Social Media Use in Nursing Education

Terri L. Schmitt, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, Susan S. Sims-Giddens, EdD, RN, Richard G. Booth, MScN, RN


Online J Issues Nurs. 2012;17(3) 

In This Article

Examples of Social Media Use in Nursing Education

Blogging, Twitter®, Facebook®, and LinkedIn® are common and logical places to begin social media integration into nursing curriculum. The NLN highlights three core content areas for nursing informatics courses: computer literacy, information literacy, and informatics (NLN, n.d.). Other key areas of curricular emphasis through the use of social media include professional communication; health policy; patient privacy and ethics; and writing competencies. Several varied examples of social media in nursing curricula follow to illustrate some typical applications. Table 1 provides additional information about selected social media software appropriate for educational use.

Informatics Courses

The design of one undergraduate informatics course incorporated the three NLN nursing informatics core areas by using social media. To that end, students in this course were required to:

  • submit no paperwork in a Microsoft Word® document or physical paper format

  • create a blog in which they wrote professionally on certain topics; create a sound webliography on a healthcare topic; and keep a course journal

  • create a Twitter® account with a specified number of legitimate healthcare and nursing followers; a specific number of substantial interactions with others; and attendance and participation in at least one online nursing or healthcare chat within this platform

  • use and explore other social media and Web 2.0 tools (e.g., SlideShare®, Slide Rocket®, Glogster®, Prezi®) to engage in collaboration on group projects and presentations. (Schmitt and Lilly, 2011)

The purpose of using social media tools to facilitate such integration was to emphasize professional communication; better improve student comprehension and use of technology beyond electronic medical records (EMR) and personal computer word processing programs; and enhance student networking and collaboration with other nurses globally.

Prior to engaging in these social media platforms all students completed Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) educational training and required reading in regard to privacy, ethics, and professional communication. Students wrote about and presented through these mediums on course content issues including nursing informatics, meaningful use, the IOM report on the future of nursing, evaluation of electronic health record systems, privacy, security, and patient use of the Internet and technology as a health resource. This particular class was further revised during the 2011–2012 academic year by nurse informaticist Kezia Lilly to include student creation of electronic portfolios, podcasts, Vokis®, multimedia presentations, and LinkedIn® profiles to assist students with networking and applying for further education or future employment. The following descriptions of e-portfolio, Twitter®, and Wikipedia® assignments provide more specific details about how the undergraduate and/or graduate level informatics courses incorporated social media tools.

E-portfolios. One assignment often used to assist students in professional communication and networking is the e-portfolio, which is assigned to undergraduates in the informatics course and carried through to their capstone course in the RN-to-BSN program. Students are instructed on how to create an e-portfolio through Google, also known as a Googlio®. A tutorial for beginning Googlio accounts is provided (Googlios, n.d.) and several articles on e-portfolio reading are provided. Students are instructed to load specific assignments; a professional resume and photo; mission statement; and any other professional items that display involvement, community work, and knowledge. Private information is excluded, but students are encouraged to provide a contact e-mail for prospective viewers who may have interest in their work. Students add to this e-portfolio (e.g., major assignments, attendance at conferences) throughout each course. Students are free to explore other mediums for creation of their e-portfolio, such as Wordpress® and Blogger®. In our experience, the creation of e-portfolios through Google® has been particularly helpful and has allowed students to track evidence of their RN-to-BSN program learning in one centralized area. The e-portfolios are used by students after program completion as a way to easily display professional nursing and specialty knowledge to employers.

Twitter®. Another required activity in the undergraduate informatics course helps students to better understand why people engage in social media; how people seek health information there; and how social media can be used as a networking and information gathering tool. Undergraduate students participate in a "Twitter®" assignment and are required to do the following:

  • create a Twitter® account at the beginning of the course

  • learn how to use a secondary platform to manage the Twitter® account such as Tweetdeck® or Hootsuite®

  • begin following at least 60 legitimate nursing and health care Twitter® resources

  • have 40 legitimate followers in nursing and health care to their account by the end of the course

  • engage in a set number of substantial of microblog updates which must be related to current information in healthcare but follow all privacy guidelines

  • demonstrate the use and understanding of hashtags

  • engage in at least one health care related 'chat' during the duration of the course.

Assignments are graded based on a rubric and each student shares their account with faculty and others in the course. Faculty also use the course number as a hashtag and hold weekly class "chats" to discuss current topics in nursing and course information or issues.

