Highlights and food for thought from #AMEE2016

Following the example set by Andrew Coggins who shared his pearls from AMEE 2016 here are some of my AMEE highlights and the things that have left me with food for thought.

AMEE in Barcelona was busy for me as I was involved in running several workshops and I didn’t get chance to get along to all the sessions I would have liked to.  A common issue that springs up at AMEE most years is that there are often several sessions running at the same time that you’d like to get along to, this was the case again and I was sorry not to get along to the short communications on self-regulation and self-efficacy and also on learning theory. That said there were sessions that I did get along to and the Twitter stream let you keep an eye on what else was being presented and discussed around the conference.

The opening plenary this year was delivered by Graham Brown-Martin, founder of Learning Without Frontiers who’s travelled extensively looking at schools and education and published Learning Reimagined.  Whilst the focus of Graham’s talk was education in the school sector I felt many of the points he talked about had relevance to the higher education context where medical schools sit.  We heard from Seth Godin during the talk who highlighted that schools are producing students who can do well in the test rather than students who can problem solve and innovate as well as lead.  What struck me was the impact our school system has on shaping the future students entering medical school and in turn future doctors.  Typically medical students are fixated on what’s going to be in the exam and our medical curriucla don’t generally focus on developing creativity and innovation in students. Yet there are growing challenges which our graduates will have to grapple with and problems that need to be addressed eg. around caring for ageing populations, antibiotic resistance and how to improve the design of our health services.  Graham highlighted how schools need to equip children with the knowledge and skills to reimagine society, to meet the challenges of their generation.  Surely this is true for medical education too?

The tendency for technology to be used to perpetuate old approaches to learning based on information transmission was raised and the fact that teaching should not be seen as a delivery system like FedEx was well made.   It was refreshing to hear reference to Paulo Friere and critical pedagogy, an approach one doesn’t hear much about in medical education.  The notion of the teacher as an artist crafting learning situations for students was also mentioned, which resonated with John Sandars’ comments in our pre-conference workshop on developing blended learning approaches earlier in the day.

Graham also made reference to Seymour Papert and constructionisim – learning as a reconstruction rather than transmission.  This is an approach I’ve adopted in an SSC we run – The Doctor as Digital Teacher – where creativity is very much the focus as students create a digital learning resource.  My take home from Graham’s plenary was that we need to be doing more to foster and nurture the creativity of our students in medicine.  Locally we’ve been developing links with our design school and I wonder if we will start to see more medical schools doing similar.  I’ve been particularly struck by the approach that the new Dell Medical School in Texas which is” including a leadership-focused year of self-directed study, a team-based curriculum, and a first-of-its-kind Design Institute for Health, a joint collaboration between the Dell Medical School and the College of Fine Arts, developed to apply design thinking to health care challenges and innovation”. Perhaps this is a theme we might see more of in future AMEE meetings.  You can catch up with more from the plenary on the Storify of the tweets that Graham Brown-Martin has published.

My next AMEE highlight was the Barcamp which ran on Monday afternoon.  The Barcamp was a new concept for AMEE and it ran across two workshop slots with a focus on technology and informal learning and it proved a rich learning experience on a number of different levels.

The key feature of a Barcamp is the participation of all participants and everyone was invited to suggest topics, questions, or outline problems that they wanted to explore and discuss.  The atmosphere was relaxed and informal and there was no shortage of suggestions for us to consider.

The topics were narrowed down as everyone casted their allocated three votes and very quickly about 14 issues were selected and scheduled in to a series of 4 discussion sessions.  With a wide range of participants from different continents and working in different medical education contexts we explored topics such as design-based research, the use of social media in learning, recording infromal learning and analytics, addressing the challenges of rigid IT cultures in delivering medical education.  The conversation was rich and thought provoking and I think we all learned from each other’s experiences and collective wisdom.  I left the session reminded of Alvin Tofler’s quote that, ‘the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”. I felt that the Barcamp helped me in that process of unlearning and relearning some approaches to tackle issues around culture in my organisation.

Learn Unlearn Relearn

Everyone had a take home message from the BarCamp and I think the one from Laura Bowater is one that many of us would echo, the session gave us time to think, something we have precious little time for in our day to day work.

The Barcamp session was run by the Learning Layers project team who as part of an EU funded project have been looking at supporting informal learning in the workplace.  The team have also been  developing a toolkit and new app the Learning Toolbox which allows you to create learning stacks and share them with your students/trainees.  I think the toolbox has great potential and I’m hoping to explore how we might be able to try it out in a number of contexts back in Dundee and not just in medical education. I’m also seeing lots of potential to reuse the Barcamp format in teaching, curriculum development sessions and also as a precursor to a health and social care design hack that we’re planning to run.

The last thing to mention about the BarCamp were the Joy cards which were shared to acknowledge infromal learning.

