Week 9: Thinking with Machines – The Promise and Gains

I love how the class I’m taking for my MA complements the classes I actually teach. With each week and each reading, I think “this totally applies to my classes!”

Our prompt for this week is as follows: What can digital tools actually do that fundamentally change the way we do our work? Read my response below.

I was excited to watch David McCandless’s TED Talk on data visualisation because it’s something I often use in my own classes. I was curious to see the purpose for his own visual notes. He starts his talk with the Billion-Dollar-o-Gram, a colourful grid of boxes in various sizes. When he explained what each box meant, I let out an audible gasp (I was in my office at the time and I’m sure other teachers heard me). His explanation of how “the colors … represent the motivation behind the money” helped to explain how we “see patterns and connections between numbers that would otherwise be scattered across multiple news reports” (McCandless). The way he uses data and graphs to visualise the “intensity of certain fears” or the most common break-up months makes it so much easier to understand concepts and patterns in common (or uncommon) situations (McCandless).

One of my colleagues uses Visual Notes as a means for students to “see” what they are reading. Another one of my colleagues has taken it a step further and uses it to annotate passages with her students. I can attest that this works with all students, whether they are artists or not. It isn’t about how well they can draw; it’s about how well they can visualise and use boxes, arrows, colours, or frames to bring the significance of a given passage to the forefront. The great thing is that students don’t need to use an iPad or MacBook to do this; they can simply use pen and paper. Having said that, this is a digital humanities class, so I will focus on the digital.

Making visual notes like McCandless or Hambleton or Friedman fundamentally changes the way we do our work because numbers no longer remain as figures on a page, words no longer make up just sentences in a paragraph. They help us to retain significant information by using our eyes as the foundation for our learning. According to Visual Teaching Alliance, nearly “65% of the population are visual learners” so it makes logical sense to have more visual evidence available to readers or viewers (“Professional Development…”). When you consider the amazing programs and apps that are available for this, it doesn’t make sense to not use visual notes. If you’d like to give it a go, try neu.Notes+, Penultimate, or Notability.

Works Cited

Friedman, Tricia. “RSA Things Fall Apart Won Jun and Steph.” YouTube, YouTube, 6 Dec. 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPfcDo4RFcQ. Accessed 9 Mar. 2017.

Hambleton, Nicki. “How to Take Visual Notes.” YouTube, YouTube, 12 May 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnsFfcL4ewU. Accessed 9 Mar. 2017.

Kleon, Austin. “Visual Note-taking Conference Call Notes.” Flickr, Yahoo!, https://www.flickr.com/photos/deathtogutenberg/.

McCandless, David. “Transcript of ‘The Beauty of Data Visualization.’” David McCandless: The Beauty of Data Visualization, TED Global 2010, July 2010, http://www.ted.com/talks/david_mccandless_the_beauty_of_data_visualization/transcript?language=en. Accessed 9 Mar. 2017.

“Professional Development for Primary, Secondary & University Educators/Administrators.” Professional Development for Primary, Secondary & University Educators/Administrators, Visual Teaching Alliance, visualteachingalliance.com/. Accessed 9 Mar. 2017.


One thought on “Week 9: Thinking with Machines – The Promise and Gains

  1. In the spirit of revision season upon us, this is a post I wrote with a five step approach to diving in to sketchnotes—https://www.coetail.com/triciafriedman/2017/03/03/getting-started-with-visual-note-taking/

    Thanks for the shout out in this post!
    Nicola Coles also does amazing sketchnotey goodness for Maths–check it out if you haven’t.


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