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.


Public health science communication – an 8th goal for public health training in the 21st century

European journal of public healthIn the latest issue of the European Journal of Public Health, a wish list for what public health training should look like in the 21st century is giving by Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: Seven goals for public health training in the 21st century

Having a bachelor and masters degree in public health sciences from University of Copenhagen, I know for a fact that at least in a Danish context public health science communication has not been part of the curriculum for public health students in the later part of the 20th or the first part of the 21st century. None the less, when I saw the headline of Martin McKee’s article, I was hoping that science communication would be an ambition for modern public health training.

Martin McKee article2

Unfortunately, I was to be a bit disappointed. The article starts out well, stating the need to “prepare people to engage actively in a complex and changing world in ways that improve the health of the population”. So how do you prepare people to engage actively in ways that improves their health? Well, in my world that will require that you as a public health professional and public health scholar can actually communicate what you are doing, what your theories are and what findings come out of your hard work. And that you can engage into conversation and discussion with the public and subgroups of the public (e.g. policy makers, researchers in other fields). In short, that you can communicate public health sciences.

Public health science communication is not mentioned directly as one of the 7 goals. In short that goals Martin McKee lists are:

  1. Stimulate curiosity
  2. Encourage social entrepreneurs who are willing to take the initiative
  3. Make epidemiological connections and understand the biological mechanisms behind
  4. Convey the big picture, expanding Koch’s postulates or Bradford Hill’s criteria of causality with mathematical models to provide evidence of links
  5. Make public health students literate about what (and who) they are up against
  6. Engage with key decision makers at all levels and be confident to speak up.
  7. Ground human rights into public health approaches

For all seven goals, science communication plays a key role, but is only partly mentioned under goal 6, articulating the need for public health people to be confident to speak up and share their knowledge. The only other time communication is touched upon is as an encouragement for public health professionals to not just stay updated on public health news but go beyond the scientific literature:

More than ever, the public health professional needs to read the Economist, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.”

No suggestion is however broad forward about also contributing and communicating public health through these channels. Shouldn’t public health people aim to let their voice, knowledge and opinions be heard outside the ‘traditional’ public health media?

Another element missing in Martin McKee’s list is the IT reality of the 21st century and how Web2.0 already have and is still changing public health research and practice. He mentions the need for public health people to acquire a great deal more self-confidence and points out how:

with a fast internet connection, most students could do a much better job of understanding the topics they [politicians and social commentators] addressed”.

But the potential for new ways of communicating and engaging with the public broad forward by social media and other technologies is not mentioned at all.

Make public health science communication the 8th goal

Communication is almost a precondition for all other 7 goals, which is why I would argue that it deserves to be a goal in itself. Public health students should be given competences in communicating what they do, why they do it and taught how communication can benefit not only the people they are trying to help but also their own work (which then again will come to the benefit of the public). Public health is, as Martin McKee opens the article, not just a collection of different disciplines or the goals it seeks to attain. It is much more. Exactly this ‘much more’ however requires communication. Public health science cannot (meaningfully) exist in its own little universe. It only comes to life when it steps out of the public health sphere and meets the rest of the world. This, however, requires that we as public health people are dressed to meet the world and to communicate with it. Let’s make public health science communication skills the 8th goal of public health training in the 21st century.

The article by Martin McKee is unfortunately hidden behind a pay wall, but you can read an extract here: Seven goals for public health training in the 21st century.


Experiences with teaching Public Health Science Communication

On my list of things to do writing a blog post about my experiences with teaching Public Health Science Communication to graduate students at the University of Copenhagen has been high-up for a while. However, moving to Bonn, Germany and other minor things have somehow managed to overrule the writing of this post. But its time – also to avoid the experiences being stored too far back in my mind to be brought forward.

So how did it go? Did the students find it useful? What went well? Would I repeat a course like this again? And if so, what would I do differently? There are lots of questions to answer, so I thought I’d go through them one by one.

How did it go?

Overall, I think it went quite well. At least all students passed and it wasn’t criticized apart by the students. I’d even like to think that the students learned something new and useful. And just as important: I learned a lot! Both about science communication in relation to public health and about teaching public health science communication.

Did the students find the course useful?

