Do Blogs Impact Learners?


Blogs, originating from the term "web-logs", are interactive tools that facilitate communication among groups of individuals without regard to their physical location. They have become popular due to their dynamic nature that allows continuous updating and broadcasting of information as blog posts (Mathieu, 2007). While blogs began as text communications, today’s robust Internet supports written text, speech and sound, as well as static and dynamic images. They are now generally referred to as "Web2.0" (wiki, blogs, podcasts, Twitter, forums, etc). They have become a rich means of professional communication, as well as a dynamic teaching and learning tool. Search engines are helpful in locating sites of interest to medical educators, but it often takes more time that is available to conduct a thorough search.

This paper has two sections. The first section summarizes some examples of using blogs as teaching tools. The second provides access to some of the blogs maintained by medical professional organizations that may be of interest to those involved in graduate medical education.

Using Blogs as Teaching Tools

In their systematic review of the use of social media Cheston, Flicklinger and Chisolm (2013) include nine published studies in which blogs were used. Based on this review they concluded that including social media tools into courses increased learner engagement (71% of studies), feedback (57%), as well as collaboration and professional development (36% for each). They conclude that social media use in medical education is an emerging field of scholarship that merits further investigation.

Blog and blog-like tools are beginning to be developed for use in undergraduate, graduate and continuing medical education. Yet the number of published articles describing their use is surprisingly limited. Recent articles include Saichaie, Benson and Kumar (2014) who created a targeted teaching tool (the A/E Anesthesia Exchange) for use in anesthesia and critical care education. At predetermined times, the clinical team provided learners clinically relevant blog entries that could be applied to their daily work. During the pilot phase the authors identified challenges that ranged from technical problems to challenges in student and faculty participation, yet they "anticipate the launch of an even more robust A/E: Anesthesia Exchange". Similarly at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), the Dermatology Interest Group (DIG) created a blog to increase communication and collaboration between students, faculty, residents, and alumni, to promote educational opportunities and to foster the missions for which DIG was created (Jalalat and Wagner Jr, 2014). The educational impact on users of the blog was evaluated using an online survey. Their survey demonstrated increased reported blog usefulness and a good impact of this medium for communication and dissemination of information in dermatology education.

Blogs have also been used as an educational complement to morning report sessions. The Toronto Western Hospital blog (http://morningreporttwh.blogspot.com) and the Toronto General Hospital blog (http://morningreporttgh.blogspot.com) are updated with items relevant to recent morning reports such as medical content, links to pertinent literature, or medical images without any patient identifiers (Issac et al, 2012). The blogs actively involve learners in exploring evidence, thereby potentiating some of the principles of experiential case-based learning. The educational impact of the blog was analyzed through surveys and web metrics that facilitated the monitoring of topics favored by trainees. The authors found that the morning report blog was accessed frequently and was perceived as a useful educational tool.

Weblogs on medical topics are on the increase. Gosselink (2011) found that students base some of their knowledge and opinions on information they find on “Medical weblogs” and regards it as a form of “informal curriculum”. They are written by professionals as well as laymen and include scientific content as well as personal experience. Several clinical educators confirmed similar observations of an increasing number of students with poorly formed opinions based on weblogs, which is worrisome. Blogs promote reflection and support students’ professional growth when faculty are involved because this media encourages discussions, collaboration, and mentoring with faculty and residents (Gosselink, 2011). Therefore it is important to ensure the availability of excellent positive blogging role models; writing reflectively about their practice to portray the complex interaction of evidence based medical practice with the daily challenges that confront physicians (Gosselink, 2011).

This form of active learning has been more widely used in higher education with studies showing that using blogs, wikis and podcasts in the classroom enhances student learning (Richardson, 2010; Tetard, Patokorpi and Packalen, 2009; Zhang and Olfman, 2010). Such social software allow students to review and reinforce what they learned in class as well as apply the knowledge gained in complex, real-world settings (Zhang, 2013). The connection between blogs and learning can be supported by the application of constructivism and social learning pedagogy. The students create and manage their own blog posts, categories and pages; and also share their blog posts, make comments, and collaborate making this an active, constructive and social process (Zhang, 2013). In Higher education blogs have been used in a variety of ways: a replacement of a traditional classroom website, a substitute for discussion forums, to submit assignments or as a social ePortfolio. There was a significant improvement in the students’ perceived value in terms of knowledge discovery and creation, learning effects and social presence (Zhang, 2009).

Medical Education BLOGS

There are many types of BLOGS related to medical education. The blogs included here offer information and resources that may be especially relevant in graduate and undergraduate medical education. For each entry there is an active link to the blog site, a short description of the blog content and, for some cites, information about elements available within the cite. It does not include the many additional blogs managed by individuals, specialty groups, training sites, medical schools that serve specialty groups of medical professionals

1. AM Rounds Beyond the Pages of Academic Medicine

URL: http://academicmedicineblog.org/
AM Rounds is the official blog of Academic Medicine, the journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges. AM Rounds invites posts from a range of contributors from across the academic medicine community and offers exclusive previews of journal content. AM Rounds allows our community to interact with Academic Medicine content and to extend the conversation beyond the pages of the journal.

