What is curriculum infusion?
A traditional alcohol prevention approach has been to educate students about alcohol and the risks of consumption. One way to do this is through curriculum infusion, where faculty members bring alcohol-related content into their curricula. For example, a biology professor may discuss the digestion of alcohol in a unit on metabolism, or a communications professor may work with students to create a social norms media campaign in order to teach the application of marketing theories. Curriculum infusion is an important component in prevention efforts, because it allows prevention to be brought into the classroom. By weaving alcohol-related content into courses, students’ knowledge and attitudes about alcohol may be impacted through their academic work as opposed to simply through a health and wellness workshop.
Many campuses have been adopting curriculum infusion. At Georgetown University, in an effort to infuse mental health topics into course curricula, students in the “Introduction to Math Modeling ” course learned about problems with eliminating caffeine or alcohol from the body using a mathematical problem (Riley & McWilliams, 2007). Some institutions have devoted entire courses to educate about alcohol. Hobart and William Smith Colleges offers a first year seminar called “Alcohol in College: What is Myth? What is Reality?” which examines college alcohol problems from both natural scientific and social scientific perspectives. Students monitor the issue by collecting data on late night blood alcohol levels of students returning home to their residence halls via the use of breathalyzers (“Hobart and William Smith Colleges Alcohol Education Project: Faculty Curriculum Development,” 2009).
One of the benefits of using curriculum infusion for alcohol prevention is the unique involvement of faculty. Faculty allow prevention efforts to reach students through their “intellectual and academic interests, while also changing the social norms of the school.” (DeJong, 2008). Many institutions provide training to faculty members on how to infuse alcohol-related curriculum into their courses and may fund such efforts. Faculty members may also be given a stipend to bring alcohol content into their teaching.
Several studies have examined the impact of curriculum infusion on student alcohol-related knowledge and normative perceptions. For example, at a Northeastern university, students who completed a communications class with a norms-based simulation had lower normative misperceptions of peer consumption than students who completed the same communications class without the simulation (Lederman et al., 2007).
Curriculum infusion has also been demonstrated to impact students’ attitudes and intentions regarding alcohol-use. For example, at the Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies, students enrolled in a “Health Promotion and Disease Prevention” course helped design a health promotion program to reduce alcohol-related harm on their campus. When surveyed after completing the course, the majority of students agreed they had assessed their own drinking habits and many indicated intentions to modify their own alcohol consumption as result of what they learned in the course (Riley et al., 2005). Similarly, in an analysis of prevention programs employed at 82 institutions supported by the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), curriculum infusion was associated with significant decreases in the desire for drugs at parties and in driving in a car after drinking (Licciardone, 2003).
Very few studies on curriculum infusion have examined the impact of alcohol-related content on behavior change. This lack of research on behavior change may be attributable to the short-lived nature of the classroom environment, making follow-up difficult. Yet, one study did examine the relationship between curriculum infusion and campus-wide changes in binge drinking. In an analysis of prevention programs employed by 94 FIPSE-granted institutions, curriculum infusion was demonstrated to be one of many other educational and informational efforts predictive of a decrease in binge drinking (Ziemelis et al., 2002).
Issues and considerations
Proper training and resources must be provided to faculty members to assist them in bringing alcohol content into their courses. For example, with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Hobart and William Smith Colleges offered two-day summer workshops to faculty members to discuss ways faculty might integrate alcohol and other drug content into their courses (“Hobart and William Smith Colleges Alcohol Education Project: Faculty Curriculum Development,” 2009).
As with many educational and awareness approaches to prevention, curriculum infusion may not yield reductions in high-risk drinking when used in isolation. Curriculum infusion may have optimal results when employed in the context of a broader environmental approach to prevention.
Dejong, W. (Spring 2008). Mutual Interests Involving Faculty in Campus Prevention Work. The U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention. Catalyst. Vol. 10 No. 1.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges Alcohol Education Project: Faculty Curriculum Development (2009). Retrieved August 6, 2009 from http://alcohol.hws.edu/dvpphe/infusion.htm.
Lederman, L., Stewart, L., & Russ, T. (2007, October). Addressing College Drinking through Curriculum Infusion: A Study of the Use of Experience-Based Learning in the Communication Classroom. Communication Education, 56(4), 476-494.
Licciardone, J. (2003, November). Outcomes of a Federally Funded Program for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention in Higher Education. American Journal of Drug & Alcohol Abuse, 29(4), 803.
Riley, J.B., Durbin, P.T., & D’Ariano, M. (2005). Under the influence: taking alcohol issues into the college classroom. Health Promotion Practice 6(2), 202-206.
Ziemelis, A., Bucknam, R. B., & Elfessi, A. M. (2002). Prevention efforts underlying decreases in binge drinking at institutions of higher education. Journal of American College Health, 50(5), 238