Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tuesday Tech Tip: Some Notes on Sketchnotes

When the Sir Ken Robinson RSA Animate video of “Changing Education Paradigms” started making the rounds, I’ll never forget the feeling of having my mind completely blown to shreds by not only the ideas presented in the talk, but also the images I was watching grow right before me on the screen. I’d seen the TED Talks. I’ve heard the ideas before. But never, NEVER, had it been presented to me in such a way that captured me as a listener and a viewer at the same time. More than a speech, more than a presentation, but not a video presentation necessarily, it was hard for me to explain. And once I wrapped my head around it, it was in this moment that I learned something about myself that I had never realized was part of who I am: I learn through drawing. Through images. Through listening. I've always participated in this activity and was often chastised for "not paying attention" in class, when in reality I was doing more than merely listening to what was happening. I was processing the information and drawing it in a way that made sense to me. Yes occasionally there were pirates or unicorns frolicking across the page as well, but my brain was still working. I was still listening, processing, and working.

Sketchnotes tell a story. The story that someone is hearing. The story of their understanding. The story of their learning. The story of a student and how they process information. Even a topic as fact-driven and seemingly straight-forward as the history of education and it’s current/future state tells a story, as evidenced by the video from RSA Animate.

Sketchnotes are strangely private and public. On the one hand, creating a set of notes for yourself from a blank page means truly developing your own process, style, and reflection habits. You are creating a visual representation of your synthesis of multiple pieces of information. The goal is not to write every word on the page, even if they are in all different fonts. We wouldn’t do this in a regular note taking session so why do it now? The goal is to really capture what is most important, highlight the information that connects ideas, and do it in a way that visually indicates a shift in your thinking or represents the ideas that most resonate with you in regard to the topic at hand. This is a personal process for personal use. Your sketchnotes and my sketchnotes may look completely different, and that’s okay as long as our ability to gather the relevant information and walk away with the same understanding is the same.

On the other hand, sketchnotes are merely the beginning of a process. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to present at InnEdCo in 2015 with the incredibly brilliant Kevin Croghan in a session we called “100 Ways to Capture (& Hopefully Share) Your Thinking”. We agreed early on that it wasn’t enough to simply create a sketchnote during a class (or a session) and call it a day. While sketchnotes are meant to be used for personal use, it’s also only the beginning of creating meaning of what you heard or learned and then synthesized/reflected upon. Often, these things happen in rapid succession and may not actually happen in isolation. Here’s the process we shared.

Kevin Croghan is the MAN. Follow him on Twitter: @MrCroghan or check out some other ways to contact him HERE.  
The final piece to the process is SHARING, contributing to the thinking of the whole with the purpose of refining our own thinking. So, how do we share? Sometimes it is as easy as clicking the share button. But in most cases it requires a more thoughtful approach. Often times I’ll see a sketchnote posted on Twitter or Pinterest, which is totally awesome and something I’ve done from time to time, as a end to the process. Unfortunately, for it to be a true capture and release of thinking this cannot be the end of the cycle. It’s purposefully cyclical so that once the original thinking is shared ideally you’ll receive some sort of feedback (discussion, clarification, etc.), reevaluate and reassess with the feedback and conversation in mind, and then share your newly created thinking. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Here are some examples of Sketchnotes, takeaways, and processing I've shared in the past. I've seen sketchnotes from the same keynotes, speakers, presentations, and sessions and while they look different from what I came up with, our takeaways and thoughts were fairly similar. It was a great way to meet someone new and spark a discussion.

Sharing can also be modeling what you’ve learned for others rather than sharing your thinking directly. Once you’ve reflected on something you’ve learned, this could change the way you think or behave or process. Owning that change in your actions and showing others is another way to share. You will still get feedback and have the opportunity to refine and revise and share again. Granted, it depends on the topic and the type of learning that is happening (content or skill related), but ultimately there is needs to be time dedicated to not only the cultivating of new ideas, but also the creation and sharing of learning.

So where does that leave us as educators in teaching and supporting this process with students? My suggestion, start small. Model it for them. Let students practice their listening and processing skills. Let them figure out what their visual vocabulary is. Eventually, let them submit their thinking to the room or to the world. Have them come back to their thinking after doing some research or having some conversations with their peers about what they heard and learned. Give them the opportunity to revise and clear up any misunderstandings. Help them shred their brains apart and then stitch them back together with a clearer picture of the ideas, concepts, and skills you know are important to growing them as students in your class and humans who need to learn how to learn. What better way to have them truly make meaning that you can see and assess than by sketchnoting their way through their learning?

Want to know more about Sketchnotes in the classroom? Check out my previous blog post!

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