Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier – review

His most dispiriting observations are those about what social media does to politics – biased, “not towards the left or right, but downwards”. If triggering emotions is the highest prize, and negative emotions are easier to trigger, how could social media not make you sad? If your consumption of content is tailored by near limitless observations harvested about people like you, how could your universe not collapse into the partial depiction of reality that people like you also enjoy? How could empathy and respect for difference thrive in this environment? Where’s the incentive to stamp out fake accounts, fake news, paid troll armies, dyspeptic bots?

Source: Williams, Z. (2018). Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier – review.

I’ve just started reading this (very short) book and it’s already making me weigh up the reasons for keeping my Twitter account. The major benefit I get is that, every so often, my feed will surface a person I’m not familiar with, who writes (or shares information) about a topic I’m interested in. However, I’m also aware that there are other places I could go to more intentionally find out who those people are, and follow them in a different way. For example, most of the time they’re writing on their own blogs, or on Medium. But that’s not where they share the links to the pieces that they care about. I worry that, by deleting my Twitter account, I would lose the serendipitous connections that it facilitates. Maybe a good place to start is by turning off the notifications for @mentions.

Note: I deleted my Facebook account about 2 years ago, I don’t spend much time on Google+, I don’t use LinkedIn or ResearchGate as social media, and I never got into Instagram or Snapchat, so Twitter is the one account I’m still active on.

AI Can Now Identify Racist Code Words on Social Media

“We essentially gathered hateful tweets and used language processing to find the other terms that were associated with such messages… We learned these terms and used them as the bridge to new terms—as long as we have those words, we have a link to anything they can come up with.” This defeats attempts to conceal racist slurs using codes by targeting the language that makes up the cultural matrix from which the hate emerges, instead of just seeking out keywords. Even if the specific slurs used by racists change in order to escape automated comment moderation, the other terms they use to identify themselves and their communities likely won’t.

Source: Pearson, J. (2017). AI Can Now Identify Racist Code Words on Social Media.

There are a few things I thought are worth noting:

  • The developers of this algorithm used Tweets to identify the hateful language, which says something about the general quality of discourse on Twitter.
  • The algorithm isn’t simply substituting one set of keywords with another; it identifies the context of the sentence in order to determine if the sentiment is hateful. The specific words almost don’t matter. This is a significant step in natural language processing.
  • The post appeared in 2017 so it’s a year old and I haven’t looked to see what (if any) progress has been made since then.

Without anyones permission: The open web and online learning

As teaching and learning activities move into online and blended learning environments we need to think carefully about how we use those spaces, which is often determined by the features of the platforms and services we choose. One topic in the field on online learning that’s been getting a lot of attention, is the MOOC (the New York Times declared 2013 the year of the MOOC). However, for all the rhetoric about how MOOCs are disrupting higher education, we have yet to see any strong evidence that they lead to any kind of improved learning, and we are slowly starting to realise that “MOOCs are essentially a dead end with regard to providing learners who do not have adequate access to education with high quality qualifications.” In other words, if you don’t already have a good foundation upon which to build, the promise of MOOCs seems to be an empty one.

One of the reasons that disruption is difficult to apply to the mainstream MOOC phenomenon is that – for all intents and purposes – these MOOCs (specifically, xMOOCs) are not doing anything particularly innovative. They reproduce distance learning models that have existed for decades and moreover, they do so less well. This post will focus on the Open aspect of xMOOCs – in particular how they are anything but open – and to discuss some of the ways that educators need to think differently about how we use the web in our teaching practice.

The majority of xMOOC providers design their courses using non-open formats and use restrictive content licenses preventing reuse and sharing of the content and learning experiences. These MOOC providers are fencing in and closing off the educational experience, while at the same time preaching openness and enhanced accessibility. This loss of openness in online learning – as it is conceived by the major xMOOC providers – is, according to some, a horrific corruption, as more and more of our learning experiences are controlled by organisations that dictate the direction that online and blended learning is taking. Which brings me back to the idea that started this post; if we are going to move teaching and learning into online environments it is important for us to understand the environment that we’re moving to. We need to remember that when we talk about online learning, we should be talking about learning on the web. Not learning on an app, or on Coursera, or on Facebook. And therein lies the problem:

This isn’t our web today. We’ve lost key features that we used to rely on, and worse, we’ve abandoned core values that used to be fundamental to the web world. To the credit of today’s social networks, they’ve brought in hundreds of millions of new participants to these networks, and they’ve certainly made a small number of people rich. But they haven’t shown the web itself the respect and care it deserves, as a medium which has enabled them to succeed. And they’ve now narrowed the possibilities of the web for an entire generation of users who don’t realize how much more innovative and meaningful their experience could be.

