Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Indisputable Benefit of Social Media and Web 2.0

Earlier today, we submitted a proposal to do a workshop for medical educators on learning how to use Social Media tools.  Who is "We" you ask?
Therein lies the story.

Anne Marie Cunningham (@ancunningham) in Cardiff, Wales, UK
Natalie Lafferty (@nlafferty) at Dundee, Scotland, UK and
I (@Neil_Mehta) at Cleveland, OH, USA

As you can imagine planning the content and flow of a highly interactive and hands on activity needs excellent collaboration, best done face to face.  But we were separated by time and distance.

We planned the entire workshop using Google tools.  There are some really useful features (some recently added) that make it easy and efficient to collaborate.  I am going to highlight a few.

  1. Google Docs: We all know how you can create and share a Google document with multiple people.  The comment feature is particularly useful.  Much like MS Word, you can highlight a sentence and insert a comment.  But in Google Docs, if someone else comments on your comment, you automatically get an email with the new comment and a link back to the document.
  2. Google+ allows you to have a rich discussion on a topic and keep it private - between the collaborators.  You get e-mails when someone adds to the discussion and also get notification on the Google bar.
  3. Google Hangout provides a free method for multi-user video conferencing.  The quality is excellent as long as all parties have good broadband connections.  If necessary, one can "mute" the video to improve audio quality.
  4. Google Hangout recently added extra features which allow you to share your screen or even share and edit a Google Document collaboratively.  
  5. You can also take notes during the Hangout.  The notes are automatically saved in Google Docs and are available after the Hangout session.  Participants who clicked on and viewed the notes during the Hangout can see these in their Google documents.
  6. Scheduling a Hangout can be a problem as right now Google+ is not directly linked to Google Calendar.  But you can create Available appointment slots on your Google calendar and ask people to reserve these.  After trying this once, we switched to Doodle.
Overall I think all 3 of us learned a lot about these features and I for one would recommend these without hesitation for anyone collaborating over a different time zones or even across the campus!

There is a lot of buzz about using Social Media in (medical) education.  There are a lot of people reluctant to jump into the fray, often for valid reasons.  This story is a very good example of one indisputable advantage of Social Media and Web 2.0.  I have never met Anne Marie Cunningham or Natalie Lafferty face to face.  Still we got to "know" each other via Social Media (mostly via Twitter and reading each other's blogs) and found that we share a lot of common interests around medical education and were able to collaborate on a workshop at an international meeting.  
Social media helps us connect with people who one would never otherwise meet, and helps overcome logistic barriers to collaborate with them.  It helps broaden our horizons and in a true social constructivist sense, it  helps us learn.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Making the most of learning opportunities - "Informal learning outside the classroom"

A Weekend Morning Story with a Moral for Medical Education

We wonder about how technology impacts education and whether it makes educators forget pedagogy as they eagerly incorporate the latest shiny toy or software into the classroom.  But there are times when I am just glad that we have the resources we do.

This Saturday morning I woke up to the sound of rolling thunder and rain beating against the window.  This was a matter of great import as I had to take our daughter to her soccer game about 40 miles away.  We were already cutting it fine (as we usually do for weekend morning games) as we jumped into the car.  Still I had enough of my wits about me to stow my iPad and MiFi between the seats.

You see I had a plan.  I knew the first questions she was going to ask me as she put on her cleats and her shin guards.  The questions would be:
1.  Dad, how far is this place?  Will we get there in time?
2.  Will they cancel the game due to the weather?

And instead of just telling her what I had already looked up, I asked her to fire up the iPad and look it up herself.  She knew this was going to be one of those trips, "I suppose you got the MiFi and you are not just going to tell me the answer!"  So we switched the MiFi on, connected to it with the iPad and were all set.  We had plenty of time, and so I let her figure it out.

So what were the tasks:
1.  Go to e-mail and get the address of the soccer field
2.  Punch that into Google Maps
3.  Fire up and look at the radar and cloud maps
4.  Learn what the different colors on the map meant
5..  Play the video to see which way the storm was moving.
6.  Estimate what the weather would be at the field by the time we got there.

The good news was that the storm was going to move out by the time we got there.  She loves soccer and she was thrilled to know that the game would be played.  I was happy to see that she learned how to use these tools to find answers for herself.  The technology made it possible to use her motivation and the car trip for this great learning opportunity.

