Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Teaching and learning

i sit on this teaching committee peopled by smart, well-meaning people, but the meetings are powerfully dull. soon as i walk into the room i feel a toxic sleepiness descend, and it doesn't go away for the next 90 minutes.

the highlight of the meetings, if meetings like this can be said to have "highlights," is talking about teaching practices across campus. it's always interesting (in principle) to talk with people who work in really different disciplines: what is kinesiology, i wonder, and what exactly do you teach in the faculty of phys ed, and what do nurses do when they're not giving practice shots to an orange?

today's topic was problem-based learning, currently the hot approach in health education. the presentation (yeah: put a group of dynamic teachers in a room and they give presentations to each other...) plodded on, reviewing the literature, listing the pros and cons of PBL, rehearsing common issues and their solutions, etc. i got up to get myself another cup of tea.

we had arrived at the handout, a sample PBL case, which goes something like this:

jennifer, a 16-year old girl, and her mother have come to your office because they are concerned that jennifer hasn't started menstruating yet. once a month her breasts get tender and she becomes 'moody,' according to her mother, but she has not experienced menses. when the mother leaves the room, jennifer confesses that there's a boy in her class that she likes, and she's wondering about birth control. looking uncomfortable, she adds that she's tried to use a tampon, but can't.


i consider another cup of tea. the presenter says, "... by wednesday, the learning groups are required to complete their research on the subject, so that on thursday ..."

i turn the page of the handout, and sweet jesus, i'm looking at a photograph of somebody's vulva. i peered a little closer, since i couldn't believe my eyes: this girl had no vagina. dude! i wanted to say, there's your problem. no wonder you were having trouble with the tampax.

nobody else appeared even slightly fazed by the illustration. the presenter was explaining how to address dysfunction in a small group. i stole another glance at the handout. there were sample ultrasound and MRI reports. the ultrasound was -- am i reading this right? -- unable to locate a left kidney and -- my eyes bugged right out -- the MRI concluded, definitively, "the left kidney is absent."

absent? the left kidney is absent? is anybody else catching this? i wanted to wave my arms, stomp my feet, whistle. hello, this girl has NO vagina, NO uterus, and she's down one kidney! did she step right out of an episode of house? i wanted to elbow the prof sitting next to me and ask, sideways, "and didja catch the picture, too? intense!" i was imagining the diagnostic conversation with this girl, imagining her mother, wondering whether they'd recommend surgery, what would surgery be like, what if she didn't want it, how can you have ovaries without a uterus, would i miss having a vagina, could she conceive babies and just not carry them to term, what if her good kidney failed, is everybody else in her family like this?

but it was 5:00, "so if nobody has any questions, i guess we'll see you in april."