Harden's Blog

July 2020 - 'Excellence in teaching'

In his latest blog Professor Harden discusses what is teaching excellence, and educational responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and more

Is this really excellence in teaching?
The Times Higher Education has just published (June 2020) the 2020 World University Rankings for Young Universities (https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2020/young-university-rankings). The performance indicators were grouped in five areas, one of which was teaching and this accounted for 30% of the grading. The teaching scale was derived from a reputation survey (10%), staff to student ratio (6%), Doctorate to Bachelors ratio (3%), Doctorates awarded to academic staff ratio (8%), and institutional income (3%). I find it difficult to accept that this is a valid assessment of teaching excellence. The perceived inadequacy of the THE approach was a stimulus to establish the ASPIRE-to-Excellence initiative (www.aspire-to-excellence.org). Considerable effort has been invested in ASPIRE in identifying and assessing in schools criteria for excellence in different aspects of teaching.

An exciting shift in education research and practice
The 2020 AERA Review of Research in Education looked at emergent approaches for educational research. It is argued that as a result of increasing frustration with the dominant “what works” paradigm of large scale research-based improvements, “practitioners, researchers, foundations, and policymakers are beginning to favour good practice over best practice, local proofs over experimental evidence, adaptation over faithful implementation, and a focus on practitioners’ problems over research solutions”. Chapter 44 explores how these ideas are embodied in a number of education improvement methods, labelled as Continuous improvement (CI) methods. The characteristics of such methods include a grounding of improvement efforts in local problems or needs and empowering practitioners to take an active role in research and improvement.

Is there a danger in overcommitting to online learning?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been associated with a significant movement to online learning. Some schools are even considering moving their first two years’ programme online on a longer-term basis. We should, however, proceed with caution. The April 2020 issue of Educational Researcher compared the outcome of students who attended virtual schools with students who attended brick-and-mortar schools. It was found that schools who switched to virtual schools experienced a large negative effect in the students’ Math, English language, and Art achievement that persisted over time. It was recognised that the virtual schools offered greater autonomy and the possibility of tailoring experiences  to the individual needs of students. There was, however, no evidence that these benefits were reflected in the students’ test scores. The review concluded that while prior research that focused on individual online courses suggested that such courses can have a positive impact on student learning the literature on full time virtual schools is far less optimistic. Student motivation, the passion of the teacher, the teacher’s changing role and lack of experience with the new methodology, and the number of student study hours may all have a role to play.

It would be dangerous and wrong to extrapolate such experience to medical education but perhaps, however, there is a warning with regard to how we implement online learning.

Fitzpatrick, B.R., Berends, M., Ferrare, J.J., et al. 2020. Virtual Illusion: Comparing student achievement and teacher and classroom characteristics in online and brick-and-mortar charter schools. Educ Researcher. 49(3), 161-175. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.3102/0013189X20909814

Interest in Medical Teacher COVID-19 papers
Over the last few months we have had a dramatic increase in the number of papers submitted to Medical Teacher, from an average of 30-35 per week to 80-85. We have also had a huge increase in papers submitted to MedEdPublish.

We are publishing in Medical Teacher a series of nine papers relating to responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in the July issue of Medical Teacher and these have already appeared online. Hedy Wald, who presented a plenary on mindfulness and resilience at the AMEE 2018 meeting is the author of a paper Optimizing resilience and wellbeing for healthcare professions trainees and healthcare professionals during public health crises - Practical tips for an ‘integrative resilience’ approach. This attracted more than 1500 views within days of its publication online.  

Stress and passion
In an article, Medical education in the time of COVID-19, Diane Wayne and colleagues report over the last few months the spreading value of resilience, grit, and tolerance for uncertainty on the front lines of patient care. They argued that more attention should be paid to the selection for these qualities in future matriculants.

I like the Simon Sinek quote in the article “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress, while working hard for something we love is called passion”.

Wayne, D.B., Green, M., Neilson, E.G. 2020. Medical education in the time of COVID-19. Sci Adv. Epub. https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/06/04/sciadv.abc7110

When life gives you lemons make lemonade, and when life gives you strawberries make jam
The Wimbledon tennis tournament is associated each year with the consumption of more than 190,000 portions of strawberries. The mass consumption of strawberries as well as tennis has been cancelled this year. The strawberries have been turned into jam. The question arises as to whether this is a temporary phenomenon or whether next year some of the strawberries will still be used for jam making. It is interesting to speculate what will be the long-term effects of the short-term changes in medical education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these changes will be described at the AMEE 2020 virtual conference. Other sessions address important topics, particularly relevant today, such as learning from failure, the misuse of metrics in medicine and education, lessons learned from the aviation industry about responding to emergencies and the practical implementation of EPAs in the curriculum. The full programme is on the AMEE website(https://amee.org/Conferences/AMEE-2020/Programme). The use of participants’ personal digital avatars is intriguing.

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