It’s good not to be the course director

I teach in a large team-taught medical school class. I adore the course director, because, he is, and I don’t have to do it. Besides he has a very dry European sense of humor. He has decided that we don’t need so many meetings for stuff that could be done through email. I could not resist. My comments in green italic


Instructors involved involved sounds vaguely fuzzy, reminds me of the joke about why are relationships like bacon &eggs? The chicken is involved and the pig is committed with <our big course, OBC>. Instead of having a meeting, it appears more efficient for me to communicate a few issues related to OBC to you via email, especially since these are basically follow-ups to what we discussed in our spring meeting.  Of course I can be snarky in print, too.  That way you can check your electronic gadgets anytime you want while I am boring you, and nobody will even notice.  You noticed? So… I’m trying to help the boring factor here.

Please do read the entire email below I always do, on the off chance someone is offering grant money, even if it does not pertain to a part of the course that you are teaching How can any part not pertain?.  Students think of OBC, correctly, as one course, so you should have an understanding as to what is going on in all parts of the course, and be able to provide context to any administrators and colleagues that have questions about it We will endeavor to do so, knowing that we will never reach your standard of excellence.

  1. Syllabus and course schedule for Module 1 is uploaded on AIMS.  If you need the tentative schedules for Module 2 and 3, ask me. We will, don’t worry, once we lift the burden of Mod 1 off of our shoulders.
  2. There are several new instructors in the class.  My apologies to these for not having a formal meeting of all of us. I am sure their hearts are breaking too, having the extra time.  If there are any questions you have about the class, please ask me. We will, don’t worry. Being new is not so bad.
  3. Please send all lecture notes for lectures that you give in Module 1 to Diane, asap.  The deadline for sending these has long passed, all Module 1 material needs to be up before the course starts, so that is a lot of work that Diane needs to do last minute now.  If you don’t, Diane will cut off your coffee privileges.
  4. Please send me three exam questions for each lecture hour that you give by September 6.  All your questions need to be in the NBME format.  In my first lecture, I will explain to the students what this format is, using this text:

Questions on NBME subject exams, as well as our modular exams, often follow a distinct pattern.  For example:

A 22-year old female visits her primary care physician after testing positive on an over-the-counter pregnancy test.  She just missed her second consecutive period, and is worried about a night of heavy drinking on her birthday, three and a half weeks ago.  At what stage of embryonic development did the alcohol consumption occur.

  1. Cleavage
  2. Implantation
  3. Bilaminar germ disc
  4. Epi- and hypoblast formation
  5. Gastrulation

I will point to the students that there is, in this style question, 1. usually a clinical stem, which 2. often is not pertinent to knowing the answer, and 3. that the answer requires putting together information from different parts of a lecture or several lectures.  Critical information for a student in this case is the difference between LNMP and embryonic ages, and then knowing the timing of developmental events in the early embryo.  The answer is E.  Thank goodness you told us, I was worried that it might be A and I would have to raise a sexual harassment complaint.

It takes a lot of time to write questions like this, please take it seriously and if we can’t swing serious, we’ll settle for solemn. I need your questions by the end of next week (September 6) when I will start working on the exam.

  1. There are a number of major changes in OBC:
    1. OBC will have more participation from clinicians.  Last year, we had a radiologist lecturing (Dr. Xray) and orthopedic surgeons/physical therapists in the gross lab.  This year, we will have those people back, plus three  additional surgeons. I will introduce these sessions to the students and faculty close to the day that they will happen.  We will evaluate these sessions this year, keep the ones that work, cancel the ones that do not. Because clinicians are more entertaining, even if their content asymptotically approaches zero.
    2. Content of <one subdiscipline covered in OBC> lectures is changing.  Whereas before, these focused on descriptive issues we are turning more to functional issues, as this is knowledge that is now required of first year students.   As a result, these lectures will not be a lead-in to the labs, and students will have more new material in those labs.  The lab hand-outs are being expanded to make this possible.  Next year, we will switch to a new textbook.  Jane is the first one to make serious changes to her lectures, Go Jane. and Mary will organize her lectures along these principles.  Other lecturers will follow gradually, sorry, I don’t believe in gradualism. It was one of the conditions of getting my Ph.D.
    3. Bob is modifying his set of lectures to provide less factual information and more functional/clinical context.  Go Bob. This will require the students to come to class having studied the factual information already, and fits with modern teaching philosophies (that I do, parenthetically, not fully subscribe to). I don’t either, and I say to hell with parentheses.  If this experiment works, we will expand it in future years.

Thanks You are most welcome.


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