Archive for the ‘drawing’ Category

On Monday Jennifer Landin told us how she collected data for her research. Did the data collected through testing tools, her Observational Skills Assessment, interviews and weekly observations support her hypothesis?

Well, yes and no. In the case of content knowledge, the students who drew did perform slightly better on the assessment. But there was only a tiny difference in their class grades. Considering that students were only drawing for ~5-10 minutes per week, though, the differences I saw between the groups were incredibly interesting.

For Attitude-Toward-Biology, I ran into an unexpected problem…

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What kind of data did Jennifer Landin collect in her studies about the use of perceptual drawing in the classroom?

I measured knowledge of biology with a pre- and post-test (kind of like a short final exam). I also asked students to take an Attitude-Toward-Biology test and my Observational Skills Assessment. I supplemented these tests with interviews, questionnaires and weekly observations of student behaviors.

All of the students had the same lecture class and same lab activities. So, as much as possible, all the experiences the students had in class were the same. The only difference was a “Journal” randomly assigned to each student. Some students had drawing activities to complete, others had writing tasks.

More About Our Conversation with Jennifer Landin

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What kind of factors influence the drawing process in adults?

Psychology professors Dale J. Cohen and Susan Bennett explore this topic in a series of experiments conducted at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

In Why Can’t Most People Draw What They See?, Cohen and Bennett present four possible reasons why adults may not be able to draw what they see. They explain that drawing inaccuracies in adult drawings may occur because of:

    Artist Misperception of an Object
    Cohen & Bennett (1997) explain that an artist’s illusions and delusions can result in drawing inaccuracies. What’s an example of a delusion? An artist relying on what they know about an object instead of the actual physical features of an object.

    Artist Inability to Make Good Representational Decisions
    This refers to an artist’s inability to decide what to include in a drawing and how to represent it.

    Artist Motor Skills
    This refers to an artist’s ability to create the proper marks on paper after they have perceived an object and made good decisions about how to represent an object. Cohen & Bennett (1997) explain that mark making “is a physical process, not a perceptual or cognitive process” and that artists must have the “appropriate motor skills” to make the marks required to create a representational drawing.

    Artist Misperception of Their Drawing
    This refers to an artist’s perception of their own work. If an artist perceives a mark to be more accurate than it really is, drawing inaccuracies will go uncorrected.

Cohen and Bennett (1997) created four experiments to assess the effect decision-making, motor skills and artist misperception of drawings have on the drawing process. Each experiment was designed to investigate these effects in isolation. The participants in these studies were college students. Some served as experimental subjects (i.e., they completed rendering tasks assigned by the researchers) and some served as critics (i.e., evaluators) of the drawings created by the other students.

After methodically assessing the effects described above, Cohen & Bennett (1997) observed the following:

  • An artist’s decision-making capabilities are “a relatively minor source” (Cohen & Bennett, 1997) of drawing inaccuracies in adult drawings.
  • Motor coordination is not a significant source of drawing inaccuracies in adult drawings.
  • An artist’s misperception of their own work is not a source of drawing inaccuracies in adult drawings.

So what is a source of drawing inaccuracies in adult drawings?

An artist’s misperception of an object.

How Cohen & Bennett (1997) designed each experiment and assessed each effect in isolation is very interesting. For a detailed account of Cohen and Bennett’s materials, methods, findings and statistical analysis for each experiment, please see their paper. Their paper is available for free on the website of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Cohen & Bennett (1997) is one of the many articles cited by Jennifer Landin in her dissertation. Do you have questions about drawing and learning?

Join our conversation with Jennifer

Literature Cited

Cohen, Dale J. and Susan Bennett. 1997. Why can’t most people draw what they see? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. 23(3): 609-621. Web. http://people.uncw.edu/cohend/research/papers/Cohen%20and%20Bennett%2097.pdf [accessed 6 September 2013]


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To collect data to evaluate the use of drawing as a learning tool in a classroom setting, Jennifer had to create her own assessment tool. She created a tool called the Observational Skills Assessment. What did she think of this experience?

