Rhizomatic Learning – Joice wakes up –

Mount Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimajaro Picture by Kipala [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

I wrote this short story as an introduction to a discussion on possible new ways of teaching and learning in our medical school.


Waking up in a new medical curriculum

Ron Leunissen
January 2014


Joyce hits her alarm clock and opens her eyes slowly.
The snowy top of mount Kilimanjaro looks down on her.

Hujambo, Joyce thinks.
She looks around in her room.

She got the opportunity to move into this student house through John, one of her proctors.
John, a medical student as she is, had been giving feedback to her on one of her tests. After that, the conversation moved on to the topic of students housing. Thus she had got to know that there was a room coming available in the student house where John lived in.
At first Joyce had to get used to the idea that peer students would be helping younger students with feedback on their tests. But now she is quite happy with it. She has learned a lot already during those proctor sessions.

Joyce looks again at her poster of mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain of Africa.
She thinks about the grade her term work might get.
Last week she submitted the final version of her term work by giving permission to the members of the grading committee to access her work in her digital portfolio.

I hope I’ll get a good mark, Joyce ponders.
Her peer students in the learning community gave her very valuable feedback during the process of creating the term work. After taking into account all the feedback she got, Joyce is quite pleased with the result.

This time her term work is a digital artifact. She made a collage of photos she had made during the past months. Photos of situations which struck her as a medical student, as a doctor to become. She selected images of those situations which taught her most. She alluded the meaning of each picture in text next to the image.

The idea of making pieces of art as term works was new to her as she first came to this medical school. She was accustomed to multiple choice tests, written essays, powerpoint presentations. But this, creating your own piece of art, was something quite different.
Anything is allowed. Clay, painting, photography, video, sound. The only demands are that the artifact depicts what struck you most in the past internships and that you allud what position you personally took in that situation.

Some time ago her friend Peter submitted as his term work a sculpture made of clay. It is a beautiful statue. He got a good mark for it. The statue now stands in the central hall of the retirement house in the village where Peter lived as a child. It even has a cupper sign with Peter’s name engraved.

Hujambo, habari gani? Hello, how are you?
Joyce looks again at her poster. Her minor is Societal Medicine. She is especially interested in medicine in development countries.  The other week she and her classmates had a video conference with a couple of doctors in the hospital of Moshi. Moshi is a small Tanzanian city near mountain Kilimajaro. During that interview she had made up her mind to become a doctor in tropical medicine.

Let’s have a look at my competencies diagram. Joyce reaches for her smart phone on her nightstand. With just a couple of swipes she has got her competencies  diagram in view. This diagram shows her how far she already is on each of the competencies she has to attain.
Yep, competency 6 is still not high enough. To get a clearance for an internship in Tanzania this competency should be on level 3 at least. A good mark on her term work could make the difference, it could be her ‘ticket to the tropics’.

Hakuna wasi, wasi. No worries!  No that is not how she is as a person. She is quite nervous now waiting for the mark on her artifact. Mostly it only takes the committee a couple of days. But that doesn’t include weekends.

In her competency diagram Joyce notices that also competency 3 is not on the right level yet. I will call Laura later, she thinks, to make a appointment to practice these motor skills together. They will book an examination room in the clinical trainings centre through the university online booking site.
There will probably be a lot of medical activities she will not be allowed to do in the Moshi hospital. But she wants to make sure that she has mastered all the basic skills of the things she will be able to do before she goes to Tanzania.
If only she will be allowed to go, Joyce thinks.

Samahani, mimi si kuzungumza swahili. Sorry, I don’t speak swahili.
Joyce has been participating in an online course on swahili for a couple of months now. As soon as she gets her permission for an internship in Moshi, she will start taking lessons in the university language school. There she will be in a class with other students and practice her speaking skills even better.

Joyce looks at the time on her clock. Almost time to get up and go to work, she thinks. Only a short morning shift in the nearby supermarket. After that she has an appointment with her study coach. Together with 4 other students, she has at least 1 coaching session per 3 months. Next to that 1 individual session.
Her coach already gave her many valuable tips to shape her own medical education according to the direction she wants to take it. The other students in the coaching group have become real friends in the last year. They are an important part of her personal learning network.
I will miss my friends, when I’m in Tanzania, Joyce thinks. But there is internet in Moshi too, so we can still keep in contact as friends and as a learning community. Even when we are all doing internships in different continents.

Joyce’s smart phone vibrates.
A text message from the faculty bureau. Mark on term work: Very Good
“Yes !”, cheers Joyce.
Tanzania, hapa mimi kuja. Tanzania, here I come!”



creative commons: CC-BY-NC-SA

5 thoughts on “Rhizomatic Learning – Joice wakes up –”

  1. Imagining our way to a new beginning is like building a set of parallel train tracks. The imagined scenario above is the new set of tracks. You still have the tracks that carry the load, but you are getting ready to switch over to new and better system: competency-based, transparent rubric, personal learning network. The only parts that are left out are all those unknown unknowns, what Nicolas Taleb called ‘black swans’.

    Very worth doing and reading. A future case study/ thought experiment.

  2. so did the simple story actually get used as a discussion opener in the curriculum review Ron? How did that go? It’s such a nice way to imagine an alternative and inspire, I wonder how it worked out…

  3. It did end up in an official document as an attachment and people did read it.

    The art stuff is still too far off from the usual. I don’t see that happening.

    The personal learning networks will develop.
    We’re trying to have more peer feedback and peer evaluation in the program. Also more projects were student will work together.

    The portfolio will come. It’ll be in a digital form. We’ll be using a Dutch firm’s app called Scorion.

    The numerification of the competencies to have them displayed in a spider web diagram, turns out to be too difficult. We’ll leave that out.
    Reflection on personal experiences in the portfolio will be obligatory for the students.

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