The medical school experience is changing. One example: Med students who want to ace their classes sometimes turn to Facebook, where they join organic, customized groups that serve as digital libraries, uniting peers prepping for exams and more, according to a recent study.
This sort of virtual study group is not unique to medical schools, as most people who have graduated college over the past decade can attest. But at Ludwig-Maximilian University (LMU) of Munich, Germany, these self-organized, semester-long Facebook groups have become an “essential part of the learning environment for most medical students,” according to the research findings.
For the study, medical education researchers from the same university examined this phenomenon, conducting interviews, focus groups, and qualitative and quantitative analyses of posts in 2 such Facebook groups. They also interviewed the “new minorities,” or people who aren’t on Facebook. Students had launched the closed groups, and members were required to apply for entry, a process that occurred prior to the start of their medical school program.
But activity in these Facebook groups did not end there. “Facebook groups seem to have evolved as the main online social communities for medical students at LMU to complement the curriculum and to discuss study-related content,” the researchers, led by Leo Nicolai, BMed, wrote. “Virtually all medical students in our faculty seem to be using Facebook groups, if only as passive consumers.”
Although most members were “consumers or lurkers”—meaning they posted 1-10 times—a smaller class of social media drivers, who posted more than 30 times, and frequent users, who posted 11-30 times, kept the groups running, according to the results. The students primarily used Facebook groups as a means to discuss their education on the social media platform, and the number of questions and comments left in each group showed continuous usage, according to the study.
Most often, the groups discussed study-related issues, though outside conversation topics, like housing or social activities, cropped up as well. They typically discussed organization, attendance rules, what to do if they got sick, their schedules, how to get to certain classrooms, exams and clerkships, technical problems, and swapping courses, according to the study. They also scrutinized course material and responded to curriculum changes.
And what med student couldn’t use a laugh? In these spaces, members shared jokes, which were often related to “extensive studying or clichés and stereotypes of the medical profession,” according to the findings.
The study did not offer a concrete analysis of the groups’ role as an educational force, but researchers said the content, learning strategies, and feedback could benefit students. Further, they noted that the Facebook groups could strengthen new media literacy skills, a topic for which they advocated additional research.
The groups represent a potentially significant avenue for medical school faculties, the research team claimed. “For example, universities could feed relevant information to the groups, increasing their reach and interacting more closely and directly with their students,” the investigators wrote. Professors and administrators could also use the forums to pinpoint problems, going as far to tweak the curriculum in response to widespread issues, the researchers concluded.
Although nearly all LMU med students had joined the groups, some did not. These “new minorities” got their information through official school platforms, email, and other means. Some asked friends for the latest scoop from the Facebook groups, and 1 student even periodically registered and unregistered from the platform.
The Journal of Medical Internet Research published the article, “Facebook Groups as a Powerful and Dynamic Tool in Medical Education: Mixed-Method Study.”