The University Classroom in 2013

The modern teaching environment has changed significantly in the last ten years for both the teacher and learner.  The student is faced with a large choice of information sources and they can often access much of their University or College materials online.  Lectures are often available in advance online leaving the student with the challenge of holding their attention for an hour long lecture over other resources (including Facebook and Twitter).  The teacher is faced with advanced adult learners (who always ask ‘what’s in this for me‘), as well as a busy room full of students with open laptops, I-phones, Androids and I-pads.

Lecture room

While holding the students attention may be challenging for the average lecturer in this environment, there are multiple tools including integrated technology to aid in engaging the learner:

I have seen the following used recently:

(1) Medical Emergency Day with Interactive Clickers (MEDIC) –

(2) Online Integrated Simulation

(3) Twitter Polls in Power-point presentations –

(4) Use of Video Format –

(5) Hybrid Presentations – Demonstration of History Taking with an actor or patient

Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAM)

Medical Students, Clinicians and Allied Health Professionals all over the world have been developing excellent web-based learning materials for many years.  I experienced these at my own medical school where, although there was a daily pilgrimage for three or four hour long lectures, there was also widespread use of information technology (  As discussed above, online technologies have supplanted the pen and paper in the classroom and need to be harnessed for improving teaching and learning.

Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAM) is a new name for a concept that has existed for many years (  Like universal healthcare, FOAM seeks to deliver a ‘free at the point of care’ and high quality 24 hours a day access product for the enthusiastic consumer.  Sharing and disseminating good quality resources for learners in any location is at the heart of the FOAM concept.

Some have raised concerns about quality control (lack of peer review) and no structured curriculum.  However, the former is addressed by necessity of quality to gain an audience as well as the instant feedback provided by readers in the online community.  Likewise, while the role of FOAM is not in writing a Specialist College or Medical School curriculum, the coordination of resources is certainly very important.  Various sites have recently attempted to pool resources ( and this will help the online learner find the required resources quickly.   Dangers of FOAM that need to be watched for as the concept develops include unintended consequences (‘a hidden curriculum‘) and that the concept could be misunderstood by the wider medical community.

The internet (world wide web) was invented in the early 1990s by critical European thinking scientists at CERN ( for improving communication and collaboration.   Therefore, it seems logical to take the original intention of the internet forward through FOAM.  While traditional models and mainstays of education such as lectures and the peer reviewed journal will continue to be very important, the next ten years will determine how online technologies are best integrated with traditional models of learning to improve the dissemination of information.


For more on FOAM see the discussions stemming from the recent SMACC ( Conference in Sydney.