Tuesday, 4 September 2012

For students, can any social platform compete with Facebook?

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Facebook like button by Sean McEntee

At #amee2012 last week Facebook was talked about a lot. It came up in the excellent  social media workshop that was lead by students and in several posters and short communications. Search this 500+ page book of abstracts to see how often!

But as might be expected there was not agreement on whether Facebook should have any place in medical education. Whilst there were reports of it being used to support student learning in informal and formal ways Imperial College, London, other students and faculty argued that Facebook is a social space and not a learning space. In the past any mention of Facebook at a medical education conference usually concerned being unprofessional, so the fact that people were starting to consider the possibility that it might be educational platform was very interesting in itself.

It was also suggested (including by me) that we might have responsibility to provide  safe spaces for students and faculty to model and develop digital professionalism. Quite a few of the issues I heard discussed were raised in the comments of two blog  posts I had written last April.

This post is also a  follw-up to a discussion on our LinkedIn group 6 months ago. It was started by Bernadette John asking if any medical schools were looking into developing  and supporting social platforms for students. King's had just started a project with Elgg but was also thinking about Mahara. Why would a medical school want to do this? Some suggested that the VLE should support social learning interactions. But they don't. Blackboard does not feel social, certainly not social like Facebook.

Today a colleague told me that the University of Wales, Newport (who don't have a medical school) had started using NING , a 'social community tool', in 2008 to support first year students. How might we use something like NING in a medical school? What value would it have? My thoughts are that it would be useful to have a space where students and staff could get to know each other in a semi-formal way. Most of the NHS staff who our students meet do not have profiles on the university site, but it might be useful for students to know some more about what their special interests are clinically, and in research. And vice versa, it would be excellent if teachers could know more about the students they meet on placements.

But later I found out that Newport had stopped using the NING. It was only used by students in the first few weeks of the course to make contacts with each other before they migrated to their own Facebook groups. And if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!! This year Newport is setting up a Facebook page for students to like and post to throughout their university careers.I imagine that even if activity does tail off over the next few months this might still be quite a good channel for the university to communicate with students through.

So can any social platform compete with Facebook? Is there any merit in trying to encourage students to use another 'social learning' platform? A separate platform would mean that students are at less risk of being accused of digital unprofessionalism because they minimise their contact with faculty there *although I would rather see a re-calibration of what is considered unprofessional in the first place- if my ears did not deceive me I think I even heard a medical student volunteer that they were urged not to like a One Direction page on Facebook for fear that it may be seen as unprofessional*.

A separate platform would also mean that faculty with Facebook antibodies could avoid it. Other faculty might be just as concerned as students about mixing personal and professional presences online. There was some talk of dual profiles at AMEE but that is against Facebook terms and conditions. Facebook would rather see professionals create 'pages' to project their work-relate personae.

So some questions. Would students or staff see value in a social platform? For more ideas on how that might work see this post on location and learning.  If yes, could that platform ever be Facebook?

(Edit: Here's an interesting post by Donald Clark in January, "7 reasons why Facebook is front runner in social media learning"


  1. I'm not in medical education, but I have the same antibodies as you, it seems. I was hoping that the rising uptake of Twitter might fill some of the social gap, but it really doesn't function the same way - it's too dynamic. Wikis can become somewhat social, depending on what facilities they have. The comment box at the bottom of some pages on my PBWorks course sites can get reasonably active.

    In short, I dunno.

    1. Thanks Ed. I remember seeing mention in a post by Donald Clark months ago that Facebook is the frontrunner in social learning http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/7-reasons-why-facebook-is-front-runner.html <- in fact I'll add it to the main post now.

      Of course, if Facebook were to take steps to legitimize their paltform as one for learning this might drive away some of the core users.

  2. I was slightly surprised to see Mendeley did not get a mention in the abstracts. Surely it warrants consideration in a discussion like this?

    1. You think that Mendeley could do what I describe above? What kind of research would you expect on Mendeley? How are you using with students in your university? As a 'social learning' platform?

