Use of Social Media in Public Health teaching: 5 reasons why and some words of caution



A while ago, we asked on Twitter whether people used Social Media for Public Health teaching.





We received some interesting answers (which led to this post), amongst which was this one by Dr. Yuri Feito.





Yuri is Assistant Professor of Exercise Science at Kennesaw State University.  He currently uses social media (Twitter) in his Physical Activity Epidemiology course (#EHS6655), where they examine the role of physical activity plays in the management and prevention of chronic conditions.  Yuri says that using Twitter has given them hours of class discussions that have been engaging and productive.


I contacted Yuri and asked him if he could write a piece on the blog, and he kindly agreed!

Here he describes how Social Media can be useful in Public Health teaching and what you should be cautious about, should you decide to use them.

The use of Social Media in Public Health Teaching

The use of social media has increased dramatically over the last decade.  Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have allowed the rapid communication of ideas and news around the world at fast speeds.  Recent estimates suggest that over 90% of young adults have some type of online presence, weather it is in the form of a Facebook page, and/or Twitter or LinkedIn account.  Moreover, it is estimated that over 80% of 25-34 year olds browse the World Wide Web regularly, with 50% of these accessing the Web from a mobile device.  This presents a great opportunity for educators, especially in the Public Health arena, to interact and engage students in a field that is rapidly changing and depends on timely information to make decisions, which may have a potential effect in the population as a whole.

The “theory of student involvement” (1) promotes the interaction of students’ with peers and faculty alike, in order to have the most positive academic experience while pursuing a college degree.  Hence, considering our students are changing the way they connect with each other and the “world”, we as Public Health educators, should consider utilizing some of these technologies to further engage our students and allow them to have “some control” about the information they learn and share, of course, without sacrificing the core pillars of any academic program.

Over the last year, I have become involved in the utilization of social media in the classroom, and consider there are five important components why it can be useful in any Public Health classroom:


1.      Breaking news in Public Health

Considering the importance of “time” in the management of any disease, utilizing social media to follow leading institutions such as the National Health Service in the UK, or the Center for Disease Control in the US, will keep students informed of ‘news’, which can later serve as a topic of discussion in classroom, or ‘online’, as a student can pose questions and receive immediate feedback from instructor, peers, or even the leading authorities in those organizations.  Thus, social media can be used as a way to disseminate content and course specific information.


2.      Theme specific live-chats

In an environment where allocation of traveling resources may be scarce, social media presents an opportunity for all students to virtually travel to any part of the world, while seating at their desks.  The biggest “hurdle”, if any, is to follow the right organizations.  Today, search algorithms make it easy to utilize these sites and learn more about any topic.


3.      Develop an community outside the classroom

The utilization of social media can create an “outside the classroom environment”, in which students remain engaged in a topic before, during or even after the class has ended.  Moreover, some students may be more comfortable sharing their opinions in a Social Media platform than in the classroom; hence, encouraging all students to participate in the dialogue.


4.      Interact with world-renown Public Health practitioners

Aside from meeting world-renowned practitioners at international conferences around the world, which could be very expensive for faculty and almost impossible for students, social media presents an opportunity to reach out to professionals around the world and interact with them in a “live” environment, which could enhance participation and involvement by students in any course.


5.      Meet other students/professionals in the field

Although meeting world-renown practitioners is exciting, reaching out to other professionals, or other students in the field enhances the collaborative nature of public health and encourages learning from others in the field.  Additionally, these interactions can create possibilities for internships, additional graduate and post-graduation work, and even potential jobs.


Although Social Media can be a great tool for the classroom, there are a couple of issues that need to be address for a productive implementation:


1.      Equipment needs

Unfortunately, even though students around the world commonly use Social Media often, it may be difficult for some students to actively engage in class discussions, etc., due to a lack of a mobile device.  Some may only have laptops, or even desktops, which limit the utilization of this technology.  Thus, instructors should be aware of this limitation when “requiring” its use in the Public Health classroom.


2.      Privacy

Although Internet privacy is a big issue these days, it should made clear to ALL students that professional and personal accounts should not be combined.  As young professionals, they each need to work on their “online presence” and the last thing they want to do is to meet a world-renowned epidemiologist who knows what they did Saturday night!  I believe here is where instructors need to pay more attention and have strict guidelines for proper utilization.


As social media continues to gain popularity among our society, public health instructors should consider utilizing these technologies to promote student engagement both in and outside the classroom.  These technologies could maximizing those “teachable moments” in public health, which usually occur outside of the classroom when students are going about their day and see/do something that reminds them of what they discussed in class the week before!  Personally, I think we should stop trying to analyze how and why students are currently using social media; instead, we should focus how WE want them to use it in our classrooms, so that they can become better practitioners and public health professionals.


What do you think? What would you add in this list? Make sure you comment and follow Yuri  @drfeito


Astin A. Student Involvement: A Developmental Theory for Higher Education. Journal of College Student Development. 1984. p. 519.



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