October 15, 2015, by Emma Rayner

Vet School teacher is ‘Top social media influencer’

Associate Professor Liz Mossop from the Vet School has been named as a ‘top social media influencer’ by the social technology body JISC. Liz has already won two Dearing Awards for her outstanding teaching here and has been pioneering the use of social media in her role leading undergraduate teaching and assessment, to great effect. In this blog, Liz explains how her use of social media took off after she started tweeting one day at a conference…

“I’ve always embraced new ideas in teaching – that’s what being part of an innovative school like the Veterinary School is all about – and using social media in my teaching was something I couldn’t resist. I first started using Twitter when I was at a conference several years ago. I was addicted straight away. I think previously I couldn’t imagine why anyone would be interested in my random thoughts about what was going on around me, but all of a sudden in a teaching context it began to make sense. Learning is all about discussion, reflection and networking – and by forcing myself to Tweet brief statements about the sessions I was attending with appropriate hashtag attached I entered a completely new way of engaging with others. Questions were answered and I “met” lots of new friends on Twitter.  No-one was more surprised than me that whilst attending one very large plenary session, the chairman asked a question I had posed on Twitter, which was no more than one of my random thoughts! This medium made me feel much more confident in my questions, and I wondered how I could apply this to help my students learn.

The more I thought about an appropriate use of social media with my students, the more it struck me that the loneliest part of a student’s existence is the dreaded revision period. Our students often return home to parental encouragement whilst revising – but this presents a geographical challenge when trying to encourage peer engagement and facilitate questions to lecturers. I therefore developed the concept of a veterinary Twitter ‘revision club’ which we called #vetfinals. I invited a few lecturers to run a session in the first year, often with me sat next to them guiding them through the 140 character challenges, ably assisted by some very enthusiastic students. The first session was nerve wracking – would anyone turn up? How would we cope? But I needn’t have worried. Our topic of canine diabetes was well received and the students wanted more, with some fast and furious tweeting through the hour. I began turning the sessions into Storifys (another social media tool), and started a webpage (https://vetfinals.wordpress.com/) to list all the sessions so that students could return to them. Student reps helped me promote and run the sessions – and student engagement massively increased with this partnership approach to delivery.

Four years down the line we have delivered over 40 sessions on a huge range of topics covering everything from cattle infertility to equine lameness. A collaborative approach with the Royal Veterinary College has ensured longevity of the #vetfinals concept, and a series of student reps have promoted and recruited experts to deliver a great set of sessions each year between March and May. Students attend from all around the UK and the sessions are truly collaborative with experts from all the vet schools, and some from private practice, delivering different topics. Meanwhile I developed further social media aids in the form of the Nottingham Vets Flickr account, and a scoop.it page listing relevant revision resources for final year students. These resources have now had several million views, impacting the student experience positively and helping with their learning.

Social media is often in the spotlight as something negative, with headline making celebrity Tweets and inappropriate Facebook posts. I’m hoping my use of it helps to demonstrate to our students what a positive tool it can be. To me, the best way to learn is by doing, and learning to use Twitter for our revision sessions is a great way to try out the tool with others helping and encouraging. A large veterinary network exists on social media, especially Twitter, and this is a very supportive and obliging group when it comes to everything from clinical queries to job applications. Students involving themselves in this community of practice learn greatly from the role models around them, and hopefully the skills they develop can be put to good use when they are working in practice. Social media is a hugely important part of many marketing strategies in veterinary practices, and the newly qualified vet can be a useful person to help deliver this – something they can do that the boss cannot!

I was hugely honoured to get the news (via Twitter of course) that I was be included in the #jisc50social list of the top 50 higher education professionals who have influenced the use of social media in the teaching environment. This recognition is just as much for all the students and staff who have engaged with our #vetfinals sessions – thank you all for making this possible. I can’t wait to get started on next year’s sessions – roll on March 2016!

Posted in Awards and accoladesHealth & medicineSchool of Veterinary Medicine and ScienceStaffStudentsVideos & social media