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Notetaking for Visual Learners (and Everyone Else)

posted: 3.25.09 by Traci Gardner


SXSWi 2009: Sketchnotes
Originally uploaded by Mike Rohde

Someone else’s notebook usually leaves me B-O-R-E-D, but the ReadWriteWeb post on Mike Rohde‘s notes from South by Southwest Interactive has me glued to the screen.

I want to read every image (and fortunately you can see them one-by-one on Flickr). I’ve considered printing them all out so I can add my own annotations. If I were a better Delicious tagger, I’d add them all and mark them up so I could find them later.

Why am I so entertained by scans of a plain, old-fashioned notebook? Some of the notes make me giggle. Take, for instance, “Kindle is like a cassette for an ATARI 400” (on Flickr). “Exactly,” I want to shout through my snickering.

Other notes impress me with how well they capture what appear to be the key events and comments at different SxSW presentations. Consider “CONNECTIVITY will be an indicator of poverty rather than an indicator of wealth” (on Flickr). Yup. We technorhetoricians have been saying that for over a decade. And how about “The minute you open up Microsoft Word you are constrained” (on Flickr). No argument there.

More than anything though, it’s that the notebook is so real and honest. No question that Rohde (the author) was there, that I’m jealous of his skill, and that I wish we could send him out to document CCCC, WPA Conference, and the Computers and Writing Conference. If I can’t be at a conference, I want a notebook like his to show me what I missed.

How would you use these great notes in the classroom? It doesn’t matter if the topic of the pages isn’t relevant to what the class is studying. Use the notebook to talk about techniques. The pages are a treasure chest of ideas for visual cues, attention-getter techniques, and readability. Together and in small groups, students can identify techniques that help make the ideas clear and concise.

And that’s not all. Ask students to notice the kinds of things Rohde records. For instance, have them consider when he writes down direct quotations and when he paraphrases or summarizes. Rohde’s notes are a great example for those embarking on research projects.

Finally, you might encourage students to recast notes from a recent class they’ve attended into a format similar to one of the pages in Rohde’s notebook. If students aren’t comfortable with paper and pen, suggest they try playing with layouts and style options in a word processor. Suggest clip art illustrations for those uncomfortable with doodling their own caricatures. Ideally, provide some other options that allow for different learning styles—students might create podcasts, videos, slide shows, or posters, for instance.

No matter what they come up with, it’s bound to be more fun than the customary notetaking we see in the classroom!

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Categories: Document Design, Learning Styles, Professional Conferences, Student Success, Visual Argument, Visual Rhetoric
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One Response to “Notetaking for Visual Learners (and Everyone Else)”

  1. Mike Rohde Says:

    Traci, this is a fascinating post for me to read!

    Interesting to see how you reflect on my notes of the event, which ones catch your attention and then the overview of how I sometimes get direct quotes and other times capture the spirit of the presentation.

    I’m encouraged to read your idea for letting students try this technique out. I like to encourage others to try and capture events using the sketchnote approach — not being worried about drawing skills but instead using their own way of capture to process what’s happening in real time.

    Thanks so much for the mention and your description!

    Mike