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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Health Education and Technology Competency

Health education is a diverse field including school, public, and work-site practitioners each of which interacts in distinctly different settings but use similar process formats for the delivery of information. In this respect, potentially all health education programs may benefit from adopting technology competency guidelines, with school health being the most obvious beneficiary. However, formal educational technology requirements for most school health programs are lacking and consensus on acceptable standards is not yet developed. Pedagogical issues surrounding information development often focus on print materials and readability but fail to address specific evaluation of the potential and impact of educational technology as a medium of itself. Far too often lessons/projects simply consist of tranferring print material into digital format. Not only does the future school health teacher have few skills at their disposal but lack critical evaluation tools and instruments needed to provide their own students the opportunity to access and analyze information. Instead, commercial and corporate interests have "moved in" to fill the demand for health information and evaluation. Dependence on commercial sources of health information and evaluation threaten the field of health education in all areas; school, public or work-site.

Health information is a lifelong process. Unlike some content areas, health information changes as individuals develop and science advances. It is not static and therefore requires the ability to understand, analyze, and implement given information. Technology is changing the access and availability of health information, products, and delivery while simultaneously becoming an "essential literacy". I use the term essential literacy to refer to those skills which must be mastered in order for other learning to occur. Health literacy is currently highly correlated with the ability to read at approximately an 8th grade level. Speakers of foreign languages, learning disabled, and other (often high risk) categories of persons have been shown to be a greater risk of developing health problems due to their lack of understanding of basic health information. Health literacy is becoming increasing dependent upon technological literacy. This has the potential to "break" traditional limitations of print media but only if it is conscientiously developed. Yet, guidelines for the effective use and analysis of this information is years behind technological advances…in part because teachers are not yet required to be technically literate themselves. In essence, perpetuating health illiteracy. Given the $900 billion dollars spent on health care each year in this country, the impact of health literacy/illiteracy is essential to quality of life issues for individuals and society. Health literacy is a functional skill rather than an academic endeavor.



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