz

Week 2

9/12 – 9/18

Risk communication basics

  • Know key definitions

  • Comprehend the role of public health in a crisis

  • Comprehend the role of the messenger

Classroom: Review participation rubric and journal rubric, establish classroom norms, exercise, CERC online training module
On-line: Lecture

Assigned reading:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2002. Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication. (CDC CERC Red Book) Module 1: Introduction. Pages 1- 11.

  • Glick, D. Risk Communication for Public Health Emergencies. Annual Review of Public Health. 2007.

Assignment: Journal entry - see assignment in Sakai for instructions – due 9/19, 9:00 AM

Week 3

9/19 – 9/25

Communication theory

  • Know risk communication concepts and theory

  • Apply theoretical knowledge to situations

Classroom: Quiz #1 – (based on previous week’s assigned readings), discussion and activity
Online: Lecture

Video: Sandman video Risk = Hazard + Outrage

Assigned reading:

CDC CERC Red Book. Module 2: Psychology of a Crisis. Pages 13 – 32.

  • Covello, V. and Sandman, P. Risk communication: Evolution and revolution. Chapter in Solutions to an Environment in Peril. 2001.

  • Sandman, P. Four kinds of risk communication.

Assignment: Journal entry – due 9/26, 9:00 AM

Week 4

9/26 10/2

Perception of risk

  • Identify implications of perception of risk in communications

Classroom: Quiz #2, discussion and risk perception exercise
Online: Lecture

Video: Explaining risk video – Peter Sandman

Assigned reading:

  • Adler, P. and Kranowitz, J. A primer on perceptions of risk, risk communication and building trust. The Keystone Center. 2005. Pages 14 – 20.

  • Fischoff, B. Risk perception and communication unplugged: Twenty years of process. Society for Risk Analysis. 1995.Sandman, Peter. 2002. Smallpox vaccination: Some risk communication lynchpins. Website.

  • Sandman, Peter. 2003. Public health outrage and smallpox vaccination; An afterthought.

Assignment: Journal entry – due 10/3, 9:00 AM

Unit 2

Knowing your audience and effective messaging:

Hurricane Katrina

Week 5

10/3 - 10/9

Trust and credibility

  • Comprehend how trust impacts crisis risk communication efforts

  • Evaluate risk communication efforts in disaster situations

Classroom: Quiz #3, discussion and activity
Online: Lecture

Assigned reading:

  • Adler, P. and Kranowitz, J. A primer on perceptions of risk, risk communication, and building trust. The Keystone Center. 2005. Pages 36 – 41.

  • CDC. CERC core principles rubric.

Assignment: Journal entry – due 10/10, 9:00 AM

Week 6

10/10 – 10/16

Ethical and legal responsibilities

  • Analyze the ethical dimension of risk communication

  • Evaluate choices in ethical dilemmas

  • Know legal responsibilities

Classroom: Quiz #4, discussion and ethics exercise
Online: Lecture

Assigned reading:

  • CDC CERC Red Book. Module 12: Media and public health law. Pages 219 – 246.

  • Lundgren R. and McMakin, A. (2009).  Risk Communication:  A Handbook for Communicating Environmental, Safety, and Health Risks.  Chapter 5, Ethical Issues.

Assignment: Journal entry – Due 10/10, 9:00 AM

Week 7

10/17 – 10/23

Stakeholders and partners

  • Analyze relationships in risk communication efforts

  • Comprehend the role of stakeholders and partners in risk communication

Classroom: Quiz #5, discussion and mapping exercise
Online: Lecture

Video: Hurricane Katrina

Assigned reading:

  • CDC CERC Red Book. Module 7: Stakeholder/partner communication. Pages 158 – 167. Module 11: Understanding roles of federal, state, and local health partners. Pages 208 - 219

  • Schoch-Spana, M. et al. Community engagement: Leadership tool for catastrophic health events. Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science. 2007.

  • Schoch-Spana, M. et al. Disease, disaster, and democracy: The public’s stake in health emergency planning. Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Bidefense Strategy, Practice, and Science. 2006.

No journal assignment

Unit 3

Messaging, media, marketing:

BP Gulf oil disaster

Week 8

10/24 – 10/30


  • Apply messaging concepts and techniques to situations

  • Analyze messaging efforts

  • Design messages

Classroom: Quiz #6, discussion and messaging exercise
Online: Lecture

Video: PBS, FRONTLINE. The Spill.

Messaging video – Vincent Covello

Assigned reading:

CDC CERC Red Book. Module 3: Messages and audiences. Pages 36 – 62. CERC document: Message development for communication.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. Risk communication in action: The tools of message mapping. 2007.

Assignment: Journal entry – due 10/31, 9:00 AM

Week 9

10/31 – 11/6

Media relationships

  • Examine the needs of media and risk communicators

  • Critique media communication efforts

  • Practice communications with media

Classroom: Quiz #7, discussion and media exercise
Online: Lecture

Assigned reading:

  • CDC CERC Red Book. Module 4: Crisis communication plan. Pages 64 – 102. Module 5: Spokesperson. Pages 112 – 126. Module 6: Working with the media. Pages 130 – 156.

Assignment: Journal entry – due 11/7, 9:00 AM

Week 10

11/7 – 11/13

Social marketing and social media

  • Analyze the use of social marketing and social media to achieve risk communication objectives

Classroom: Quiz #8, discussion and activity
Online: Lecture

Assigned reading:

  • Andreasen, A. Marketing social marketing in the social change marketplace. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing. 2002.

  • CDC CERC Red Book. Module 8: Other communication channels. Pages 170 – 181.

  • Social Marketing National Excellence Collaborative. The basics of social marketing: Using social marketing to change behaviors.

  • Weinreich, N. Hands-on Social Marketing: A step-by-step guide. Sage Publications, Inc. London. 1999.

Assignment: Journal entry – due 11/14, 9:00 AM

Unit 4

Application and Evaluation: Anthrax

Week 11

11/14 – 11/20

Risk communication and terrorism

  • Critique risk communication efforts in terrorism events

  • Comprehend the unique risk communication challenges in intentional disasters

Classroom: Quiz #9, discussion and activity
Online: Lecture

No assigned reading

No journal assignment

11/21 – 11/27 Thanksgiving Recess – No Class

Week 12

11/28 – 12/4

Practice application

  • Apply risk communication knowledge to a scenario

  • Synthesize risk communication knowledge to respond to a mock crisis

Classroom: Tabletop exercise
Online: Lecture

Assigned reading:

  • Bresnitz, E. and DiFerdinando, G. Lessons from the anthrax attacks of 2001: The New Jersey experience. Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2003.

  • CDC CERC Red Book. Module 9: Terrorism and bioterrorism and other communication channels. Pages 182 – 197.

  • Chess, C. and Clarke, L. Facilitation of risk communication during the anthrax attacks of 2001: The organizational backstory. American Journal of Public Health, 2007.

  • Tomes, N. The making of a germ panic, then and now. American Journal of Public Health. 2000.

  • Sandman, P. 2001. Anthrax, bioterrorism, and risk communication: Guidelines for action.

Assignment: Journal entry – due 12/5, 9:00 AM

Week 13

12.5 – 12/11

Practice application

  • Apply risk communication knowledge to a scenario

  • Synthesize risk communication knowledge to respond to a mock crisis

Classroom: Quiz #10, tabletop exercise
Assignment – Final journal entry, due 12/12, 9:00 AM

Week 14


Debrief and evaluation

  • Evaluate course effectiveness and analyze how knowledge will be applied

Classroom: Course review, evaluations, and debrief

Note: Assigned reading for the course may be changed or augmented

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