The homepage provides information about recent posts, how to receive the blog via email, access to items From the Archive and From The Editor. One can search the archive using TAGS (labels that can be used to access related material from the journal) that are listed at the end of the entry.

2. Conversations in Medical Education

URL: http://www.mededucconversations.com/
The blog serves as a discussion board for articles published in Medical Education and The Clinical Teacher. Medical Education publishes research in medical education. The Clinical Teacher covers best practices and practical applications in clinical practice. From the front page, you can search the blog by categories that are listed below the heading, by archived posts, and TAGS--a word cloud of headings that provide access to groups of articles with related content in which the size of in the printed title indicates the relative number of entries.

3. ROOM (Roundup of Online-Only Material)

URL: http://www.jgme.org/page/ROOM
Each issue of Journal of Graduate Medical Education contains the online supplement ROOM that contains teaching materials that include assessment forms, questionnaires, as well as program evaluation and improvement resources.

4. Health Affairs

URL: http://healthaffairs.org/blog
Health Affairs Blog contains commentary and analysis about policies affecting health and health care. The Blog includes posts from health policy experts and commentators, as well as the regular journal staff. Select Blogs from the line of choices just below the title. The link connects to recent blogs, many of which are related to medical education.

5. ICENet Blog

URL: http://icenetblog.royalcollege.ca/
The International Clinical Educators Network (ICENet) was created in 2011 by a group of clinical educators. The ICE blog was launched to promote "discussion among Clinical Educators from around the world." New posts appear on Tuesdays and Fridays.

6. Medical Education Futures Study (MEFS)

URL: http://www.medicaleducationfutures.org
The MEFS homepage describes itself as "an initiative funded by the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation to examine the social mission of medical education during the current period of medical school expansion." From the left side of the MEFS home page select Graduate Medical Education under the heading Projects on the left side of the page. There are 12 blog authors who summarize articles related to GME that have been published in other professional journals. The summary contains a link to the primary journal.

7. The Health Care Blog: Graduate Medical Education

URL: http://thehealthcareblog.com/blog/tag/graduate-medical-education
The Health Care Blog (THCB) is an online forum covering the changes that are impacting the healthcare system. The intended audience includes, doctors and nurses, medical students, healthcare policy makers, investors and entrepreneurs, as well as consumers trying to keep up with current trends. Examples of recent blogs include: Growing Up in the Era of Work-Hour Restrictions and What the Early 2013 Match Day Numbers Tell Us About Where We’re Going.

References and Additional Readings:

  1. Bogoch II, Frost DW, Bridge S, et al. Morning report blog: a web-based tool to enhance case-based learning. Teach Learn Med. 2012;24(3):238–241.
  2. Cheston CC, Flickinger TE and Chisolm MS. Social Media Use in Medical Education: A Systematic Review. Acad Med. June 2013; 88(6).
  3. Gosselink MJ. Medical weblogs: advocacy for positive cyber role models. Clin Teach. 2011;8(4):245–248.
  4. Bogoch II, Frost DW, Bridge S, Lee TC, Gold WL, Panisko DM & Cavalcanti RB (2012) Morning Report Blog: A Web-Based Tool to Enhance Case-Based Learning, Teaching and Learning in Medicine: An International Journal, 24:3, 238-241, DOI: 10.1080/10401334.2012.692273
  5. Jalalat SZ., & Wagner Jr RF. (2014). Utility of a dermatology interest group blog: the impact of medical student interest groups and Web 2.0 tools as educational resources. Advances In Medical Education & Practice, 5331-337. doi:10.2147/AMEP.S70776
  6. Mathieu J (2007). Blogs, podcasts, and wikis: the new names in information dissemination. J Am Diet Assoc. 107(4):553–555.
  7. Mehta NB, Hull AL, Young JB, and Stoller JK (2013). Just Imagine: New Paradigms for Medical Education. Acad Med. 88(10):1418-1423.
  8. Richardson W (2010). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (3rd E) Corwin Press.
  9. Saichaie K, Benson J, & Kumar AB. How we created a targeted teaching tool using blog architecture for anesthesia and critical care education – The A/e anesthesia exchange blog. Medical Teacher 2014; 36: 675-679.
  10. Tetrad F, Patokorpi E and Packalen K (2009). Using wiki to support constructivist learning: a case study in university education settings. 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 1-10.
  11. Zhang S. (2013). An Empirical Study of the Factors Affecting Weblog Success in Higher Education. Journal of Information Systems Education. 24 (4):267-279.
  12. Zhang X and Olfman L (2010). Studios, Mini-Lectures, Project Preentations, Class Blog and Wiki: A new approach to teaching web technologies. Journal of Information Technology Education. 9(2):187-199.

Reviewed for November by
Mary Anne Baker, PhD
Director, Assessment and Academic Achievement
Deema Al-Sheikhly MRes
Manager, Continuing Professional Development
Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar
Doha, Qatar