Anil Dash

Maybe we need to reclaim online learning for what it is and what it represents. The open source movement has provided the tools we need to build our own (open) online courses, so what exactly do we need Coursera and Udacity for? As we give up more and more (or, as platform providers take more and more?), we must remain cognisant of what it is that we’re losing. The restrictive licensing requirements of most xMOOC providers has shown that we – the people doing the teaching – need to take the online learning environment back, eliminating (or at least reducing) our reliance on convenient platforms that do more to impoverish the learning experience than enhance it. We can provide an open online learning experience while at the same time enabling a culture of democratized, permission-less innovation in education.

We need to remember that delivering mass media is the least of the Net’s powers.
The Net’s super-power is connection without permission. Its almighty power is that we can make of it whatever we want.

We, the People of the Internet, need to remember the glory of its revelation so that we reclaim it now in the name of what it truly is.

No one owns that place. Everybody can use it. Anyone can improve it.

Doc Searles – New Clues

Anil Dash described how we lost the web and then followed up with how to rebuild the web we lost, highlighting the utility of the open web to enable transformative change in the world. The web as an open platform for creative expression and unfettered communication is slowly being eroded and replaced by gilded cages. As the services we champion make it more difficult to move content into and out of, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to create connections between people and ideas in open online spaces. Sure, if you want to do everything in Facebook, then Facebook works. But just try taking something out of Facebook to use somewhere else.

We get bullshit turf battles like Tumblr not being able to find your Twitter friends or Facebook not letting Instagram photos show up on Twitter because of giant companies pursuing their agendas instead of collaborating in a way that would serve users. And we get a generation of entrepreneurs encouraged to make more narrow-minded, web-hostile products like these because it continues to make a small number of wealthy people even more wealthy, instead of letting lots of people build innovative new opportunities for themselves on top of the web itself.

Anil Dash

In his post about rebuilding the web we lost, Anil made the following suggestions for taking back the open web, which I’ve repurposed here in an online learning context. I’m sure that my take on it isn’t perfect, and I’d be happy to hear any other interpretations.

  1. Take responsibility and accept blame. This is our fault. Educators have allowed companies like Coursea / Udacity / Future Learn to take over and drive the online learning agenda. We did this because we didn’t understand what the web was and how we could build enriching educational experiences with it. Instead of embracing the web, we’ve spent the past few decades demonising it. We blame it for increases in cheating, lower levels of critical thinking, and encouraging lazy approaches to student work. Just think of all the rants about why students shouldn’t use Wikipedia, instead of taking on the challenge of making Wikipedia as good as it could possibly be. Educators and students could have used the platform in ways that would have improved the content of the site, while also helping students to develop important 21st century skills that are not covered in the formal curriculum. We dropped the ball, and now we need to ask what we’re going to do about it.
  2. Don’t just meet the UX standards, raise the bar. Coursera, Future Learn, Udacity, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest are all beautifully designed. They have great websites and come with user-friendly mobile apps, and we marvel at how easy they are to use. They must be wonderful places for learning. All we have to do is provide the content. But is that all there is to learning? Pre-packaged collections of readings, with no opportunities to empower students as part of that process? High quality, well-produced video lectures that students can’t download? Forum discussion boards that were also boring in the 90s? Why do we put up with it? Because it’s pretty? We can do better.
  3. Rethink funding fundamentals. If we want to move the learning experience into online spaces – and with it, open up access to education that xMOOCs so proudly take credit for – we must rethink how we are going to fund the development of those experiences. Is it realistic for individual lecturers to try and manage courses with thousands of students? Does everyone understand that Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and every other social network that exists does so in order to make a profit for their shareholders or their founders. These are companies designed to make money, not enhance learning. We will need to come up with different ways of funding large-scale online education if we are going to take it seriously.
  4. Explore architectural changes. The ability to manage enormous numbers of users used to require banks of servers and the installation of costly database software. Now you can get the same functionality as a service, either from Amazon (AWS) or a range of other providers. Cloud-based storage providers (Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc.) provide hosting and collaborative editing of files – largely for free – that just a few years ago would have been prohibitively expensive. By making use of free or cheap services, we can reproduce platforms that previously would have been impossible or very expensive. Changes in how software and services are offered provide new opportunities for growth and innovation. We need to not only be aware of these services but to think carefully about how we can use them in ways that are truly disruptive.
  5. Exploit their weakness: Insularity. Be sceptical of those who tell us that This New Thing is open in any sense of the word, other than open = free. But even the use of “free” in this context means simply “without cost”, and is dissociated from the freedoms we have come to expect with the web. Instead of looking to the big institutions for guidance – and therefore falling prey to their limited perspectives – we must establish collaborations outside of the walled gardens of closed online learning environments.
  6. Don’t trust the trade press. Stop believing everything that the mainstream media tells you is true. “MOOCs are disrupting higher education”; only…they’re not. Not yet, and certainly not by the Coursera’s of the world. It is essential that teachers, principals, students, parents and every other stakeholder involved in learning educates themselves on what the web is, and how it evolved to become what it is. It’s only by knowing what we’re losing that we can take steps to reclaim it. Even as the mainstream media and uncritical academics proclaim the disruption and end of traditional models of higher education due to the emergence of whatever is trending on Twitter, we must maintain a critical perspective in how we design our online learning experiences.
  7. Create public spaces. Think about this; almost every online space where you can currently assemble large groups of people is privately owned. Facebook, Google+, Instagram…there are no truly open and public spaces where we can engage in public performances, at least not in any real numbers. This holds true for educational online spaces too; Coursera, Udacity, EdX, Canvas. All are privately held and all exist to make a profit. Where are the open spaces that position learning as a public good? Other than a few marginalised experiments like Wikiversity it’s difficult to point out a truly open learning environment. It seems that if this is something that we want – that we value – we are going to have to build it ourselves.

