About the Authors

Susan Clements-Vivian

A few years ago I was giving a lecture on the principles and elements of design to a group of 200 first year students.  While dissecting famous paintings from western art history, I use a laser pointer to make sure that the students are clear not only which part of the image I am referring but the order in which they relate to one another.  I had given this lecture many times and felt fairly confident in my ability to convey the information. After an hour or so a student raised his hand to let me know he had no idea what I was talking about. It was also clear from the students nodding as he spoke, that a large part of my audience was also stymied.  After a few rounds of going back over what I had already said and getting nowhere, I grabbed a stack of paper and a felt tip marker and started to draw it out, step-by-step,using only stick figures, basic shapes and arrows. While not nearly as polished as my slideshow, my quick sketch had done a much better job of demonstrating the process and thinking I was trying to share with my students and it grabbed and held their attention better. Dan Roan, in his book The Back of The Napkin, a visual thinking book written for a business audience, also noted this tendency, “People like seeing other people’s pictures. In most presentation situations, audiences respond better to hand-drawn images (however crudely drawn) than to polished graphics. The spontaneity and roughness of hand-drawn pictures make them less intimidating and more inviting—and nothing makes an image (even a complex image) clearer than seeing it drawn out step-by-step” (Roan, 2012, p. 25).  I would go one step further, that it is not even though it is loosely sketched but because it is, that it holds your attention better.  A loose sketch is by its nature is unfinished, open to interpretation or change, this makes it the ideal method of communication for thoughts and ideas.

While I shifted to using drawing more often in my lecturing, I also started to notice how few students were taking notes. While creating well designed slides and providing them to students appeared to be a great resource, it also obscured the fact that the act of recording is also an act of thinking. That note taking is apart of learning, remembering and building upon the material presented.  Through years of teaching I have learnt that for something to matter to students, it must matter in the currency of the course i.e. grading. That if I wanted to students to start not only taking textual but visual notes, it would have to be built into the course in a way that was both recognized (graded) and meaningful (improved learning).

This book is about capturing, communicating and coming up with new ideas through the act of drawing during the lecture. It is  intended for faculty and students in higher education, particularly those in fields that deal with representations of the material world, such  biology, anthropology, art, design, architecture, film studies, etc., but it is hoped that it will be used by many others, both inside and outside of academia. Visual thinking is a broadly applicable skill and can improve not just your teaching but your life.


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Drawing in Class by Jason Toal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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