It is very often difficult to get a clear impression of whether students found a course useful or not, and the fact that only few students filled in the online evaluation questionnaire and that only about half of the class attended the last module, where we did a short oral evaluation of the course, makes it even more difficult. However, based on the students who did participate in the evaluation I think it would be alright to conclude that the students on the whole were happy with the course. From the online evaluation most of them indicated that the study objectives of the course were met (and I assume they to some extend joined the course on the basis of these), and they rated their overall study-relevant benefit as ‘very good’ or ‘good’. I was also very happy to see that a most of the students who filled in the online evaluation found the course very relevant to their general Public Health education.

From the oral evaluation the comments were also in general positive. The students expressed that it had in many ways been a very different course, with much less hardcore theory than many of their other graduate courses. Some also mentioned that the fact that the centre of attention to a much higher degree than in other courses had been on themselves as individuals and researchers, had been interesting but at the same time a challenge. They expressed that they were more used to focus on the objective of Public Health, which is usually the public and not so much on their own role in this. I found this interesting, and recalling my own time as a Public Health student it is true that it was rarely about ourselves and our current and future roles in public health (one could talk about our subjective role), but much more about all the other players in public health, of course including the public itself.

examAnother thing I found interesting, was that when asked about the syllabus, the students in general seemed happy with the selected literature, except many of them expressed that they found the blog posts too chatty and recommend them taken out in future courses. I myself had put a lot of thought into allowing different kinds of literature. In part to illustrate that science communication is not just about text books and peer-reviewed journals. I guess they as university student have by now just been a little brainwashed to prefer good old scholarly texts over the more ‘chatty’ and personal writing styles…

What went well?

videnskab.dkMedical museionIn my own opinion, many things went well. The balance between having myself as the main lecturer and having great guest lectures (thank you to them!) was good (I taught about half of the modules). It also worked well and was a good change to get out of the class room and go on field trips. One to Videnskab.dk, a Danish popular science news website, and to Medical Museion.

I’m happy also that I chose to make a compendium rather than assigning a textbook. Partly due to the fact that there isn’t yet a book out there on Public Health Science Communication, but also because it was good to be able to through different kinds of texts to illustrate the many forms of science communication.

Another things I found was successful was trying to use as many real life examples. Ranging from case studies (although it would have been nice to have more), to YouTube clips, podcasts, blogs etc.

Despite some worrying comments from some of the participants prior to finishing the exam, I also think that the task of writing an introductory chapter on Public Health Science Communication worked well. Some students expressed that they found that an exam more focused on actually trying to communicate a specific public health challenge would have been more appropriate and useful instead of what they regarded being an assignment to refer theory of science communication. I (of course) tend to disagree. Writing an introductory chapter on Public Health Science Communication is also an example of communicating a scientific field – it just happened to be a field (and a way of thinking) that was new to them.

What would I do differently? 

It is funny what time does. Looking back at the course now, with some months having passed, I have a hard time recalling all the things I would have changed. Because at one point I thought there were many. However, some do come to mind:

I think I would have tried to include more real life examples of science communication – both good and bad examples, and perhaps have challenged the students to analyse both and suggest why they worked and why the didn’t.

Despite having the primary focus on the communicator (the public health professional) rather than looking at the receiver, I think I would in a future course try to incorporate a little more on how publics benefits from public health science communication, and perhaps try to allocate some more time to going through how one can become better at understanding and writing to a specific target group. This will present a different challenge, because the course is not a writing course.

Actually, I found the that finding a balance between being a course on principles, trends and theories in science communication and a writing, hands-on course quite difficult. I am sure that in a repetition of the course, this would again be a difficult balance to get right.

It’s always difficult to get students to discuss, but in a future course I’d try to make room for more discussion and student involvement. My own take-home message from teaching this course, is that I should keep in mind, that science communication is not an exact science and that I, despite being the teacher, does not have all the answers…

Would I repeat a course like this again?

Yes, I think I would. For many reasons. One, I thought it was fun and inspiring to teach. Second, I was confirmed in my belief that introducing public health students to the importance of science communication is very much relevant – if not essential. And finally, I learned a lot from the process and I would love to see how a version 2.0 of the course would go about.

Did I forget to mention something important in the post? Probably – but I promise to add them (or do an additional post) if and when things come to mind. I also welcome my students to share their views and correct me if I’m wrong, and I would be happy to answer questions from anyone interested in hearing more of my experiences with teaching Public Health Science Communication.

