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Teaching sociology to public health students: Consumption as a reflective learning tool

Rebecca Olson, Edgar Burns


Introduction: This paper responds to a call for creative approaches to teaching the social determinants of health in public health classrooms. A reflective learning tool was designed to help students link social theory to their own lives and reflectively broaden their understanding of the social determinants of health. Each student completed a worksheet on everything he or she consumed in one 24-hour period. Responses were applied, through discussion, to a lesson on social theory and behaviour, as well as to a lesson on the environment. Data on the class’s consumption was then compiled and applied to group work, with students employing sociological theories to critique public health campaigns addressing consumption and environmental sustainability.

Methods: Evaluation of the teaching tool was achieved through in-class questionnaires containing 5-point Likert scale and open questions completed after the first and second lesson.

Results: Eighty-nine percent of participants agreed that the reflective learning tool was an effective means of learning about social influences on individual behaviour. In qualitative responses, several students described self-discovery experiences related to the exercise.

Conclusions: Reflective learning tools, such as the consumption exercise described here, show promise in providing a means of achieving the creative and transformative learning needed to generate public health graduates prepared for the global and political challenges of the 21st century. 


public health; learning; sociology

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