Ugh! That was the hardest part of my dissertation.

Learn more about Jennifer’s assessment tool

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Jennifer Landin is the featured guest for September. Her research about using drawing as a learning tool in a biology classroom is based upon Posner’s Theory of Conceptual Research. I asked Jennifer what Posner’s Theory is all about. She replied:

Posner basically says that you start with a preconception. When you get some new information, you either integrate it with your current knowledge or you need to adjust your current understanding into something new. The problem is that the world often makes sense with our preconceptions, and changing can be kind of uncertain and scary. So in order to change, it’s got to really be worth it…

Learn more about Posner’s Theory

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Jennifer Landin is a biology professor at North Carolina State University. She is also a scientific illustrator and a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (GNSI). She attended the University of Georgia and University of Montana for her undergraduate degree in Forestry & Wildlife Management. She received her Master’s degree in biology from Marshall University in West Virginia.

I first met Jennifer last year at the GNSI conference in Savannah, Georgia. It wasn’t until after the conference, when we were working on an article for the Guild’s journal, did I learn of Jennifer’s dissertation research about the use of perceptual drawing in the classroom. I have since read her dissertation and am excited that we have the opportunity to learn more about Jennifer’s research this month.

In her research, Jennifer addresses the use of drawing to improve observational skills and increase understanding in the biology classroom. To help you understand her project, here are her research questions as they appear in Landin (2011):

    1. Do students who participate in weekly drawing activities demonstrate a higher level of biology content knowledge when compared to students who participate in weekly writing activities?

    2. Do students who participate in weekly drawing activities show a more positive attitude toward biology when compared to students who participate in weekly writing activities?

    3. Do students who participate in weekly drawing activities display improved observational skills when compared to students who participate in weekly writing activities?

    4. What are student perceptions of drawing activities in relation to biological understanding?

    5. Are there correlations between the gains in content knowledge related to drawing activities and student cognitive processes?

Jennifer hypothesized that students who participated in weekly drawing activities would:

  • Demonstrate a higher level of biology content knowledge.
  • Demonstrate a more positive attitude toward biology.
  • Demonstrate a higher level of observational skills when compared to students who participated in weekly writing activities only.

Did the data support these hypotheses?

We’ll find out as this month progresses.

Please welcome Dr. Jennifer Landin as our special guest for September!

Literature Cited

Landin, Jennifer. 2011. Perceptual Drawing as a Learning Tool in a College Biology Laboratory. Dissertation. North Carolina University, Raleigh, North Carolina. 

Update October 2016

See Jennifer and her students at work in a video produced by North Carolina State University at https://youtu.be/MFuDDLqajVA.

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For this week’s teaching and learning column, Kellie and I contemplate how to help people see the value of drawing as a learning tool.

    In the weekly teaching and learning column I write, I occasionally bring attention to research or articles that call for drawing to be taught as a fundamental skill, much the same way reading, writing and arithmetic are taught as core life skills.

    In the 1880’s, T.R. Ablett said that public perception about drawing needed to be raised so the drawing could be accepted as one of the core fundamentals. As someone who was drawing first in a profession not affiliated with the arts (i.e., landscape design), how might we help people see the value of drawing as a learning tool and life skill in professions other than what people consider traditional art?

    : This is a very interesting question, as I feel that drawing and art skills are not valued enough in our society. How I feel would be a great way to help people see the value of drawing is to bring more awareness into our public schooling, from an early age. Many schools do offer art classes, but not as a requirement. In many of the art classes, they do not teach all the different careers options that the skill of drawing can be useful in, including landscape design. I had no idea that landscape design was even an option for a career in high school, and for that matter any horticulture related field. This was something I learned on my own outside of school. Art and creativity are very important for any career as I feel a creative mind brings more diversity and new thinking to any job. I hope drawing becomes more of a standard teaching practice with other life skills such as reading and writing.

Artists, naturalists and teachers…how can we help the public value drawing as a learning tool?

Join the conversation

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