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Incorporating systems thinking into public health curriculum: a journey via Twitter

When public health academic Penelope Smith took charge of Croakey’s @WePublicHealth Twitter account recently, she chose the hashtag #PublicHealthMoves.

Her week of hosting @WePublicHealth tells the story of how she wove systems thinking into public health curriculum content.

For Smith, systems thinking provides “tools for understanding how to apply a critical lens to public health research and evidence”. She knew it was important that the curriculum not just teach systems thinking approaches – but embed them as well.

Join her below as she takes readers on a journey about incorporating systems thinking into public health curriculum content and to inform learning design.


Penelope Smith writes:

I pay my respects for the Wurundjeri People and express my deep gratitude to their community for the kindness afforded to me, a non Indigenous woman of colour, who resides on land that was stolen.

The First Nations people of Naarm and across Australia have afforded me much grace. As individuals and a community they have transformed who I am as an individual and as a public health professional. I am deeply grateful and committed to decolonisation, anti-racist work.

With my @victoriauninews Masters of Public Health students this semester we have moved from *doing* an Acknowledgement of Country at the start of our classes, to explicitly stating it is our *choice* to do so in solidarity.

We have also decided (on the advice of the most excellent Josh Cubillo from University of Melbourne) that our Acknowledgements will be in the first language of each student. Today’s Acknowledgement was given in Arabic.

Two small changes which have significant impact.

Systems thinking

People can be the bridge between us and something new, something complex, something challenging.

Both Therese Riley and Michelle Morgan helped us workout the starting point for designing our unit in #SystemsThinking and provided key guidance along with resources. You can read about Michelle’s amazing PhD here, and here is her presentation at Public Health Association of Australia’s (PHAA’s) annual prevention conference in Brisbane, 11-13 May 2022.

Academia can sometimes be a competitive 🤨 but the collegiality within Australia’s #PublicHealth #SystemsThinking community has been the opposite. Both Therese and Michelle spoke highly of each other, shared time and resources willingly with us. This kind of behaviour is a game changer.

Therese and the #PathwaysInPlace team at @victoriauninews not only assisted with initial design, introduced us to their networks, but also provided their research as the focus for one of our assessments.

The #PathwaysInPlace program – Cocreating Community Capabilities – has two sites (Brimbank and Logan) and is an incredible example of #SystemsThinking in action incorporated with #PlaceBasedApproach.

These two researchers, their colleagues and networks meant that our initial design was not only connected to current evidence based research, but had a firm footing in Australia.

As boss lady Dianne would say ‘perfect, perfect, perfect’ ❤️

Final word – the students have responded very well to this publication by @mishymorgs and  @seannalee. We made it part of the introduction session, referring to it often. It is the perfect springboard for learning and understanding.

Learning design

Side note, this article from @anzjph is important reading for those of us involved with #PublicHealth teaching and learning.

These women helped me to begin to build the #SystemsThinking content while the talented and patient #LearningDesigner Nick Lekakis kept me in line from a teaching and learning viewpoint.

Prior to Victoria University, I hadn’t worked with a Learning Designer before, in fact I didn’t know they existed! Nick unfortunately (or intelligently) is not a social media person but you can meet him here in this excellent explainer about #LearningDesign from @victoriauninews.

In the video Nick states that Learning Design = collaboration to him. This was powerful because collaboration is not only central to #PublicHealth but also #SystemsThinking.

As someone who has also worked with #PreServiceTeachers I found this article a really helpful starting point to changing my thinking. Sometimes outside of our discipline is where inspiration can lie. This article also started to give me direction about how #SystemsThinking can actually be a powerful method to meaningfully include First Nations content in curriculum.

I am excited to read Stephen Spain’s PhD on Rethinking the Australian Curriculum through a Systems Thinking perspective when it comes out later this year.

The combination of Nick’s skills as a #LearningDesigner, his commitment to collaboration, my completion of the Graduate Certificate of Tertiary Education (on top of my UG teaching degree), my passion of quality #PublicHealth education meant we became quite a team.

But it wasn’t just us on our own.

Learning design approach

Applying decolonisation to Learning Design for this unit (and others) meant talking about issues in #PublicHealth research and evidence. I find this to be a super complex teacher/student dynamic.

Many students trust the research and evidence they’ve been given in their studies implicitly so when you start talking about decolonisation of #PublicHealth you end up in a complex situation which can move towards conflict (especially if you are Indigenous or person of colour).

This happened today, but we have built a strong relationship in this class and the student who began questioning connected the dots with other things we’ve discussed….but it’s not always the way. One answer is to introduce things earlier obviously but that’s not always possible.

Making connections

See Penelope’s Twitter thread from the ‘Making Connections: Multiculturalism and Interculturalism in Australia’ conference here.

Key takeaways

My tips for hosting @WePublicHealth

  1. Try and find people to tweet with you during the week. When I’ve hosted with even one person it’s made a huge difference, particularly when you’ve run out of ideas (or get sick)
  2. Plan out the content in draft form for the week. Even if this is on a scrap of paper. You might have guessed from my tweeting this week that I had planned Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. I had guessed it would be easy to tweet about #IWD on Wednesday but I didn’t plan my final three days.
  3. Starting your tweet Acknowledging the Country you’re on is normal practice for @Croakey but also an important choice to make when you host. Try to include photographs. As you can see that’s easy for me to do but if you don’t take a million pictures like me just get seven in preparation.
  4. Get all the twitter tips you can from @MelissaSweetDr and her team. I have learnt ALL my twitter skills from her and also @TessaRDavis. There are tiny things you can learn that make it so easy.
  5. Have fun cause it is fun to host this account. I really do❤️ it no matter how much I overdramatize how I fail at it (only child fyi). The Croakey Team are always so encouraging even when you have completely lost your train of thought and no one is understanding where you are at.

See other articles by @WePublicHealth guest tweeters.

 

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