Course Syllabus

Course objectives: 

  • Define the breadth and scope of biomedical & health informatics.
  • Understand why the field is inherently multi-disciplinary. Recognize biases and goals of different researchers. 
  • Understand the open challenges in the field and some of its historic successes and failures.

Given these points, we will cover a wide range of topics, including: 

  • Medical decision making, medical errors
  • EHRs, PHRs, patient portals
  • Consumer health informatics
  • Imaging informatics
  • Bio-informatics and personal genomics
  • Public health and global health informatics
  • Standards for health care and biology


The work for this course includes reading, writing, and a few hands-on assignments with technology and biomedical data (no programming required). 

Your final grade will be based on your performance on the assignments, some of which you will carry out in teams of two. About 50% of your grade will be based on your written work, with the final "summarize and extrapolate" essay being worth the most. About 40% of your grade will be based on the three "hands-on" assignments. The final 10% will be based on in-class participation in the discussions and activities, as well as postings to the discussion board. 

There will be no quizzes or exams in this course.

Reaction Essays

One goal of this course is to prepare you for graduate studies. You will not succeed as a graduate student (nor as a scientist) if you cannot communicate well. In this course, I will focus mostly on written communication, using the task of writing reaction essay.

For this course, a reaction essay is a brief written reaction to the readings. It may be somewhat informal (and I would encourage you to be personal), but it must be well-written and well-organized. Due to grading time (I have no TA!), I will ask you to write no more than one page, in 12-point font, single spaced, at least 1" margins. (Later writing assignments may be longer.) Generally, you should not need to do any reading outside of that required for the course. 

I will not grade these based on the content of your reactions (ideas and reactions aren't simply right or wrong), but rather on the strength of your line of argument. That is, I am primarily grading your written communication skills, and only secondarily the originality or relevance of your ideas with respect to the reading material. Therefore, like all good essays, your essays should include an introductory paragraph stating your main premise, a body where your detail your ideas, and a brief concluding paragraph. Given the space limit, your reaction essay should not include a complete summary of the reading material. It should include enough information about the article to make your ideas or criticisms well-grounded and connected to the material. (Assume your readers have read the article, but that they need reminding about any details you wish to discuss.)

Although all writing rules are subjective and heuristic, here are a few recommendations:

  • Use active voice. Passive tense sounds amorphous and wishy-washy. The use of first person ("I think that ...") is appropriate for these essays.
  • Avoid overly complex sentences. In scientific writing, convoluted sentences are a death-knell for comprehension. If you do have a complex sentence, make certain it uses parallel construction.
  • Use paragraphs appropriately as partitions for your ideas. Each paragraph should generally have at least three sentences.
  • Pay special attention to your opening paragraph. That is your chance to make a good first impression, and it should specify the main message or point of your essay. 

All my assignments include grading rubrics. For reaction essays, here is a table with the sorts of things I will look for when grading reaction essays: 

  less than 3.0 3.0 -- 3.2 3.3 -- 3.7 3.8 -- 4.0
Structural clarity Poor opening paragraph/closing paragraphs. Strange jumps between paragraphs.  Not ideal opening paragraph; some flow problems. Clear organization, strong opening/closing paragraphs, minimal problems. No significant problems.
Content  Not much more than a summary of the reading.  Opinions and ideas clearly expressed. Shows depth of ideas (independent of direction), goes beyond a surface-level analysis. Student explores open research issues.
Sentence-level clarity Typos & grammar mistakes, sentences awkward or too long, meaning unclear. Some sentence-level problems, but meaning is clear. Clear, well-constructed sentences. Sparkling, clear writing. 


Discussion postings

To stimulate discussion in class (and to help you learn more from you peers), I will ask that you post a question or a comment on the discussion board, for each class session when readings are due (see Discussion assignments). Note that I will not ask for both a discussion posting and a reaction essay on the same day, so the first posting is due on Wed, Oct 5. Please post these no later than 11am, so that I have a chance to read them prior to class. Ideally, it would be best if you posted your thoughts the night before class, so that your peers can read these and perhaps react to them, or answer questions. My expectation is that you might post about a paragraph. The content could be questions or confusions you may have about what you read. It could certainly be your opinion or reactions to the content. You could write (briefly) about how the content might relate to your own experiences. And you could also try to answer or react to your peers' postings (assuming some have posted early enough for you to read them!). Discussion postings are not graded, but a missing posting will be noted and affect your grade.

Course Summary:

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