Sketchnoting for Academics

I had 20 seconds to draw each of these

A team at my school and some visitors from other schools had a great time this week with Sylvia Duckworth, who is the world guru on sketchnoting. Drawing simple cartoon icons and talking about colour coding might seem a bit frivolous to those of us in high school and university who supposedly have more important things to do but I beg to differ.

What’s the issue?

As a teacher, one of my favourite Harry Potter scenes is when Harry is a berated by Professor Snape for not paying attention, when actually we know he is taking detailed notes of everything being said. I believe this is probably a common occurrence in high schools where rather strangely, it is rare for teachers to ask students to take notes while they talk. Although we now have the Internet, YouTube, Wikipedia etc, many high school teachers and university lecturers still maintain habits as if this was not the case. Most students in education still have to listen to literally hours of talking every week where the expectation is they can remember all the details and later relate them to resources. It is time for even the most conservative academic to move beyond the idea of passive listening and sketch noting has been proven in research to increase memory retention, engagement, sense-making, and most importantly make the experience of listening and active one.

What is sketchnoting?

To save me a lot of time here is a great video from Verbal to Visual by Doug Neill that perfectly introduces why adding visuals to notes benefit students in obtaining information but also in the actual experience of taking notes.

It takes a little practice, but when a student has done it for a week, they will greatly rely on and benefit from visual note taking. – Richard Wells

Why encourage students of all ages to sketchnote?

There are many documented reasons for visual notetaking and hear my favourites with a few of my personal understandings thrown in for fun.

A 3D banner in 5 seconds
  1. It makes the whole process personal. The experience of listening and the final outcome on the page are both more personal and this is clearly better for remembering and making connections within the information.
  2. We thrive on experiences that are multisensory. We remember visuals and they better make connections take place in our brain. We require words but they benefit from adding cues that our other senses thrive on.
  3. It increases focus. Making decisions about how to depict an idea or concept keeps students on task. The combination of writing and drawing also has a calming affect on the audience. It has an emphasis on the organisation of information much more than stream of written notes taken down simply in the order they were delivered.
  4. It creates a “Big Picture” of any topic, and overall summary that is often not clear in traditional linear written notes.
  5. It’s fun. If any teacher is concerned about some of their students not engaging or listening, or (shock horror) not being interested, then training them to improve the visuals that best represent the subject, can be a gateway to more engagement.

Sketchnoting: It’s as serious as it is fun.

To some, the result of sketchnoting may look less serious and academic than the traditional 500 words on a page but their is clear research on the very serious academic benefits. I wonder and worry that, like professor Snape, it might be the very teachers who are conservative enough to still be lecturing and need sketchnoting the most who ignore this key academic skill and continue to cater for an ever-shrinking audience.

A big thanks to my friend Linda Rubens, who organised the training with Sylvia.

Extra: Here’s a science teacher who summarised why she sketch-notes in science.