Designed for Learning - LaGuardia Center for Teaching and Learning

Responding to the SARS Epidemic

BACKGROUND: It's late spring 2003. You work as the assistant director of a small neighborhood community center in Toronto, the city in North America with the highest incidence of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Your neighborhood is a mix of professionals and blue collar; it includes a number of health care professionals and visible population of Asian immigrants, including those from China, Malaysia, and India. No one in your neighborhood has been diagnosed with SARS, but everyone is talking about it. Your center has devoted a section of its bulletin board to a community discussion of SARS. The comments posted on the board have revealed a range of feelings in the community, including:
  • Fear of catching the disease;
  • Desire for more information about the disease;
  • Concern about what the Government is doing -or not doing - to stop the disease;
  • Fear of immigrants and travelers who might spread the disease, particularly the Chinese;
  • Worries about the impact of the disease-and the impact of publicity about the disease-on Toronto's tourist industry, which is very important to the local economy.

Your center director has asked you to plan a brochure with information on SARS, its history, and steps that can be taken to halt its spread. You decide to start this process by gathering information and then outlining the key elements that should be included in the brochure, thinking about issues of clarity, perspective and audience.

Activity. (55 Minutes Total)

Step 1. Researching the Situation. (30 min) Choose a partner. After reviewing these instructions, work with your partner to examine some of the sites listed on the attached sheet to gather information about SARS in Canada and the world, steps for protecting yourself as an individual, and related public policy issues. Use the attached note-taking form--or create your own.

Step 2. Sorting, evaluating, and analyzing information. (10 min) Stop gathering and start analyzing. With your partner, reflect on the data you gathered. What sites were most helpful to you? What information did you find on different sites? How would you describe their biases? How would you rate their reliability?

Step 3. Outlining key points of a brochure. (10 min) Sketch the key points of your brochure or pamphlet. Consider these questions: What information is most important? How should that information be presented (order, emphasis, illustration, layout)? How would you handle controversial issues around immigration and quarantine? How would issues of audience and perspective shape your decisions? What kind of look and feel would you want for the brochure? Why would you adopt this approach?

Step 4. Questions for further inquiry. (5 min) What else would you want or need to know to create your flyer? Brainstorm a list of questions and possible sources for additional information.

Small Group Discussion (40 minutes):
Gather with others who did this activity. Take turns briefly sharing your outlines for a one-page brochure and your list of questions for further inquiry. Then reflect on and discuss this activity with your small group, using the following sequence of questions as prompts. At the end of this time, prepare one member of the group to share key points of your discussion with the larger group.

What did you learn from this activity? What could students learn from a classroom version of it (including the sharing and exchange of presentations)? What other kinds of writing or presentation outcomes could this activity support?

What are the strengths and weaknesses of this activity? Is it a good vehicle for developing student skills in inquiry, critical thinking, and writing? How could it be improved?

How would you describe the pedagogy that informs this activity? What skills and modes of thinking does this activity support? Do the electronic materials being engaged suit the assignment's pedagogy and methodological goals? What can we learn from this activity about the kinds of inquiry assignments that work best when using new media resources?

How does the inquiry approach used in this activity compare with inquiry approaches you have used in your classes? What is similar? Different? What are the advantages and disadvantages of inquiry learning, in your experience? Where does it fit in the repertoire of teaching in your field?

Developed by Bret Eynon

LaGuardia Community College/CUNY, 31-10 Thomson Ave, Room M414, New York, NY11101