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October 13, 2005

LaPorte maximizes GSPH lecture’s reach

More than the estimated 300 people in the auditorium in the Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) witnessed the second annual Cutler lecture delivered by Eric K. Noji, chief of the Epidemiology Surveillance and Emergency Response Branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A lot more.

Using live Internet web stream, Noji’s lecture on the public health consequences of disasters was broadcast around the world. Ronald LaPorte, one of the organizers of the lecture and an internationally known leader in disseminating public health information through GSPH’s “Supercourse,” said, “The groups participating in the dissemination of this historic lecture represent a ‘network of networks,’ with more than 300 organizations joining together on the Internet, including the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the Library of Alexandria in Egypt, by satellite (Peacesat). It was the most widely disseminated lecture of its kind.”

To date, the Supercourse web site (, which is designed to provide an overview on epidemiology and global health issues, has distributed more than 2,300 lectures, many in multiple languages, all of which are archived on the site.

Supercourse also features several format options for viewing the lectures.

“We’re distributing information to about 30,000 people worldwide and this lecture can be seen in 151 countries,” LaPorte said at the Sept. 29 lecture. “The information format is different than typical lectures; what we’ve done with Eric [Noji’s lecture] is try to set up a system to maximize our reach across the world. If we just did a web cast, we couldn’t, because the bandwidth is so high, so people in Kenya or Haiti couldn’t get it.”

Instead, the system is set up with eight different types of files to extend information accessibility, he said. “From use of these files over the course of the next year we expect that as at least a million people will be learning from a single lecture. This changes the ramifications of how we’re teaching public health and epidemiology and science, because while we’re doing that, it’s changing our approach to how we can get the best people — like Eric Noji — to deliver the best lectures to the most people. It’s a very different model of teaching and education using technology of the Internet very cost-effectively.”

At the Cutler lecture, GSPH Dean Bernard Goldstein said, “Dr. Ronald LaPorte is an extraordinary scholar. And we have a new title for you: professor of alchemy.”

Although alchemists got a bad rap in the Middle Ages for trying to change elements, Goldstein said, “what they really were trying to do was to use what were then new scientific and technical approaches to transform and transmute. Ron LaPorte has used today’s technology to transmute and transform what last year was a lecture to an audience that was solely within the lecture room to literally a worldwide audience.”

“What’s the salary?” a laughing LaPorte shouted out to Goldstein at the lecture.

Goldstein fired back: “As much lead as you can convert into gold.”

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 38 Issue 4

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