The Informatics Stack: A Heuristic Tool for Informatics Teaching[*]Funding: This work was supported in part by the US Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology through their University-based training (grant number T15OC000048).
26 December 2016
accepted: 19 April 2017
31 January 2018 (online)
Objective: To develop a heuristic framework for students to organize and apply the many concepts of informatics for rapid use.
Method: Organization of curriculum material and recurrent refinement by student feedback. An Informatics Stack was developed based on several existing informatics and software-development frameworks comprising several levels of abstraction, from what a system is supposed to accomplish (4 levels) to how it accomplishes it (5 levels). At each level, there are specific concerns, types of interoperability, ethical and legal issues, testing and evaluation approaches and methods, and relevant scientific disciplines, and privacy (upper 5 levels), confidentiality (middle 3 levels), and security (lower 4 levels ) concerns whose levels overlap. An 8-week Introduction to Informatics course was taught for 6 years to masters students of informatics and of public health, based on the Stack, with a Final Project continually filled in during the course, where students applied the Stack to existing reports describing health information systems and their deployments.
Results: Student feedback from 538 students working in 116 groups over 6 years shows near-universal appreciation that the Stack helped to organize their review of the report. Each student, from a wide variety of backgrounds, identified some level of the Stack as something they might have otherwise missed, and all levels were invoked by some student. Attributes identified by the students as missing from the Stack concerned the practicalities of system development.
Conclusion: The Stack is a broadly-encompassing heuristic whose application can be learned and applied by students from a wide variety of backgrounds in an 8-week course.
* Supplementary material published on our website https://doi.org/10.3414/ME16-01-0152
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