As we work with medical students and residents, we have to remember that most of the learning does not occur in the classroom.  As we work together to solve clinical problems we should guide them and help them use various tools to find the answers for themselves.  

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Incorporating Web 2.0 tools in a Workshop on Web 2.0 tools for lifelong learning

Recently I organized a workshop for 1st year medical students on using Web 2.0 tools for lifelong learning.

Some educators have assumed that medical students are digital natives or early digital immigrants and thus just because of the year of their birth have an innate understanding of the Web and Web 2.0 tools.  This is an assumption that people are now questioning.

People currently in their 30s to 60's straddle the Web era having spent a significant portion of their "cognitive" lives prior to 1990.  They experienced "traditional education" and are in the unique position of understanding Social Media by activating their prior knowledge.

As I set about planning this workshop I had several questions:

  • How could I gauge the students' prior experiences with these tools? (begin without assumptions of the students experience and understanding due to being early digital immigrants)
  • How could I get them engaged in this topic?
  • I did not want to use a traditional lecture format to help them understand Web 2.0 education tools.  How could I incorporate actual Web 2.0 use into the education experience?
This is how I set up the workshop:
  1. Asked the class to create Google and Twitter accounts (could create an account that they could delete later if they did not want to share their real accounts with class).
  2. Created a spreadsheet on our internal Sharepoint site for students to enter their names, Google account and Twitter handles
  3. Invited the class to Google+ and put them all in one Circle.
  4. Asked the students to include me in one of their Circles so they could see my post.
  5. Asked students to follow each other on Twitter.  They did not have to follow everyone but maybe the colleagues from their PBL small groups.
  6. Asked the students to go to Google Reader and subscribe to PLOS  One Alerts (
  7. Click on the drop down next to PLOS One Alerts and click on "More like this" and choose Science Current issue.
    I could also have asked them to do the following but did not think of this then:
  8. In the search box type Google and Memory and see the results show the article we were discussing on Google+
  9. Read any article they liked from the 2 feeds and send to Twitter.  
Pre-Workshop Activities:
  1. Posted the Science article on how use of Google has changed the way we remember on Google+.  I limited this to the circle of students.  No one outside the Circle could see their comments.  Also disabled re-sharing of the post to keep the conversation private.
  2. Put some guiding questions under the link to the article:
    1. When you read information on the Internet/Web do you
      Remember the information or
      Remember how to find it or
      Both or
    2. How does this apply to how you study and learn medicine?
  3. Asked the class to comment on the article and these questions.
  4. I checked back and added comments to students' responses
At the Workshop:
  1. This was a 2-hour session.  I planned to spend the time covering
    1. Concept of Information Overload
    2. Need to use Web 2.0 tools to create filters
    3. Transactive and external memory
    4. Use of Google Reader and Diigo as examples of creating a Web 2.0 external memory system
    5. Define Social Media and types of SoMe
    6. Community of Inquiry model (Randy Garrison et al)
    7. Social Constructivism (Vygotsky) and how it relates to Social Media
  2. What we actually did:
    1. Audience response to gauge use of FB, Twitter, Google+ (could have used but just went with our clickers)
    2. ARS to see how many had tried the Google Reader exercise
    3. Discussion on these 2 topics
    4. Discussion on formal and informal learning and need to become life long learners
    5. Demonstration of Google Reader and how I use it, including sharing articles and commenting on them with residents and students.
    6. Demonstration of Diigo - especially the ability to highlight bookmarked pages and to take notes.
    7. Ask them to log into Twitter and post what they thought about the use of Google Reader and Diigo using a specific hashtag
    8. Break - I started Twitter Fountain and projected the posts with the hashtags on the screen.  As students came back into the classroom, they were able to see what everyone else had posted about what they had learned.
    9. Reviewed the discussion on the post on Google+ on the Science article.
    10. Examples of Twitter case discussions, Twitter journal clubs, Google Hangout
    11. Discussion and close
  3. What did I learn?
    1. Awareness of Feed readers and social bookmarking tools was very low.
    2. These were very enthusiastically received by the students.  A number of twitter posts were about how they planned to start using these.
    3. Students felt use of Social Networks in education was more appropriate for later stages of their training when they were more scattered and in less formal settings e.g. during practice, during clinical rotations etc.