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!


Reimagining the biggest course that never happened

In my prior position, I was in charge of implementing a sequence of courses called “Scholarship.” The charge was to instill a culture of scholarly thinking into the PharmD curriculum. I coded that into getting the students to ask questions about how to improve quality of care, services provided, address workflow issues, and to do so in a systematic fashion. The scientific method is not something to fear, and is not reserved for ivory tower researchers. When faced with 140 budding pharmacists, most of whom are aiming themselves at retail pharmacy, this becomes a daunting task. For three years, I implemented what had been previously developed (a sequence of courses spanning three years of the PharmD curriculum), with some tweaks here and there for following years. Eventually, some larger changes were made. This was, after all, a brand new sequence, and would take a while to reach steady state.

It wasn’t working. I was increasingly unhappy with the way the sequence was going, and the students weren’t happy with it either. It felt disjointed and episodic. When you are trying to accomplish something, and what you are doing is not working, you need to change something, right? Sometimes, having a spouse who is outside your field is a useful thing. Mine tends to put me farther out in left field than I thought I could go, to pick me up out of my thought box and make me look at it from the outside. When I feel stuck, that is the time to consider your out-of-the-box left field ideas with a new level of “what if….” From this process was born the biggest course that never happened.

One hundred forty students. Three years. One real project. Start to finish. Let’s do this! Then, let’s start crossing years…they can participate in each other’s projects, add onto them, critique them…then maybe we can partner with other schools to increase the reach, generalizability, sample sizes…let’s take it interprofessional too! You see where this can get out of control very quickly, in a fun and exciting way, right?

I started to implement parts of this where I thought I could do so without rocking the boat TOO much with the sanctioned course sequence. Instead of pulling in disjointed examples for different topics, I reframed things using the same example…the one they were developing. When talking about developing a research question, we did it. Together, as a class of 140, we developed a question. Sure, they had more than one idea, and this led to those who felt strongly defending the question in which they were most interested. Why was it important? Now we are getting into background and significance. How might we approach answering this question? Now we are talking about methodology and reviewing study designs. What are our measurable outcomes? Now we talk about endpoints, operational definitions, levels of measurement. To anyone who has taught or been through a research methods course, none of this sounds particularly novel or interesting. Doing it with 140 budding pharmacy practitioners, however, who are not training to be researchers, this was a fun process.

Before I could really start to make big changes, though, I ended up in my current position, no longer at the helm of this sequence. All this has managed to do, however, is toss my thoughts even further. Considering my new position, you know where this is going. That’s right, online. How would I do this now? There would be a course website. There would be discussion, links, voting…the written assignments, reflective pieces, guided questions I had them write about this process would be blog posts. I wonder what we might crowdsource. I wonder what collaborators I would find. I wonder what knowledge these budding pharmacists (and whoever else ended up in this space) would contribute to the collective intelligence of the…profession of pharmacy…health sciences community…community at large…Universe.