Awesome reading list on using social media in academia

A few weeks ago I returned to this blog with some reflections on a article about the use of social media by researchers in Denmark. I was disappointed to see that social media and academia in traditional journalist-based media is still portrayed mostly negatively.

In search of positive Danish experiences with using social media in academic work I called out to the Copenhagen Science Communication Facebook group (closed network). Being vacation time I didn’t manage to collect personal experiences with social media (I’ll give that a try later), but I was so fortunate to be made aware of an awesome reading list on using social media for research collaboration and public engagement. The list is complied by the Impact of Social Sciences Blog by LSE.

Some of the items in the reading list I have already touched upon on this blog (e.g. how Melissa Terras boosted the number of downloads of her scientific articles), but there are also some that are new to me and which add new dimensions to the use of social media in science communication.

Social media for sharing passion

A resource that I enjoyed reading is by Tim Hitchcook, a professor of Digital History at the University of Sussex. Tim Hitchcook doesn’t add anything revolutionary new or surprising to the arguments for using social media, but he phrases many of them very well. For example, I like how he describes social media as the perfect tool for researchers to share their passion for what they do:

The best (and most successful) academics are the ones who are so caught up in the importance of their work, so caught up with their simple passion for a subject, that they publicise it with every breadth. Twitter and blogs, and embarrassingly enthusiastic drunken conversations at parties, are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins it.

And he goes on to pin point to two important aspects of using social media. First: Get started on integrating social media into your work from early on and gain by building-up your skills in communication with the public; and second, communicate about the research process itself – not just about the results, findings etc.:

A lot of early career scholars, in particular, worry that exposing their research too early, in too public a manner, will either open them to ridicule, or allow someone else to ‘steal’ their ideas.  But in my experience, the most successful early career humanists have already started building a form of public dialogue in to their academic practise – building an audience for their work, in the process of doing the work itself.

Finally, Tim Hitchcook addresses a concern which many researchers I talk to have about using social media. That it is time-consuming, and basically takes time away from doing other important things. Tim Hitchcook however points out that using social media may almost have the opposite effect:

The most impressive thing about these blogs (and the academic careers that generate them), is that there is no waste – what starts as a blog, ends as an academic output, and an output with a ready-made audience, eager to cite it.

I can only encourage you to read the blog post Twitter and blogs are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins is in its entirety. And also to take a look at Tim Hitchcook’s own blog Historyonics.

 

 

 


A study and article not to be missed: Translating Research For Health Policy: Researchers’ Perceptions And Use Of Social Media

Had I got my arms free I’d write a long blog post with some reflections on this recently published study. But as at least one arm (often both) seems constantly occupied by this adorable two months old baby it os just too much of a challenge to sit by the computer and type long sentences.

But this article: Translating Research For Health Policy: Researchers’ Perceptions And Use Of Social Media is just too relevant for this blog to miss out on, so some quick one-hand typing is necessary. The study is also described in the ScienceDaily and basically highlights how health policy researchers lack confidence in social media for communicating scientific evidence. Most (especially the younger generation) believe that social media can be an effective way to communicate research findings but simply do not know how to use it and feel their academic peers and institutions do not value or respect it as much as traditional media and direct contact with policy makers. A super interesting finding which only highlights the need for integrating training in the use of social media (and communication in general) in the curriculum of health researchers and, would I argue, already from public health students enter university.

 

 


Pregnancy science communication

Public Health science communication has for the past years been my field of interest. I have studied it, I have taught it, I have networked over it. But have I actually been a user of it – like I was before I started studying it? Well, over the past nine months I actually have. At least one particular field within public health communication has had my special attention. Not for the sake of how it is communicated, but the actually public health knowledge. The field relates to pregnancy, which coincidentally for the past nine months (and still is as I write these words) have been a part of my life.

A circus of information

When you become pregnant not only do a lot of questions pop up in your head, but a lot of information relating to the health and wellbeing of yourself and the baby is communicated to you, whether you like it or not. Doctors, midwives, health authorities, friends, relatives – all have information to share with you. It can be quite a circus of information and you quickly discover that the science of pregnancy is full of science AND of urban legends, gossip, personal narratives and experiences, and culturally imbedded practices. The later become especially obvious when you as I choose to have a child with someone from a different country than your own and go through your pregnancy in neither’s of yours home countries.

To do or not to do?

