The digital revolution will profoundly change the face of academia by unbundling the roles of research and teaching, and slashing the need for academics, due to the routine use of online learning tools and the opening up of access to premium content and sources.

These predictions were put forward recently at The Conversation by Chris Lloyd, professor of business statistics at the University of Melbourne.

Meanwhile, in somewhat less dramatic style, baby steps are being taken to incorporate social media into health and medical education.

Emergency medicine physician Mike Cadogan (@sandnsurf) has written about his presentation to a US conference late last year about the potential for social media in medical education, including in “turning passive learners into active listeners”.

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On a similar theme, nursing academics from several countries have described case studies of the use of social media in health and medical education, and suggest there are benefits to “learning by participation” (full paper).

While they note a lack of evidence about the impact of social media in this area, they recommend it to other health and medical educators, saying it enables collaboration and community building.

They say: “Social media appear to have unique advantages over non-social educational tools. The learning experience appears to be enhanced by the ability of students to virtually build connections, make friends and find mentors. Creating a scientific analysis of why these connections enhance learning is difficult, but anecdotal and preliminary survey evidence appears to be positive and our experience reflects the hypothesis that learning is, at heart, a social activity.”

Meanwhile, academics from the University of Notre Dame medical school in Sydney describe below how they are using Twitter in an effort to engage medical students in population and public health (an area that BMJ blogger Dr Richard Smith says is not wildly popular with medicos).


Using social media in teaching

Associate Professor Mavis Duncanson and Dr Zelda Doyle write:

At the University of Notre Dame Australia School of Medicine in Sydney, we have begun exploring the use of social media to augment other teaching resources in Population and Public Health (PPH).

We tweet using the hash tag #ndpph to alert students to relevant resources for the PPH topics each week, as well as to current or interesting issues in the PPH Domain.

The prompt for this initiative was an evaluation finding that a significant proportion of students found the study of population and public health was irrelevant to their perception of clinical medicine.

As Epidemiologist in the Rural Clinical School (RCS), Zelda had begun circulating current communicable disease alerts to RCS students, as an exercise in demonstrating that there are current public health issues that have direct relevance to the health of individuals within a population. Twitter was suggested as a platform that could enable distribution of this material and other current public health resources across the student body.

On a practical level Zelda and Mavis are proceeding in an iterative way, monitoring the time taken and considering a more formal process to link various forms of social media.

One surprise was that many graduate entry medical students do not use Twitter. A combined platform with a blog, facebook page and tweets may be more appropriate. This will require careful planning with attention to the time commitment and expected benefits.

Currently the two instigators have found the process mutually beneficial as they share information and resources. Some additional development is required for wider use of the resource among students and tutors.

Use of social media in medical education is receiving some attention in the literature. For example:

• The impact of social media and technology on professionalism in medical education;

• Social media in medical school education;

• Australian health professionals’ social media (Web 2.0) adoption trends: early 21st century health care delivery and practice promotion.

Within Twitter there are health care and social media streams (e.g. #hcsm #hcsmanz) which provide useful insight and comment. The #publichealth tag also identifies articles and topics relevant to our curriculum in population and public health.

As we dip our feet in the pool of social media to see what ripples form, we would be interested to hear from other health and medical educators who are using social media.

Please contact us direct [email protected]  and [email protected] or leave your details below.

• Follow Mavis and Zelda on Twitter.


As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

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