Drawing In The Age Of Technology: A Story Of Process Over Product And Vectors Over Bitmaps

Concurrent Session 4
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

Technology has reached new heights in helping both instructors and students gain the ability to think and communicate through generated drawings. This talk will investigate: 1) tools and methods for production of drawings; 2) digital approaches to analysis; and 3) technological affordances for fostering drawing in educational contexts.


Stephen Thomas is a faculty member and the Associate Director for the Center for Integrative Studies in General Science at Michigan State University. He also serves as the Digital Curriculum Coordinator for the College of Natural Science at MSU. For his bachelor’s degree from Denison University, Stephen majored in Biology and minored in Art. This interest in the science/art intersection continued into graduate school as he freelanced as a biological illustrator while earning his masters and Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in Organismal and Evolutionary Biology and Entomology. Since coming to MSU his research focus has shifted from virulence of fungal pathogens of gypsy moths to visual communication of science in formal and informal settings. Stephen’s interests have broadened to include not just art and science, but also technology and teaching. He has worked on projects such as the use of comics to reduce subject anxiety in non-major science courses, the development of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to teach general science, and augmented reality and kiosk games to engage visitors in science museums. One of his more recent projects, Instruct2020, is looking at how to foster community generated visual curriculum for science instruction. His use of technology in teaching has won him multiple awards including three AT&T/MSU Awards for innovative use of technology in online classes, a James D. Hoeschele Endowed Teaching Award for excellence in teaching science to non-science majors, and funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Extended Abstract

Student and faculty-generated drawings can play an important role in student learning. Often in digital curriculum we focus on flashy, finished images to communicate concepts and in so doing ignore or minimize the role of sketches in the development and communication of our own mental models. Drawing to learn pedagogical approaches along with digital options are now available that allow students to improve their visual model-based reasoning and for faculty to produce nuanced models they can deliver asynchronously.

For student generated drawings, touchscreens have allowed for the capture of drawn images. However, once they have been completed, it is often unclear how and what feedback should be given. In this talk, several methods and technologies that address these questions will be will be discussed, including beSocratic and computer-based drawing analysis.

With regards to faculty generated drawings, we will explore how technology offers the opportunity for faculty to create drawn curricular resources with broader impacts. One of the difficulties around visual media is that typically it can be difficult to edit or modify. This barrier makes it challenging for faculty to alter materials based on objective or audience. Using vector images and programs such as VideoScribe, instructors can recreate images asynchronously that are editable and convey their visual model-based reasoning.

By pairing community building practices with these technological approaches there is more opportunity for generated drawings to play a larger role as open educational resources (OERs), with possible implications for improved accessibility and use of drawing as a pedagogical tool for distance learning.