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.