Social Media


I was asked about how I tend to use Twitter. Realizing that the spectrum of use is as wide as the great blue ocean, I will consider myself a fairly new tweeter. That being said, I can think of at least six ways that I have used Twitter over the last 16 months since I have started collaborating with the VCUALTLab team:

  1. Lurk and learn
  2. Tweet out blog posts
  3. Narrate (“live tweet”) from an event
  4. Engage in a specific synchronous chat
  5. Remember something someone says
  6. Ask for opinions
Kayleigh Mae sees the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

Kayleigh Mae sees the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

The fun thing is, when you use it for a different thing, and that thing clicks, that childlike feeling of excitement happens.

If I were to think about the continuing evolution of my exploration of Twitter, I’d say that I started out with the first thing on my list – the “lurk and learn.” I started using Twitter at work, so I followed all of my colleagues. Some of them have been on Twitter for a while, so I looked to see who else they were following and who followed them, to expand my network to people outside VCU. I found a public figure or two, like the Dalai Lama. I found journals like JAMA and The Lancet. I discovered the FDA and the CDC on Twitter too. My interest in integrative health and complementary/alternative medicine led me to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and its Center for Complementary & Integrative Health (NCCIH). I searched a few hashtags for personal interests too, like #Disney. I follow Walt Disney World, and my favorite Disney-related podcast, WDW Today. Through my favorite of the podcasters, Len Testa, I started to find more Disney Tweeps  (Twitter+people=Tweeps). I started out lurking. It’s like being at a party and listening to conversations, getting a feel for what people do and how. At some point, I started joining in. I also started tweeting out links to my website when I would post something new.

Of course, there is always live tweeting from an event, whether that event is a conference or a personal journey or trip. Most recently, I have tweeted with #VCUALTfest, which everyone should plan on coming to next May. That is all I will say about that, because that is a separate post waiting to happen. I have found Twitter useful during events like this not only for participating in back-channel conversations and seeing what is happening in other sessions, but also if I hear or see something I want to remember while at these events. It’s like I’m  journaling.  I also often tweet to Jonah Holland (@lewisginter) as I walk through Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. She retweets my pictures, often identifying plants, flowers, and critters for me and those who follow her. I had a really fun experience as I was tweeting from Disney World last fall. I had just received a new Magic Band from my husband, and went to Guest Relations to get it activated, and the Cast Member who helped me (Kyle) commented on my e-mail address, and when I told him that Professor Figment was who I was everywhere, he said “OH! I follow you on Twitter!” Of course I followed him back right that second and had a few conversations with him over the rest of my visit.

 During one of my lurk and learn sessions (ok, I was maybe chatting a little bit too), I saw that NCCIH was about to have a live chat. They tweeted out to join them using the hashtag #SupplementChat. I did some lurking, some retweeting, and participated a bit in a discussion about safety and herb-medication interactions. I picked up several new followers during the chat hour and started following a few new people too.

 At some point, I realized that one Twitter stream was not enough for me to keep up with all of this at once. I have found Tweetdeck a useful tool for helping me organize the many conversations at once. I always have a column for the #VCUALTLab tweets, which come not only from my colleagues, but also anyone else in the Twitterverse who uses that hashtag in a tweet. I also have a column for #FOAMed (Free Open Access Meducation). There are a couple of groups that I follow as well. During a live chat like the one mentioned above, I make a new column for use during that chat. I look forward to continuing to expand and refine my network of Tweeps as I continue to engage with the Twitterverse and beyond. I hope you do too! Follow me @ProfFigment. I’ll see you there!


ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Yep. I did it. I accepted the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I considered the many things I had heard about this challenge. The premise originally was to challenge people to dump ice water on their heads OR make a donation to an ALS charity. As things do, it morphed, and I am sure that there are several versions out there now. The one I am seeing over the last couple of days is you dump ice water on your head and make some kind of donation to the ALS Association or you donate at least $100. I’ve seen questions like “what’s the point of this?” “Why wouldn’t I just donate instead?” “How does dumping water on my head cure ALS?” “How is it ok to waste all this water?”

