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!


What kind of teacher am I?

I thought this question worthwhile to answer. Perhaps one day this will become part of a more formalized teaching philosophy, and perhaps the audience to whom it is written will change. For now, however, my stream of consciousness answer will sit here, for my ponderance, for yours, and your comments.

I am the kind of teacher who believes that learning is everywhere. I am the kind of teacher who wants to know what you bring to the table, so you can use it to cultivate new things from new knowledge. I am the kind of teacher who takes your pulse frequently to see if I need to adjust how I’m doing things. I am the kind of teacher who flips things on end to see what things look like from a different angle. I am the kind of teacher who believes that you can learn where the boundaries of a box are from inside or outside of that box. I am the kind of teacher who lives to see the light bulb flash when you make a connection. I am the kind of teacher who is interested in your process, and believes that YOU are the product of your learning. I am the kind of teacher who blurs lines between teaching and learning, because I am the kind of teacher who helps you unpack and examine something, finds myself reorganizing it in a new way for myself too, and suddenly…I am a learner. I am the kind of teacher who expects to learn from you, and for you to teach each other. I am the kind of teacher who wonders…what kind of teacher are you?

Why I Teach

First things first – I’m participating in Connected Courses – a connected course on connected courses. Yep, you read that right. The assignment is a reflection on the WHY. Why do I teach?

I am working with a colleague of mine to help me formally articulate my teaching philosophy, as he has said I have a very strong one, which I didn’t know. This discovery process is fascinating, enlightening, maddening, and wonderfully messy.

My daughter, Kayleigh, doing some messy learning herself.

My daughter, Kayleigh, doing some messy learning herself.


I tackled this reflective assignment first with a brainstorm. I teach for my kids. I teach for fun. I teach to learn. I hope to inspire when I teach. I teach to make connections.

Connections. Between people, concepts, courses, groups, life experience….

One thing I do when I teach is to flip things around. So then I asked myself what I do when I am not teaching or learning. Blank screen, blinking cursor moment. In trying to identify times or places where I am not teaching or learning, I got stuck. I suppose one could argue for sleeping, but some of my crazy dreams would indicate that my brain is certainly processing, and I have definitely awakened to one of those “a-HA!” moments at 3AM. Then the blank screen blinking cursor moment became a spark. In another blog post I wrote a while ago, I talked about how the possibility for teaching and learning is everywhere and in everything. Regardless of who I am with, where I am, and what I am doing, I am involved in teaching and learning. I keep using “teaching” and learning” together because I am finding that these two terms are becoming very fuzzy in my head and not so easy to separate. Perhaps another blog post about that is in order, but I need to chew on it for a bit more. At any rate, I came to the conclusion that I cannot really separate myself from teaching and learning, because it is part of who I am.

I teach because I am.

How’s that for vague?


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

Learning is Messy

We have all heard it. Learning is messy. If you are a teacher, you have probably said it to your students, when their frustration level was at its highest. Learning is messy. Sometimes it is tedious. Sometimes, a question seems simple enough, but in the search for the answer, another question arises that must be answered first. Sometimes, the initial question is just the tip of the iceberg of questions with (or without) answers that plummet deeper into knowledge on a topic than one could imagine. The seeker could go the way of the Titanic, being crushed, broken in half, and left to sink. Learning is messy! The seeker could run down the rabbit hole of unending questions and get lost. Teachers see this in their students and remind them – learning is messy. It will be ok. The teacher will help. As a teacher, I likely focused on my teaching and their learning. Often, I would try to shift the iceberg picture they were feeling so acutely. Going down a rabbit hole into Wonderland can be far more preferable. Just as frustrating at times, but a bit more fun, than say, the Titanic.

The reality is, however, I am no different from them. Learning is just as messy for me. I’ve been given a project in my new job. I have been feeling the Titanic analogy rather acutely. It was a visit form a former student today that helped my perspective shift from the Titanic to Wonderland. As I tried to explain briefly what my iceberg was about, she looked a little amused. I realized that I sounded just like my students do when they reach that level of frustration in learning. At the moment this clicked with me, she said something to the effect of “Wow, you’ve learned a lot in a very short time about this.”

Oh. Right.

I’m a Learner, too, not just a Teacher, and learning is messy. So now, armed with my Figment mug of tea, I will jump back into the rabbit hole and continue this journey…into Wonderland. Perhaps I will meet the caterpillar who fervently demands to know who I am. I am a teacher, but I am also a learner…and well, learning is messy. And I do love being on both ends of it.