It was a great idea. Biology professor, Lyn Baldwin, created an assignment requiring her second- and third-year botany students to create an illustrated journal in lab. Yet when students told her their new drawing requirement made them uncomfortable, she needed to find a way to make them more comfortable with the drawing process.
To ease her students’ concerns, Baldwin partnered with Ila Crawford, a colleague in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Canada. Together they created a drawing tutorial and blended it into Baldwin’s botany course.
To relieve students of any anxiety that may stem from their “limited visual ability” (Baldwin & Crawford, 2010), the journal was pitched as “an exercise book in which you must practice looking at plants and recording what it is you see” (Baldwin & Crawford, 2010).
The drawing tutorial Baldwin and Crawford designed became the focus of the first two lab meetings. In the first week of lab, students were introduced to drawing techniques and drawing materials. They learned how to draw from observation, practiced contour drawings, learned how to sight and measure, and were introduced to media such as watercolor and pen and ink.
During the second lab, students evaluated each others work and shared their experiences with the drawing process. Student comments provided instructors with the opportunity to reinforce concepts and techniques introduced during the first meeting.
From this point forward, students worked in their journals on a weekly basis during their 3-hour botany lab. Students were assured that the quality of their observations mattered more than the quality of their drawings. Student journals were assessed using a rubric addressing an entry’s completeness, its presentation, and aesthetics. Of the 10 points possible for each lab, completeness was worth 6 points, presentation was worth 3 points, and aesthetics was worth 1 point. The rubric is included in Baldwin & Crawford (2010).
At the end of the school term, students provided feedback about the drawing tutorial and the illustrated journal assignment. Student comments indicate:
- The journal assignment had a positive impact on learning.
- Students became more aware of the morphological features found in plants.
- Students became more aware of their own learning.
- Drawing taught students to see and understand plants in a new way.
The positive feedback from students convinced Baldwin & Crawford that illustrated learning journals can complement traditional science activities. They especially praise their effectiveness in challenging students to become active learners instead of passive learners. They do make a special point in saying, however, that to effectively integrate drawing activities into a botany lab, instructors must provide continuous feedback. Baldwin’s students felt continuous feedback about their performance was very important.
Baldwin and Crawford are continuing their research and are collaborating on a project that will “relate the type of entries (visual vs. verbal, informational vs. reflective) students make in their learning journals and their achievement” in class (Baldwin & Crawford, 2010). Achievement will be measured using grades earned on quizzes, exams, and writing assignments.
Baldwin, Lyn and Ila Crawford. 2010. Art instruction in the botany lab: a collaborative approach. Journal of College Science Teaching, 40(2): 26-31.
A copy of this article can be purchased online from The National Science Teachers Association for 99¢.
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