I considered all of these before accepting the challenge. I won’t go into the arguments I had with myself over environmental issues (sprinkler systems on rainy days, sprinkler systems at all, washing machines, dishwashers, showers…slippery slope?). It’s an iceberg, and not at all the point of this challenge. This challenge is about Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease that is very difficult to diagnose and treat. People with ALS tend to live 2-5 years after diagnosis, with a median survival time of about 39 months. Of course it is variable enough that there are exceptions to this (you know, Stephen Hawking). I have seen and enjoyed many videos of friends, students, colleagues, and celebrities accepting the challenge. I have seen the fun and joy they experience. I have felt the wonderful collective energy and sense of community surrounding it. One colleague of mine stated in his video that for every pharmacy student who likes his video on Facebook, he will donate an extra dollar.

I knew someone with ALS. She had a huge impact on my life, and the news of her death, when I learned it, sent me reeling for a bit. So when my husband accepted his challenge


and in turn challenged me, I thought of her. I asked myself some of the questions I mentioned earlier, so that I could own my decision to accept the challenge or not. No, dumping water on my head will not cure ALS. I can give what I can in the way of a monetary donation to help, and clearly every little bit helps, as this viral challenge has raised almost $23 million as of today, according to the ALS Association website. People will see my video on Facebook, and on this site, and I will challenge others, and somewhere in all that, awareness about this disease will be raised. Somewhere, someone will learn something, because I (and countless others) got doused with ice water. That’s kind of cool. Here is the video of my accepting the challenge:

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

And here is where I challenge three others to do the same.

Professor Figment challenges others

Post script: I posted my video on Facebook before I managed to get this blog post out, and one of the colleagues I challenged has completed the challenge as I constructed this post. He participated with a group of medical students and faculty, who in turn challenged the rest of the medical schools in Virginia.

The biggest city in the world

I confess to being one of those people who have (quietly) judged parents who are on their phones while seemingly ignoring their kids. This morning we went out for an early breakfast before work, and I had a very different experience. Here is my story:

The monkeys (my kids, aged 7, 8, and 9 years as of next Tuesday) are chatting away about the weather, as it is unseasonably cool. Kayleigh (8 years) asks, “Mama, what is the temperature?” I pull out my phone and let her know it’s apparently 63 degrees Fahrenheit. McKenna (7 years next Tuesday) pipes in wanting to know what the temperature is in Walt Disney World. Ok, 79 degrees. Now all three of them are spouting out locations.  Aunt Pat and Uncle Lee’s house? 65.  Hawaii? 72, and it’s still night time there.  Brazil? I forget which city I picked, but it was similar – somewhere in the mid-60’s.  Mexico? Ummmmm, where in Mexico will I look? Mexico City. 55. These are all from The Weather Channel app on my phone.

My husband Evan chimes in with a comment. “I think Mexico City is the largest city in the world, isn’t it?”  I look at him with my “blank screen, blinking cursor” face, which is indicative of complete ignorance on my part. Chasby (9 years) wants to look it up. Evan pulls out his phone and looks up the population of Mexico City (19,463,000, according to the website they were looking at). My girls are still spitting out places they want me to look up for weather. My step-son becomes more interested on what the biggest city is. Evan asks us to guess what the biggest city in Virginia is. Kayleigh chooses Richmond. Chasby chooses Norfolk. I was thinking somewhere in Northern Virginia but realized I had no idea the relative sizes of places like Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Falls Church….Evan tells Chasby he’s close with his guess. I mentally decide it must be Virginia Beach then. Eventually we are told that is the case.

Now we go global. “What IS the biggest city in the world, daddy?” I smirk at Chasby from across the table and ask him what he means by “biggest.” We talk about measuring a city by area and by population, and how they may not be the same. Evan looks up the biggest cities, and then they start talking about different populations of cities around the world, and I am looking up the current weather in them. Tokyo, Japan. 82.   Shanghai, China. 80.  Delhi, India. 90.

