Southern Miss faculty offer public course on COVID-19


Photo by Brian Winters

A free online course that assists in understanding COVID-19 and other related pandemic topics is now available to the public thanks to the work of faculty and staff at The University of Southern Mississippi.

‘Understanding the Pandemic: A COVID-19 Public Service Short Course’ became available on Canvas last week. It contains six modules: The History of Pandemics; Social and Economic Impact of Pandemics; Coronavirus and Epidemiology; Spread, Prevention and Treatment;Vaccines; and Personal Health and Wellness in a Pandemic. Each module is presented in a video presentation format by a Southern Miss faculty member whose expertise and academic focus is on the given topic. 

The public service course is the brainchild of Douglas Masterson Ph.D., Senior Associate Provost for Institutional Effectiveness and Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Southern Miss. When COVID-19 initially spread, he quickly realized there was a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding among the public about it — not only about the novel coronavirus’s immediate impact, but about the history of pandemics in general. 

This concern led to a conversation with Karen Coats, Ph.D., Dean of Southern Miss’ Graduate School and Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology, and they got to work on recruiting fellow faculty to create this course. 

“Our mission as a public institution is to serve the public,” Masterson said. “As a professor, we conduct research in our areas and publish that research in journals that are read largely by other academics. The opportunity to put our scholarly work into a context related to current events highlights the importance of what we do in academia and fulfills the mission of serving the public good.”

The course takes about three hours to complete, but it does not have to be done in one sitting. It can be taken by anyone and is presented in a way that all can understand, no matter if they’re a first year student, business manager or well-read academic. Masterson noted that the goal of the course is not to become an expert on COVID-19, but to become equipped with facts from subject-matter experts about infectious diseases in order to minimize one’s risk, both to one’s self and others.

“You’re not going to take this course and become a COVID-19 expert, but when you take this course you will have a better foundation for what this pandemic may mean for you. It’s going to help you navigate the things you’re hearing on the news,” Masterson said. 

“Education will play an important role in mitigating this pandemic. That’s what this course is all about,” Coats said. “It brings together a group of faculty with diverse areas of expertise to inform the public about pandemics throughout history, the biology, epidemiology, and control of the coronavirus, and the impact of COVID-19 on personal and societal health and well-being.”

Coats said each module is valuable as a stand-alone, but it is the hope of Southern Miss that the complete course will provide a level of understanding COVID-19 which will equip the community to better discern fact from fiction.

“Ultimately, it will prepare us to make better decisions about protecting ourselves and others from infection,” Coats said.