Summary: In his latest blog Professor Harden looks back at the AMEE 2020 Virtual Conference and discusses some of the ideas presented during it. Description: Meeting in a virtual world
At the AMEE 2020 Virtual Conference in September more than 3600 participants with their digital avatars moved between the auditorium, meeting rooms, the library, the foyer, and exhibition areas, or even sat in the virtual sun outside on the grass. Olle ten Cate at a meeting of the International Collaborators in Competency-Based Medical Education commented on the ability to move quickly between different sessions and to have conversations with other people (via avatars). Here is a photograph from a discussion session on competency-based medical education.



I was surprised to find how natural the conversations with a person’s avatar felt, and found myself almost suggesting on occasion that we might have coffee later or dinner in the evening! I overheard one participant say to another “It was great talking with you. I hope it will be possible, however, for us to meet in person at AMEE 2021 in Glasgow next year.” Not everyone, however, mastered the use of the technology and some found it difficult to achieve the full benefits of the virtual platform.

More than 700 participants have completed the conference evaluation form to date – a higher response rate than we normally have. Despite some technical problems, perhaps not surprising with the adoption of a cutting-edge technology, the participants with a few exceptions rated the conference a great success. Trudie Roberts described the two faces of the conference. The use of the virtual environment which provided the opportunity for many to experience for the first time a virtual environment and the use of a digital avatar. This was very different from the frequent, at times tedious Zoom meetings to which we are now all committed. The other face of the meeting was the opportunity to share thoughts and expertise in medical education. With hours of rich content in the Invited addresses, Best Practice sessions, Masterclasses, Short Communications, Posters, and Exhibitions, overall at the meeting there was 948 hours of content recorded. This can be reviewed by conference participants at a later date – nine hours viewing per week until AMEE 2021! It had even been suggested that the short communications presentations available on demand were of an even higher quality than that often found at an AMEE Conference.

In the opening session I suggested more than 30 questions to be addressed during the meeting. Here are some examples – What is a mini medical school?, How to avoid feedback fatigue, How to make online learning work, How to get the best out of the flipped classroom, How curriculum mapping can support the teacher and the student, What is our responsibility in the curriculum with regard to topics such as sustainability and lifestyle medicine?. The Surgery Track, introduced for the third time at an AMEE meeting again proved popular.
Despite the success of the virtual format participants did miss the excitement generated at an AMEE Conference with more than 1000 conference participants present for a plenary session. AMEE 2021 is currently being planned as a hybrid meeting, 27th-31st August with face-to-face (COVID-permitting) and online elements. Glasgow proved an attractive venue for a previous AMEE Conference and many are hoping to be able to return next year.

Metric fixation
An outstanding plenary presentation appreciated by conference participants was by Jerry Muller on the perils of metric fixation. He is author of the much acclaimed The Tyranny of Metrics. Metric fixation is an approach to improving human performance that has become part of the culture of management. It brings with it, however, a number of problems with serious consequences which may be overlooked. Problems he described included essential aspects which are not measured are ignored; demotivation may result; gaming and manipulating the measures to meet metric targets is encouraged; short termism is promoted; and finally measuring takes time and diverts energy and resources from doing. A brief article on metric fixation by Jerry Muller will be published shortly in Medical Teacher.

Where is your school on the Assessment PROFILE?
At the EBMA virtual conference in August I talked about the Assessment PROFILE, and the impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic on the seven continua. I also looked at the contributions that can be made by the OSCE to each dimension. We described the Assessment PROFILE dimensions in Essential Skills for a Medical Teacher in the section Checking that the student has learned and in The Eight Roles of the Medical Teacher. The move I described to authentic assessment and assessment in the real world attracted participants’ attention and reference was made on social media later to the Assessment PROFILE and my cartoon of the emphasis on theory at the expense of practice.