During my research career, I’ve had the privilege of teaching students at many levels of study. This experience has often included me having to create curricula around my own research. During my Ph.D. studies, I worked as an outreach tutor with an organization committed to encouraging students from under-represented backgrounds to pursue higher education degrees. This organisation hires Ph.D. researchers to design six-week courses and handbooks based around our research, which we then teach to school children between the ages of 11 and 13 for one hour every week.
The course I designed was titled, Life and HIV: Understanding the Dynamics of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). My Ph.D. focused on immunological responses in HIV, and interacting with patient participants reminded me how important destigmatization is for those living with HIV and for wider society. Importantly, I was also reminded that destigmatization should be intentional. Therefore, destigmatizing HIV became the core message of my course. After all, while the life cycle, transmission, and medication of HIV are all valid subjects to teach children—and all formed individual classes in the course—this information is easily accessible. Whereas refocusing the message on the importance of ending HIV stigma—which also formed its own class session within my course—would ensure that there was a component of social justice included, which I hoped would stick.
In order to pass the course, pupils were required to write a 2,000-word evidenced argument: I asked them to come up with their own HIV destigmatization strategy. Because many of these students might never have been required to write an essay of that length, I also dedicated one class to teaching them critical essay writing.
It is crucial that everyone seeking to teach about HIV develop a well-rounded curriculum that is holistic, accurate, informative, audience-appropriate, and engaging. Based on my experiences, I have four suggestions on how to develop such a curriculum:
- Identify who your audience is.
- Define what your content will be.
- Determine what mode of delivery is best suited for your course.
- Preparation is key for an optimal teaching experience.
Identify Who Your Audience Is
Knowing exactly who your audience will be ensures that you can tailor your content to suit their needs. For example, will you be teaching children or adults? This may affect how long your teaching session will last, and also certain terminology you use. This does not mean censoring the facts you present, but making sure that you use easily understood language. A rule of thumb is always to check in with the course convener to ensure that what you are offering aligns with what the course expectations are. Always be aware that there may be people in your audience with lived experience of HIV, in person or through care work.
If your audience members are children, never underestimate their ability to grasp concepts you introduce them to. Further, using the correct terminology around HIV while also making sure to explain thoroughly with easily understood language creates an atmosphere of mutual respect: You are communicating to the children that while you are their teacher, they are still your equals. One way I achieved this was by holding space for my students to share their thoughts, and being open with them about the fact that just because I was their teacher and had a Ph.D. did not mean I necessarily had all the answers. There is a level of appropriate vulnerability that you might want to express in your class to show your audience, whoever they might be, that you are there to support them and not the final authority.
Define What Your Content Will Be
Every curriculum-planning session should start with brainstorming. Further, consider the length of course you want to design. To get your creativity going, it may be helpful to start by listing out some main points you want your audience never to forget, or some questions you want them to be able to answer by the time the course is over. These points you define become the aims of the course, and each aim can be aligned to one specific lecture. For example, over a four-week course, you might want to introduce your audience to the history of HIV and AIDS, modes of HIV transmission, how antiretroviral therapy (ART) works, and the need to destigmatize HIV. Once your aims are defined, they can be broken down into objectives.
Think of your aim as your overarching goal, and your objectives as the steps you take to achieve this goal. If your aim for one lecture is to explain ART to your audience, your objectives may include the history of ART, how it works, statistics on ART efficiency and global trends, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and ongoing research into possible vaccines and improved medications. Fleshed-out aims and objectives contribute toward your whole course outline.
To keep your students plugged into the course, it is always advisable to give them some kind of homework to do—even if this is just recommended reading in preparation for the next lecture. This reading doesn’t have to be bulky; it can literally be the latest news article on HIV research or a first-person essay on a media platform.
Determine What Mode of Delivery Is Best Suited for Your Course
No matter what mode of delivery you choose, it is always helpful for your students to have a handbook or handout they can refer back to and perhaps make notes on during the lecture. In my case, I created a handbook that contained chapters based on each lecture I gave. Each chapter followed a similar format: The aims and objectives of the lecture were listed, a short introduction was given, space for note-taking and completing activities was provided, as well as links to recommended reading.
There are many different effective modes of teaching, and what you choose will be based on your audience group and the time you allot for your teaching session. In some cases, it may be appropriate to just speak to your audience with no distractions; in others, you could use flip-chart paper or a blackboard. Still, PowerPoint presentations are always useful, because all kinds of media can be embedded within slides to create an engaging session.
The lectures I delivered during my course relied on using PowerPoint. It was quite easy to find accurate resources to embed within my lecture slides. For instance, I used a colorful video that made the immune system easily understandable. I also wanted my students to think outside the box on how societal destigmatization can be implemented, so I included a video showing how Trinity University uses forum theatre to teach about HIV stigma]]. Another advantage of using software like PowerPoint is its efficiency when presenting to a large audience.
Each lecture of mine also included at least three different activities, one every 15 minutes or so. Inclusion of these activities ensured that I gave my audience of 11 to 13 year olds a “break” at least three times per lecture, when they could laugh and draw or scribble. Activities you can use include throwing out a question to the audience and breaking them away for five-minute discussions in small groups, after which each group feeds back to the whole class. Anonymous polling during lectures is also another way of engaging people in real time.
Whatever activities are used, it is crucial to ensure that your classroom remains a safe space where your audience understands they are welcome. In order to create this safe learning environment as a teacher, you need to make sure that you are comfortable with what you are teaching and remain in control of your teaching space. An effective way of setting the scene before beginning the lecture is to lay ground rules. This could be as simple as saying, “Please help me keep this a safe and non-discriminatory space where all of us feel welcome.” In this way, your audience knows they too are stakeholders in the session.
Preparation Is Key for an Optimal Teaching Experience
It is good practice before curriculum design to define your motives for teaching that particular subject, your personal stake in the subject matter, and identify support systems and resources for maintenance of your own wellbeing. This information is your point of reference for those times you need to refocus. It is also essential that you are comfortable with conveying your message and all the information within your course. Further, it is also imperative to be prepared for your delivery, and for those moments when you may not have the information to adequately respond to questions asked so need to signpost your students.
In conclusion, developing and effectively delivering a curriculum around HIV requires that you know your audience and provide them with engaging, accurate, and current information. As a teacher, you need to be adequately prepared, which is made easier by creating a course outline defining aims and objectives of the course and keeping your students plugged in by giving them some homework. It is also important to go beyond the immunological aspects of the virus and its transmission and prognosis, and further include the social aspects of stigma and how HIV can be destigmatized.