While this list isn’t perfect – it was written for a different context – I think it gives us some ideas about how we can think differently about moving education into online and blended learning spaces. It’s not enough to simply add online to our teaching and learning activities, and think that we’re changing anything. We need to stop doing “business as usual”. The mainstream xMOOC providers offer little more than structured collections of content, well-produced video lectures and extremely limited forms of engagement. There is nothing fundamentally innovative about this approach, nor does it have any pedagogical foundations to support learning. The promise of technology – and the web – in teaching and learning is not simply to reproduce a poorer version of the classroom experience. We need to ask who is setting the online learning agenda and whether or not we are comfortable with that (hint, the correct answer is “No”).

Open source software has given us the tools to create sophisticated online spaces for learning – all we have to do is learn how to use them. We would be asking no more of ourselves than we ask of our students every day i.e. to push ourselves to learn something new; to make a difference in the world. As long as we’re performing in closed spaces, we are disempowering our students and colleagues, preventing them from participating in educational experiences that are liberating and that develop a sense of agency.

Stephen Downes offers us four principles of open and networked learning via the theory of Connectivism – principles that could be useful in our designs for online learning experiences. We could do worse than these concepts when it comes to interrogating what kinds of online platforms we use, and how we use them. It would be an enlightening experiment to take an honest look at our learning spaces – online and physical – and ask if they encourage and facilitate the development of these concepts:

  • Autonomy:  Learners should have the ability to choose where, when, how, what and with whom to learn
  • Diversity: Learners represent sufficiently diverse populations to avoid group-think and “echo-chambers”
  • Openness: The learning environment accommodates all levels of engagement, with no
    barriers between ‘in’ and ‘out’, helping to ensure the free flow of information through the network, and encouraging a culture of sharing
  • Connectedness: “Connectedness” and interactivity is what makes all this possible, as knowledge emerges through the connections that learners make

At the risk of sounding like an uncritical fanboy, I’m well aware that the web is not the panacea we sometimes make it out to be. The presentation below – given at the 2014 meeting of The Network – Towards Unity for Health, in Fortaleza – was largely inspired by the ideas presented here, and highlights the challenges with online and blended learning, especially when we are uncritical about what we use and why.

 

This uncritical perspective is most evident than when we talk about the web. We speak about it as a discrete entity, something defined, bounded and imbued with a set of characteristics that is inherently Good. The web positioned as the solution to our many educational problems is somewhat the essence of the xMOOC contingent, and most solutions to the “education problem” that emerge from Silicon Valley. Evgeny Morozov has suggested that our tendency to look to the internet as the solution to everything is problematic, calling it the “quasi-religion” of “Internet-centrism” where Internet-centrism views the internet as being inherently special. As educators responsible for using the web and it’s features to our advantage, we must ensure that we are cognisant of both it’s utility and potential for harm (or, at the very least, it’s potential for ineffectiveness). Taking a critical position – one of the roles of academics in society – allows us to see mainstream xMOOCs for what they really are: impoverished walled gardens that diminish the learning experience. Learners are treated as users, content is viewed as knowledge, and the learning interaction is regarded as linear and subject to control. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The internet is essentially a set of agreements (protocols) that tell us how to write a page that can link to any other page without needing anyone’s permission. Without needing anyone’s permission. Without having to ask if it is OK. Without needing to login. Without needing to share our personal information. Without giving up our content through resrictive licensing requirements. “Every link by a person with something to say is an act of generosity and selflessness, bidding our readers to leave the page to see how the world looks to someone else.” When we construct our learning experiences behind closed doors, hiding our interactions inside platforms and apps that we can’t make real choices about, we give up something.  As we continue to move teaching and learning into spaces like Facebook – because it’s “where the students are” – we cede our autonomy and ability to make real choices about how we teach and how students learn. We change our teaching practices, not because it is in the students’ best interest, but because it is all that we are allowed to do.