As a public health professional I have of course been interested in doing what is best for the baby, and with an academic background I lean towards following advice which is based on scientific research rather than word of mouth or traditional practices in the country I happen to be. I quickly realised however that the two often get mixed up. Even in official guidance and pamphlets are you sometimes left to wonder what the advice is based on. In the wine country Spain for example you can drink alcohol (in moderation that is) while in Denmark your are advised not to. As my iron level dropped my German doctor advised me to start taking iron tablets and continue throughout the entire pregnancy. My midwife has, for reasons I have yet to understand, advised me to stop some weeks before my due date. The argumentation for all these different recommendations is very often: “It’s better for the baby”. But says who? Based on what? What is the evidence? All theses questions arise all the time and it seems like way to big a task to investigate the scientific background behind all of them. I was therefore happy to learn that I didn’t have to! Thus, my cousin told me about this book she had read a review of, which basically did what I felt like doing with every piece of advice and recommendation I was presented with: Learn about the basis or science behind the recommendation and based on that make my own decision on what to do and how to act.

Expecting better

Expecting-Better-Why-the-ConEmily Oster, an associate professor of economics, decided, upon becoming pregnant, to test the facts of medical advice she was given by using the methodologies she knew best: an economist’s tools. The outcome of her struggles not only resulted in her making informed decisions right for her and her husband but also in the book “Expecting Better – why the conventional pregnancy wisdom is wrong and what you really need to know”. I have with joy been reading this book. Both for the content, but as I was reading it I realised also for its public health science communication value. Emily Oster manages to explain medical research without oversimplifying it and in a manner that most people without a health (or economist) background can understand. For a public health savvy person it is perhaps sometimes a bit too pedagogical and one can quickly become tired of having explained what a cross control study and a randomised trial is, but as public health professionals are not necessarily the target audience of this book this it not necessarily a bad thing. In addition, if one uses the book as a tool for looking up specific topics rather than reading it from A to Z the repetition is of course fine.

Facts and personal decision-making

One of the reasons I find the book to be an interesting example of public health science communication is that it manages to find a good balance between communicating scientific studies, findings and facts and at the same show how these can be used for decision-making – or in some cases are super difficult to drawn conclusions from and thus challenging to make decision upon. By sharing her own reflections and ultimate decisions with the reader, Emily Oster exemplifies that scientific findings and statistics take on a new meaning when they are to be applied to an individual person. Indirectly, it also illustrates how difficult it can be to make general recommendations when science doesn’t give clearcut answers (which is very often the case in public health research). Granted, at times you do become a bit tired of hearing about Penelope (Emily Oster’s daughter), but at the same time the book really wouldn’t have the same communicative value without it. Putting a human face and a name on science just makes it more relevant to read – at least when you are targeting a wider audience. And as mentioned it illustrates what happens to science when it moves from the laboratory, the statistical programme, the conference presentation etc. and meets real people.

Other reviews

“Expecting Better” was reviewed by Zoe Williams im the Guardian. I find her review of the book to be spot on, so instead of making more comments on the book, I’ll let you read her reflections, praise and critic.


Online course in Public Health Emergency Risk Communication

In just a few weeks I’ll be teaching a class on Public Health Risk Communication, as part of the Public Health Science Communication course at University of Copenhagen. Despite the topic being big enough to cover a whole course in its own, it will with 90 minutes available only be possible to give a brief introduction to Risk Communication and public health. To compensate a little for this I have therefore been searching for possibilities for further studying, which I could recommend to the students.

Online course: Emergency Risk Communication

University of Washington

One of my findings is an online course in Emergency Risk Communication offered by the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice, University of Washington. It is free and takes only an estimated 2,5 hours (thus it is also mainly an introduction to the topic). I decided to take the course yesterday before adding it to my list of “further readings and materials in Public Health Risk Communication”.

Background information about the course

The course is very practice-oriented and less theoretical. The developers’ approach to the course and described target audience is that “if you work in public health, during a crisis or emergency, you will be likely to become a risk communicator, even if your job description does not include public information or media relations”. Therefore the course’s main objective is to teach how to plan for an emergency, create effective messages, and interact with the media and community in times of crisis. This is clearly illustrated in the below learning objectives:

After completing this course, you should be able to:
  • List some common reactions exhibited by the public during public health emergencies
  • Identify some effective communication strategies that can be used during public health emergencies
  • Communicate with the news media more effectively during public health emergencies
  • Work with the community more effectively during periods of heightened emotion
  • Participate in planning processes that can help your organization be better prepared for communicating during an emergency

A well crafted and structured course

All in all I found the course quite useful and very well put together. I felt it gave me a good basic insight into some of the main components of Emergency Risk Communication. It took me about 2 hours to finish, but it has materials for extensively further studying. Throughout the different modules it is full of links to guidelines, templates, check lists, background literature, resource websites etc. useful in developing an emergency risk communication plan or strategy. All the links are also collected in an easily accessible Toolkit, which makes the course even more hands-on-oriented and user-friendly.

