August 6, 2020

Free UMW Course Turns COVID-19 Inside Out

Communications Professor and Chair Anand Rao, who is facilitating the eight-week “COVID-19 in Context” series with Arts and Sciences Dean Keith Mellinger, taught Monday’s course on how messaging about the pandemic impacts policies, along with Assistant Communications Professor Elizabeth Johnson-Young.

Communications Professor and Chair Anand Rao, who is facilitating the eight-week “COVID-19 in Context” series with Arts and Sciences Dean Keith Mellinger, taught Monday’s course on how messaging about the pandemic impacts policies, along with Assistant Communications Professor Elizabeth Johnson-Young.

Political leaders and health experts who communicate the impact of COVID-19 to the public are just like anyone else. Some hit the mark. Some don’t. Understandable terms, relatable ideas and the confident presentation of useful information are key to delivering a successful message, said UMW Professor of Communication Anand Rao.

And competent public discourse during pandemic-scale events, he said, can mean the difference between life and death.

The lesson, delivered Monday, was part of UMW’s COVID-19 in Context, a series of biweekly lectures that turn the virus holding the world captive inside out, examining everything from its economic impact to its influence on art. Created for current and incoming students who can receive academic credit, and offered for free to all, it’s quickly become UMW’s largest course ever. More than 1,900 registered participants are in 39 states, plus Washington, D.C., and countries across the globe, including Canada, England, France, Switzerland, Japan and Ghana.

“We have been floored by the response,” said Rao, who presented Monday’s course – “Communicating COVID-19: How We Talk About a Pandemic Changes What We Do” – with assistant professor Elizabeth Johnson-Young live via Zoom.

Nearly 40 faculty members from across the university – from fine arts and humanities to the sciences and social sciences – joined forces, along with guest speakers, agreeing to share their expertise on all facets of the pandemic. Beginning last week with a biological exploration of the virus and a look at how it affects public policy, 16 hourlong sessions take place on Mondays and Wednesdays through July 22. Read more.