Experience from the Field

International networking: connecting midwives through social media
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S. Stewart1,2 RGN, RM, DPSM, MA, EdD STUDENT, M. Sidebotham2 RGN, RM, DPSM, MA, PhD & D. Davis3


1 Educational Developer, Educational Development Centre, Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand, 2 Midwifery Lecturer, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Griffith University, 3 Professor of Midwifery, Clinical Chair, Faculty of Health, ACT Health and University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia

STEWART S., SIDEBOTHAM M. & DAVIS D. (2012) International networking: connecting midwives through social media. International Nursing Review Purpose: This article reports on the ‘Virtual International Day of the Midwife E-vent’, an innovative initiative that uses social media to provide opportunities for learning and networking internationally. Background: This e-vent was conceived of and initiated in 2009 by a small group of midwives with an interest in social media. The e-vent uses web conferencing software and schedules a presentation every hour for a 24-h period so as to reach midwives or other interested parties in all time zones of the globe. Methods: The authors draw on their experiences to describe the e-vent including the e-vent aims and organizing processes, and to report on participation trends over the 3-year period. Findings: The e-vent has seen significant growth over a 3-year period with participation increasing from an average of five participants per session to 50. The organizing committee has expanded to include an international team and they have extended the reach of the project by establishing a Facebook page. Conclusions: While the use of social media has its limitations, projects such as the International Day of the Midwife E-vent have real potential to increase access to educational materials and provide opportunities for international networking. Keywords: E-Learning, International Day of the Midwife, Internet, Learning, Midwifery, Networking, Social Media

The development and expansion of social media networks and technologies have changed the way we learn in this digital age (Attwell 2007). In the online environment, learning is based on networks and connections; people learn from the connections they make to other people and information (Siemens 2004). The rapid expansion and diffusion of social media networks and communication technologies present the healthcare professional with a wealth of opportunity to engage with others in the international arena (Steward 2009).

Correspondence address: Sarah Stewart, Educational Development Centre, Otago Polytechnic, Forth Street, Private Bag 1910, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand; Tel: +64-3-4773014; Fax: +64-3-4716870; E-mail: sarahstewart07@gmail.com.

Ongoing professional development is important to the establishment of a competent, professional workforce. Health professionals around the world are increasingly required to demonstrate ongoing competence through continuing professional development (Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia 2010). Attendance at conferences, seminars and study days are examples of traditional professional development activities. While midwives place high value on face-to-face professional development and networking opportunities (McIntosh 2007), the face-to-face mode has a number of limitations. Barriers to accessing traditional forms of professional development include issues related to travel, cost and staffing or practice cover (Birch et al. 2005; Patterson & Davis 2007). These issues may be more acute for health professionals in rural areas or those from low-resource settings.

© 2012 The Authors. International Nursing Review © 2012 International Council of Nurses



S. Stewart et al.

These limitations encourage us to seek innovative ways to meet the professional development needs of midwives and other health professionals and increasingly we are looking to online communication tools and social media to provide the flexibility and global networking opportunities that these media provide (Kildea et al. 2006; Morgan 2000). This article describes one such innovation; the ‘Virtual International Day of the Midwife E-vent’, which uses a variety of social media to bring midwives together from across the globe to share information, discuss and debate contemporary midwifery issues.

The Virtual International Day of the Midwife E-vent
The Virtual International Day of the Midwife E-vent was first conceived in 2009 by a small group of midwifery academics in New Zealand with an interest in social media. These midwives used their virtual presence to attract others with similar interests and thus an international organizing committee was established with members from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and England. This team designed the Virtual International Day of the Midwife project with the following aims: • to disseminate evidence-based research to support clinical practice, • to provide educational material through free-access channels to all interested participants regardless of location, • to create an international network of practice and enable collaboration and sharing of ideas, • to provide an opportunity for interaction with world leaders in midwifery to all interested parties regardless of location, • to provide a freely available archive of high-quality educational material to support ongoing midwifery professional development, and • to provide opportunities for informal learning within a lifelong learning paradigm.
A 24 h e-vent