  3. In a recent talk and discussion I held with GPs (and often educators) working in Australian Aboriginal Medical Services, almost everyone was on Facebook, but almost everyone was wary about using it for professional reasons - personal learning and teaching. Certainly, this echoes my own feelings, where I have found Twitter to be enjoyable and useful in terms sof connecting to a variety of opinions (in tweets, blogs, reports and traditional peer reviewed papers), Linked-in useful for connecting professioanlly, but FB for almost enitirely personal contact. It's not that FB can't be used for education (as the students would seem to show) but that the simplest way of using each system lends itself to that way of using, and some tweaking is required (eg with privzcy settings) to use it without a feeling of risk. I do think that all of us will use platforms that we are familiar with, and so we may need to ensure that educators are able to use FB is we are going to be most effective - as that is where most people are.

    1. Thanks Tim. When Neil, Natalie and I did our workshop at AMEE on using social media to keep up to date we made no mention of Facebook at all, because none of us are using Facebook for that purpose I guess. Although I can see myself starting to take steps in that direction. Facebook is where the mainstream is, other smaller, newer networks will always be more likely to be early-adopters.

      What changes do you think need to be made to privacy settings to use FB without risk? What are the risks?

  4. Another thought provoking posting...what I am left thinking about is the issue of the integration (or otherwise) of personal and professional selves in medicine...what strikes me about the new GMC fitness to practice guidelines for medical students is that we expect medical students to act as if doctors before they are doctors - there is not explicit recognition of the process of socialisation into certain ways of being, thinking and acting that are actually part of the curriculum. I fear this kind of positioning of students leads to a 'splitting' of selves - the young person, at university, learning to 'be' as an adult, let alone a doctor - ids expected to act in particular ways. Perhaps it is no suprise then, that some, wish to split off social networks (connections to who they are outside of medicine, friends, family, histories) from learning networks. The issue is not so much whether we should use facebook to support learning, or offer new social network tools, rather the extent to which students are able to finds ways to express aspects of their identities in different contexts, for differing purposes. I wonder whether we are able to consider a move towards new forms of professionalism, a professionalism which 'humanises' medicine, presents doctors as members of the same community as their patients, who bring certain types of expertise to play in their work. Perhaps then, personal and professional selves are more integrated?

    1. But should we be looking for integration? One of my favourite tweets from a student at AMEE was "I can distinguish between your person and profession on Facebook, can others?".

      So students (and maybe doctors)see being professional as something which describes them as an individual (part of the time) rather than as membership of a professional group which determines their behaviour (most of the time). This paper leads me to conclude the former. http://www.medicine.virginia.edu/education/medical-students/UMEd/nxgen/JournalClubMAR9ar2.pdf


  5. Sorry for the delayed answer! Karolinska Hospital´s WiFi leaves more to ask for, and my iPad suffers from sleep deprivation. Anyhow, this is a very important question with so many aspects and the student´s opinions probably differs quite a lot, depedning on age, gender and intrests.
    I do understand the students that consider Facebook to be a completely social forum and that faculty involvment is not advised. On the other hand, the discussions (like questions about efficacy, portal hypertension and why statins work) and information (ey, the lecture is in B11 if you´ve missed the email)is something that a faculty/university-page could defintively, with success, be used for.
    At Karolinska Institute students love the secretaries that email information to our private emails, probably because we feel like we are important (for once!. For me, this wouldn't be much different from liking a page on Facebook and receiving current information in my feed. They also encourage us to use our website, pingpong, for questions to our professors, so that everyone can see the information, which easily could be translated to a facebook-page.
    But the next step, education on Facebook is a very large and difficult step. Lectures on facebook, pdfs, websites, information? How would this be vauled against traditional lectures? What information would be used to quiz us? People that don´t use facebook, will they be punished for not being digitally active?

    And no, I don't think there is any social platform that can compete with facebook. I believed the use of facebook would decrease with the launch of google+. Not even my boyfriend (who´s a huge android-fan) left facebook, so why would the public? The website that Karolinska offers is rather good, but it is still not used. I guess a social platform has to bee extremely good for the students to start using it, the get the same extent of use as facebook.

