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Integrating digital literacy into medical education

21474271319_dc2d63f449_zBertalan Mesko, MD, PhD, has cracked the code on convincing medical students that digital literacy skills are equally as important as clinical knowledge. Seats in his Social MEDia course fill up within 45 seconds of registration opening. Former students report a 100 percent satisfaction rate with the class, and 80 percent of those enrolling in the course heard about it from a classmate. How does Mesko do it? As it turns out: daily educational challenges promoted on Facebook, an arsenal of high-tech gadgets and lots of chocolate.

On Thursday at Stanford Medicine X|ED, Mesko shared his secrets with medical educators on how to develop a digital literacy curriculum that will engage millennial learners and keep pace with the ever-changing landscape.

A self-describe medical futurist, Mesko launched his class on social media in medicine in 2008 when Facebook and Twitter were still in their infancy. "I wanted to design the curriculum for students to prepare them for the future that is coming toward us," he said. "My goal was to help them understand how to use these tools to be more productive and stay up to-date."

Early on, the curriculum centered on his experience with social media tools, such as blogging, Twitter and Facebook. But as the field of digital media and medical devices has evolved, so has the class. These days, he's constantly updating the coursework to the point where he never gives the same lecture twice. "Platforms come and go, but it’s the concepts and practices that really matter," said Mesko, who teaches at Semmelweis University in Hungary. "Whenever I talk about these topics, I do everything live."

Most students have been active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media accounts, long before they enroll in Mesko's class. However, he still believes it's important to provide an introduction to social media; discuss search engines and the Google story; and provide instruction on medical blogging, crowdsourcing and mobile health.

"Students need some fundamental digital knowledge before diving into the topics of e-patients and how to empower patients," said Mesko, author of the recently released book My Health: Upgraded . "Additionally, many students don't fully understand the privacy polices of these services. I tell them to remember that there is no difference between offline or online conduct."

There's never a dull moment in Mesko's class. He leverages his 51,000 Twitter followers to demonstrate how to crowdsource a medical problem. He publicly shares his genomic and microbiome test results. He lets students try on an EGG headset and then sets a drone free to roam the room. He gives students digital assignment during class and provides decision trees to let them guide the discussion. And, let's not forget about the chocolates. Mesko gives two high-quality Swiss chocolates for each presentation, as well as other tasks. "It's like a circus! They love it," he exclaims.

As the conference master class came to a close, Mesko offered a simple roadmap to use in designing a digital literacy class for medical students. The first step is to determine what the curriculum should include. Next, identify what digital methods will be used. Then, decide how to evaluate the results. Finally, create a plan for how and when to measure students' knowledge.

Those interested in expanding, or testing, their own digital literacy can take the Social MEDia Course online. Several thousands worldwide have completed the online version of the course. Sadly, the online curriculum lacks drones and chocolates. But you can earn virtual badges and, if you pass all the tests, you'll be rewarded with the “ultimate expert” badge.

More news about the conference is available in the Medicine X category. Those unable to attend the event in person can watch via webcast; registration for the Global Access Program webcast is free. We’ll also be live tweeting the keynotes and other proceedings from the conference; you can follow our tweets on the @StanfordMed feed.

Photo by Stanford Medicine X

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