Another great aspect of the course is that is makes use of many real life examples and includes for example interviews with public health professionals who suddenly found themselves involved in emergency risk communication. You are presented with a situation similar to what they experienced and is asked what actions you would take. Afterwards you are then presented with their actions and the outcome of that. This works very well and helps in keeping one’s interest and attention. The course also makes sure to use many different cases of public health emergencies covering all from outbreak of infectious diseases, food safety issues, environmental health risk, to natural and man-made disasters. Again, great to keep one’s attention and making it relevant to people working in many fields of public health.

Social media and Emergency Risk Communication

A very positive aspect of the course was, seen from my perspective, that social media and its role in emergency risk communication is given much attention. Many examples of its use is presented and it is consistently mentioned throughout the different modules of the course. Apart from being of course a super important aspect to include it also gives you a feeling of the course being up-to-date.

In conclusion, it’s definitely a course worth spending 2,5 hours on. As said it is not very theoretical or academic oriented, but it has great references if one feels like digging into more of that, and is relevant for students as well as public health professionals proned to get involved in public health emergencies in one way or the other. You get a nice little diploma when passing the final assessment test and can, if relevant also apply for official credits for the course.

Emergency risk communication course


Conference on Communication, Medicine and Ethics (COMET) in Switzerland

As member of the European Public Health Association (EUPHA) I receive a monthly newsletter with relevant Public Health news from the region. I have previously criticized EUPHA for their lack of focus on public health communication (see blog post “European Public Health Association and the missing communication category”).

Eupha

I maintain my critic, but must also congratulate them when public health communication does sneak its way into for example their newsletter.

Thus, in the January 2014 newsletter under Upcoming Courses and Conferences attention is made to the Conference on Communication, Medicine and Ethics (COMET), which will take place in Lugano, Switzerland 26-28 June 2014. The conference aims to bring together communication researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds, ranging from healthcare specialities to the human and social sciences.

The first Conference on Communication, Medicine and Ethics (COMET) was hosted by the Health Communication Research Centre at Cardiff University, UK in 2003 and was attended by more than 200 participants from 20 countries. Based on its success COMET has now established itself as an annual interdisciplinary, international event.

COMET is described as using a problem-oriented approach, and places special emphasis on the dissemination of high quality research in interpersonal, mass communication, and practical ethics which is directly relevant to healthcare practitioners.

The 2014 conference will focus especially on the dissemination of ongoing research in Doctor-Patient communication studies, health communication in the media, as well as practical ethics which engages directly with healthcare practitioners. Looking at the list of proposed topics and keynote speakers, it does seem like especially the doctor-patient communication will be given much attention, but I’m happy to note that themes like “Communicating Risk and Uncertainty”; ” Interprofessional Communication and Hospital Management Systems” and “Media and Health Communication” also figures on the list.

Assessing myself unlikely to attend, I do hope that the conference will set up a hashtag for Twitter and encourage social media activity during the conference, so that a broad audience (including me) can be reached.

The organisers of the conference accepted proposals for either panels or paper presentations (oral or poster) within the main themes up until 31st January 2014, so unfortunately the deadline has been passed, but I look forward to seeing the complete programme once it becomes available.


ScienceOnline CLIMATE

scienceonlineclimateI am really not a climate expert or anything close but I am a fan of the ScienceOnline non-conference format, so I thought I’d just promote a bit the ScienceOnline Climate which runs today and tomorrow (15-16 August 2013) in Washington DC, USA.

ScienceOnline is about science communication using social media and other new media to communicate research and science understood in its broadest term. It’s mission is to cultivate the ways science is conducted, shared, and communicated online. It brings together a diverse group of researchers, science writers, artists, programmers, and educators who conduct or communicate science online. The goal is better science communication within the science community, with the public, and with policymakers.

I have only had the opportunity to participate in an ScienceOnline event in-person once, but have followed more online, and I must say I love the concept. ScienceOnline Climate narrows down the focus of science communication to looking at communication of climate related research. According to the planners the event “will explore the intersection of climate science, communication, and the web. Complex scientific concepts will be interwoven with creative communications approaches through the connective power of the internet. It will be an energizing experience for scientists, journalists, artists, policymakers, and attendees from all nodes of the climate communications ecosystem.”

Some sessions will be live-streamed and there will be lots of tweeting too on the hashtag #scioclimate. Take a look at the schedule for the conference to see if anything is of interest to you.


Become the ‘Ultimate Expert’ in Social MEDia

I need to update my business card with a new title. I am now a certified ‘Ultimate Expert’ in the use of social media in Medicine. This is a title I have achieved after completing the final module of the free online Social MEDia Course offered by Webicina.coma or more specifically by Bertalan Mesko, MD, PhD, a self-declared Medical Futurist, and founder of Webicina.com

The course is a spin-off of a university course offered to medical and public health students at the University of Debrecen, Hungary since 2008. Bertalan Mesko’s created the course as a response to the lack of digital literacy among doctors:

SocialMEDiacourse

“Social media are changing how medicine is practiced and healthcare is delivered. Patients, doctors, communication or even time management, everything is changing, except one thing: medical education.” 