    1. Hello Jannike,

      Thanks for your comment and this isn't a delay at all!

      It sounds as if PingPong is your VLE/LMS (virtual learning environment/ learning management system). As you say. in an ideal world that is where these kind of 'social learning' interactions would happen between staff and students but for some reason they don't. (There are lots of comments on my previous blog posts about Facebook describing this)

      But why aren't they used this way? Do students not want to interact with staff? Do staff not want to interact with students? Are they (websites like Ping Pong) inaccessible compared to an app on your phone?

      There is a new VLE called Canvas (http://guides.instructure.com/s/2204/m/4152/l/40323-How-do-Notification-Preferences-work-) which lets you choose how to get notifications- by emeail, SMS, or even Twitter or Facebook! This is an interesting concept, but I'm not sure if it means that the predominant way that students interact isn't far away from staff on Facebook. And perhaps that is as it should be.

      But as you say, students want to feel important and valued. In my ideal world, having staff commit to socialising in digital spaces to help students learn, would be one way of doing this.

      Thanks again,


      PS I can't imagine Facebook replacing the VLE completely- ever- but I may be completely wrong about that.

  6. The problem here is that the younger generation consider being a doctor, as a job, which seperates their professional behavior from their personal. I think even the younger doctors percieve themself in this manner as well, presumably in the way you most accurately described, Anne Marie. Right, or wrong? I don't know, not even sure where I stand in this question at the moment.

    The issue lies within the difference between the generations, first professionally and later, our patients. As a child of the Facebook and Internet generation I spontanously consider private and professional to be seperated. As I tweeted, I have full respect for the fact that doctors have a private and personal life, and I believe that we should have every right to act a you see fit when being private. Which means that I would understand, and not consider it weird or unprofessional, if a picture of you, or another doctor drikning beer appeared in my Facebook-feed. For me the problem is, how would the other doctors react if they saw me drinking in a picture on Facebook? If they were firm believers that being a doctor means commiting to a professional behavior at most times, they woulnd't appeciate my picture that much. Jugding me, based on that picture, is not impossible, which brings us to the issue of being split, private vs professional. Since I don´t drink, and haven't been since I was fourteen, this is not an issue for me. On the other hand, some people use Facebook in a way of how they´d like to be percieved. I was obsessed during high school to be tagged in pictures at parties, to convey the picture of me as a person drinking alcohol, which means if you look through all of my facebook-photos, it sure looks like I drink. This is also very problematic, because the person we meet online, may not be the person we meet in real life. (I mean, who dosen't want to be great doctor at day, and cool, handsome VIP at superfashion nightclub by night? I've read books, they convey this picture.. Still wonder how many that really do consider this picture as a person beeing extremely successful? Sorry, lost the topic..)

    I would love to be a part of the community, together with my patients, but this somehow means that the patients wan't to be a part of the community with me. Can we give each other space to be private? Is the public opinion that a doctor should be a part of the professional group with determinated behaviour? I don't know, and I guess I am prepared mentaly, to become a member of the professional group, and leaving my private side behind.

    What are your opinions? Are doctors professional creatures with predetermined behaviour, or do you accept private sides?

    1. Hello Jannike,

      Thanks a million for your great reply and I'm really sorry that I missed it until now. You've raised some great questions and I was already planning to write a blog post dealing with some of them when I came across your comment.

      I suppose I could ask, is it unprofessional to be seen holding a glass of beer? Who says so? How would patients feel about this? I don't think that most would be very worried. But in general I prefer not to have aspects of my personal life on Facebook because they are private. I don't want to share them with the world. If it was important to me to try and project an image that I was out at parties in the evening, and for this to be an aspect of me that was available publicly, then I could only expect that colleagues and patients would access that part of me. And I could expect that they might feel some reaction to this. I don't suppose they might tell me what their reaction was if it did not interfere with how well I did my job though.

      Your comment about 'space to be private' reminds me of Goffman's concept of civil inattention http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_inattention Is the issue that we have not yet figured out what is a reasonable expectation of civil inattention online?

      Now, maybe a little later I should write that blog post!

      Thank you again,
      Anne Marie


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