Summary: Professor Harden talks about interesting themes for AMEE 2015 in Glasgow and how high-stakes assessment can have unintended consequences. Description: Professor Harden talks about interesting themes for AMEE 2015 in Glasgow and how high-stakes assessment can have unintended consequences.

Putting papers submitted for the AMEE 2015 Conference in Glasgow together into sessions that tell interesting stories is an engaging task.  Given the duration of a session, six, seven or eight papers can be accommodated depending on whether time is left at the end for a general discussion.  There will be an interesting session on empathy with conflicting views as to whether this decreases during medical training or not.  The different roles of the patient in the education process will also be an interesting topic as will one on motivation.  Another interesting theme featuring is education in rural communities.  I am always surprised that more work is not done in the area of curriculum mapping and I look forward to hearing a set of papers on that theme at the meeting.  Papers on inter-professional education and on selection featured prominently among those submitted.  As a subject, surgery and accident and emergency care featured prominently.  More than 100 individuals helped with the reviewing of the papers and a big thank you to them all.  The final selection will appear on the AMEE website in July.

The March issue of Educational Leadership has as a theme ‘More Thoughtful Assessment.’  Bryan Goodwin highlights on page 78 that research has shown that unfortunately any attempt to drive education improvement with high-stakes testing and accountability may have a fundamental flaw.  He describes how in the 1970’s, Donald Campbell, then president of the American Psychological Association, theorized that ‘the more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.’   In other words, according to Campbell’s law, the higher the stakes attached to any measure, the less valid that measure becomes.  I have argued elsewhere that although it does have potential merit, high-stake assessments such as the USMLE in the USA do have unintended consequences and can inhibit change in medical education.  Goodwin reminds us that according to Campbell (1976), ‘one way to prevent an indicator from becoming corrupted or distorted is to employ multiple measures of performance.  Another way, research suggests, is to emphasise formative data – low-stakes classroom assessments created by teachers to guide instruction, which can have a strong, positive influence on student performance and motivation (Wiliam, D., & Thompson, M., 2007. Integrating assessment with instruction: What will it take to make it work?  In C. A. Dwyer (Ed.), The future of assessment: Shaping teaching and learning (pp. 53-82). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum).  Dylan Wiliam gave an interesting plenary presentation at the AMEE Conference in Malaga on this theme.

There appears to be a striking variation between medical schools in terms of their interest in medical education.  This is certainly suggested by the information we have based on abstracts submitted for AMEE conferences, participants in AMEE conferences, ASPIRE awards, participation in ESME courses, membership of AMEE, interest in BEME and papers published in Medical Teacher.  A study of this could be an interesting research project.  

The ASPIRE Student Engagement, Social Accountability and Assessment panels are considering the current ASPIRE submissions for recognition for excellence in each of the areas.  It has surprised me to find that we have received on this and on earlier occasions, more submissions in relation to the student engagement and social accountability themes than for assessment.  This puzzles me.  I would have predicted that we would have received more assessment submissions.  Are schools less interested in being recognised for excellence in assessment or are the assessment criteria as set out too demanding?  With his background in psychometrics and evaluation of teaching, Ron Berk has reviewed the work of the student engagement and social accountability panels.  A study of the ASPIRE assessment process may throw some light onto the small number of applications in this area.

I was interested to read in Education Update, February 2015, the news sheet of ASCD, about the Mystery Skype initiative.  This is a learning activity in which two classrooms call each other through Skype and ask questions to guess each other’s location (  The classrooms may be in the same or in different countries or parts of the world.  The aim is to develop students’ research, critical thinking, geography, listening and speaking skills.  Could there be an application in medical education given the interest in global perspectives?

“Teaching is creative, intellectually challenging and rewarding, but it is also elusive and complex” suggests Paul Ashwin, Professor of Higher Education at Lancaster University, writing in Times Higher Education, 26 February 2015.  This makes it rich territory, he asserts, for the development of myths.  One myth is that different methods of teaching lead to different types of learning.  When comparing, for example, the lecture of small group teaching, he argues, it is not the method that determines what students learn but the teachers and students understanding of the purposes of their interaction.  Much featured on television and in the press over the last few weeks was the colour of a dress - about half the population felt it was blue with a black trim while others saw it as white with a gold trim.  We see different things when we see the same image.  In the same way we see different teaching methods differently.

The Open University has launched Badged Open Courses. Digital badges awarded for each short course indicate that the learner has not only participated in the online course but has passed online quizzes to earn the badge and OU certificate.  It is suggested that this will help informal learners build confidence and motivation for learning and provide a record of achievement which they can share with friends, employers and educational institutions.

Trudie Roberts delivered the second Ronald Harden lecture at the University of Dundee last week.  The subject of her theme which engaged the audience was cheating.  She described the situation where a student had altered his elective certificate to suggest he had completed eight weeks rather than four weeks as eight weeks was the requirement of the university.  The audience differed as to how they would respond to the situation.  Cheating and plagiarism is on today’s agenda.  Ian Scott from Oxford Brookes University referred in a recent SEDA list serv to a fun, although un –PC- plagiarism video (