FOAM + Curriculum = FOAM-U?

In Knowledge Translation by Brent Thoma6 Comments

With the first SMACC conference a wild success, I think it is becoming obvious, at least to the early adopters, that FOAM is here to stay. Some of the recent discussion on the future of FOAM has centered upon building a structure for the FOAM “tree of knowledge.” The tree of knowledge reference and a very eloquent summary of this topic is available from a new member of the FOAM-o-sphere, the Mid Med Meddler who recently started posting at (it’s a good post – let’s give him some support!). Tim Leeuwenburg also weighed in with a couple of post from SMACC that touched on curriculum.

This is also something that I have been thinking about a lot lately. It’s interesting watching the traffic on my site. As I don’t have nearly the pull of some of the larger sites, my traffic comes in spurts. When I write a new post, especially if it generates discussion on twitter, I get lots of views. When I don’t post for awhile the traffic slows to a trickle. As I gain more followers the baseline traffic increases. However, new visitors don’t often go rummaging through my old content and, over time, my best posts receive less and less views.

But are these posts any less relevant today than they were when they were published? Perhaps slightly. But I’ve only been blogging for 3 months! Even in medicine, things are not obsolete that fast. I would like to think that there would be some value in these posts to students as they progress through medical school, residents as they complete their residencies, and all physicians that are looking for information on one of the topics I’ve covered. They, like myself and most consumers of FOAM, follow a group of blogs/podcasts and consume the content as it is blasted out at them. I’m unsure who to credit with the analogy that following FOAM is “like sipping from a fire hose,” but I think it’s particularly apt. Whatever content is produced is pushed at us and it is not necessarily easy to pull content that we need at a particular time. I still find this to be the case with FOAM despite the herculean efforts of EMGoogle to make it searchable and GMEP to categorize it.

Danica Kindrachuk, a medical student who has quite the vision for the future of medical education (she blogs at Want2BeMD and completed her first peer review as a member of the USask FOAM Collaborative on this very post!) emailed me earlier this year with an idea that she had for a FOAM-related project. She had hoped to spend her summer matching FOAM resources with the USask medical curriculum so that FOAM could serve as a resource for students looking to learn beyond their lectures. This intriguing idea would have allowed students to reach for the FOAM resources related to the content they are learning in the classroom. In my mind, this would be analogous to converting the fire hose of FOAM content into a student-friendly stream that can be accessed to gain additional insight on the topics that they are currently learning about.

I think curating FOAM in this way would be a spectacular idea. However, I suggested that it could be taken a step further. Why categorize FOAM according to the curriculum of a single medical school, when it could be categorized according to Canada’s medical curriculum? Canadian medical schools are supposed to develop their curricula to meet the objectives of the Medical Council of Canada. A site that linked the MCC Objectives to FOAM content could convert the FOAM fire hydrant into a FOAM stream for an entire country of medical students. It would also have other potential benefits:

  • Content could be scored by students for students so that the best resources for meeting a particular objective at a student-appropriate level would be accessed the most frequently.
  • These scores would serve as a form of peer-review and help the best FOAM to “bubble to the top” (also not sure of the origin of this analogy).
  • Gaps in the FOAM-o-sphere could easily be identified and plugged by content producers.
  • The objective-specific content would help medical students to access the content they need both for their courses and as they prepare for their licensing exams.
  • Exceptional FOAM content would continually be rediscovered as class after class of medical students accesses the resources that those ahead of them felt were most useful.
  • Instructors would be able to find and direct students to great resources for expanded content without needing to reinvent the wheel by creating it themselves.

Over time, I expect that most objectives will be served by FOAM to some degree. An unintended drawback could be that old, well-received content overshadowing great new stuff, but that just seems like too much of a good thing to me!

While Danica initially conceived this idea for medical students, I see no reason why the same could not be done for the curricula of residency programs, especially emergency medicine. I know I’d visit frequently to find the content that my peers found the most useful and to ensure that I am meeting program objectives.

I’ve come up with some fairly pie-in-the-sky ideas before (see A Journal of FOAM), but I’m a lot more serious about seeing if this can become a reality. Medical students, I’d appreciate your feedback. Would you use a site that linked you to FOAM content that discussed the MCC objectives? Would you be willing to rank the content that you find helpful? Would you use it to expand your learning as you went through medical school? Or to study as you prepared for the MCCQE1 (aka LMCC) exam?

I think it could be built. If you would use it, and especially if you would be willing to help make it a reality, I’d very much like to hear from you. I’m thinking we could call it FOAM-U: the Free Open Access Medicine University.

Author: Brent Thoma @BoringEM

Peer Reviewer: Danica Kindrachuk of Want2BeMD

Dr. Brent Thoma is a medical educator, blogging geek, and trauma/emergency physician who works at the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine. He founded BoringEM and is the CEO of CanadiEM.