Our lively conversation and learning frenzy is rather suddenly severed by the gruff sarcastic voice of the owner of the bagel shop. “Well THAT’S a nice way to play with your kids,” he sneers. I freeze. My husband looks up and says “I’m sorry?” The man repeats himself, adding a comment about being buried in our phones. The kids are looking back and forth between me and Evan. Evan smiles and says jovially, “Yeah, we were talking about the biggest cities so we were looking some things up,” and Chasby, as if on cue, turns and proclaims “Shanghai in China is the biggest area, with 6,340 square kilometers, but Tokyo in Japan has the most people. Over 37 million!”

The shop owner says “Oh. That’s cool,” with no real inflection in his voice, and disappears into the back.

I relayed my story to my boss/coach/team leader (he doesn’t like “boss”) at work, and he pointed me to a NY Times article about social media use by teenagers on vacation. It’s a beautiful demonstration of being connected to both the here and now and bringing that to others, as Evan and I were bringing the world to the here and now, talking with our children about the here (Richmond, VA) and now (this morning’s weather right this minute) in the context of how it compares to many other places on the Earth.

My husband and I have not yet discussed the incident, so I have no idea about his perception of what transpired. Perhaps I will ask him about it when I get home from work today. I know that next time I see parents on their phones with their kids nearby, I may think “Maybe they’re looking up the biggest city in the world.”

Thoughts on Wikipedia

Wikipedia. The largest encyclopedia in the world. Of the world. For the world. We’re talking over 30 million articles in 287 languages, folks. Yet, in some disciplines and by some people, shunned as a source of information.

How then, is it useful for education?  An encyclopedia, by definition, is a summary of information about a plethora of subjects. There are the obvious things: 1) it’s a great starting point for finding general information 2) it can be useful in leading the reader to other possible sources. How about the not so obvious things? Let’s take healthcare as an example. Even if a healthcare professional holds the opinion that the information in Wikipedia is unreliable, you can pretty much bet that there are patients out there using it for information, and it is useful to know what they come to the table with. For students, this is a great starting point for basic information about a topic (disease state? medication? biological process?). What information is essential for the patient to have? What might they misinterpret? How could it be explained better? What references were used in the creation of the article (evaluate one or two). Is the information in the specific Wikipedia article accurate? If not…EDIT IT. Now we’re getting somewhere, aren’t we? Check out what is happening at UCSF, where they are doing exactly that.

What would you do in your own discipline? How could you not just USE Wikipedia, but PARTICIPATE in it?

Oh the thinks we can think, if only we try! ~Dr. Seuss

Am I ready for take off?

I really have no idea where this site will go, and honestly, I’m not thinking about what I’m writing right now. I’ve been told, by several different people, at several different times, that I should blog…about several different things. My two daughters (6 and 7 years old right now) and step-son (currently 8 years old) are a constant source of hilarity, frustration, new perspective, and love. My husband often writes quotes on my teacups, and it has been quite the source of conversation at times. I am a Disney fanatic and could write about Disney World all day long. I love tea. Between home and work, I likely have more varieties of tea than a Teavana store. I have started a journey into martial arts with Taekwondo and Tai Chi, long past my prime, whenever that was. I am a teacher. Some have told me I am a teacher with a capital “T.” I’m not so sure I’ve earned that yet, but I do know that I strive for it. My students often hear about my kids, Disney World, whatever tea I’m drinking that day, martial arts, and of course, it leads into whatever subject we are discussing in class that day. All that being said, I still don’t know where this is going.

“I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t just stick with Professor Figment.”

That’s what I said when I was asked what my domain name would be if I had one. I’m a professor, and Figment, a little purple dragon who lives in Epcot, is my personal mascot. He is housed in an attraction called “Journey into Imagination.” He is, clearly, a figment thereof. His theme song (by Robert and Richard Sherman) says:

“One little spark of inspiration, is at the heart of all creation; right at the start of everything that’s new, one little spark lights up for you.”

And so it begins – the flight of Professor Figment.