Social media has the potential to transform academic environments and engage teachers and learners in new ways. To achieve this transformation, medical educators must overcome initial fears to become familiar with the benefits, risks and limitations of using social media. Using social media in medical education can not only engage 21st century learners, but also teach the next generation of physicians the best practices for using these tools.
Social media is a term given to the freely available web tools and applications designed to facilitate online interaction (discussion) and information sharing (text, photo, audio, video). Increasing popularity of these tools has been primarily driven by entertainment and personal use. However, medical educators are now beginning to recognize that social media has the potential to transform learning environments.
When considering use of social media, the educator should focus on teaching and learning objectives, select a tool or application which supports those objectives, and determine a method to assess efficacy. There are many tools and applications that offer similar features. Selecting the right tool is crucial for successful integration of technology in teaching. Figure 1 lists commonly used social media tools, along with definitions and examples of current uses in medical education.
Consideration for both comfort and skill levels should be made for the learners and facilitators involved in the project. A brief survey or in-class discussion will help identify with what tools participants are familiar. A skills assessment will reveal to what degree participants are able to create a link, share a photo, embed a video, post a message, or upload a file. This information can not only help determine which tool will be most useful, but will also determine the necessary training and technical support needed to launch and maintain the project. Qualitative feedback may be useful in assessing participant perception of social media use for teaching and learning; this assessment may reveal previously unidentified barriers for adoption. Figure 2 compares popular social media tools and their range of uses.
The major barriers to using social media in medical education include lack of time, knowledge, skills, access, and trust. Faculty and students are busy; finding time to learn and do something new is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity to discover new ways of communicating and managing information. Accessibility to some web platforms is an issue because many medical schools and teaching hospitals have secured networks based on Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations and concerns.
Perceptual barriers may exist as well. Social media is, at its most basic level, about sharing—what you like, what you know, what you do—with other people. Therefore, social media requires a certain amount of openness and transparency that may be initially uncomfortable for individuals accustomed to traditional ways and means of developing expertise, conducting research, and sharing knowledge.
These and other barriers may be overcome by beginning with small pilot projects to incorporate social media into everyday teaching and learning activities. Peer student groups can utilize a private blog to share their clinical experiences. Course or program directors and support staff can use a wiki to manage course/program materials and centralize frequently used documents. Longitudinal preceptors can use a microblog (e.g., Twitter) to share links to journal articles, news items, and event reminders with their group members. Admissions personnel can use social networks during the application, interview, and acceptance processes to build community before students ever set foot on campus. A public affairs office could generate podcasts to share graduate news, campus information, celebrations, and research success stories. All of these ideas can be piloted on a small scale and later expanded, if successful.
Incorporating social media into medical education requires a cultural shift. Recognize that contributions will vary in quality and depth based on contributors’ ability to find or create content, their ability to share content, and their personal and professional comfort level. Enable participants by providing clear expectations and realistic goals, and empower them by providing support for their attempts and rapid feedback on their submissions. Foster community by encouraging peer-to-peer mentoring and peer group activity. Participation and buy-in (including faculty) is important in every academic experience, including online activities. Recognize that faculty may need to relinquish some control over course content to empower learners to discover or create new resources. Participants may need to adopt new habits to work in a fully collaborative method rather than work on solo projects or complete an individually assigned task in a group project. Institutions may need to become more open or transparent about their practices. Ultimately, innovating with social media tools can enhance both the teaching and learning experience for medical educators and medical students. We are bound only by the limits of creativity.
Vineet Arora, MD
Associate Program Director
Internal Medicine Residency Program
University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine
University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine
Katherine Chretien, MD
Medicine Clerkship Director
Washington DC VA Medical Center
Saarinen C, Arora V, Ferguson B, Chretien K. Incorporating social media into medical education. Academic Internal Medicine Insight. 9(1):12-13, 19.