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Collaborative Visual Notetaking

posted: 8.4.09 by Traci Gardner

As I remember it, middle school science class consisted almost entirely of sitting down, getting out a notebook, and copying all the notes off the boards. I’m sure that we did other things. We had to. But all I remember is endlessly copying notes off the chalkboards into spiral-bound notebooks.

Once every grading period, the notebooks were collected and graded for completeness and neatness. I’m not sure what I gained from this process, and today I have to wonder what the teacher was doing all that time. The notes either went up after school or during the first class period. That was her prep. In subsequent classes, all she had to do was point to the boards. After the first week or so, she didn’t even need to tell us which order to copy them down in. We all knew.

Compare that experience to the collaborative visual notetaking in the Alexander Dawson Foundation’s six-week summer program for gifted Clark County public school students. Here’s a screen shot detail from one of the images taken by Las Vegas Sun photographer Tiffany Brown:

Detail from Visual Notetaking

Pretty significant difference, huh? It’s not just that my middle school notes were all text on lined paper while these notes are colorful drawings on plain white sketch pads and chart paper. There’s much more going on. Here’s how the Las Vegas Sun story “Students draw to learn about water” described the process:

Nick Payne, a graphic facilitator from the United Kingdom, encourages students to capture discussion content using visuals and organization in a pictorial way. The students draw what they’re learning in bold colors and big pictures instead of writing traditional notes. “The kids become more engaged taking graphic notes rather than just writing it down,” Payne said. “If you have kids recording their lessons it completely changes the relationship between the teacher and the student, for the better.”

The key word in that description is engaged. The learning isn’t rote copying from the sage teacher. Instead, students engage with the ideas and then recast them in graphic notes. Rather than transcribing what the various speakers have to say, these students are asked to listen, to identify significant information, and then to put things down on paper in their own words and images. It’s 21st century literacy at its finest.

Now you may be saying, “Piffle, Traci. They’re in middle school. That will never happen in a college classroom with adult students.” Won’t it? Let me ask you to look back to my blog entry on Mike Rohde’s visual notetaking from SxSW. It can absolutely happen in the college classroom. We just need to bring in some colorful markers and big pads of paper. Oh, and tell them it’s okay to play around and have fun while you’re learning.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Collaboration, Visual Rhetoric
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