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To get teens to learn about health, staff at NetWellness, a nonprofit consumer health web site solicited the aid of computer-savvy teens in technology education classes at four high schools in Ohio. The result is TeensLook@Health, a section on the NetWellness site (netwellness.org) that has health content created by teens for teens.
NetWellness is produced by The Ohio State University in Columbus, The University of Cincinnati, and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "The concept was that if we could put health information into a format that was appealing and engaging to teens, they would pay attention to it and would be more likely to apply it to their lives," says Brenda Rose, MA, NetWellness program manager.
Teens work with medical students
Teens have come up with some innovative ways to deliver health messages. For example, in a video game called "Planet Brain," a spaceman fights warriors in the different parts of the brain by answering questions correctly based on information gathered about the brain during the fight. To teach about eating disorders, one student took a photograph of herself, and visitors to the site can click the cursor on different parts of her body to learn the symptoms of anorexia.
Students in the technology classes who want to work on a health project are given a list of topics to help with their selection; however, they are not limited to the suggestions on the list. Projects have focused on smoking cessation, eating disorders, breast cancer, fitness, and nutrition. "What we find is the students — or someone in their life — may have been touched by a health problem, and that is the topic that they choose," says Rose.
A medical student is paired with each high school student to help with the development of ideas, provide research assistance when needed, and help ensure that the information incorporated into the project is correct. Often, the medical student is able to obtain resources, such as images of diseased lung tissue, otherwise difficult for the teen to find. The incentive to participate for the medical student is that the project fulfills a community service requirement for graduation.
Peer-review process ensures accuracy
To help accommodate the busy schedules of the medical students, most communication is by telephone and e-mail. There’s also a message board on the NetWellness site so high school students can interact with one another as well as medical students while working on the projects.
Once a project is finished, it must go through an evaluation process before it is placed on the NetWellness site. In addition to oversight by the medical student, the project is reviewed by a member of the faculty at The Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, or the University of Cincinnati. Medical and health professional faculty at those three institutions create the consumer health content for NetWellness, which is funded by the state of Ohio. The TeensLook@Health project also goes through a design review process to detect any technological glitches.
The hands-on learning method used in the technology classes not only teaches the teens how to create good web content, it also increases their knowledge about health. One student added a video clip to her smoking cessation project in which she talks about how she learned so much about the diseases related to smoking while working on the project that she stopped smoking.
Does the content impact the health habits of teens who visit the web site? That’s yet to be determined. A graduate student is putting together an evaluation to assess how and why the content on TeensLook@Health is being used. "We do know that it is being used by health educators in the classroom," says Rose. n
For more information about TeensLook@Health, contact:
• Brenda Rose, MA, NetWellness Program Manager, 513 Battelle, 1375 Perry St., Columbus, OH 43201. Tele-phone: (614) 293-7933. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.