Professor David Kleinbaum wrote the (electronic) book on epidemiology—and teaches the topic with flair.
Teaching in Technicolor
The textbook of the future—a multimedia CD-ROM with links to online materials, short video clips, animation, and built-in quizzes—is already in use in Professor David Kleinbaum’s epidemiology classes.
Kleinbaum, who developed the electronic text, sees it as a natural extension of his upbeat, interactive teaching style.
“I’ve wanted to teach ever since I was a little kid growing up in Brooklyn, teaching some of my neighborhood friends how to play hearts, checkers, and chess,” says Kleinbaum, who was recently named the inaugural recipient of the Association of Schools of Public Health/Pfizer Award for Teaching Excellence. “I don’t know any other way to teach than to give it my all.”
Even in his large lecture sessions, he greets each student by name on their first day, having memorized their faces from photographs. He wears a different bright, multicolored shirt every day, many of which were given to him by former students. Students also can see him performing as a flutist for the Moonlighters Jazz Trio, playing jazz classics at restaurants and other venues around town.
“I like to have fun and be creative,” Kleinbaum says, “whether it’s through my music or my lectures.”
Kleinbaum, who has taught at Emory since 1993, has guest lectured around the world and has written five textbooks on epidemiology and biostatistics. He designed ActivEpi—the field’s first “electronic” textbook, now used in classrooms around the world—with the support of a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Epidemiology—the study of illness and health in populations—is “so complicated, that it really helps to have the right tools when you teach it,” he says. “It’s part science, part art.”
Kleinbaum tries to impart a healthy skepticism to his students by showing that “forty different people, given the same set of data, can come up with forty different answers.”
He is especially grateful for this most recent award, he says, because he doesn’t believe teaching is given nearly enough respect in the academy.
“Look how many grants and awards there are for faculty research,” he says. “But how many are there for excellent teaching? Not enough.”—M.J.L.