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Teaching organisation

150 hours of focused learning

Unit rationale, description and aim

This unit is designed to equip students with more advanced epidemiological skills that build on foundational concepts, issues and theories of public health. Students will understand the epidemiological approach to the study of disease and health events and the role of epidemiology in public health. Government investments in epidemiological surveillance systems will feature in this unit including an analysis of their use and contribution to better health. Causal thinking, an essential element of public health, will be further developed and presented in the context of public health issues. Students will acquire greater understanding of the hierarchy of evidence and research designs in an applied way. By focussing on contemporary examples, students will learn about policy-oriented research commissioning and models of research transfer to improve the impact and productivity of public health action. Students will also learn about the epidemiology of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health issues, and the need for community-led responses to address these. The aim of this unit is to enable students to conduct epidemiological research independently and to critically appraise methodological aspects of existing research.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

Learning Outcome NumberLearning Outcome DescriptionRelevant Graduate Capabilities
LO1Use key concepts in epidemiology to describe communicable and non-communicable public health issues in AustraliaGC1, GC2
LO2Explain critical methodological requirements of public health studiesGC1, GC2
LO3Interrogate claims of causation and aetiology in public health including risk factorsGC1, GC2
LO4Critically appraise epidemiological researchGC1, GC2, GC7


  • The history and contemporary role of epidemiology in shaping population health 
  • Where appropriate, students will learn how epidemiological methods and monitoring can assist in improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 
  • The application of systematic counts and measures to monitor population health status 
  • Descriptive epidemiology 
  • Measures of frequency 
  • Condition, frequency, severity 
  • Defining populations and cases, incidence, prevalence, case-fatality rates 
  • Patterns of disease and hypothesis generation (person, place, time) 
  • Rates / exposures / incubation periods 
  • Association and causation 
  • Measures of strength of association 
  • Relative risk / Risk ratios 
  • Attributable risk 
  • Bias (measurement error, selection bias), confounding and adjustment 
  • Causation claims and cases 
  • Analytical epidemiology and hypothesis testing 
  • Non-experimental study design / strengths and weaknesses 
  • Experimental and quasi-experimental study designs / strengths and weaknesses 
  • Testing interventions and demonstrating harm, benefit and cost-effectiveness 
  • The development and application of public health surveillance 
  • Evidence summaries 
  • Systematic reviews / meta-analyses / narrative reviews / guidelines 
  • Screening: test sensitivity and specificity / lead and length bias 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit fosters student-centred active learning and accommodates diverse student needs. It includes a combination of self-paced, online learning and real-time classes. Early and additional feedback on learning, and tailored support, are provided to facilitate students’ transition to university. This unit, uses an active learning approach to support students in acquiring and applying knowledge and skills in epidemiology. Students are able to explore this essential knowledge online allowing asynchronous access. Students are required to attend facilitated tutorial classes to participate in the synthesis of this knowledge with other students so as to develop a level of understanding sufficient to apply different epidemiological methods in public health. This approach is designed to ensure interactive learning and allows for essential skill development with expert support. The curriculum ensures that students are actively engaged in applying essential concepts and skills in epidemiology. Seminal studies, the growth of evidence and ”hot issues‟ that epidemiology can illuminate will lead classroom content. Interactive exercises will include non-threatening opportunities for students to explain key epidemiological concepts in lay language.

Assessment strategy and rationale

In order to pass this unit students are required to obtain an overall final mark of at least 50% (final grade of PA or above) from the marks from all three assessment tasks (described below). The assessment tasks for this unit are designed for the students to demonstrate their achievement of each learning outcome. The first assessment task comprises online quizzes, which will be delivered early in the semester to provide students with timely formative feedback. In the second assessment task students are required to demonstrate skills in critical appraisal of published studies. The final assessment task is a two-hour open-book written exam, during the University’s examination period. This examination will consider material presented throughout the unit and assess understanding of epidemiology and its application to public health and will be based on actual journal articles, extracts from articles, and re-created datasets to allow basic calculations.  

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning Outcomes

Assessment task 1: Online quizzes  

To enable and assess knowledge of foundation principles of epidemiology.


LO1, LO2, LO3

Assessment task 2: Critical appraisal of published research  

To enable and demonstrate competent application of epidemiology principles. 


LO2, LO3, LO4

Assessment Task 3: Exam  

To enable and evaluate knowledge and application of epidemiology.  


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

Representative texts and references

Bonita, R., Beaglehole, R., Kjellstrom, T. (2006). Basic epidemiology (2nd ed.). Geneva: World Health Organization. This book is available as a free electronic download: 

Büttner, P., & Muller, R. (2016). Epidemiology (2nd ed.). Melbourne: Oxford University Press (ISBN: 9780195597318). The e-book is available through the ACU library:

Webb, P., Bain, C. (2011). Essential epidemiology: An introduction for students and health professionals (2nd  ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. The e-book is available through the ACU library:

Webb, P., Bain, C., & Page, A. (2016). Essential epidemiology: An introduction for students and health professionals (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

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