zerland, Tunisia, UK and USA. Sessions were mostly conducted in English though several have been conducted in French. The topics that were presented and discussed included latest research to support clinical practice, commentary on professional issues and storytelling. The event has seen significant growth with an average of five participants attending each session in 2009, 30 in 2010 and 50 in 2011. Some sessions provided access to a cohort of participants (such as a classroom) under one log in so attendance numbers recorded may not reflect numbers actually attended. In addition, many participants attended more than one session (one participant reported that they attended all 24 sessions). Each session was recorded and these recordings have been available via the project wiki (http://internationaldayofthemidwife.wikispaces.com). By the end of 2011, the 2009 Program and Recordings page of the wiki had over 5000 views; the 2010 Program and Recordings page had 12 500 and the 2011 Program and Recordings page had over 21 000 views.
E-vent organizing

A virtual 24 h educational e-vent using a variety of social media was organized on 5 May; the International Day of the Midwife. The e-vent was first held in 2009 and annually since in 2010 and 2011. Beginning at 12:00 noon (New Zealand time) a session is held every hour for 24 h providing an international audience with an opportunity to attend sessions in every time zone across the globe. In 2011, all e-vent sessions were in the form of synchronous presentations or live discussion using the web conferencing platform Elluminate, provided under the licence held by Otago Polytechnic, New Zealand. Presenters came from a variety of countries including Australia, Burkina Faso, Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Nepal, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Romania, Spain, Swit-

The growth of the project has required increased commitment to the organization of the event. The international committee meets regularly via Skype and uses the e-vent wiki Google Documents and web conferencing to organize the event, recruit speakers and facilitators, and host information about the program. The information hosted on the e-vent wiki includes the programme, session abstracts, information about presenters, information about using the web conferencing software and links to session recordings. The wiki allows complete transparency of all our processes. Although there have been concerns that the wiki can be tampered with, and therefore should be more strictly ‘controlled’, it has been our experience that the wiki works extremely well and effectively models international sharing and collaboration. The e-vent was advertised online via numerous channels including midwifery email groups, Facebook pages (http:// www.facebook.com/VirtualInternationalDayoftheMidwife), Twitter (http://twitter.com/VIDofM) and face-to-face networks. The Facebook page was set up in November 2010 and currently has 834 ‘likes’ representing a largely female (95%) audience from over 19 countries. This provides access to over 250 000 ‘friends of fans’. A large proportion of fans reside in the USA, followed by Australia, New Zealand, UK Canada and Spain. A call for abstracts was disseminated widely through professional networks and social media and all abstracts were peer reviewed by the project scientific committee. The assessment criteria used for selecting abstracts is published on the e-vent wiki. The organizing committee also used their professional networks to invite midwifery leaders to deliver keynotes addresses.

© 2012 The Authors. International Nursing Review © 2012 International Council of Nurses

Midwives and social media


Project limitations

While the Virtual International Day of the Midwife E-vent aims to provide educational material through free access channels to all interested participants regardless of location, significant limitations must be acknowledged. At this point, the e-vent is largely conducted in English, making sessions inaccessible to nonEnglish speakers. Participation in the project also requires access to a computer and Internet and these resources may not be available in low-resource settings. Some rural areas also struggle with broadband issues and inadequate access can impact the functioning of the web conferencing software, making the conference experience less than ideal. The organizing committee has considered strategies for addressing some of these limitations including, for example, burning presentations to DVD and disseminating these to interested groups. We hope the project may grow to such an extent that concurrent sessions could be offered and we would welcome sessions held in languages other than English. This may be too large a task for a group of people who have no resources and function purely on voluntary efforts. Therefore, future development of the event may include looking for collaborative arrangements with organizations who would sponsor a more inclusive approach to disseminating the artefacts of the e-vent. In the meantime, efforts are being made to turn the recordings into mp3 files so that midwives can download the files from the wiki onto their mobile devices, wherever they live in the world (Kaplan 2006).

