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July 8, 2002

Kleinbaum gets inter-ActivEpi with CD textbook

By Michael Terrazas

Twenty years ago, David Kleinbaum wrote what many considered the definitive text on the basics of epidemiology. Now he might have duplicated the feat for the cyber age.

Kleinbaum, professor of epidemiology in the Rollins School of Public Health, has created “ActivEpi,” an electronic textbook, available on CD-ROM, that provides epidemiology students with an accessible and interactive resource to learn about the fundamentals of the field. Developed in cooperation with Data Description, a educational multimedia development firm in Ithaca, N.Y., ActivEpi is the first electronic textbook devoted to epidemiology.

ActivEpi boasts a range of features that propel the learning experience light-years beyond a normal textbook. All the information contained in a textbook is there, to be sure, but there also are animated presentations explaining epidemiological concepts and case studies; interactive exercises and short quizzes so students can measure their own progress; instant point-and-click access to appendices, source references, a glossary and an index; links to additional website information; and built-in, additional software that allows students to analyze data sets in the same manner as professional epidemiologists.

“It’s got everything you’d want to have—beginning, intermediate and advanced,” Kleinbaum said. “That’s why it can be used for such a wide variety of audiences, even high school students.”

For example, one of the early chapters covers the term “measure of effect.” If the viewer clicks on a certain icon, a short animated film, complete with narration, pops up and uses the history of research linking smoking and lung cancer to illustrate the epidemiologic concept. Each chapter is full of such material, using real-world examples to help teach concepts.

Several Rollins professors plan to incorporate ActivEpi—which retails for $70 ($20 for the companion text) and runs on both Macintosh and Windows platforms—into their classes this fall, Kleinbaum said, and Assistant Professor Kevin Sullivan will use it as the main text in his introductory EPI 505 course.

“It adds to the learning environment,” Sullivan said. “Some students are able to just sit down with a book, while others need a little more, and that’s where the CD-ROM comes in. It also will allow me to spend less time on the basics and more time on the complicated things.”

Complicated is just what the creation of ActivEpi has been, according to Kleinbaum, who called the effort a “labor of love.”

“My wife says she’s an ‘ActivEpi widow,’” Kleinbaum joked. “I worked long days and nights and sacrificed a lot to get this done.”

Kleinbaum worked on ActivEpi over the past several years, during which time Emory has been revising its intellectual property policy (see story). As a piece of “new media,” ActivEpi fell into what was previously a gray area regarding copyright ownership, and Kleinbaum said he spent a significant amount of his own money on legal fees as he and the University went back and forth.

In the end, however, Emory relinquished all ownership rights. Kleinbaum’s not sure what kind of market there is for an electronic text on epidemiology, but one thing is certain: ActivEpi is peerless.

“It’s very different,” Kleinbaum said. “It’s got all this potential.”