Summary: Having come back from a successful trip to the Ottawa Conference, Professor Harden discusses plenary sessions at Ottawa, an article on spiral curriculum and a Blog on the A to Z of Learning. Description: The combined Ottawa Conference Ottawa2014.pngand the Canadian Conference on Medical Education held in Ottawa, Canada last week was a big success with well over 2,000 participants.

In the opening session we paid tribute to Ian Hart who made major contributions to medical education in Canada and internationally. His wife, Cathy, and two sons, Rod and Gordon, were present. Ian Bowmer had arranged a short video highlighting Ian’s life and achievements which was very successful. It was Ian’s suggestion in 1984, while on sabbatical with me in Dundee, that we have a meeting on the assessment of clinical competence to encourage more communication across the Atlantic. This proved to be the first Ottawa Conference in Ottawa, Canada in 1985. It was a pleasure to work with Ian as a colleague and to have him as a friend over many years. In his memory an award has been created to recognise every two years at the Ottawa Conference someone who has been innovative in the field of medical education. The details will be announced in the early summer with the first award being presented at the Ottawa Conference 2016 to be held in Perth, Western Australia. There were 10 people present at the 2014 Ottawa Conference who gave a paper at the first conference in 1985 and more than 60 participants who had attended one of the first three Ottawa Conferences were present and participated in a very pleasant reunion where they reminisced about Ian and the earlier Ottawa Conferences. Christine Vu Nu, who had suggested the reunion, unfortunately could not be with us for the reunion as she had to leave early from the conference.

The need for more attention to be paid to meaningful formative assessment and feedback to the learner was highlighted in the plenary sessions by John Norcini and Brian Hodges. Brian suggested that the lack of attention to formative feedback related to the dominance of high stakes examinations with the overuse of external examinations.  In his presentation, he also highlighted the increasing juxtaposition of reflection and competence. He described four aspects of reflection: reflection as meta-cognition where the learner is aware and thinking about their own learning process; reflection as mindfulness, for example as a form of meditation; reflection as psycho-analysis; and reflection as confession. Trudie Roberts gave an interesting Ottawa plenary presentation on cheating and how common this was in practice. David Powis gave the Miriam Friedman final plenary on selection for medicine in a provocative and stimulating presentation. He argued that we had spent too much attention on trying to select the “best of the best” in our selection procedures rather than ensuring that we do not admit to medical studies those who would not have some of the necessary attributes required of a doctor. He discussed how this might be done. We will be publishing his paper, along with papers on some of the other major contributions to the conference, later in the year in Medical Teacher.

The power of Google continues to amaze me! In a recent search, for example, I was surprised to find a reference to my earlier blog in which I mentioned Sam Leinster’s paper, "Training medical practitioners: which comes first, the generalist or the specialist?".

Along with Trudie Roberts I was one of the two invited plenary speakers at a medical education conference in Turkey which I should have been participating in this week. Unfortunately because my wife was admitted to the hospital as an emergency with an infection I was unable to travel. Although it was not as good as being there in person, I was able to give my presentation via Skype on one screen and on a second screen was my PowerPoint presentation with the slides changed by Pat Lilley, who was present at the conference. We opted to present this way because I had a number of video clips embedded into my PowerPoint presentation, which would have been difficult with Wimba or another conference platform given the available bandwidth. Apart from one minor glitch after 35 minutes, the presentation went well. Questions from the audience were then relayed to me by Pat.

There is an interesting article by Brian C. Gibbs, “Reconfiguring Bruner: Compressing the spiral curriculum”, which appeared in the April 2014 Phi Delta Kappan (V95 N7:41-44). I was interested as I published, along with Neil Stamper, some time ago a paper on the spiral curriculum. This was the basis of a redesigned Dundee curriculum in the 1990s. Gibbs argues that, “The spiral curriculum is a profound and powerful idea that has been so embedded in how we think about curriculum and pedagogy that it’s largely second nature.” Traditionally, he suggests, the spiral curriculum is thought of increasing the mastery of topics or subject areas. We would be better, he believes, to think of the curriculum in terms of the development over individual lessons and over the curriculum in terms of generic competencies such as communication skills, critical thinking, etc.

Donald Clark has been a regular contributor to AMEE Conferences and to Medical Teacher and in his blog, Big Dog, Little Dog, he gives an A to Z of Learning. This is referred to by Stephen Downes, who admires the idea of “A to Z of Learning”, but thinks that Donald missed the mark on a few letters, “Like rLearning, which he says must be ‘Redundant Learning’, really (it seems to me) would be better suited for ‘Rote Learning’. vLearning h calls ‘Various Learning’ but it should obviously be ‘Virtual Learning’. xLearning he called ‘Xenodochial Learning’ but really should be ‘eXtended Learning’ as in TEDx, EdX, and xMOOCs. ‘yLearning’ should be ‘You Learning’, ‘uLearning’ should be ‘Ubiquitous Learning’.”

I leave next week for a short visit to the University of South Carolina where an interesting programme has been arranged for my visit.