Drawing to Learn

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Science  24 May 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6135, pp. 903
DOI: 10.1126/science.340.6135.903-a

Science education is shifting away from the memorization of facts and moving toward educational experiences that correspond with authentic research and the scientific process. Although this culture shift has resulted in gains being made in research on scientific literacy, there remains little published work on imaginative practice traits or how scientists learn to grasp and convey microscopically small subject matter. To investigate this learning system further, Hay et al. asked undergraduates, trainee scientists consisting of Ph.D. students and postdocs, and leading neuroscience researchers to “draw a neuron.” Using employed qualitative analysis, drawing-sorting exercises, and hierarchical cluster analysis, the team looked for categorical differences in the drawings and whether any existing differences could be related to the levels of research experience of the participants. Compared to drawings from seasoned researchers and trainee scientists, undergraduate drawings looked remarkably like textbook reproductions, which suggests that years of previous teaching had convinced these students that textbooks are authoritative. The research team employed two different teaching interventions, designed for students to directly experience “life as a neuron,” and upon completion students were again asked to “draw a neuron.” Post-intervention drawings by students were found to be similar to experts' drawings, suggesting that interventions such as these have great potential to increase undergraduates' creative aptitude when it comes to science education.

Sci. Educ. 10.1002/sce.21055 (2013).

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