Public health science communication


New Public Health Blog from PLOS blogs!

I can’t believe that this is my post number 101. Actually, I had planned to do something special with blog post no. 100, but I only realised that it was my anniversary post when it was published. So the celebration will have to wait for post number 500.

However, post number 101 can also be special and actually I think the topic is quite appropriate: A public health science blog hosted by PLOS blogs has arrived! It is simply called ‘Public Health‘ and has five contributors coming from different backgrounds but all with an interest in Public Health.

PLOS Blogs public healthThe blog looks very promising and the posts currently posted are well written and interesting. I look forward to following the blog and hope for many discussions.

Public Health 2.0

Not surprisingly, I am especially happy to see that the topic of social media and public health is discussed on the blog. In the post Public Health 2.0: Electric Boogaloo by Atif Kukaswadia of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada draws attention to strengths and weaknesses of social media in public health. It is clear that Atif comes to this with an epidemiologist’s perspective (being and Ph.d. candidate in Epidemiology), but he raises some important questions about acknowledging that social media exists and that regardless of whether people with scientifically founded knowledge make use of social media or not, people spreading untrue or perhaps even harmful public health information will continue to do so. This is in my opinion an important argument which needs to be made also to the social media skeptics.

The post is full of great links, so newcomers to the topic of public health 2.0 should take a look at the post and join the discussion.

Social media and science conferences

Atif Kukaswadia opens the blog post with discussing what makes a good conference, and how it not necessarily what happens during the presentations and in the conference room, but rather the discussions that continue (or perhaps first starts) in the lunch room and during the coffee breaks. This make me wonder, if Atif Kukaswadia has been to the Science Online conferences, which acknowledges exactly that. These conferences are built up following a so-called ‘non-conference’ format and brings more space for the in-between-sessions-stuff. Based on my experiences the ScienceOnline people are the most advanced users of social media before, during and after conferences. For newcomers to social media in conferences it is actually quite overwhelming and a little extreme – but none the less a great eye-opener for the power of social media in conferences.


Successful exam in Public Health Science Communication

All students passed!

Not only are the students who took the graduate class in Public Health Science Communication this fall semester probably relieved – so is the teacher! The exam was perhaps a test of the students knowledge but just as much was it test of how well they were taught.

examIt has been fun going through the exam papers. The assignment given to the students was to write a short introductory chapter on science communication for an imagined new textbook on Public Health Sciences targeted public health and medical students.

13 students handed in an exam paper and having never corrected exams before it felt all ceremonial seating myself at the desk equipped with a hot coffee, some cookies, a red pen (okay it wasn’t red, but blue actually) and with my critical glasses on. I must admit that it felt strange all of a sudden to be the one to pass judgement on other people’s work.

Luckily, I didn’t have to swing the sword very hard on any student, and as said all students passed. Some papers were of course better than others. On the Danish 7 points grade scale three students were given the top grade of 12. All three papers were so good that they could almost go straight into this imagined textbook. Despite being assigned the same grade they differed a lot, and it has been fun to see that there, as I told the students several times, is not one right way to complete the assignment.

Something that characterized the best exam papers was that they had taken the assignment of writing an introductory book chapter seriously. They had a good understanding of the targeted audience and many of them had used figures and tables to illustrate their points. Secondly, they had managed to have public health as a recurrent theme throughout the paper. Not all papers were equally good at this. For some the public health perspective felt like an added appendix and not as an integrated part of the chapter.

It was also great to see that even in the less good papers the students overall demonstrated a good understanding of the different models of science communication. I guess this is where the new teacher-side of me becomes particularly happy.

Having been a student myself and constantly heard repeated the importance of making sure that your exam papers are free from spelling mistakes, that they grammatically are correct and that you follow the formalities of the exam I can now confirm that this is important. The overall impression of a paper is just heavily influenced by the annoyance of typos, spelling mistakes etc.

All in all, I am very content with the outcome of the exam and with the assignment given in the exam. It was fun to do an exam that sort of had a foot in reality and could potentially be published in a book one day rather than having them write a paper which had me and the co-examinator as target audience.

