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Ever doodle yourself into distraction back in school? 

What if your teachers had not only tolerated, but encouraged you to sketch out your thoughts in whatever way struck you?  A new method of more visual note-taking is growing in popularity thanks to psychological studies that show it is more effective in helping people retain information.  And it's taking off at Queens thanks to Mike Wirth, an assistant professor in the Art Department.

"First, you do not have to be 'an artist' to sketchnote and have it serve you well," Wirth says. "You just need imagination."

Wirth says he introduced the method in one of his classes last semester as a way to prevent students' from developing "written paper fatigue."  He asked his art history students to visualize one part of the curriculum and create a timeline with icons and drawings.

"Students who never considered themselves artists and never even knew they were visual thinkers were blowing me away with the quality of their work," he says. "On the class evaluations at the end of the semester the students said they loved it and that it helped them retain more information."

He then used sketchnoting it in a Core class, drawing on a whiteboard.  Students nodded in understanding and seemed to grasp the concepts much more quickly and deeply.

"It's doodling with a purpose," he says. "We're part of a doodle revolution. The people who say 'Ack! But I'm not an artist' are forgetting that when they were tiny children they had crayons and were best artists in the world because they weren't inhibited."

Wirth says the combination of words and symbols triggers our brains to register pieces of information as important. And when you're creating them together - sketchnoting - you're enhancing your learning.

"When you're drawing and writing you're using different parts of your brain at the same time, so you're more engaged," he says. "It's called the 'picture superiority effect.' People remember more if they draw it, not just see or read it. I believe our students must write well, though, so I'm not saying 'no more papers.' And we always will need to be teaching good writing across the curriculum, so this is an intermediate step."

Wirth says he looks forward to continuing to partner with other faculty to use sketchnoting in their teaching.

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