We all love our shiny apps, even when they’re sealed as tight as a Moon base. But put all the closed apps in the world together and you have a pile of apps.
Put all the Web pages together and you have a new world.
Web pages are about connecting. Apps are about control.
As we move from the Web to an app-based world, we lose the commons we were building together.
In the Kingdom of Apps, we are users, not makers.
Every new page makes the Web bigger. Every new link makes the Web richer.
Every new app gives us something else to do on the bus.

New Clues

Using open source software in higher education

Universities and other higher education institutions are increasingly moving towards what many are calling the “connected campus“. While this move brings with it many benefits for students, it can also be expensive to implement. In 2008 I wrote a short post entitled “Open source alternatives to proprietary applications“. This was before the launch of the iPad, before Android, even before the beta version of Google’s Chrome browser was launched. Chrome has since become the most popular Internet browser, which shows how much can change in a few years.

At the time that I wrote that post, I had just started working in a contract position at the university and it was my first time working in an environment where everyone else was using Microsoft products. I had been using Ubuntu since it launched in 2004 and the idea of having to integrate with the proprietary platforms on campus was distressing. Hence the post on alternatives to proprietary software. However, since then there is even more choice, open source platforms have developed more quickly than proprietary versions (in my opinion) and the world of educational software has exploded. One of the things that was most surprising to me when I started thinking about this post was how many platforms are now included in the category of educational software. Things like blogs, micro-blogs and wikis are now pretty much mainstream, whereas a few years ago they were considered not only cutting edge but not really part of the educational technology landscape either.

I decided to write this post so that I could explore the open source tools that are currently available, with an emphasis on those that are commonly used in the context of education software. I won’t give multiple examples in a category because in some categories there are many options e.g. email clients. This list is not exhaustive and covers only the tools that come to my mind. I’m also not going to include anything that is free, but proprietary or not open source. You must be able to download the source code and either run it on your own server or modify the code and run it independently of any company. In other words, for social networks in education Google+, Facebook and Edmodo are out but Elgg is in.

So, here is my (unordered) list of software applications that we might want to include in the category of educational software, acknowledging that virtually anything can be used in an educational context (all links below go to Wikipedia entries):

Looking at the list above, I think it’s clear that universities and departments, should they choose, could run a significant portion of their infrastructure using open source software.

open-source-world_wallpapers_10169_1024x768

PHT402: Final thoughts and moving forward

This is a short review post for the PHT402 Professional Ethics course that was recently completed by physiotherapy students from the University of the Western Cape and qualified physiotherapists who participated through Physiopedia. We believe that this is the first time that a completely open, online course in professional ethics has been run as part of a formal undergraduate health care curriculum.

2049233526_358678b16eIn total we had 52 UWC students and 36 external participants from around the world, including South Africa, USA, United Kingdom, India, New Zealand, Estonia, Saudi Arabia and Canada. The context of the course, objectives, course activities and participant learning portfolios are available on the project page, so I won’t go over those again other than to say that the course was aimed at developing in students a set of attributes that went beyond simply teaching them about concepts in professional ethics. In other words, it was about trying to change ways of thinking and being, as opposed to teaching content. It’s too early to say whether or not we achieved this but if nothing else, we do seem to have made a significant impact in the personal and professional lives of some of the participants.

One of the most interesting things about this course has been the enormous variety of perspectives that emerged, which on a personal level have driven my thinking and reasoning in different directions than if I had engaged with the topic in isolation. From one of the participants, “…it brings on thoughts that I find unsettling“. This is a good thing. One of the points of the course was to put people into those contested spaces where the “right” and “wrong” answers are ambiguous and context dependent. The more we explore those spaces within ourselves and with others, the better prepared we’ll be to navigate difficult ethical situations in our professional practice.