The Virtual International Day of the Midwife E-vent is an initiative that has developed as a result of the commitment of a small group of health professionals and educators openly to share learning opportunities with colleagues in a virtual environment. The e-vent highlights the importance of ongoing professional development, the benefits of interacting with an international audience and of seeking ways to achieve this that are accessible and sustainable. E-conferences are gaining in popularity especially with the economic downturn and the need for organizations to demonstrate budgetary restraint (Lin 2010). E-conferencing has a number of advantages over face-to-face conferences including convenience, ease of access, improved flexibility, productivity and cost savings. Flexibility is important to learners in this digital age as more and more midwives and other health professionals are able to choose where, how and what they learn, at a time that suits them according to their personal learning needs (Koper & Tattershall 2004). The ability to record and archive sessions is also a significant advantage. In a case study of businesses in the USA, Lin (2010) found that those who participated in

e-conferencing were satisfied with the professional interaction afforded by e-conferences. They reported that e-conferencing improved their ability to build professional relationships, expand their professional networks and maintain relationships first established face to face. E-conferencing also has its disadvantages including technical issues, social interaction and the ability of participants to focus on the conference or presentation. Technical issues include problems with bandwidth and Internet connections and these may be more acute for those attempting to join the conference from rural or isolated settings. E-conferences do not allow participants to socialize in the same way that face-to-face conferences do, and this can limit the extent to which social and professional relationships develop. Attendance at a face-to-face conference, especially at some geographical distance, represents a significant commitment on the part of the participant. Other work is put aside as schedules are cleared and the participant is afforded the luxury of focusing keenly on the conference and presentations. During an e-conference, participants are not physically removed from the work or home environment so competing commitments can encroach (Krumdieck & Orchardf 2011). The Virtual International Day of the Midwives’ E-vent differed from an e-conference in that it was a 24-h event aiming to provide access to participants from all times zones across the globe. Unlike e-conferences, which often model face-to-face conferences in their profit-making intent (Krumdieck & Orchardf 2011), this e-vent did not charge participants to attend. What is more, all archived materials generated by this e-vent are stored on an open wiki (so that anyone can access them) and have been created under Creative Commons by Attribution licence. This means that the recordings of sessions can not only be accessed but can be reused, for example, by an educational or healthcare organization. These features reflect the organizers’ commitment to open content. Open content refers to resources or creative works to which usual copyright restrictions do not apply. Some forms of Creative Commons licensing, for example, allow others to use, copy or modify the work. The rising costs associated with developing educational resources and pressures on educators’ time makes open content an attractive option for many (Johnson et al. 2009). Open-content resources may also be a useful support for midwives in less well-resourced countries.

The Virtual International Day of the Midwife E-vent is an innovative initiative that uses social media to provide educational and networking opportunities to midwives across the world. While it is not without its limitations, there is real potential for this type of e-vent. The e-vent has seen significant growth in the 3 years it has been running and this demonstrates that it is at least meeting

© 2012 The Authors. International Nursing Review © 2012 International Council of Nurses


S. Stewart et al.

the needs of some midwives internationally. The establishment of a Facebook page in 2010 has increased the reach of the organizers in terms of e-vent promotion. The growth in the e-vent has required expansion of the organizing committee and greater focus on establishing effective processes and communication strategies. The organizers are committed to the aims of this project and plan to continue providing free access to this annual event. The challenge for the committee will be to manage the growth in the e-vent, to continue to provide high-quality presentations including keynote addresses from world leaders in midwifery and to search for ways that we can make this e-vent accessible to those from less well-resourced settings who unarguably, have the most to gain from open-content learning opportunities.

Virtual International Day of the Midwife team: Pam Harnden, Chris Woodhouse and Lorriane Mockford. Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin New Zealand for providing free web conferencing facilities.

Author contribution
SS and DD study design and data collection SS and MS data analysis and manuscript drafting DD provided editorial support.

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© 2012 The Authors. International Nursing Review © 2012 International Council of Nurses

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