I'm enormously excited to hear that the People's Open Access Education Initiative is taking off. PLoS will do all it can to support this project, which aims to "to build public health capacity in low- to middle-income countries, using open education resources freely available on the Internet."
For example, the initiative has already used PLoS Medicine's child health collection in its course module on child mortality.
In the December 2007 issue of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, Richard Heller and colleagues, all of whom are involved in peoples-uni.org (the other name for the initiative), explain how the open source movement inspired them to provide online public health e-learning for free.
Such e-learning could, they say, help to train the global public health workforce of the future. India alone, for example, is going to need 10,000 graduates with a masters in public health over the next 10 years, yet the country's universities don't have the capacity to train all of them.
In a recent phone call with Richard Heller, he outlined his long term vision for peoples-uni.org, which is to eventually offer an accredited online masters in public health.
"In a partnership across the global and digital divides, the People’s Open Access Education Initiative (http://peoples-uni.org) has been established to embrace three aspects," write Heller and colleagues. "First, identifying open-access materials linked to the competences required to tackle public health problems, with subsequent modifications to the materials by teachers and students to reflect local issues. Second, teaching through online facilitation by volunteers in conjunction with members of local universities. Third, accrediting learned competences."
Recent developments, says Professor Heller, have included the launch of a pilot of a course module on maternal mortality which enrolled 36 people from 8 countries and was oversubscribed. The UK Royal Society of Health has offered considerable support, a UK Management Group and an International Advisory Group have been formed, and a number of people have volunteered to join the initiative.
"In order to keep costs low and to ensure sustainability, volunteerism is a key to the development and success of the initiative," says Professor Heller. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact him through the web site.