Bringing Back Academic Innovation

Luke Mortensen, PhD

by Luke H. Mortensen, PhD
AACOM Vice President and Chair for Medical Education

This year’s Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE) meeting was rife with cutting edge discussions and presentations that introduced new initiatives in medical education and expanded upon and emphasized those topics whose threads run consistently throughout the spectrum of a medical curriculum. 

One way that AMEE promotes excellence in medical education internationally is by influencing the continuing development of health care professions education through collaboration with relevant national, regional, and international bodies. In addition to medical education research updates, an array of innovative and relevant program topics—experiential learning, evidence based education, career choices in medicine, international medicine, self-regulated learning, diversity, etc.—were approached with excitement and curiosity.

Educational Paradigms

In a rousing presentation and discussion entitled: “Creating Safe Spaces for Academic Innovation: Learning {Re}imagined,” Graham Brown-Martin from Education Design Labs, UK, discussed his findings and thoughts on global education, practice, and theory gained from his travels in attempt to understand some of the diverse thinking around the purpose of education and practices that are transformative.

Opening with a provocative quote from Seymour Papert, a pioneer in artificial intelligence and an educator, who stated: “Do away with curriculum. Do away with segregation by age. And do away with the idea that there should be uniformity of all schools and of what people learn," 1​ Brown-Martin segued into an interesting inquiry as to how the current state of education in the world, fairly ubiquitously, chooses to transmit knowledge, and therefore learning. He probed the audience to consider how institutions of education are designed and what their purposes are as a ‘values’ portion of our social construct(s). 

GERM Theory

Much influence from the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) is present in our current universal curricular/academic model. In this regard, some background and summary on the movement was inferred where in its position on the global education stage it poses a palpable effect on high quality education.2 

Brown-Martin summarized GERM as having a basis in our current educational model that embodies: competition, standardization, test-based accountability, choice, and human capital. 


His own consideration for this paradigm was something he called “uberfication” which characterizes the current state of education within the poorly innovative confines of standardization, narrow curricula, data-driven (limited) content, content transmission, and limiting, time-based training schemes. In a manner of cultural influence, this followed with a comment from Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich, “School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need society as it is.”

How would we imagine the future of education? Is it replete with subject knowledge or competence? Is it a means for a passport to more—and better—education or higher productivity? Is the future graduate an addition to some form of human capital—simply by passing a set of examinations?

Brown-Martin suggests we examine the future in a realistic and somewhat predictive manner to place these questions into a better context—the ‘advancements’ and ‘cultural changes’ suggested based on what is observed historically and within our current knowledge about population, climate change, drug resistance, ideology, inequality, ageing, and diversity. 

Looking to the Future

In consideration of these challenges, among many others which we cannot predict, our current education system and its purpose must evolve into mechanisms and practices by which we equip the future generations with skills to reimagine society, to meet the challenges of their generation and the next.

But are we sufficiently, efficiently, and conscientiously preparing and supporting our educators to meet that challenge? The BBC News recently reported that “More than 50 percent of teachers in England plan to quit in the next two years” as morale crashes.

What are our expectations of the current and future educational workforce?
In 1990, Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire said, “The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.”

In today’s primary education arena, 2.7 million educators are needed. In 2020 and 2030, it is predicted that 10.9 million and 25.8 million educators, respectively, will be required to meet the demand. 

Bringing Back Academic Innovation

With those of us in current educational leadership roles, the future will not look like our present. Progress will require those more adept and innovative to manipulate the technological, populational, transformational, and informative elements to their avail and incorporate them into the then-current values system. I suspect we would see very little of our current education model in subsequent generations—and in that regard, our values will not be ‘their’ values.

I encourage you as AACOM members—administrators, faculty, learners, educators—to participate in professional development and embrace lifelong learning as you do teaching, to be informed and understand the need for change and innovation when it comes to education models.

The annual AMEE conference is always an excellent experience to garner new ideas and practices in health science education being developed and implemented in medical schools around the world. AMEE 2017 takes place in Helsinki, Finland, August 26-30 with the 4th International Conference on Faculty Development in the Health Professions as a pre-conference activity of AMEE 2017, from August 25 to 27. 

1 SUNDAY INTERVIEW -- Seymour Papert / Computers In the Lives of Our Children / An MIT mathematician and philosopher is exploring how technology can educate the next generation -- and their parents
Global Educational Reform Movement is here! 
Global Education ‘Reform’ Movement (GERM)