HIV/AIDS Awareness and Prevention Through Animation-Based Curriculum
Piya Sorcar, of the Learning, Design and Technology Program at Stanford University is leading Interactive Teaching AIDS (ITA), an initiative to develop “an animation-based curriculum to teach HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention strategies.” There are currently two versions of the application in development, one for India and one “general Asian version”.
I had the opportunity to speak with Piya about her work:
Why cartoon animations?
When I started this project last year, as part of my research I interviewed dozens of people on this subject. I couldn’t understand why so much misinformation was out there about a virus which many organizations have tried to combat through strong dedication and millions of dollars. After many interviews and running an IRB-approved study in India, I realized that people averse to discussing HIV/AIDS because of the stigma associated with its connection to discussing sexual practices. The educational materials are actually quite simple, it is getting the education to the people that is hard. Fighting stigma is not easy and we know this because people are so embarrassed and frightened of asking simple questions that in the long run might save their lives. I wanted to use cartoons to make the subject less embarrassing, to enhance learner comfort. When I originally ran the IRB-approved study in India, I gauged the comfort of students in learning HIV/AIDS material with various illustrations. People were most comfortable with simple graphics and actually, the simple graphics seem to get the points across just fine. It was important to me that individuals learn about this subject while feeling comfortable. I felt that cartoons accomplished this mission.
Why emphasize the biology of HIV/AIDS?
HIV/AIDS is a difficult subject to talk about. There are schools that won’t teach the prevention strategies because of its close ties to sexual practices. What we often forget is that HIV is just a virus, and we study viruses in biology classes all the time. By bringing the subject back to the basics, we can discuss it more openly and clearly. In order to prevent the spread of the virus, it’s important to build a coherent conception of where it lives, how it works and how it is transferred. In order to fully understand this, it’s important not to merely memorize a list of safe actions but to understand why a virus spreads.
What is the underlying pedagogy of this initiative?
There are many pedagogical principles utilized, but I would say the most important is based on the cognitive theory that it is important to create a coherent conception in the mind of the individual learning the material. Since in many countries there are few, if any, requirements for students to learn about HIV/AIDS in educational institutions, they tend to learn about it from mass media campaigns through television, billboards and radio. Although there are strong efforts to disseminate HIV/AIDS information in India (among other countries), because of the nature of the aforementioned education strategies, individuals must make sense of short, out-of-context pieces of information on their own. This often leads to misunderstanding as well as the memorization of random fragmented data, which doesn’t build a clear conceptual map. Interactive Teaching AIDS provides calculated learning steps to provide scaffolding for learners, allowing them to develop a coherent conception of basic biology, bodily fluids, transfer of bodily fluids into the human body, and their application to various actions or scenarios. In addition to building on a cognitive approach, we relied on other learning techniques including the use of mnemonic devices as well as Vygotsky’s scaffolding techniques. [See also: ITA Learning Theory & Rationale]
What is the current status of the projects in India and Korea? What makes those initiatives different from one another?
The Asian version of Interactive Teaching AIDS was fully funded by the Medical Research Information Center in Korea, which is funded by the South Korean government. The storyboard, which was developed at Stanford University, was animated by a professional development team and now needs to be translated into several different languages. We plan to test the production version of the project early next year. The prototype for the Indian version is complete and we have just received funding from a couple donors to create a more industry-ready version. Once that is complete we plan to test it throughout India. We hope the testing will provide us with useful data so we can iterate and make the project more effective. Finally we hope to give it away for free to various AIDS control societies, schools and eventually port to mobile devices so the information can truly be viewed in the privacy of one’s home. We are hoping also to partner with various organizations who are interested in the same goal as us – to promote awareness and prevention methods to people all over the world.
What is the overall assessment plan?
As I mentioned earlier, we hope to test this project with many students in Asia in order to inform our design and create a more effective learning tool. We hope to compare and contrast our work to other AIDS and general health education materials.
What are the key challenges ahead? (development, deployment, adoption, behavior change)
I would love to see the educational content available on all mobile devices across Asia. Perhaps governments and mobile service providers would be interested in partnering with us in order to either make this content freely available to download online or better yet, be preinstalled on the buyers cell phone or PDA. In terms of development the challenge is, of course, to develop something that is fairly short yet still gets the message across using limited screen real-estate. Once we have tested this project widely, hopefully we will have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t work and this will inform us in designing a mobile version of the project. Secondly, since there is no universal platform for cell phones, it will be challenging (not to mention expensive) to develop the animation using various scripts. When I ran the study in India, I was appalled that so many college-educated students were misinformed. The number one question was whether there was a cure for AIDS. My goal right now is to inform masses about the virus and prevention strategies. I think we have a huge problem if the population of the country with the greatest number of HIV/AIDS cases in the world doesn’t have a general understanding of how the virus spreads. Once the goal of educating people has been met, this will hopefully lead to behavior change.