A number of us received these cards and I’m looking forward to passing on mine to on.  The idea behind the Joy cards is that you can record receiving one online with details of who gave it to you and why and where and then over time you can follow the journey of the card.  This is such a simple but effective idea and again it’s something which could be adopted more widely in medical education.  It was encouraging to receive one and in many ways it reminded me of the wonderful #FOAMed cards that a good number of us have received anonymously through the post.

Talking of #FOAMed as Andrew Coggins has mentioned in his post there was little mention of it in any of the sessions and it didn’t feature as much as it has in previous years in the Twitter stream.  For those unfamiliar with FOAMed it stands for free open access meducation and was coined as a concept at ICEM in Dublin in 2012.  FOAMed has been adopted as a hashtag in social media spaces across different medical specialties with particularly strong representation in emergency medicine and critical care as well as radiology and paediatrics.  Social media channels have effectively supported the development of a community of practice and learning collectives around FOAMed and medical education more generally.  This illustration from Tanmay Vora on conversation and sharing as the currency of social community nicely sums of the essence of how I see the FOAMed community works.

I mention all of this beacuse FOAMed is very much a conversation and I think one of the areas that AMEE hasn’t quite cracked is how to keep the momentum on discussions beyond the physical conference and extend the community into the virtual space.  Maintaining those conversations would be particularly helpful to the ‘Point of View’ sessions, which were a welcome addition to this year’s AMEE, and a big shout out to Laura Bowater who outlined the need to reframe the antibiotic resistance crisis and address it in our curricula.  In the same session was a point of view from Anita Ho from Singapore touching on digital professionalism and the need for positve role models against a backdrop of medics being strangers in a strange land when it comes to online spaces.  This for me acentuated the ongoing apparent lack of awareness of FOAMed in the wider medical education community and the countless positive role models there are in the digital landscape invovled in FOAMed and beyond.  It would be good to see AMEE conisder giving plenary stage time to one of the well established names in the FOAMed MedEd community.

Moving onto interprofessional learning (IPL) there were some super short communications in session #8O.  The importance of authenticity in IPL was highlighted by Tineke Westerveld and the presentation by Brazilian medical student Daniel de Oliveira outlining how medical and other health care students work as part of the clinical team in a heart failure clinic proved a great example of authentic learning.  Daniel framed the students’ learning in the context of a community of practice and situated learning and urged the audience to include students as part of clinical teams so that they are emmersed in authentic learning.  His plea resonated with what I hear many of our students say about IPL, they are always quick to highlight that they will be working in teams with other healthcare professionals yet their expereince of IPL so often seems contrived and unauthentic.

Lessons for interprofessional learning

A last highlight to share was Seán MacPherson, the singing haematologist from Otago Medical School, teaching haematology through catchy songs.  The example below is a song about anaemia.

Whilst Seán didn’t have hard evidence of the effectiveness of learning medicine through catchy songs the anecdotal indications were that students found them useful way to remember key information and on the VT they mentioned sitting in exams and singing through his songs to recall information.  Seán drew parallels with those annoying jingles from adverts that we can’t get out of our heads and we know all the words to.  To prove the case he started a rendition of the Shake n Vac and I have to confess I was one of the many that could join in word for word!!

So that wraps up another AMEE.  As always it was great to network and meet up with old friends and colleagues as well as to meet and make new friends.  I’m looking forward to following up on some of the conversations and to hopefully catching up with others again next year.


  1. Hi Natalie – brilliant reading , just wish I had been there! I really like the Barcamp idea – a kind of “Service Design” take on distilling and sharing ideas. Can we catch up to hear more?

    1. Thanks Rod. The BarCamp was very much like that. The guys who’ve been using it at Graz use it as a lead into hack events. Would be good to catch up. I’ll be up at Ninewells several afternoons over the next few weeks, let me know if a late afternoon meet up would work for you.

  2. Thanks Natalie. This was very useful and we will highlight in this week’s AMEE newsletter.
    A frustration of AMEE conferences is that I am unable to participate in all the sessions I would like to. The plenary and some symposia are available online. I have sent the link to conference participants.
    Ronald M Harden

    1. Thank you Ronald. Great to hear that some of the symposia have been recorded and are available online. There are several that I’m keen to watch so apprecaite AMEE making these available. Natalie

  3. Very good to be able to get this great summary 🙂 Barcamps (unconferences) seemed to disappear for a while and are now maybe having a moment again. Good to hear they have reached the world of #meded as I think they are a great way of developing community… the offline equivalent of writing a blog post perhaps??

    1. Thanks Anne-Marie. I think you’re right, the Barcamp can be thought of as an offline equivalent of a blog. It’s an approach which perhaps has untapped potential in helping build communities in organisations.

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