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Social media as a learning tool

Introduction

My name is Laura, and I am taking a year away from being a medical student to complete a masters in Health Care Ethics and Law. Medical schools call this year out an "intercalation year" and offers it to all medical students interested in earning an extra science-related degree on top of their current medical degree. In my fourth-year at medical school, I started a research project to explore how medical students used social media to achieve their learning goals. Is there a place for social media in an academic institution at all? Can social media actually benefit students rather than be a distraction? This was what I wanted to find out. Right now, the study has gone international with medical schools as far as Australia, North America, Saudi Arabia and many more taking part!


In Depth

I think it is safe to say that most of you are on some sort of social media website, whether that is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. At the very least you will have heard of them. Mostly they are used for leisure purposes, but could they also offer some learning benefits?

For a while now, higher education institutions have adopted social media technology as a means of delivering curricula. Medicine is a discipline that has only just started to look into this possibility. Our research study has identified several ways in which social media is currently used to facilitate curricula delivery and supplement independent learning:

-  Creating Facebook groups with peers to extend small group seminar discussions to the online world

-  Sharing of academic resources and journals via social media

-  Fast, effective communication channels between peers and lecturers irrespective of classroom hours and physical location

-  Following hastags on Twitter appropriate to the subject they are learning

-  Searching YouTube videos for practical procedure demonstrations or tutorials

-  Instagram-like applications available to doctors and medical students where they can share and discuss pictures of clinical examination findings, blood test results, chest x-rays, electrocardiograms, MRI/CT scans etc.

-  Using interactive twitter feeds in classrooms to answer students' questions and encourage participation

The list could go on. The body of research literature available to date indicates there are positive outcomes to the implementation of social media technology into the medical curriculum which outweighs any drawbacks - increased motivation and engagement with study material, increased likelihood of seeking academic support, improved exam scores, improved confidence with the subject and better knowledge retention. The study is still ongoing and the next phase will involve investigating whether attitudes towards social media use in medical education differs between countries or cultures. 


Going Further

To find out more about studying medicine at undergraduate level or doing an intercalation year, see:

Manchester Medical School http://www.mms.manchester.ac.uk

Intercalation year http://www.mms.manchester.ac.uk/about-us/whymanchester/education/intercalation/