Running the PHT402 Professional Ethics course in this way has been an enormous learning experience for me and many lessons emerged during the course that were unanticipated. Here are some of the things we did that I’ve never done before and which challenged us to think about different ways of teaching and learning:

  • Participants were mostly unfamiliar with how the internet works and so had no experience with following the work of others. We needed to give very explicit instructions regarding setting up blogs and following other participants. Email support was extensive and many participants were regularly in contact. I learned that email is still an essential aspect of working digitally.
  • Participants were geographically distributed and most had never had any blogging experience. We needed to figure out how to teach them how to blog without being able to get them all into a classroom. We wanted not only to teach them how to simply write blog posts but to also include embedded media, linking to other participants, using tags and categories. We wrote a series of posts that were designed to not only give instructions on how to blog but also how to write engaging posts on the web. Every participant was encouraged to follow the participants to ensure that they were exposed to this input.
  • It wasn’t possible for the facilitators to comment on every post of every user (although I gave it my best shot) but we had to make sure that everyone got feedback of some kind on their posts. We designed a form in Google Forms and asked every participant to review the work of 3 other participants. Then we aggregated that feedback, which was quantitative and qualitative) and sent it to each participant. In this way, we ensured that everyone got feedback in one form, even if they weren’t getting comments on their posts.
  • It’s difficult to give a grade (this was part of a formal curriculum, so grades were unfortunately a necessity) for participants’ perceptions of topics like equality, morality and euthanasia. We decided the students would be graded on the extent to which they could demonstrate evidence of learning in their final posts. We said that this could be in the form of identifying personal conflict and resolution (one of the aims of the course), linking to the posts of others with analysis and integration of those alternative ideas (learning collaboratively), use of the platform features e.g. tagging, categories, Liking, Commenting, etc. (using technology to enable richer forms of communication). I created a rubric that is more extensive than this list, but it just goes to show that the assessment of a course like this needs to be about more than simply asking if the student covered the relevant content.

Now that this course has been completed, I plan to do research on the data that was generated. This was always part of the project and as such it had ethical clearance from my institutional review board from the outset:

  • I designed the learning environment using principles that I had developed as part of my PhD project. This course could be seen as a pilot study aimed at further testing those design principles as a way of developing a set of Graduate Attributes in an online learning space. To this end I’ll be doing a series of focus groups to find out from students whether or not the course objectives were achieved.
  • In addition to the focus groups I’d like to try and triangulate that data with a content analysis of the blog posts and comments that were generated during the course. I’ll qualitatively analyse the course outputs that were created by participants.
  • I’d like to survey all of the participants to get a general sense of their experiences and perceptions of having completed a course that was very different to what they were used to from a traditional curriculum. I’d like to find out if offering a course in this way is something that we should be looking at in more depth in our department.
  • During the course, a significant number of connections were made between people on the open web. I’d like to use social network analysis to see if there’s anything interesting that emerged as a result of how people connected with each other. If you have any suggestions for methods to analyse a set of blog posts on WordPress, please let me know.
  • Finally, I want to interview the other facilitators who helped me to develop the course and who were based in different countries at different times in the project. I want to see if there are any lessons that could be developed for other, geographically dispersed teachers who would like to run collaborative online courses.

PHT402 Ethics course: Developing an online professional identity

This post was written for the participants of the #pht402 Professional Ethics course. For many of our participants working online has been a new and interesting experience but for most it will probably won’t progress much more than that. This post is intended to highlight how the blogs that have been created as part of the course can form the foundation of an online professional identity that can be carried forward as evidence of learning in a variety of contexts.

digital_identityIn an increasingly connected and digital world, it often seems that too much is happening, too quickly. Every week another online service, app or device is competing for your time and it can be overwhelming to decide where to focus your attention. Even in our professional lives as clinicians or academics, there’s an increasing sense that “being” online is important, even if we don’t know exactly “how” to be, or “where” to be. There is a move towards the sharing of clinical experiences and resources that can add value to your professional life, if the available services and tools are used effectively. The clinical context is so dynamic, complex and challenging that we owe it to ourselves, our colleagues and our professions to share what we know.

The Internet offers a perfect platform for this professional interaction, particularly through the use of social media. “Social media” is an umbrella term for a range of online services that facilitate the creation, curation and sharing of user-generated content. It is increasingly being tied in to mobile devices (i.e. smartphones and tablets) that make it easy to share many aspects of our personal and professional lives. Some examples of the types of technologies that come under this term are: blogs (like we’re seeing in this course), microblogs (e.g. Twitter), wikis (e.g. Wikipedia, Physiopedia), podcasts, discussion forums, virtual social worlds (e.g. Second Life), gaming worlds (e.g. World of Warcraft) and social networks (e.g. Google+ and Facebook). As you can see, the term “social media” covers a lot of ground, which is why it’s sometimes difficult to figure out what exactly someone means when they talk mention it.

While the main theme of this post is to highlight the benefits of creating and maintaining an online professional presence, bear in mind that it’s not enough to simply “be” online. The main advantage of having an online professional identity is that it allows you to interact and engage with others in your field. Twenty years ago, academics and clinicians could only rely on the (very slow) process of publication and citation to learn about changes in the field. Now, with the affordances that the web provides, crafting a professional online identity can happen very quickly. However, it’s the interaction and engagement through conversation and discussion that builds reputation and a sense of presence, rather than simply “being there”.

