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.

How learning is happening in the PHT402 ethics course

I wanted to give an example of how interactions in the course are having unintended effects, which is really the whole point of this kind of course. It’s not always evident to participants that their thinking and writing have a real, tangible effect on how others think about the world. The consequences of the things we say do have effects even if it’s not always clear what those effects will be. Here is something that I tweeted about earlier this week that really demonstrates this effect. The original post was (probably) not intended to create a learning opportunity for others, and yet it did, in a very real way. The comments were great to read, and the post caused another participant to go away and write something else that showed how she was influenced. This is how learning happens in the real world. We see things that grab us and we take a part of it away with us.

I also wanted to share this because sometimes we write things and are disappointed when we come back and notice that we haven’t been “Liked” or received any comments. I wanted to make the point that even if no-one has commented on your post, you’ve influenced them even if they’ve simply read it. Try to remember that it’s not about seeing who has the most Likes or Comments. This course is about you taking control of your learning, and interacting with other participants in order to enhance that learning. The more you read the work of other participants, the more likely you are to learn from them. Reading, thinking, reading and rethinking are what this course is about. There is nothing to memorise and no test at the end. What you leave with when it’s over will be what you have decided to take with you.

Ask not which are the comments you have received, but which are the ones you have given.

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:

Navigating the WordPress Reader interface for PHT402

This post is is for the #pht402 Professional Ethics course participants who are using WordPress Reader.

Hi everyone. For those of you who are using WordPress Reader to follow the posts of other participants, I thought I’d annotate the Reader interface to highlight the components that you might find useful when it comes to interacting with other course participants. Note that Commenting on their posts is one way that you can engage with them, but that Liking and Reblogging are also good.

Highlighting the main components of the Reader interface
Highlighting the main components of the Reader interface

Obviously if you’re using Feedly, Netvibes or any other RSS reader then this post doesn’t apply to you. I recommend using the WordPress Reader because you’ll be able to do your reading and writing all in one place.

PHT402 Professional Ethics course introduction

Introduction for the PHT402 Professional Ethics course that is due to begin in about a week. The course is being run at the University of the Western Cape, in conjunction with Physiopedia and aims to explore different ways of developing generic attributes that are relevant for ethical professional practice in the healthcare professions.

CaptureHi everyone. My name is Michael and I’m one of the co-ordinators for the PHT402 course. You can read a little bit about me here and for an overview of the things I’m interested in, you can see what I post about on Google+.

I’ve been wanting to run a course like this for a few years but have only recently found myself with the time to actually put something together. I’m really excited to be working with Rachael and Tony from Physiopedia, who I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time with a few months ago.

I’m going to have two main roles during the next few weeks. I’m going to be participating along with everyone else and will post my reflections here, as well as try to comment on as many other blogs as possible. I’m also going to be acting as a facilitator of learning during the process. In that respect I’ll be writing posts that aim to scaffold your learning around the major course objectives. Note that these objectives are very broad and don’t aim to specifically direct your learning in any preconceived way. Think of them as signposts that you can use to evaluate your own progress. In fact, you should try to create your own learning objectives, which you can use to measure whether or not the course has been of value to you.

I’m going to be trying to post at least twice a week: one related to my own reflections as a participant, and one related to my role as a facilitator. One of the main things I’m going to be trying to do as a facilitator is to provide an overview of what I see happening in the course, and then make suggestions for improvement. These suggestions may be in the form of recommending a technological tool that could help you to filter the enormous amount of content that’s going to be generated, or it might be to point out additional resources related to learning. I’ll also be posting short comments on the course on Twitter, using the #pht402 hashtag (clicking on this link will open a new window in your browser showing the #pht402 Twitter stream). All of my blog posts will also appear in the Twitter stream, so that’s probably a good place to go and get an overview of what’s going on in the course.

Other than that, I’m really looking forward to following you all and having the opportunity to learn with you over the next few weeks.