Thinking Visually: Doodling, Concept Maps, and Notetaking

As a student, were you one of those kids who doodled in the margins of your notebooks, or even on your desk (to the bane of janitorial staff everywhere)? Often thought to be something done to stave off boredom, doodling is something that, when channelled in the right direction, can lead to productive notetaking and reflection.

A recent study reported that doodling during meetings, for example, can help you retain more information, because it uses just enough executive brain function to prevent the mind from wandering, and losing focus on the discussion at hand. This especially helps listeners stay on task in a passive environment, when it is easy to start daydreaming.

We especially like this example we learned about from BlogUT , of recreational mathematician Vi Hart creating doodles to help understand mathematical principles like infinite series, using only the tools of a pencil, ruler, and a ruled 8.5×11 sheet:

When combined with good notetaking strategies, doodling can help non-linear thinkers shape their notes into productive memory aids: imagine doodling a dagger near a reference to the play Macbeth, for example, or shaping notes on green chemistry into a picture of a tree. Adding doodles and pictures create visual cues to help recall information.

Another effective strategy to help students make “big picture” connections between course concepts is concept mapping or mind mapping, diagrammatic strategies that show the links between topics, subtopics, and smaller details within a central theme. The genONE program at UTM teaches first-year students how to create a mind map using a central theme, branches, and a variety of colours. In this clip they create a sample map about the structure of the UTM campus:

Concept maps can even be used in class to help students bring together large concepts and key ideas. Here, Geology Lecturer Charly Bank explains why he finds them useful to help his students create links:

Are you keen to try out visual strategies in your class? For more ideas, visit the video resources on CTSI’s Large Class Teaching Module, or register for our upcoming workshop on student learning, Exploring What’s Behind “I Don’t Understand”.

PS: Our colleagues at Brigham Young University have an informative tip sheet on Concept Maps. They go through the “hows” and “whys” of Concepts Maps and how we can implement them into course design.