Submitted by Janice Flahiff
Mulford Library, University of Toledo Health Science Campus, Toledo, OH
Thirty years ago I left Liberia after two satisfying years of Peace Corps service teaching math and science in a rural junior high school. This past May I returned for a much shorter stay of 3 1/2 weeks to again share knowledge and learn more about Liberia first hand. This time I traveled with a group sponsored by the Friends of Liberia.
The Friends of Liberia is largely made of “returned” Peace Corps volunteers across the United States. Our group of 27 was divided into 3 teams: health/medical, teacher training and environmental. I was on board as the sole medical librarian with nine other teams members including a physician, several nurses, mental health professionals, social workers and a laboratory technologist.
Our team worked at two different upcountry mission hospitals for a week each as guest lecturers in their nursing programs and consultants to the faculty and staff. My goal was to teach basic computer skills and how to find free, relevant reputable health/medical websites.
Both hospitals had Internet connections via satellite; however, electricity is only available for about nine hours each day at both hospitals. Fuel costs for the generators are high, and publicly available electricity is limited to only about ten square blocks in the capital.
Before traveling to Liberia, I collected more than 100 websites (in about 10 categories) and posted them on Delicious for the two hospital sites here and here, and I was hoping to refine them after consulting with faculty and staff at both sites.
Ganta Hospital had 2 computers in a small room that could seat 6 people and no means to show the Web live or through screen shots in a classroom. I presented an hour and half lecture to a nursing class of 30 students and separately to a group of 7 faculty. I focused on the rudiments of searching, Web site evaluation and Web based heath/medical information directories. Most of the students seemed alert and interested and took notes. Two sessions were planned for each class.
A nursing instructor, Professor Andrew Mambu, approached me at the start of the second session of the class for students and proposed that I use his laptop so that students (in groups of five) could view the basics of Web searching. I showed them the Delicious sites and a Web directory, stressing Web evaluation, links and navigation. Many were able to apply what they had learned in lecture and were extremely interested in the website content (disease information). They read as much as they could before their ten minutes was up. The Internet connection was slow but workable.
Curran Hospital had a library (about the size of a reading room) with seven computers. The Internet connection at this site was very similar to what I experience at work. Teaching (similar in content to that at Ganta Hospital) was limited to 2 interested faculty members, a Peace Corps education volunteer on site who showed interest, and the hospital’s librarian who had recently completed a 3-month library certificate.
One faculty member was having challenges with using a mouse while the other faculty member seemed adept at navigating a website. I was seated between them and did the best I could striking a balance between their learning levels. The Peace Corps volunteer asked for another meeting. I was happy to oblige, and we went over questions she had about good websites for specific classes the students were taking.
The level and length of training at both sites was limited for several reasons. Teaching schedules by members of our group were not made until on site and were entirely at the discretion of the hospital administration. Faculty, staff and students spend long days at the hospitals so Internet sessions were worked into their existing schedules and the classes conducted by other members of the health/medical team.
A few things probably would have made the experience more relevant for the staff and students. I could have made email contact with hospital administrators ahead of time and gauged expectations and Internet knowledge and experience among the students and staff.
Most staff and many students seemed to own cell phones. Not only could I have “advertised” office hours, but I could have made myself available for consultations by providing my cell phone number. That being said, those who were able to attend the presentations were given basic information on the Internet and, I hope, a good starting point for relevant websites.
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