You might be feeling that this is all a bit overwhelming and that you don’t have possibly have the time to get involved with all of these services. And you’d be right. Try to think of this as a developmental process, one that is going to take time to evolve. You didn’t emerge from university as a fully-formed, well-rounded clinical practitioner or researcher. It took time for you to develop the confidence to engage with colleagues, to share your ideas and to contribute to professional dialogue. Establishing an online identity is no different.

Whether you decide to continue updating your blog, or to start tweeting, the point is that you start somewhere, and start small. As your confidence grows, you’ll want to begin experimenting with other services, integrating them with each other and building them into your workflow. This is the most crucial part because if you think of this as just another thing you have to do, or another place you have to go, you’ll find yourself resenting it. Build a foundation in one space at a time, and only use services and applications that you feel provide you with value.

In the beginning, you may feel more comfortable “lurking” on social media sites, listening to the conversation without really contributing. This is OK and is likened to a form of Wenger’s concept of legitimate peripheral participation. Over time, as you gain confidence you may begin to feel that you have something to say. This may be as simple as posting your own content (e.g. a tweet, a blog post, a status update), sharing the content of others, or agreeing / disagreeing with something that someone else has said. Whatever it is, don’t feel pressured to say something profound or clever. Just give your sincere input to the conversation.

In case you’re wondering if there are any rules or regulations in terms of using social media as a health care professional, that’s hard to say. Many organisations and institutions do have a set of policies that can inform practice when it comes to employees using social media, although it’s hard to say if these are rules or guidelines. One of the biggest difficulties is that as a health care professional, the public often perceives you as always being “on duty”. A physio is always a physio, whether you’re working or not, which makes it difficult to determine what is appropriate to share, and when. The following list of health-related social media policies may help you to tread the fine line between your personal and professional online identities.

Developing an online professional identity and presence is an essential aspect of modern scholarship and increasingly, clinical practice. Not only does it allow you to connect and engage with researchers, academics and other clinicians in your field of interest, but it helps to develop your professional reputation by giving you an international platform to share your work and your ideas.

There are many services and platforms already available, with more becoming available all the time. While it’s not necessary to have a presence and to participate in all possible online spaces, it helps to be aware of what is available and how the different services can be used in the development of your own professional identity. Finally, while developing a professional presence is advisable, be aware that what you share and how you share will have as much of an impact on whether your share or not. There are some guidelines that are particularly relevant for health care professionals and researchers, but even then, the area is under such rapid development that it’s difficult for institutional social media policies to keep up. If in doubt, always check with your employer and colleagues.

PHT402: The last independent act?

This is my fifth contribution to a series of weekly posts related to the #pht402 Professional Ethics course. This week’s topic asks if assisted suicide is ever OK? I thought it would be an interesting question to ask health care professionals and students what they thought about the possibility of a legal framework that enabled the possibility of assisted suicide.

dying with dignity

Until I watched this documentary that Marna shared, I believed that my thinking was pretty fixed with regards the topic of assisted suicide. Terry Pratchett explores assisted suicide as something that he is considering as a result of having Alzheimers. It’s a wonderful video that is at times sad and at times uplifting and empowering. What I liked most about the documentary was that several different alternatives were explored. It didn’t feel like an advert for Dignitas and didn’t try to glorify the act of assisted dying. I felt it was an honest and authentic exploration of the topic, which made me think that perhaps I’m not as committed as I thought I was.

cq4e889cf3However, instead of getting into the details of the topic and considering that this is the last week of the course, I’m going to cheat a bit and dodge this last topic. Perhaps what I offer instead will be a bit more provocative and off-the-beaten-track. In a few years time many of the questions that were raised around assisted dying will be replaced by others that are no less controversial – probably more so. I believe that in a few years we’ll figure out a way to cheat death, either through finding a cure for aging (see video below) and most other illnesses through the medical application of nanotechnology, or by moving our minds from a carbon-based substrate (i.e. a brain) to a silicon-based substrate (i.e. a computer). So, I’m not worried about losing the function of my physical body. It’s my mind that is most important to me and I hope that by the time my body is ready to go (assuming we haven’t cured aging by then) I’ll have a chance to upload my mind onto another platform.

Strategic blogging in the PHT402 Ethics course

This post is intended for the participants in the #pht402 Professional Ethics course who would like to take a more strategic approach to their blogging. By using a few strategies suggested here, you may find that it’s easier to make the best use of your time when preparing your posts for the course.