Despite it being an exam (exams are rarely fun) I hope the students enjoyed writing this introductory chapter just a little bit. I at least enjoyed reading them!


Social media: putting the public into public health information dissemination

I can’t think of a more appropriate place than Twitter to come across an article about the use of social media to disseminate public health information.

I regularly do a Twitter search for ‘public health social media’ and very often come across new interesting initiatives, reports, meetings etc.

Today’s finding was the article Putting the Public into Public Health Information Dissemination: Social Media and Health-related Web Pages. The article, written by Professor Robert Steele and Dan Dumbrell, both from the Discipline of Health Informatics at The University of Sydney, takes a closer look at social media as a tool for the dissemination of public health information.

The paper discusses the novel aspects of social media-based public health information dissemination, including a very interesting comparison of its characteristics with search engine-based Web document retrieval. I especially find the below table from the paper interesting:

To me, this table captures in a very precise way many of the advantages and new possibilities of social media. The ‘push’ and ‘pull’ analogy for the mode of disseminating information is very telling. I also find the interaction difference of ‘community and peer-post-based’ vs. ‘individual’ based interesting and particular relevant to the field of public health sciences.

In addition to the comparison of social media and search engine-based web document retrieval, the paper presents the results of preliminary analysis of a sample of public health advice tweets taken from a larger sample of over 4700 tweets sent by Australian health-related organization in February 2012 and discusses the potential of social media to spread messages of public health.

All in all the paper has a lot of very interesting perspectives and makes a call for more research in the area. I’m looking forward to hearing more as they get deeper into the analysis. For example it would be interesting to learn about which hashtags (#) the analysed tweets were assigned, if any.


Exam in Public Health Science Communication

Wow, I can’t believe time has passed so quickly. Next to me is a pile of exam papers completed by the students of the graduate course in Public Health Science Communication at the University of Copenhagen. I feel like I just had the first introduction module, but yet I am almost done reading all these papers.

Until the students have received their results I will of course not comment on the actually exam, but what I would like to do is to share the assignment which the students were given with you. The exam was done through a course paper, where the students were presented with the task already on the first day of the course. They have therefore had the opportunity to let it simmer in the back of their minds through out the course.

Course paper in Public Health Science Communication

Assignment: Write a short introductory chapter on science communication for an imagined new textbook on Public Health Sciences. The imagined textbook is directed both to public health students and medical students. The chapter should provide a broad overview of principles of science communication and explain the relevance of looking specifically at public health science communication.

Requirement: Reference needs to be made to at least 60% of texts in the syllabus. Other literature (book chapters, blogs, articles etc.) may also be included, with clear references.

Language: The course paper can be completed either in Danish or in English.

Maximum length: 1 student: 10 normal pages, 2 students: 16 normal pages, 3 students: 20 normal pages

Evaluation: The paper will be evaluated on a 7-points scale

Additional guidance

In addition, the students were given the following guidance:

  • The course paper should illustrate that you have obtained a broad understanding of the principles of public health science communication (not public health communication) and its many dimensions. This means that you know of different medias, different target groups and different objectives/motivations for communicating science.
  • Since a requirement for the exam is that you have to refer to at least 60% of texts in the syllabus, your job is to put the texts into play with each other and demonstrate how their content are relevant for public health science communication – please also feel free to include other references (articles, blog posts, illustrations, radio programmes) if you find that relevant and as long as the references are clearly indicated in the reference list.
  • Apart from living up to the reference requirements and from demonstrating that you have understood basic principles of science communication, the evaluation of your papers will include how you combine your knowledge of public health sciences with your knowledge about science communication.
  • As the assignment is to write and introductory chapter to science communication, you will of course not be able to go into very specific details, but how you weigh different themes, topics etc. is entirely up to you.
  • As for the form of the paper, there are no requirements, rights or wrongs. You may want to write an introductory chapter as you would like to read it yourself (the target group for the paper is yourself and other students of public health related sciences) or try out a new style.  You can choose to write academically, personally, journalistic, with a dash of humor. It is up to you. Please also feel free to include figure, boxes, pictures and other illustrations if you find it relevant for your text.
  • There is no ideal way to complete this assignment and no rights or wrongs when it comes to format, disposition, language or structure for the paper.
  • You are also free to choose what reference system you like, as long as they are clearly marked and complete.