Now would be a good time to confess something: I’ve never considered social media as a source of serious, useful information for research purposes. To me, social media is what I do in my spare time when I’m not being serious. And even then, I often actively limit the amount of time I “waste” engaging with it. At times, I’ve actually found it quite stressful because it almost feels like a job just keeping up to date with notifications and the latest headlines. Facebook and Pinterest is the extent of my engagement with social media at the moment as well as the Google group that we are members of as part of our course this semester. I set up a Twitter account years ago and stopped using it after two hours because I just couldn’t warm to it. The Twittersphere just seemed hostile to me. However, perhaps I need to consider social media in a different way.
Like anything, social media has both advantages and disadvantages. The very essence of Web 2.0 technologies such as social media are that they are ‘real time’ information sharing communities of interest that you can choose to opt in or out of and this is quite appealing when following a line of inquiry. So I’m keeping an open mind. It’s time to find out whether I can fertilize the roots of my inquiry tree with some social media.
I began with Facebook because this is one social media tool that I am already very familiar with. With Facebook, I have the option of searching for pages or people to follow or groups (both public and private) to join. I started by searching for pages using the search term “clinical reasoning”, and I came across IMreasoning which turned out to be a fantastic page full of really relevant links to clinical reasoning resources including a podcast that I have included in my curated collection. And because I accessed it from a social media platform, I was also able to access feedback in the form of comments and “likes” which told me instantly whether and how this resonated with some of the other people who have accessed it. I never noticed how often I looked at these features until now, and I suddenly had a heightened awareness of the way in which I use these features to make an instantaneous judgement about a particular link or conversation.
Next, I decided to search for groups to join. I searched for the term “case based learning” and I discovered a page and group called *Every day a medical case*. The page posts interesting medical cases each day for its almost 200,000 members to comment on. It also has an associated closed group with over 14,000 members. It occurred to me that this is a great example of unstructured, collaborative case based learning for professionals which builds clinical reasoning skills. I had never considered Facebook groups in this way before! This really made me start to consider the potential of social media as a powerful inquiry learning tool.
Pinterest and Google Groups
Unfortunately I wasn’t so lucky with my searches in Pinterest and Google Groups. Again I searched using terms such as “case based learning” and “clinical reasoning”. I also searched under broader terms like “medical education” with the intention of finding boards and groups and then refining my search. However I had no luck at all. Pinterest in particular was completely lacking in any useful information on my research question. I was able to find discipline specific groups on Google Groups by searching for “medical education” and “dental education”. However these ended up being more ‘social’ than educational.
At this point it was time to see whether I had misjudged Twitter. I must admit, Twitter does have quite a good advanced search function. And one advantage of Twitter was that I was able to search for people or trending hashtags without actually signing in to my account. My search under the term “clinical reasoning” did return one interesting video called “clinical reasoning reduced to a tweet” which finished by summarising one very well-known clinical reasoning formula into 107 characters. Whilst this video doesn’t answer my research question, it is a great introduction to what we mean when we talk about clinical reasoning, especially for someone who isn’t familiar with health professional education, so it did end up in my curated collection. But beyond this, I really didn’t have much success. I tried searching for people who I know are leaders in the medical education field. I also tried searching for organisations. For instance, I know that last week a very well regarded annual medical education conference was held in Barcelona. I searched for the conference hashtag and many results were returned. But most of the results were people announcing that they were attending a conference session. Beyond that, there really wasn’t any substance. So I’m afraid to say, my opinion of Twitter is still the same. I can see its value in some contexts, particularly as a news medium that almost has a life of its own in the form of trending hashtags which can help people find out instantly what is happening in the world. Also, I can see how it would be useful to follow people who are leaders in a particular discipline and receive instant notification of their latest work and opinions. However, with regards to inquiry learning and my research question, I must be missing something, but I just don’t find this tool particularly helpful.
Lastly, I moved on to YouTube. There is a debate as to whether Youtube constitutes social media. I believe it does. I began by searching for “inquiry learning in medical school”. I came across a video describing a guided inquiry approach similar to case based learning but with a few key differences, which is being implemented at Virginia Commonwealth University. Whilst the purpose of this video was dissemination of information rather than presentation of research findings, I still found it interesting to listen to an alternative to problem based or case based learning.
Despite the fact that my social media search hasn’t been overwhelmingly successful on this occasion, I can still see the benefits of including it as part of an inquiry strategy. The key advantage I think, is that social media is a ‘network of networks’ which, quite literally, provides us with an interconnected web of information to draw upon and people to connect with. It might start with a simple tweet that piques my interest. From there, I might search the literature for this person’s research, or perhaps Google their name to find out if they have a blog, or are part of a community of practice. Perhaps that community of practice has a Facebook presence, and from here I might discover that they are organising a conference. I can choose to follow people or groups on multiple platforms so that I am instantly aware of their work in many different forms, and not only that, I can communicate directly with them and their other followers. I have concluded that social media is both instantaneous, but also slow in the sense that it takes time to build up a personalised network of people, groups and platforms. So despite my initial reservations, I am now a social media convert and have made the decision to put more effort into building a professional social media network from now on.