Summary: This month Professor Harden receives an Honorary Doctorate in Medicine from the University of Tampere, Finland and discusses the participant evaluations of AMEE 2012 and the progress of e-learning. Description: Sword whetting and processing with a special hat, ceremonial sword and formal dress was all part of the three day ceremonies associated with the conferment of an honorary doctorate in medicine by the University of Tampere, Finland last week.  At the sword whetting ceremony on the second evening, I had to sharpen the sword over a grindstone while champagne was poured over it.  This is a 800 year old ceremony at University of Tampere.  The sword, which comprises a blade, sheath and leather like handle with the golden emblem of the University attached, engraved with my name and the date, symbolically represents the need to defend science.  For obvious reasons it was not possible to bring the sword and hat back with me to Dundee and they are being transported separately.  I look forward to their progress through customs!  Of all the ceremonies in which I have taken part, this was certainly the most impressive and extended.  I was well looked after by Kati Hakkarainen during my stay in Tampere.

Since returning to Dundee I have been studying the participant evaluation of the AMEE 2012 conference.  In general it is very positive.  As always we find there is a range of opinion about many of the events and the programme, but almost every event and speaker had their enthusiasts and supporters.  I was impressed again by the different ways in which the participants engage with the programme in terms of the type of sessions they attend, some preferring posters and more interactive networking, while others preferring symposia and plenary sessions.  As always we will take into account any comments received when planning future meetings and preparations for Prague 2013 are now well advanced.  We already have a very impressive and extensive set of submissions for pre-conference workshops and symposia, and have outstanding plenary speakers.  We will be announcing these with the plenary programme in November.  Prague, I think will be an interesting venue for the meeting.  Those returning to Prague may wish to explore some local attractions they may not have previously visited.  It is suggested that the words “sewage treatment” are unlikely to evoke associations of beauty – but, I am told, when walking through the century-old tunnels of Prague’s retired wastewater treatment facility, it’s easy to see why the place has inspired directors of Hollywood films such as Les Miserables and last year’s Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol.  Constructed of red tile, the arched halls are almost regal in appearance, while the cavernous tunnels appear more like secret passageways than pipes to transmit sludge.  Another unusual underground tour is of the tunnels in which water, gas, and electricity and phone lines run between buildings.  Tours are offered but visitors need to be prepared to crawl into an underground train and climb up narrow street ladders, emerging out of the collectors in Prague’s Old Town at the end of the tour and blinking at passing tourists is a startling experience.  Don’t be put off by these attractions, there are also more conventional attractions.  And of course there is the meeting itself!

I find Alistair Rylatt’s Smarter Better Business newsletter often has interesting features (www.alastairrylatt.com).  In the October 2012 issue he highlights, under the heading Humble Leadership, research derived from 55 leaders that identified three behaviours which assist in developing and nurturing their humility.  The behaviours are:
1.    Acknowledge personal limits, faults and mistakes.
2.    Spotlighting followers’ strengths and contributions.
3.    Modelling teachability by showing openness to new ideas and information.  Humble leaders have a habit of listening before speaking, and are more receptive to feedback.
This is from: ‘Modelling how to grow: An indicative examination of humble leader behaviours, contingencies and outcomes’ by Bradley Owens and David Hekman, (2012), Academy of Management Journal, Volume 55, Number 4, pp. 787-818.

Talking with a senior doctor recently, I was surprised with his antagonism to e-Learning.  He thought that the “whole business of online learning, games and simulation, was a piece of nonsense.”  He said he had tried it himself and got bored after a few minutes and found that the technology interfered with, rather than helped the learning.  He seemed to have no appreciation that his own views and experiences could not be translated to those of students, who were the “digital natives.”  I was surprised by the lack of insight shown by this distinguished doctor and researcher into how today’s students learn.  Despite his views it is interesting to see that figures released by the Publishers Association show a huge increase in sales of e-books.  Overall there has been a 90% increase in digital book sales, while sales of printed books have fallen by 0.4%.  Amazon have reported that they are now selling more e-books than printed titles.  Richard Mollet, the Chief Executive of the Publishers Association said: “It does seem that if you have an e-reader in your hand, you are more likely to buy more books.”

Team-based learning continues to attract attention around the world.  A paper in Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal, August 2012, looked at the perceptions and attitudes of first year medical students and found that students in Oman welcomed the approach as an alternative to lecture-based teaching.  Inuwa reported that the strategy facilitated consistency in the students’ study, generated an increased awareness about self-directed learning, and had a positive impact on their learning attitudes.

I leave this weekend for a four day visit to Saudi Arabia.