An Online Platform That Really Resonates With Members

When the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine launched the Journal Club two years ago, it made sure the initiative would appeal to members — who are primarily high-tech doctors — by making it both virtual and interactive.

Since Roberta A. Kravitz joined the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM) in 1995, the society has grown from 3,500 to 9,000 members — professionals who are involved in magnetic resonance in medicine, biology, or other related areas, in research, education, manufacture, or practice. Still, she knows that kind of growth doesn’t necessarily guarantee immunity from the “whole membership model” challenge that a lot of organizations struggle with.

“People expect more for their money now,” said Kravitz, ISMRM’s executive director. “They are all under tight budgets. There are so many choices out there and you want to keep them with [your association]. You’ve got to constantly evaluate the benefits of membership and find ways to enhance them.”

One member benefit with “huge ROI” that ISMRM introduced in the last few years — an online Journal Club — has been a hit with members and costs the society little, with the exception of staff time. The program capitalizes on two of the society’s existing, highly respected assets — the clinical Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging and the basic-science journal Magnetic Resonance in Medicine — and puts them “in front of our members as extremely important resources for them in their daily work,” Kravitz said.

Using the virtual platform Adobe Connect, which many of ISMRM’s members who work at universities already use for online learning programs, the Journal Club is somewhat akin to a webinar series, providing a real-time environment for members to delve more deeply into topics presented in the print journals. For each Journal Club session, ISMRM works with two volunteer-member editors — one from each publication — to choose an article from each of their journals, “and then we get a moderator and an expert on both of them, usually the first author on either one of the articles [to speak],” Kravitz said. The first Journal Club session — “What Is Compressed Sensing & What Is It Good For?” — was broadcast in June 2011.

There is no charge to connect to the members-only Journal Club sessions, but only 100 seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis. As soon as an email goes out announcing the next session and opening up registration, Kravitz said, “the seats are gone.”

Registrants come from around the world. “The first time we did [the Journal Club],” Kravitz said, “it was really cool because when we logged on in the morning … people were signing on from China, signing in from Greenland, signing in from Down Under. I mean, we had every continent represented.” The Journal Club goes live early in the morning (Pacific Time Zone, since ISMRM is headquartered in Berkeley, Calif.), to try to make it fair and reasonably convenient for members from around the globe to join in.


Each Journal Club session features at least four presenters — two moderators and two speakers, and usually one expert on the topic — who appear in streaming video. “The beauty of it is that we do not have to fly anybody anywhere,” Kravitz said. “The [speakers] just sit in their offices and put a headset on — [it works] as long as their computers have a camera. If there are PowerPoints involved, they just send them to the office and my IT person uploads them into Adobe Connect, but the moderator controls the screen.”

The first Journal Club session ran for two hours, but that proved “a bit too long,” Kravitz said. The sessions now last an hour, including an interactive portion — which has become the program’s biggest draw — when participants can ask questions via a text box.

“What we found is that a lot of times in today’s world,” Kravitz said, “people are not comfortable actually asking a question face-to-face. But if you put them behind a computer screen and they can text the question to the speakers, you can get some huge results. I mean, it can take research [in] a completely different direction. It truly embodies that collaboration that is essential in our community — identifying clinical needs and providing technological solutions. And sometimes those questions can be a solution to whatever problem or issue is being presented in the source material.”

By making the Journal Club interactive, it’s become “another way to share knowledge, another way to network,” she said. Participants “can say something like, ‘At our university, in our lab, we were doing this and we found that that did not work, but if you tweak the sequence (or whatever), now it works.’ So it is really collaborative.”

Sessions are recorded and archived, so those members who couldn’t make the call or log on can access them after the fact. And members are encouraged to gather as many people in a room as possible to share a connection and therefore share the experience. “At the University of Utah,” Kravitz said, “one of our members always has his post-doctoral students gather in a room and he buys them pizza and they broadcast the virtual Journal Club on a big screen.”

After two years, the Journal Club has gathered enough steam for new sessions to be scheduled monthly. Kravitz also expects to increase the number of connections, or seats, to 500.

While journal clubs have “not always taken off in the scientific world,” Kravitz said, “for this group, doing it virtually like this — where they see the speakers on the screen and there is an interactive element to it — they just buy into it. The deployment of it, the medium, speaks to this group.

“In fact, I had a student write to me after one of the Journal Club sessions. He said: ‘Roberta, the ISMRM is the coolest ever.’”

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.