Wikipedia® . An activity within graduate informatics courses required students to write Wikipedia® articles on topics related to health and/or informatics (Booth, Stern, & Tkac, 2012). Students were requested to search Wikipedia® for articles or subjects that were either poorly written or missing from the encyclopedia. Working in small groups, students presented and verbally defended the importance of their proposed Wikipedia® topic/article to the course instructor. Upon ratification by the instructor, students either generated a new article for Wikipedia® or updated an existing article into a scholarly, lay-language, encyclopedia entry. Very quickly, a number of students found their additions challenged by Wikipedia® editors or modified by other users of Wikipedia®, teaching them the importance of accuracy and the peer review process. In one case, students had to defend and justify the uniqueness of their article, as it had been flagged for merger with another topic of similar underpinning. The Wikipedia® criteria for a good article [Available:] were operationalized into a rubric for the students, and their updates/revisions were graded accordingly. …students demonstrated comprehension of privacy, health care policy issues, ethics, and an improvement in both professional writing and engagement. Overall, students commented that they were impressed with the rapidity with which information was shared, critiqued, and modified on Wikipedia®. Similarly, most students reflected that they felt attached to their newly revised or created articles, leading a few to state they planned to follow and update their pages beyond the duration of the course.

Through these activities, students demonstrated comprehension of privacy, health care policy issues, ethics, and an improvement in both professional writing and engagement. Integration of technology throughout this course helped students demonstrate attainment of TIGER competencies along with achieving better understanding of computer science, library science, information management, and professional conduct in online environments. Qualitative and quantitative responses from students in course evaluations showed initial trepidation but ended with enthusiasm for the many new skills and understandings they had gained.

Graduate Nurse Educator Programs

To actively engage and prepare graduate nurse educator students, we developed a graduate course, Technology for Healthcare Education (Sims-Giddens, 2011). This course prepares future faculty to assess the variety of generations and learning styles in classrooms and to go beyond PowerPoint presentations. By exploring strategies to utilize technology and digitally enhance course content, nurse educator graduate students learn the significance and process of incorporating social media (e.g., class social media sites), YouTube productions, and podcasts.

Graduate students are encouraged to pilot social media strategies in practicum courses. One graduate student incorporated a private blog in place of a reflective journal so undergraduate nursing students could share successful clinical experiences or procedures with peers, as well as express any frustrations encountered. Another student incorporated a class wiki for undergraduates to complete a group assignment, providing them opportunity to learn the importance of teamwork and group dynamics.

Before learning to use technology for a classroom application, many graduate students used Facebook® to connect with friends and family but had not explored other social networking sites nor considered use of social media in graduate education. Brainstorming sessions allowed students to identify new applications to actively engage undergraduates in the classroom. Students became excited thinking of faculty research and collaborative opportunities within and across nursing programs, as well as across colleges and universities.

Using Social Media beyond Informatics Courses

A different approach was to embed the use of social media technologies alongside traditional teaching methods in a senior-level nursing theory course. The author screen-recorded and narrated animated Prezi® slideshows of both clinical and professional situations. The videos were then subsequently uploaded to the author's personal Vimeo® account and the link shared through the university's learning management system. Discussion of the video narrative and preparatory readings for the class were completed online and further extended during the face-to-face element of the class. Overall, students found the teaching approach to be engaging. This approach allowed for a more complex situation to be presented, given the audiovisual nature of the case scenarios.

Another collaborative application was piloted between nursing programs in America, Finland, and the Philippines. Faculty established a private wiki and students in community health classes were invited to participate in a global health perspectives assignment. Students introduced themselves by creating personal, narrated Power Point presentations; wrote and shared essays about health promotion and prevention and the relationship between health and the environment; and developed Power Point presentations about health care delivery systems and community health services in their countries. This exchange encountered challenges, such as faculty time to develop the collaborative group and how best to include and evaluate the assignments for a particular course. The logistics of university calendars and time zone delays presented scheduling problems. Benefits of the collaborative assignment included student exposure to international cultures and health care delivery systems, and trying new technology (Finnish students narrated using Power Point for the first time). Student comments from this exchange were very positive and encouraged faculty to continue the collaborative effort. Faculty learned about educational and curricular differences, and negotiated assignments and evaluation so the learning experience would benefit students. This virtual collaborative was an exciting adventure, one that will be discussed, refined, and repeated.