Summary: In his latest blog, Professor Harden gives an update on the ESME Online course referencing a useful suggestion from a participant, Medical Teacher submissions and the principle of threshold concepts from the Open University “Pedagogy 2014 Report”. Description: I was interested to receive this week a Japanese edition of my book co-authored with Jennifer Laidlaw, Essential Skills for a Medical Teacher, with the text translated into Japanese.  Sales of the English versions since it was first published two years ago have been very satisfactory.  The book is also currently being translated into Arabic.

Last week we started the fourth module in the ESME Online course.  This addresses the principles of learning, based on the FAIR model (Feedback, Activity, Individualisation, and Relevance).  While, as always, the principle of individualisation attached much interest, there were reservations about the extent to which it could be applied in practice.  One Australian participant came forward with the useful suggestion that the flipped classroom was an approach that contributed towards individualisation of the learning.  A great suggestion!  Joe Hirsch, an educator from Dallas, writing in Edutopia on 21st October 2014, had a feature ‘Fliperentiated Instruction: How to create the customizable classroom.’  This is an attempt to combine differentiation where students have lessons personalised to their needs and flipped instruction.  He recognised that a problem with differentiation or personalised instruction is that it is difficult to achieve with a large class of students.  With the flipped classroom model a student tackles the material initially in a style and form suited to their own learning.

If pilots are forced to retire at a certain age, should aircraft follow suit?  This question was asked in a recent International Airline Passenger Association (IAPA) blog.  It is not a question I have thought much about when flying - after all a well maintained aircraft can keep flying for decades.  I was interested to read, however, that age restrictions on aircraft are becoming more common, and some aircraft flying are as old as 40 years.  In China aircraft being imported cannot be more than a decade old.  It is reported that even with a good safety record, the industry is being scrutinised by aviation authorities after incidents of aircraft metal fatigue have been documented.  I have never thought of asking when booking a flight the age of the aircraft on which I would be flying.  Perhaps I should have but I suspect obtaining an answer would be more difficult.

Each week in addition to the thirty or so manuscripts we receive for consideration for publication in Medical Teacher, we also receive a number of letters.  I was interested to note that this week we received four letters from students, all from different medical schools and all commenting on different papers published in the journal.  It is great to see students interest and active engagement in medical education in this way.  As with the papers, unfortunately we are able to publish only a proportion of the letters that we receive.  Others we hope will be published in MedEdWorld.  

Over the years I have made occasional reference to the principle of threshold concepts.  When thinking of the content we address in our curricula and possible information overload, I believe that this is an important concept which has been relatively ignored in medical education.  I was interested to see that in the recent Innovation Pedagogy 2014 report from The Open University, one of the ten innovations they have identified that have the potential to provoke major shifts in educational practice, is the principle of threshold concepts.  These are core concepts without which students cannot progress in the subject.  They are often troublesome areas which are difficult and unintuitive for the student to learn.  

3D printing body parts to revolutionise medical training was the theme for an ABC news for Australia network interview with Professor Paul McMenamin, Director of Monash University’s Centre for Human Anatomy Education, recorded on YouTube.  His works appears to be leading the world in this area and I found it hugely impressive.  Paul gave a fascinating and widely acclaimed plenary presentation at our AMEE meeting in Norway some years ago on teaching anatomy through body painting.  We are hoping that he will join us in Glasgow at AMEE 2015 and demonstrate in a workshop and an exhibition his pioneering work on 3D printing of body parts.

A final thought - writing in Educational Leadership (October 2014), Marilyn Burns writing on teaching mathematics refers to the game ‘2048’ (  She claims it’s worth looking at if you want something new to distract you but warns that it can be addicting.  There is a 4-by-4 array of square tiles; a few tiles start out with numbers on them (always 2s and 4s), but most start out blank.  The goal of the game is to produce a tile with the number 2048 on it.  You can swipe tiles up, down, or across.  When you swipe them so that two 2s touch, the two 2s disappear and are replaced with a 4.  The game she claims is easy to play but vexing.