As the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread earlier this year, Douglas Masterson – who serves as senior assistant provost for institutional effectiveness and professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Southern Mississippi – was soon aware of misunderstanding among the public regarding the virus and the history of pandemics in general.
Masterson’s concern of that issue led him into conversation with Karen Coats, dean of USM’s graduate school and professor of cell and molecular biology. Together, the two began recruiting other faculty members to create “Understanding the Pandemic: A COVID-19 Public Service Short Course,” a free online course designed to help make the public aware of facts on the novel coronavirus and other pandemics.
“Our mission as a public institution is to serve the public,” Masterson said. “As professors, we conduct research in our areas and publish that research in journals that are read largely by other academics. The opportunity to put our scholarly work into a context related to current events highlights the importance of what we do in academia and fulfills the mission of serving the public good.”
The course, which can be accessed at https://bit.ly/33Pkwdu, contains six modules for attendees. Those modules include the history of pandemics; social and economic impact of pandemics; coronavirus and epidemiology; spread, prevention and treatment; vaccines; and personal health and wellness in a pandemic.
“Understanding the Pandemic: A COVID-19 Public Service Short Course” takes approximately three hours to complete, but attendees are not required to finish all modules in one sitting. The course is designed for anyone with an interest in the matter, including faculty, staff and the general public.
The goal of the course is to equip attendees with facts from subject-matter experts about infectious diseases in order to minimize one’s risk to self and others. Each of the six modules includes an outline of objectives and content, a closed caption video presented by a USM faculty expert and a brief quiz, which can be taken an unlimited number of times.
A certificate of completion is available for those who score 5 out of 5 on each quiz.
“You’re not going to take this course and become a COVID-19 expert, but when you take this course you will have a better foundation for what this pandemic may mean for you,” Masterson said. “It’s going to help you navigate the things you’re hearing on the news.”
In addition to Masterson and Coats, several USM members participated in creating the course, including Fegewi Bai, Susan Dobson, Janet Donaldson, Mohamed Elasri, Steven Farrell, John Fitzpatrick, Stacie Frey, Tom Hutchinson, Jennifer Lemacks, Stephanie McCoy, Kristy McRaney, Stephanie Parks, Scotty Piland and Edward Sayre.
“These faculty members who came together to do this truly did this across disciplinary lines, across schools, and I think that shows that we have expertise in a variety of locations on campus that can address issues like this,” Masterson said. “The faculty’s willingness to come together to do this, to put this together while they’re also learning how to adjust to this new normal, both personally and professionally, shows our commitment to the health and well-being of our fellow residents of the state and beyond.”
Coats said education will play an important role in mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s what this course is all about,” she said. “It brings together a group of faculty with diverse areas of expertise to inform the public about pandemics throughout history, the biology, epidemiology and control of the coronavirus, and the impact of COVID-19 on personal and societal health and well-being.
“Each module is valuable as a stand-alone, but it is our hope that the complete course will provide a level of understanding of COVID-19 that equips us to discern fact from fiction. Ultimately, it will prepare us to make better decisions about protecting ourselves and others from infection.”