Maged N Kamel Boulos*, Inocencio Maramba and Steve Wheeler
BMC Medical Education 2006, 6:41 doi:10.1186/1472-6920-6-41
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I found this article whilst doing a search trying to find evidence of the educational impact of SNS and Web 2.0 tools. Unfortunately it is a slightly older article so some of the concepts and ideas are a bit outdated but it is useful summary. It looks specifically at three types of Web 2.0 tools – Wikis, Blogs and Podcasts. It was written in 2006 and its age is shown slightly when it talks about the lack of evidence of the effect/impact of Web 2.0 tools in the context of medical education (although the research base is still expanding). However what I found most useful is it lists the advantages and disadvantages of the three tools. The article mentions the tools and resources to create a Blog or Wiki are freely available and easy to use. Since 2006 of course there has been an explosion of apps, programme & online resources which have made things even easier. I could not believe how easy it was to construct a blog from a freely accessible website. Since 2006 mobile platforms have expanded and become more powerful. I was still using a Palm 650 then. I compare this to my latest smart phone and the number of apps I can get for it, the expansion has been exponential. However, the article is not about this. It is about the impact on education.
There are a couple of useful additional PowerPoint annexes to the article which I would recommend reading.
I didn’t realise a Wiki is from the Hawaiian term wiki, to hurry, swift. I still don’t know why this term was used. Essentially it is an on-line resource which has open editing. Most people are aware of Wikipedia. This concept can also be used to make an educational or medical Wiki. It is clear for anyone who has used Wikipedia that this would be a useful too for increasing collaboration and indeed some examples are cited. Ganfyd is one which can be edited by any registered medical professional.
A term I hadn’t heard before is Darwikinism. This refers to the evolution of Wiki pages as authors & collaborators edit and update the page. Indeed unlike evolution, this process is rapid. The authors mention a comparison with the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the fact both had similar numbers of errors. Unlike a printed publication, Wikipedia is corrected far more quickly. There is a downside to this, namely vandalism. A famous case was that of the American journalist John Seigenthaler. This downside is outweighed by the benefits of openness and the ability to restore a quality page using tools such as rolling back.
Sharing a digital tool such as a Wiki (and to a lesser degree a Blog) enables participants to become a stakeholder in the outcome. This outcome could be part of a project or developing a reference resource. It also encourages a deeper understanding of the subject matter by encouraging online collaboration. This is a key concept underpinning the pedagogical impact of a Wiki and its main advantage.
Ensuring accuracy is a concern but having a group of peer reviewers plus the ability to change an incorrect entry at the click of a mouse provides some assurance. Obviously for a large Wiki this may mean a large number of reviewers with subsequent time constraints but for smaller educational projects should be manageable.
Of interest to me, blogs have obviously exploded in their popularity since 2006. It took me until June 2014 to start my first. As mentioned previously, it was a simple thing to set up and the tools are free. Unlike Wikis, it is the author (or co-author) that moderates the entries so this can make the moderation more consistent and refined. However this could skew the information posted given the lack of a group consensus. I would argue this is more advantageous as article meta-information is known. Wikis can lack this due to the anonymity of the contributors. I own my blog and have a sense of authorship.
Both Blogs and Wikis run the risk of inadvertently posting copyright material as I found out. In my case it wasn’t malicious, just accidental (it was rectified easily by editing the post). As a single author this does protect me whereas the collaborative Wiki could be vulnerable. This lack of collaboration may reduce the educational impact of a blog – it could be perceived as an opinion piece which it essentially is. This article for example is my interpretation & critical evaluation of a journal article.
Another downside of blogs as I have found out is that whilst people may like to read them, encouraging active participation is a different matter. What one does get is other bloggers following you so this is in itself, a Network of Practitioners. It is a diverse network however, not just medical. The educational impact is therefore about blogging (I have enjoyed reading followers own blogs), not about medical education. I am learning from an informal curriculum and its great fun.
Despite my best efforts I have never got into Podcasting and I worried that this might mean I never had anything interesting to say. I actually think the reason is it involves having either headphones on your head or listening in a car/at home and therefore requires more concentration. I started downloading BMJ & NEJM Podcasts but never actually got around to listening to them. The ones I listened to tended to be a background noise, rather like a nice piece of music, whilst I did something else. I did not learn from them. On this background of negativity, I was interested to see what the authors thought.
Both audio & video Podcasts are used extensively. From recordings of lectures to audio recordings of text books, it is a tool which nicely encapsulates what m-learning is. One of the advantages described is the superior support for auditory learners (primary learning style in at least 30% of learners). The same applies to visual learners. On this basis, and not commented on by the authors, I would suggest this is their main disadvantage. I could not attend a Hot Topics course once so opted to do the ‘Webinar’ instead. This was essentially a video Podcast of the lectures with PowerPoint. I duly completed the exercise, answered a fairly straightforward quiz & was awarded my PGE credits. I reflected that I learnt very little but had a big thick textbook of Hot Topics & 6 hours accredited. It is clear that Podcasts do not work for me but I have always found Problem Based Learning & Small Group Work more effective. I like to be hands on. So whilst there is a pedagogical basis for some learners, it is not for everyone.
To summarise, this is a nice review article which provides an interesting snapshot of Web 2.0 tools and their potential educational impact in 2006. It recognises the lack of an evidence base for this and encourages readers to get involved in research. And therein lies the rub. I am already out of date according to some teenagers I know (Facebook is sooo middle aged). I should be using WhatsApp and Instagram, until the next great thing comes along. Trying to research the educational impact of Social Networking tools when those tools are continuously changing is a challenge.