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Making Drawings Support the Learning Process

Ylva Dahlman
Department of Landscape Planning
Swedish University of Agricultural Science
June 2002

Drawings and pictures are important for creating knowledge. That is something that most of us agree about. But what most people think about is that if I make a picture it will help YOU to understand better. I state that if I make a picture it will make ME understand better. This is well known to architects but can also be very helpful to other professions in their development of creativity.

I am investigating the possibilities that we can use drawing as a method to create knowledge. By this I mean knowledge in any field, not only in field of art.
My main interest is not focused on the drawings but on the act of drawing. When we talk about drawings we usually think of depictions. To depict is an excellent thing to do when you are about to look carefully at the world. But it is important to learn how to look and not only draw things the way you think they look. To draw can also mean to create, to articulate the world. That means that what the drawing shows doesn't exist before it is formulated in the drawing.
My statement is that it is possible to make drawings of non-visual phenomena. I.e. drawings of words like "experience", "soil science" and "solidarity". It is not only possible to do, but it can even make you understand the phenomena in a better, or at least in a different way.
I make this statement after eight years as the head teacher of a course called Art and Design for Students of Natural Sciences. It started almost like an art class, but has changed into a course to develop the student's ability to formulate and solve problems in the fields of natural science. This work started with my experiences, what I observed while working with the students. I was curious enough to continue by asking students for their opinions in questionnaires and diaries. The material has resulted in more tasks and questions so I study Pedagogy, Science of Cognition and Philosophy/ Theories of Knowledge, to find out why all this works out.
The tricky thing about teaching this kind of drawing is the paradox of it. The students have to be creative and spontaneous at the same moment as they are concentrated and focused. They work with drawings and words and they are supposed to act freely but quiet and under time pressure. These are not contradicting properties although in the beginning many of the students think they are.
It seems important not only to make drawings, or paintings, but also to write and talk about the experiences, to give the students the possibility to reflect and construct their own meaning.
I have had about 200 students to watch and talk to and 100 of them have been writing about their development and thoughts after every lesson. The same 100 did also answer a questionnaire before the course begun and at the end of it. This material shows together with their drawings and what they say, that the students become braver, ready to handle complex problems better, and more able to concentrate in a deeper way. They are even better in formulating themselves about difficult things and to discuss and criticize what other people say and do. And most striking is the fact that they are able to use this knowledge in their studies of natural science.