Summary: In his latest blog Professor Harden discusses the question of what makes an excellent teacher, the problems with Facebook and the matter of students and research. Description: What makes an Excellent Teacher?
I have been asked on a number of occasions to talk on the theme of “What makes an excellent teacher?” In his blog of 24th April, George Couros describes from the perspective of secondary school education what he believes makes a master teacher. Is what we expect of an excellent medical teacher different?  He suggests that the master teacher has the following ten qualities:
  • Connects with students and gets to know them individually.
  • Helps students to meet their own individual needs. Controversially, he believes that students do have different learning styles.
  • Makes the curriculum and what is taught relevant.
  • Works with students to develop their love of learning, helping students to find their own spark in learning.
  • Keeps themselves as a teacher up-to-date. Education and learning will always change.
  • Focuses on learning goals as opposed to performance goals. A performance goal, he suggests, is similar to having students wanting to receive an “A” grade in French while a learning goal is a student wanting to become fluent in the language.
  • Ensures that “character education” is an essential part of learning. Students need to grow emotionally as well as mentally.
  • Is passionate about the content they teach.
  • Is concerned not just with what is taught in their class but with their overall impact on the school culture.
  • Communicates well with all the stakeholders and not just the students.
You may not agree with all of these and you may feel that some key features are missing. I thought his distinction between learning goals and performance goals was interesting. I would add a feature of a master teacher as someone who has an understanding of their role as a teacher as, for example, information provider or facilitator of learning. This is implicit in some of the qualities described but I think is important and is the reason why I am working on a book on the theme at present.
Problems with Facebook
Stephen Downes, a keynote speaker at AMEE 2015 in Glasgow and a leader in his field has described in his blog of 20th April the reasons why he left Facebook. Doug Belshaw in his recent blog of 23rd April highlights the problems of Facebook. He highlights a report in Harvard Business review by Holly Shakya and Nicholas Christakis, A New, More Rigorous Study Confirms: The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel. (Shakya, H.B & Christakis, N.A. 2017. A New, More Rigorous Study Confirms: The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel. HBR Online. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing). This has reported that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. I do have a Facebook account but I never seem to be able to find the time. It’s the same with Twitter. Perhaps I should get more involved but I never seem to be able to give it the priority required. Stephen Downes comments about Twitter,
“My Twitter feed is now full of political commentary and all sorts of negative content that wasn’t there before…we need to rethink “social”. It’s not just “conversations”. I want to write well-thought-out pieces and engage in thoughtful and reasoned criticism – not conversation.”
Medical education in China
The increased interest in medical education in China is impressive. Yingzi Huang highlighted in AMEE MedEdWorld the March medical education meeting in Guangzhou. Niv Patil tells me that there are now 45 universities in China offering MBBS in English.
Students and research
Madalena Patricio raised with me the question as to whether medical students should be expected as part of the undergraduate curriculum to undertake research and be assessed on a report of their research. This is an area where there are differences of opinion. Certainly students should have experience with the curriculum to ensure that they are aware and have a measure of understanding of research and to be able to interpret findings of research and apply these, for example, to EBM. When considering the extent to which students should undertake research, I think we do not pay enough attention to the learning outcomes we are aiming to achieve. We should consider how in the curriculum we encourage students to be innovative, creative, curious and to be critical thinkers. Requiring students to undertake a specified research project is probably not the best way of achieving these learning outcomes. I was impressed by a report recently from a secondary school where the children who were encouraged to be innovative and had created among other things a drone which actually flew. Our education programme too often encourages our medical students to be unimaginative and conformists. I remember when, in an OSCE in experimental medicine in Galway, Ireland, students were given a figure of eight model rail track with an electric railway engine and a series of timing and measuring devices and were asked to estimate the average speed of the train. Some did very poorly. Schoolchildren given the same task did much better than the medical students. With regard to research we do need, however, to encourage the next generation of teachers to be engaged in action research in relation to their own teaching but that is a very different matter from the research projects students often address in a curriculum.