One of the difficulties you may come across when blogging regularly is finding the time to regularly reflect and write for this course. Since this module is allocated a slot on your timetables, I suggest that you use that time to work on the course. Even if you don’t have regular internet access, you could use the time to read content that you’ve downloaded, make notes, draft reflections, and discuss the topics with your peers on campus. The point is to put aside time in the week to focus on the module and then use that time effectively, even if you’re not actively blogging.

However, when you do sit down in front of the computer, you want to make sure that you spend your time writing, rather than trying to figure out how to use the platform. Remember that even though the course is designed so that you can progress through the topics at your own pace, there is still an endpoint and it doesn’t make sense for you to spend time on the technical aspects of blogging. There is no one keeping track of what you’ve done and when you did it so you will need to create your own schedule for working and then take responsibility for keeping to that schedule. The more familiar you are with using WordPress, the more likely it is that you can use your time effectively. Here is a screenshot of the Posts page, highlighting the common elements that you can use to manage your posts.

Posts ‹ -usr-space — WordPress - Mozilla Firefox_005
Screenshot showing some of the important areas in the index of posts, which you can use to more effectively manage your writing.

I strongly suggest that you begin drafting your reflective posts as soon as you can. Create draft posts for each topic (see image below) immediately and then work on those drafts over time. Every time you visit your blog, open your drafts and add new ideas, links to resources, links to other participants’ blog posts, images, etc. When you read something in the WordPress Reader and you want to incorporate it into your next post, copy the link to the post you want to reference and paste it into your draft. This way you can build up your reflective posts over time, rather than feel like you have to write it all overnight. You’ll also find that your thinking may change as you engage with others, and that something you wrote a weeks previously doesn’t feel quite right anymore. The Save Draft button is in the top right corner of the post.

Selection_008

Use the Quick Edit feature of WordPress to make simple edits to the elements of your post without having to load the whole page (see image below). This feature becomes visible when you move your cursor over the post title in the index of posts. You don’t have to click anything to make it appear, just hover your mouse over the text to bring up the menu, and then click on Quick Edit.

Screenshot showing the different post elements that can be edited using the Quick Edit feature.
Screenshot showing the different post elements that can be edited using the Quick Edit feature.

I often find that when I’m in a writing frame of mind I can get through two or three posts in one sitting. Or, I write the posts on the weekend or late at night, which is when most of the subscribers to my blog are probably away from their computers. Since I want to make sure that as many people as possible read my posts it doesn’t make sense to publish them at those irregular times. In cases like that, you may want to schedule your posts so that they’re published at certain times or on certain days.

Considering that you want as many people as possible to read your posts, you should consider linking a Twitter account to your blog. This would allow WordPress to automatically push your blog posts to your Twitter feed, which would increase the chances of the post being seen and read by your followers. It also means that your Twitter followers could Retweet the original tweet, thereby increasing exposure to your post.

Another aspect of the course that you may find is taking up a lot of time is interacting with other participants. When I comment on someone’s blog posts, I always tick the “Notify me of follow up comments” box. This means that when someone responds to something I’ve said, I get an email that lets me know. However, there’s another way to do it. There’s a notification icon in the top right hand area of your blog, which is coloured orange when you have notifications. See the screenshot below for an idea about how to quickly respond to comments.

Selection_001

That’s it. Just a few suggestions that may help you to be more productive with your blogging and to make effective use of your limited time.

PHT402: Morality, belief and behaviour

This is my post for the second week as a participant in the #pht402 professional ethics online course. This week we’re exploring the concept of morality and where it comes from, and it’s role in our professional practice.

moral-relativism-calvin-hobbes

The way that I understand the difference between ethics and morality is that ethics is what guides you in the context of your professional organisation and possibly the laws in your country (i.e. it is an external motivating influence), while morality is what you believe to be right in the context of your personal being (i.e. it is an internal motivating influence). In addition, morals are the ever-changing social rules about what a community or society decides is OK, and ethics is an attempt to determine a universal standard of good and bad no matter what the context.

I think that ethics as a philosophical school of thought is about trying to get to the root of good and bad, something that holds true for the majority of people (and animals if you believe that animals should be valued on the same level as humans). On the other hand, Ethics as it relates to my professional practice is a set of guidelines that are provided by the professional bodies in this country, for example the Health Professions Council of South Africa and the South African Society of Physiotherapy. These organisations give me a set of rules that tell me what I must do in my practice, as opposed to what my morals may tell me to do.

