Summary: This month Professor Harden discusses The New Norm – Unwarranted expectations, The FAIR principles, and Do assessors across the UK agree when evaluating students? Description: The New Norm – Unwarranted expectations 1. The online lecture
Major developments resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have been a move to education delivered online and a move to working at home. Increasingly it seems to have been accepted that these will become the new norm. There are flaws, however, in this thinking.

Some universities have already indicated that face-to-face teaching will be replaced with online lectures and one has cancelled the provisionally approved plans for a new auditorium. Australian campuses to drop lectures post-COVID was the Times Higher Education headline on 7th January. Curtain University and Murdoch University are to scrap all lectures with material curated into ten-fifteen minute videos. In Leeds in the UK, the Vice-Chancellor Simone Buitendijk reported plans to replace long-form lectures with shorter chunks.

The response to the move to online lectures, however, has been mixed. The Times Higher Education in the same issue (7th January) under a headline Online is a distant second, reports growing impatience with remote learning in South Korea, suggesting that it is not here to stay. Back in the UK, again in Leeds, Neil Morris, Leeds’ interim deputy Vice-Chancellor for digital transformation argued that “there will always be a place for the performance, community feeling, and impact of a good lecture for stimulating, inspiring, and conveying new knowledge.” Graham Virgo, senior co-Vice-Chancellor for Education at Cambridge summed up the position “The obituary of in-person lecture would be premature.” The jury is still out as to whether it would be a good idea to make the online experiment a permanent switch.

Certainly lectures in the past have been both overused and misused. As the former Dean at McMaster pointed out something is seriously lost if lectures are abolished. The lecture is an opportunity for magic to happen with the lecturer passes on their insight, passion, and enthusiasm for the subject.

Some years ago I watched the theatre play, the film, and read the book On Golden Pond – a drama of family interactions. There was no doubt that for me the live theatre performance was more moving and engaging than either the film or the book.

The New Norm – Unwarranted expectations 2. Working from home
We are seeing proposals by businesses to have in the new norm workers based at home rather than in the office. Writing in the British Medical Journal (13th Feb 2021, p231) Rammya Mathew argues against working at home becoming the new norm. From her practice as a GP she noted “When it was all still a novelty I saw many around me overjoyed as they said goodbye to their daily commute and embraced the new normal of their makeshift home-office. But almost a year in, the mood has changed, from the conversations I have been having with patients it seems that we are now experiencing the fallout from a lack of daily routine, increasing physical inactivity, and the loss of human interaction, all of which work once provided.” She suggests that even if you aren’t a fan of office banter the daily interaction used to help break up and breathe life into the working day.

Should we switch to online learning and replace working at the office with working at home? These are the wrong questions. In the SPICES model for curriculum development, which I described some time ago, the choice is not for or against a strategy, such as integration or problem-based learning, but where on the continuum between the two extremes is optimum in a particular context. In the same way there should be a place for both lectures and online learning and a place for working at home and in the office. Where do we want to be on the continuum?

The FAIR principles
At the ESME APMEC course in January (delivered this year online), the FAIR principles for effective learning – provision of Feedback, making learning Active rather than passive, Individualising learning, and making learning Relevant – attracted attention with implications explored for the participants’ own teaching programme.

I was interested to see a different set of FAIR principles used as the basis for scientific data management and stewardship (Wilkinson et 2016). The FAIR principles were that contemporary science requires data to be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable in the long term. It is suggested that these objectives provide a set of mileposts for data producers and publishers.

Wilkinson, M.D. et al. The FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management and stewardship. Sci Data. 3, Article No. 160018.

Do assessors across the UK agree when evaluating students?
The UK medical licensing assessment will require all medical schools in the UK to ensure that their students pass an appropriately designed clinical and professional skills assessment prior to graduation. Individual schools will be responsible for implementing their own assessments. Sam et al (2020) investigated whether assessors from different medical schools across the UK agreed on what standard performance constitutes a fail/pass/good grade. They found high levels of agreement of the standards expected of students at a “Clear fail, borderline, clear pass, and good level”.

Sam et al. 2020. National inter-rater agreement of standardised simulated-patient-based assessments. Med Teach. Epub ahead of print.