AIDS to Cultural Outreach

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Biology students explore the role of social media in halting the spread of HIV/AIDS.

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By Bill Giduz

An alarming statistic indicates that younger Americans are not hearing or heeding traditional messages about preventing HIV/AIDS: about 34 percent of all new infections in the U.S. occur in people between the ages of 13 and 29.

Last year, in response to this statistic, members of Professor of Biology David Wessner’s Biology of HIV/AIDS class conducted an electronic survey of Davidson students’ use of the Internet to help determine the best means of educating young people about HIV/AIDS.

An impressive 25 percent of Davidson students responded to the survey questions, saying that they spend a significant amount of time using Facebook and You-Tube. Of the 400 respondents, 64 percent use Facebook daily, and 36.4 percent use YouTube often. Wessner’s class concluded that most students would access HIV/ AIDS information on Facebook or You-Tube, rather than text, e-mail, blogs, or podcasts. However, the survey also showed that most students do not use the Internet for any information on HIV/AIDS.

Building upon these survey results, this fall’s HIV/AIDS class created informational videos about AIDS and HIV, targeting information to the young demographic. The class also maintained a blog with podcasts and developed a multimedia Web site devoted to HIV/AIDS and popular culture.

Wessner’s students discussed their work in class, and then used what they were learning in the classroom to interact via the Internet with a broader audience. “As a Davidson faculty member, that’s what excites me the most—that our students are connecting with others outside the classroom.”

Wessner said that outreach efforts—like his students’ use of Twitter—have the advantage of “freeing ourselves from the four walls of the classroom. Interacting with the community, with other students, and on a global level intensifies and deepens the educational experience for students,” he said.

Last summer, Wessner presented a poster about results of the survey at the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria, listing each student in his fall 2009 class as a coauthor. For more facult y news and a full listing of Spring Faculty Notes, see the online Davidson Journal.

Read Dave Wessner’s blog on HIV/AIDS.

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