Twitter has been growing in popularity (although not as a money-making venture), and is one of the most used social media tools. While many still use it to connect with friends, follow the antics of celebrities, and keep up with family members, the use of Twitter as an educational tool has also been emerging for several years, especially in the health sciences. Teaching about the tools and skills to use social media to its full advantage is a perfect role for librarians. We can advocate for the inclusion of these skills in the curriculum, teaching students to use social media professionally and also how to avoid pitfalls and address privacy concerns.1, 2
For students in the healthcare professions, using Twitter can teach them to connect to colleagues, to share research, to keep up with developments in their field, to learn of publishing opportunities, and to collaborate. It can be used as a current awareness tool and to “virtually” attend conferences if they can’t be there in person, via the use of hashtags. Journal and book clubs are also popular on Twitter and can be found in various specialties. Articles or books are chosen in advance and a discussion takes place online at a scheduled time. A recent article analyzed a Twitter journal club for medical radiation professionals and concluded that, “Twitter journal club can provide an authentic learning environment with all the cognitive dimensions afforded in a formal classroom or face-to-face journal club. Indeed, in some ways, these cognitive dimensions are enhanced in the Twittersphere.”3
Symplur.com is a project aimed at facilitating communication between healthcare providers and patients and enhancing and improving providers’ participation in social media in order to educate themselves and to steer the public towards better resources. The Healthcare Hashtag Project allows registration of a hashtag with a description of its intent. It’s a free platform for patients, families, caregivers, healthcare providers and other members of the medical community. Hashtags are divided into categories for general interest, diseases, conferences and Twitter chats. Knowledge of hashtags allows students and healthcare professionals to find topics of interest to them on Twitter, to follow along with a certain conference, webinar or presentation, and to find Twitter chats. It’s also possible just to search for topics on Twitter and discover hashtags that way.
Optimal use of Twitter for educational purposes lies in the strength of one’s network. Once a user has successfully created a network of others working in the same field, doing similar research, studying in another area of interest, or based on another shared characteristic, an online community is formed. Members learn from and enhance each other’s experiences in this shared environment.