Summary: Professor Harden returns from the IFIUT meeting and reflects on the topics that took centre stage; student-centred education using social media, strategies to promote active learning and excellence in teaching took centre stage. Description: Participating in a meeting outside one’s own immediate area of interest, as I have suggested before, is both interesting and challenging.  Interesting, because I always find something unfamiliar which may have applications in my own setting and challenging because it makes me look at education from different perspectives.  I have just returned from participating in the International Forum of Innovators in University Teaching (IFIUT) held in Riyadh.  Professor Mohammed Nadeem from the National University, USA in a presentation on student-centred education using social media, particularly twitter and Facebook, highlighted his aim to touch not only the intellect but the very heart and soul of his students.  This fitted in very nicely with my own presentation where I was emphasising the importance of passion in teaching and student motivation.  

Professor Ciraj Ali Mohammed talked about ten strategies to promote active learning in his lecture.  Could I think of ten strategies I wondered quickly at the start of his presentation!  In the staff development programme he organised, teachers had to select five of the ten strategies and present a one hour lecture using them.  Adnan Riaz from Allamalqbal Open University, Pakistan, introduced as an important part of his course, the task for students of writing a book.  Students were divided into teams and each team was given the topic for one chapter in the book.  The aim was to help students develop contextual knowledge, to conceptualise key concepts, to master skills of writing, to work as members of a team and to be creative.  The assessment of their work was part of their summative assessment.  

A sub title for the meeting was ‘Realistic experiences for excellence in teaching.’  This was illustrated during the conference by the opportunity to see in action a mock trial.  This has been developed by Professor Abdurrahman Assanad.  The simulated courtroom is similar to those in real trials.  The students are selected to play the roles of judges, prosecutors and defendants.  

The meeting was organised by Professor Khalid Abdulrahman, former Dean of the Medical School and now Vice Rector of the University for Studies, Development and Academic Accreditation and Dr Abdallah Almubaraki who is Dean of Development of University Education.  The University Development Unit is clearly active and other activities include the production of a series of teaching and learning booklets on topics such as new learning technologies, authentic assessment, innovative ideas in university teaching and responding to individual differences among university students.  

Following my own presentation on excellence in teaching I was asked some predictable but nonetheless important questions.  What can we do to ensure that the university regards teaching on an equal footing with research in terms of priorities and staff promotion?  How can you assess whether a member of staff is ‘an excellent teacher’ or not?  What are the most important developments taking place in university education?  Is there a risk that we abandon teaching methods which have stood the test of time and proved to be useful?  Dean Van Galen, Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, was asked following his presentation, what could be done to ensure that new staff are appointed with teaching as well as content and research expertise.  He suggested that as part of any interview procedure, applicants should be asked to give a lecture.  My only concern, as highlighted in AMEE Guide 20 that, ‘The good teacher is more than a lecturer.’  

The conference organisers are to be congratulated on bringing together an interesting collection of contributors’ and participants and I was pleased that I was able to take part.  The Rector of the University, Professor Sulaiman Bin Abdallah Aba Alkhail is certainly a powerhouse and very supportive of the educational mission of the university.  He spoke at the opening and closing of the meeting.  

The visit to Riyadh also allowed me the opportunity to spend a day at the medical school at Al Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University.  He has the charisma both when talking to a group and an individual, which is sadly lacking in many leaders.  Within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia there is continuing and growing interest in medical education and just gone to press is the second Saudi Supplement for Medical Teacher which will be published along with the April issue of the journal.  We are receiving now more papers submitted for publication to the journal from Saudi Arabia.

One final piece of news from Saudi.  After a two year process the University Council in the Kingdom and the King have given their approval to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Saudi Society for Medical Education (SSME) and AMEE.  This sets the scene for more collaboration between the two organisations.  Madalena Patricio as AMEE President will be visiting Abha in Saudi Arabia shortly to sign the MoU on behalf of AMEE.  AMEE has a growing number of members from the region.

One final piece of news not relating to Saudi.  The spring meeting of the AMEE Executive will be held in London from 15-17th February.  This is a three day meeting at which the Executive looks at progress over the past year, at current AMEE activities and at possible future developments.  We look forward this year to having input from the four AMEE committees addressing Research in Medical Education, e-Learning, Simulation and Postgraduate Education.  Any thoughts or suggestions from readers of the blog would be welcome.  Among the immediate issues we will be discussing will be the use of e-posters at AMEE 2013 in Prague.  Despite a few hitches, the pilot testing last year appeared to be a big success and we are currently looking at the arrangements for AMEE 2013 in Prague.  This should have interactive posters as last year and not simply as PDFs dumped on a screen.  We would be delighted to hear from anyone who has had experience of interactive e-posters at a meeting.   As a first time initiative last year, Innovative Technology in Riyadh did a great job working with us and supporting the initiative.

Should we be more unconventional in our relations with students?  The February issue of Wired describes how Tony Hsieh, cofounder of online clothing company Zappos, offers cash for people to leave his business.  After training employees for two weeks at full pay, he offers each of them $2,000 (£1,250) in cash to quit on the spot.  “It’s ingenious” suggests Robert Stephens.  “For a relatively small sum, Hsieh is able to weed out those who aren’t fully committed to Zappos’ zeal for customer service.  Almost all refuse the offer.”  Could we replicate this in medical education by offering two weeks into each course of lectures a refund to students of part of their fee if they did not want to attend the remainder of the course?