After having run successfully for a few years and in response to requests from people abroad to travel to Hungary to follow the course, Bertalan decided to develop an online version of the course – making use of all that social media offer and continue his quest to change the attitude of future doctors and their knowledge about online issues and ultimately revolutionize medical education at a global level.

Prezis, YouTube and a lack of scientific knowledge

socialMEDiacourse2

The course is organized in 16 different modules all followed by a test, which you have to pass in order to achieve the badge (I felt a bit like a girl scout getting labels to put on my uniform). Each module consists of a Prezi, which systematically takes you through all corners of the topic. Pictures, YouTube videos, take home messages etc. makes the courses dynamic and fun, but at times also a bit commercial and sometimes a tending towards being too unscientific, especially for a university course I miss more solid data. The length of each course varies between one and two hours.

As with any other course, some modules work better than others, probably partly due to one’s interests and baseline knowledge level. I have taken the course over a long period of time (I think 6 months), so I can’t really recall all modules or which ones functioned better than others. Working myself with social media and public health I felt I had to complete the course and get the Ultimate Expert certification, but the modules can quite easily be taken on an individual basis according to one’s needs and interests. Actually, I think my recommendation would be to take the course on a topic by topic basis without aiming to go through all 16 modules unless you get totally hooked on the format. If one aims to take the full course I’d probably spread it over a few weeks or even months taking a module now and again. Going through too many Prezis in a day might make you a bit overwhelmed and the commercial side of the module gets a little too dominant. Besides, if you want to really learning something, you need not just take each module but afterwards experience using Twitter, trying out the possibilities of Wikipedia, engage in medical communities etc. In other words do it yourself.

modules

More medicine than public health

Although the course is meant also to target public health students it is my impression that the primary audience is medical students and doctors. This doesn’t make the course irrelevant to public health students/professionals or other non-medical-but-health-related professionals, but it just means that you do not always feel the content that relevant to you. There is a lot of focus on doctors-patients relationships and apps relevant for medical doctors etc. Relevant stuff but mostly to doctors.

Especially to new-comers to social media (for other than private purposes) the course provides a good baseline introduction to how Twitter works; what the idea behind Wikipedia is and how you can use it; and how social media opens up for entering new communities and crowd-source at a much larger scale. Social media as a tool for communications, finding resources etc. also makes some of the modules relevant to researchers in general.

Take notes!

As mentioned, each module is followed by a test containing 25 multiple choice questions, of which you have to answer at least 23 correctly to pass. For each questions you have 30 seconds to respond. The questions relate very closely to the Prezi and I can strongly recommended taking good notes. The test is really meant to test that you watched the whole Prezi and is not so much a test of what you actually learned. Questions like “What year was Google launched?” and “Who is the founder of the search engine Duckduckgo?” really requires good note-taking. Many questions are framed negatively, e.g. “‘Which is not a suggestion to avoid violating HIPAA?” which requires a lot of (unnecessary?) sentence analysis and can stress you out a bit, resulting in answering incorrectly to questions you actually do know the answers to. To my taste the tests are a bit too useless and doesn’t really add anything to your own learning. But I guess the objective has been to test that you paid attention throughout the Prezi and not that you actually learned anything (which is assumed you did if you know the Prezi by hard) or can apply what you learned. The tests (and Prezis) could use a good editing by an English native speaker, as it in many places is clear that it was developed by a non-native-English-speaker. For one module its okay, but if you take too many in a row you get a bit annoyed.

Interactive

In the spirit of social media the course is of course interactive and you are encouraged to comment and give suggestions for improvements. The response rate to comments is impressive and you have a feeling that your comments are taken seriously. You can also share your achievements (the badges you earn after passing each test) on Facebook and other social media and thus help spread the word not only about the course but in a way also promote the use of social media in medicine.

More academia, revised tests and further studies 

All in all the course is interesting, entertaining and an impressive amount of work has been put into developing it. I have learned a lot of good tips, but perhaps because my baseline knowledge of social media is above the average it wasn’t a big eye-opener to me. Being based on a university course, I would have expected a bit of a stronger academic basis of course. It heavily relies on YouTube videos, TEDtalks and lots of popular data. If I was to recommend anything for the future development of the course it would be to put a bit more ‘academic’ material in the modules. If not in the Prezis then perhaps as an additional recommended readings list. Also a test that feels more relevant to the student might be helpful and some tips on how to get started, or continue exploring the topic after each module might be a good idea.