June 20, 2016

New Curriculum Tackles Zika, Ebola, and Other Diseases

Zika, HIV/AIDS, Ebola—when infectious diseases approach epidemic status, panic also spreads. And while Jackie Miller understands people’s heightened concerns about global contagion, she says that the panic ultimately does more harm than good.

“During the Ebola outbreak, misinformation flowed freely,” says Miller. “Misleading media reports and ill-informed responses from some legislative leaders did little to help the public understand the science behind what was going on.”

She’s hoping that Exploring Infectious Diseases, a new curriculum she developed with colleagues at both EDC and the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories at Boston University, can help create a more informed populace. Free and available online, the curriculum teaches high school students and educators the basics about infectious diseases—what they are, how they spread, and how they can be prevented and treated.

“It is so important that people have the knowledge to identify and apply reliable information amid confusing times,” she says.

The curriculum’s four modules help students:

  • Develop skills to better understand and explain infectious diseases
  • Analyze data to identify the cause of an epidemic
  • Explain the role of vaccination in disease prevention
  • Identify the different barriers humans have to viral infections

Stories, news reports, and brief videos place students in the midst (figuratively) of recent Ebola and measles outbreaks. Co-developer Katherine Paget, also of EDC, believes that the combination of scientific content and real-life narratives helps distinguish the curriculum.

“We drew upon an effective approach to engaging learners in rigorous science learning—using stories and providing a range of media materials—that we have used in other successful instructional materials, such as Exploring Bioethics and Biology: Concepts and Practices,” she says.

Miller believes Exploring Infectious Diseases fills a critical gap in science education, helping students learn the critical-thinking skills needed to understand the threats and risks of events such as Ebola and Zika.

“Panic won’t halt the next epidemic,” she says. “Only scientific knowledge will."

 Photo courtesy of the CDC