I think it’s important to have your professional behaviour moderated by an external body because  health care practitioners are moral agents who make decisions about patients based on personal connections and relationships with them. Values, beliefs and emotional factors are embedded within the interactions between health care providers and patients, suggesting that these interactions are more than the exchange of information. This active engagement with, and acknowledgement of, the emotional response to patients’ stories can help to develop the moral agency that is a necessary part of ethical clinical practice (Delany et al, 2010). However, if there are moral conflicts between patients and therapists, then the interactions will suffer because our behaviour is influenced by what we believe. Better to have a set of rules that you must follow, regardless of what you believe.

Having said that, Tony has made a good point about the moral courage that is necessary when the “rules” suggest a method of practice that you know to be wrong. Would you stand up for a patient when the rules are telling you to step down? This is easier if you believe that right and wrong are discrete entities and that there’s a line dividing them. However, the moral grey area is far more difficult to navigate and needs a far more complex set of skills than to simply choose one side or another. Jackie has written nicely (using Batman) about the moral grey area that exists, whether we choose to accept it or not.

Charde makes a great point about belief systems that impact on behaviour, but isn’t specific about the nature of the belief system. In other words, it can be a religious framework but it doesn’t have to be. This raises interesting questions about people who derive their sense of “goodness” from religion, but more so about those who believe that goodness is essentially determined by belief in a god. Do you have to be religious to be good? Or, do you simply need to have a different framework that happens to align with the tenets of most religions e.g. it’s better to not kill each other, it’s better to not steal from others, etc. Do you need to have a god watching over your shoulder to be good?

Lauren raises some interesting questions from the point of view of a Christian and describes how her particular belief system (i.e. Christianity) has strongly informed her sense of right and wrong. She also suggests that when you learn about a patient’s background, your perception of them is immediately altered, depending on what you personally believe. How do you balance what you believe (e.g. the patient is a bad person and you don’t want anything to do with them) and your professional obligation (e.g. you have to treat the patient because every citizen has a right to health care)?

In another point of view, Wendy talks about the role of other forms of literature and media on the development of her moral framework. I agree with all of it, although I’d disagree with one aspect by saying that music most definitely has had an influence on my concepts of right and wrong. I’d say that contemporary cultural influences in the form of music can present interesting ethical dilemmas, from the glorification of violence and drug use, to the subordination of women.

nothing-written-in-stone-relative-moralityWhat I’ve taken from this week’s topic was the huge variety of influences that impact how I think about the world. From interactions with family and friends, to the books I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, church services I’ve attended, music I’ve listened to, personal reflections, and countless other interactions over the course of my life, my sense of what is right and wrong continues to morph and adapt. As I learn more about the world and about myself, the larger the moral grey area seems to become.

Resources

Privacy and public discussion in the PHT402 Ethics course

This is a post for participants in the #pht402 Professional Ethics online course being run by the University of the Western Cape and Physiopedia. Since few of our participants have much experience engaging as professionals in online spaces, this post aims to suggest some resources that might be useful in terms of developing skills in online professional communication.

7557181168_91f4af2d99_zOne of the things I’ve already noticed in some participants’ blogs is the use of images that show patients. We need to use caution when uploading pictures into online spaces, since they become circulated far more widely than was the original intention. Even if you did obtain the patient’s permission to take the photo, did you get permission to share it with others? With the world? We often use pictures like that because it really does show people a part of ourselves that we want to share but we need to be mindful of the other people in the picture. When it comes to our own professional practice, there are different sets of rules that apply. Information shared with us during patient interactions (and photos are just visual information) are private and confidential and there is an expectation that it will not be shared beyond the scope of practice.

What about discussing patients, clinicians, clinical placements, lecturers or anyone else who you interact with in the course of your studies? What is the difference between having those conversations with peers and teachers in the classroom, and having the same conversation online? Well, for one thing, online almost always equals in public. And in this course, it most definitely will be public. When it comes to patient privacy and confidentiality, the same rules apply for both online and offline practice. The rule of thumb I always use is to ask myself how (or if) I would say what I want to say if the person I was talking about was going to read my work? What if the person you’re talking about comes across your post one day when you apply for a job at their institution? Even if you’re not talking about them, will they want to hire someone who speaks poorly of a colleague in public?

The other thing that you need to think about is how you feel about sharing your own life online. Even though sharing your thoughts and feelings is encouraged as part of this course, you should never feel pressured or obligated to put online something that you’d prefer to keep private. You can be as public or private as you like. I personally share very little of my personal life online but write often about my feelings around my professional life. My emotional response to the professional context is something I’m very comfortable sharing. However, my emotional response to things that happen in my personal life is not for the public view. That’s just how I prefer to establish the boundaries of my online presence – you can choose what works for you.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we should always be mindful about what and how we share online. When something is discussed in an elevator, it’s ephemeral. When the same thing is discussed online, it will exist forever.

Here are some resources that you may find helpful as we move forward over the next few weeks: