There is no doubt that health professionals have specific concerns and responsibilities with regards to online behavior and communication that are not felt by the general population. And I am the first person to advise midwives to consider how to behave professionally in online forums. However, I have taken the view that midwives should be open about their practice so that colleagues and women can learn from ongoing online discussions.
But with the current environment being what it is, I am wondering if I am living in cloud cuckoo land. It doesn't seem to take much for the media and critics to attack the midwifery profession. And it looks like the focus is currently on students and midwives in online environments. So I am wondering if I am digging a hole for myself by opening up online discussions about my midwifery and teaching practice.
Latest news from the UK
My concerns abut the closing down of midwifery online networks has been highlighted this week by the news that student midwives are being investigated by their universities for their use of blogs. The main concern appears that the universities do not want to be identified in students' blogs.
This was followed up by guidelines published by the moderator of a large online community for student midwives: StudentMidwife.net. The guidelines have been in response to the latest Code of Practice issued by the midwifery governing body in the UK. The Code says:
- Act with integrity - You must demonstrate a personal and professional commitment to equality and diversity
- You must uphold the reputation of your profession at all times.
What saddens me is that some educational institutions and midwives appear to have lost sight of the many advantages of online social networking. I am still convinced that the way to manage online activities is to facilitate them, rather than push them underground - to encourage constructive conversation and critique, as opposed to censorship.
Students will always talk about their lecturers and the institutions they are enrolled with. Surely, it will be more beneficial if we all work together to ensure that we use tools such as blogs to support learning; that experienced midwives and educators model good practice in blogging and online communication, and we support students as they explore communities of practice and develop their online identity. I mean, if teachers can manage blogging with their primary students, surely we can do the same with our adult learners!?
As much as I understand the rationale for having an anonymous identity online, in some ways I think an open identity is our best protection. However you try to control what is said about you, either as an individual or institution, you will never be able to stop people talking about you.
As an institution, would it not be better to look at what students are saying in their blogs and online spaces and respond proactively to their feedback? By putting out information under your own name or 'brand' you have far more control over what is being said and done then if you ignore what is going on or worse still, try to censor conversations.
By being anonymous and remaining in closed spaces, one is severely restricting the opportunities for communication and collaboration. And the sharing of resources and expertise, such as the current collaboration between Pakistani and New Zealand midwives, will never happen.
Guidelines for using the Internet
I have recently read a post by Tony Karrer about the most common objections to learning by social networking and I think I have heard just about every objection. Tony's post eventually led me to IBM's Social Computing Guidelines which covers media such as blogs, wikis and virtual worlds. Whilst IBM's corporate context differs from that of health, I much prefer their emphasis on open participation compared to the reactionary guidelines I have seen for health professionals.
Do you think midwives and health professionals need guidelines for their online behavior? What do you think should be included in the guidelines?
Disclaimer: These opinions are entirely my own and not necessarily those of my employer or any other midwife.
Image: Me with my cat, Blackie.