Project Impact

The HackHealth program is designed to increase the interest of middle school students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the health sciences and to improve their self-efficacy (their ability to control their own health). Also, the program fuels the development of health literacy skills such as searching for health information, developing awareness of credible health-related sources, and evaluating health-related information found on the open Web.

Awareness of Health-related Information

Students who participated in the HackHealth Program were asked to choose a health-related topic that was of interest to them personally. While some students chose a topic close to home, such as researching diabetes for themselves or a family member, others were more abstract, choosing to research stress or dyslexia. In the beginning of the program, students were not aware of health-related resources. At the end of the program, students were asked where they might look for information in order to complete their research.

Researcher: …if you had another need for health-related information — let’s say you had a cavity. Where do you
think you would look? … Do you know which websites you might go to? Jerry: Yeah, um, National Library of Medicine.

Researcher: … So you’ve done some health-related information search, so would you recommend any site for me to visit? Kaylee: …Mayo Clinic

Evaluating information sources

One of the challenges for HackHealth participants lies in recognizing that not all Internet sources are trustworthy. The challenge is even greater because these students may be lulled by experienced credibility and by media credibility. Researchers worked with the students to develop strategies for evaluating sources.

Jennifer says “I would just type something in and look at the first URL that I found and just believe what I read… Wikipedia is the most popular one, because at first I thought that you could trust it, but now I know that you can’t. Some random person could just publish it or write something that’s not true. So I know not to trust Wikipedia anymore.”

Tiny describes a trustworthy website: “It really gave you the person who wrote it, it was by a doctor, the year it came out, and it was just giving you a lot of information about the sickle cell. It gave you information that you didn’t ask about in the question.”

Tiny:  [The program] really helped me focus on how to find trustworthy websites and how to find more information on your disease by using many websites instead of just one.


Someone who has a health information need must feel confident of his or her ability to find and potentially use that information. As a result of participation in HackHealth, students were inspired to do research on new health topics and to use their newly acquired knowledge for some particular purpose, such as to help a family member or to make changes to their health behaviors that would help to lead to better outcomes.

Jennifer: I want to know [more about the causes of bone pain] because I want to help my mom.

Chocolate Rain: I don’t feel comfortable in my body, so I gotta do something with it, and it helps me want to research and then motivate myself from that research that I did.

Phenomenal: [W]e got really interested and searched and the more interested you got, the more information you get. So it was important for not [only] yourself, but [also] your family members and anyone else who might have this.

Interest in STEM

To increase participant interest in the STEM disciplines was one of the stated goals of the HackHealth program. However, it was again difficult to see improvement given the short time span of the program. Nonetheless, it was heartening to see students begin to think of themselves as investigators.

Star Wars: I see, me pursuing like… I’m gonna be doing more stuff on cardiology and, hopefully, … college, like I have to like biology, I’m gonna do biology and stuff like that. Like I’m gonna put it in my courses and everything…

Tiny: I would like to be a nurse… I feel like nurses have a very important role other than just doctors.

Mr. Science Guy: So you guys – this club – it motivated me to take science a better way because at first, I really didn’t like science or care about it. But then I realized, this is my life, so it’s basically learning about myself, so that’s what encouraged me.

Parent: I am so grateful for what you are doing for my child… My daughter is very interested in the program and tries not to miss any of the sessions. I saw that my daughter is learning to search good health information. Instead of being home watching TV, she’s at school learning more at the library. Now she wants to be a pediatrician.