Summary: In his latest blog Professor Harden addresses the recognition of excellence in teaching, discusses the Update on Internet Trends from Mary Meeker, the troubles of abbreviations and admires the impressive effects of Schlieren photography Description: Recognition of excellence in teaching
Top UK universities miss out on gold award was a newspaper heading following the announcement of the results of the UK Government’s new awards for excellence in teaching. Just eight out of the 21 elite Russell Group universities were awarded the gold rating. The Russell Group have raised concerns about the process used to arrive at the decision to award either gold, silver or bronze. The acting director of the Russell Group, Dr Tim Bradshaw, is quoted as saying

“Our members provide an outstanding student experience where teaching is enhanced by access to world-class research and facilities. This is a trial year. We need to recognise that developing a robust Tef that is truly reflective of the UK’s excellent higher education sector will take time.”

The implication is that as an elite university there is nothing wrong with the teaching but rather the problem lies with the Teaching Excellence Framework process. Sir Anthony Seldin , Vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, which did receive a gold award, argued  however, in the Times Higher Education (27th June 2017) that

“Vice-chancellors need to lead teaching from the front, and not give the impression that they care only about research and new sources of funds. They should lead a culture where professional responsibility for offering outstanding teaching and learning is embedded in the institution’s culture.”

It is likely that some universities such as Southampton were treated harshly in the teaching evaluation exercise but in others the poor rating may simply recognise the fact that quality in teaching has been ignored at the expense of an emphasis on research. Despite criticisms of the initiative it is expected that the results will have a significant impact on student recruitment, in particular in the international market.

Update on internet trends
At more than 300 pages, the 2017 Update on Internet Trends from Mary Meeker has some interesting information. As a result of increased use of mobile devices, overall time spent with digital media is reported as having increased since 2010 from 3.2 hours per day to 5.6 hours per day. In India according to the report, people spend per week two hours with print, four hours with television and 28 hours with their mobile devices.

Meeker, M. 2017. Internet Trends 2017 – Code Conference. Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers. Accessed on 25th July 2017 at

I looked with interest at a paper, New study shows the impact of PBL on study achievement, published in Edutopia on 20th June ( Researchers in Michigan had shown that PBL raised students’ achievement significantly in social studies and literacy achievement. The intervention was, however, not about “problem-based learning”, as I had expected but rather about “project-based learning”. It was nonetheless of interest. The students in the schools had completed projects on economics, geography, history and civics and government. Each project was designed to have 20 sessions of approximately 45 minutes. In the economics project, for example, the students created an information flyer about a local business for that business’ use and then created and sold their own goods or service to raise money for a cause. Another abbreviation potentially causing confusion is TBL. In recent years TBL has been identified with Team-Based Learning. Previously, we had used it for Task-Based Learning.

Harden, R.M., Crosby, J., Davis, M.H., Howie, P.W. & Struthers, A.D. 2000. Task-based learning: the answer to integration and problem-based learning in the clinical years. 34. 391-7.

Korean and Arabic translations
The book I wrote with Jennifer Laidlaw, Essential Skills for a Medical Teacher which is now in its second edition continues to attract a lot of attention. I received copies this week of the text translated into Korean and another version in Arabic. I was interested to note the small number of words which appeared in English – presumably there was no easy translation.

Schlieren photography
Perhaps not as amusing as the video clip in my last blog of the dog and the orchestra but more interesting is this video of the invisible world of Schlieren photography. This is an imaging technique that lets us visualise the invisible forces that surround us.
Crotty, D. 2017. The Invisible World of Schlieren Photography. The Scholarly Kitchen. Accessed on 17th July 2017 at