Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are hugely popular for connecting with friends and relatives, but a professor at American International College in Springfield says using social media for academic purposes is just as important.

Allison Sullivan of Springfield, an assistant professor of Occupational Therapy at American International College in Springfield, was part of an international group of academics and therapists presenting a poster at the 2013 25th National Occupational Therapy Australia Conference in Adelaide, Australia. The poster, "Social Media in the Contemporary CPD Climate," was aimed at informing clinicians and scholars about the benefits of using a variety of social networking tools for continuing professional development.

"I think social media presents a fascinating opportunity to promote the growth of occupational therapy, and what is understood about networking on it is still an emerging phenomenon," Sullivan said. "I use (social media) for play and exploration—for expressing myself creatively; learning, via the plethora of magnificent resources that are available there through professional accounts, shared links, and hashtag chats on topics of interest to me; and for teaching as well."

Sullivan said the purpose of this poster was to demonstrate how social media (specifically Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs) provides a mechanism for clinicians to obtain valid continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities. It identified a range of CPD activities that are available for therapists and was designed to empower OTs to overcome barriers to engagement.

"I chose to work on this project for a number of reasons, but mostly because I am passionate about my firm belief that using social media for academic purposes enhances one's access to knowledge and the ability to share what is learned in an efficient and practical manner," she said.

Sullivan said she had gotten to know the other poster authors, who are clinicians and academics in Australia and New Zealand, through engaging with them in these various social media venues, including professional groups on Facebook and LinkedIn and hashtagged professional Twitter chats. "When they invited me to contribute to the poster for the annual occupational therapy conference in Australia, I happily signed on. I was eager to have my first opportunity to work on a scholarly project involving international collaboration on a clinical topic of great interest to me. It is really just about doing what I love with people with whom I enjoy working," Sullivan said.

"Social media is a novel, cost-effective, and useful way to keep interest high and information topical in the classroom. I have used social media to have one of my co-authors guest lecture in my classroom and inservice the professional group I chair outside of school."

The benefits to clinicians and scholars who become adept at using these tools are very diverse, according to Sullivan, and depend to a degree on the specific site's purpose.

"As we note in the poster, for example, clinically-oriented Twitter chats and Facebook groups allow clinicians and academics to efficiently share resources and network, whereas Evernote and Learnist are online organizational tools that are not necessarily discipline-specific, but are useful for clinicians by facilitating their ability to keep resources and data organized and easily accessible. Blogs such as those available at WordPress allow more thoughtful and permanent ways of presenting information in a less time-sensitive forum," Sullivan said.

  The poster presented by Sullivan and her colleagues was unique because it is the first poster for a clinical audience in a scholarly venue that utilizes QR codes which allow viewers to open the sites presented, in order to display samples of professional development activities that have been completed by a fictional therapist for professional development purposes. "By scanning these QR codes with a smartphone QR reader, viewers of the poster and its reproductions can immediately see what each site shared on the poster looks like and how information on that site can be used to document a professional development activity. This allowed us to present much more information about the specific value of each site than could otherwise be organized on a single academic poster," she said.