• curriculum;
  • drawings;
  • evaluation;
  • qualitative research;
  • problem-based learning

Objective  In January 2001, the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine in Durban, South Africa implemented Year 1 of a problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum. In attempting to comprehensively evaluate the first year, every aspect was investigated. Problem-based learning requires that, in addition to skills competency and knowledge acquisition, students undergo personal development on their journey towards becoming reflective professionals. Suitable methods of evaluation are therefore necessary to measure some of the new objectives. This discussion appraises the possible use of student drawings as a qualitative evaluation tool.

Methods  At the end of the first academic year, students were asked to reflect on their experiences during the year by drawing (with brief explanations) how they saw themselves at the beginning (retrospective) and then at the end of the year. Drawings were interpreted in terms of reference to the new programme, and were categorised as disparaging, ambivalent or affirming.

Results  The results far exceeded expectations, providing a rich data source regarding student perceptions of their experiences in their first year. In response to the drawings, immediate remedial action was taken: for example, continuous assessment was introduced for the objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) and orientation was extended to 3 weeks to provide students with a better understanding of the PBL process.

Conclusions  From this pilot study, there can be no doubt that student drawings can give us valuable insight into the world of the learner, providing us with information that cannot be gleaned from any other evaluation. We will continue to use drawings formatively, perhaps extending their use into portfolios.