Sketchnotes As a Changemaker

Sketchnotes: learning and first experiments I’m aware that I haven’t been blogging much of late. My tai chi entries have been getting shorter and shorter; and there have been non-existent entries on other subjects. Part of it has been extreme busyness at work; part of it has been the truth that I’m spending a LOT more time in front of the computer at school, and the result has been that I want to spend considerably less time in front of the computer at home. Last night I read my first novel in more than two years.

Part of it has been that I’ve been turning back toward my pen-and-paper notes, and toward Mike Rohde’s Sketchnotes Handbook as a tool for driving change in my life, both personally and institutionally.

I think we see a lot of things which are computer-generated in corporate settings these days: typed agendas, technical documents, code documents, and so on.  There’s some value in hand-written stuff. And Mike Rohde’s book has (like Dave Gray before him) helped me shift my artistic practice a little bit, toward developing some new tools in my teaching arsenal — learning to include diagrams and pictures in my notes, and focus on big ideas, rather than every detail.

Sketchnotes: learning and first experiments I like to remind my colleagues and my students that the software in our brains for processing visual symbols is roughly 500,000 to a million years older than our software for processing writing. The result is that we should be teaching students to take audio knowledge (lectures) and process it as visuals as much as text.  We’re helping them build a broader range of connections than just simply text notes alone.

And this is where Sketchnotes come in.  As is usually the case, I had to give myself some training.  I took a day over Thanksgiving vacation to fill about half of a Moleskine sketchbook with diagrams and exercises from Mike Rohde’s book, and to attend some events where I had to make sketchnotes as I worked.  I’ve now had enough drawing training (thanks, Dave Gray!) that working through a new system of drawing was pretty easy and quite rapid, although my hand was done by the end of the process.

From there, it was a matter of practicing the skills.

Sketchnotes: learning and first experimentsSo I went to a funeral, and I took sketchnotes as a parade of people celebrated the life of Mr. Tony Dyer, a local hero of the public schools.  He, like me, taught history and specifically loved world history and ancient history more than modern history.  He made it come alive, apparently, in ways that I can only aspire to.  One of the commentators called him “a student’s dream teacher, but an administrator’s nightmare.” Isn’t this what so many of us aspire to be, sometimes?  There’s something of the radical involved in being a teacher.

I produced about four pages of notes that had both drawings and images in them from the funeral.  Some of them were great, some of them were awful. The page at left is a typical sample, in that it has a bunch of illustrations, but there isn’t an overall theme or organization, beyond the names of the people who spoke.

It was time to take a step forward, though, and introduce this to my colleagues.  So I produced a couple of pages of Sketchnotes ahead of an event, creating an agenda for a faculty meeting and one of the design exercises (from Gamestormingthanks again Dave Gray) as a way of introducing my colleagues to both Sketchnotes and Gamestorming in one blow.  Sometimes the medium is the message, and that was certainly my intention here.

Sketchnotes: faculty meeting and activity When I talk with some of my friends in teaching, particularly in other schools, we note the glacial pace of change in most academic settings. My friends S and J teach in college, my friend S teaches in lower school, my friend D teaches in middle school, my friend B teaches in high school. I think even (especially?) @tieandjeans experiences this.  It’s true of public schools; it’s true of private schools.  It’s even true of unschools — schools that pretend to be getting away from traditional school culture.  And all of us have experienced at various times the enormous resistance of school/academic culture to change.

So, maybe, what’s required or needed is little bomblets of alteration or transformation. An agenda printed sideways on 8×14″ paper, and hand-drawn with sharpie marker, rather than printed in clean 12-point Palatino on letterhead.  Maybe what’s required is introduction to Gamestorming games, and Dave Gray and Mike Rohde-style illustrations that are designed to communicate information differently to audiences.

Yesterday’s faculty meeting was more different than any event I can recall attending in an academic setting. Partly it was the material we were covering, and the workshop-like format of the event.  But part of it, I like to think, was the way I changed or shifted the culture of the meeting through the reorganization of the space and the representation of the agenda with Sketchnotes and Gamestorming-inspired uses of tools and materials.

Sometimes, if you really want change, it’s important to start with the most basic elements of the meeting format. Something as simple as an agenda can utterly change the structure of the event.

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  1. I completely relate to your thoughts on turning back to pen and paper, and how the inclusion of pictures and diagrams in your notes can help you process information. In a drive to simplify and go paperless I’ve turned into a software geek over the last handful of years, and only recently begun to realize that my systems have in a way taken over my process and limited the ways I can learn and express. I’ve now gone back to a physical planner/organizer/journal that uses a page-a-day format with no lines and only one demarcation of time: noon. My thoughts on how to use it sound a lot like what you’re doing with sketchnotes.

    • All that sounds great, and right in line with what I’m doing. I use the Reminders app on my phone, but frankly it’s a pain to use relative to a paper to-do list. Ultimately paper works better for me than computers do. Which is a pity, but there it is.

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