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Ainsworth, S., V. Prain, and R. Tytler (2011). Drawing to learn. Science, 333, 1096-1097.

This short editorial is important because it poses a specific education argument to a national audience in a widely read and respected journal: “Drawing should be explicitly recognized as a key element in science education.” The authors propose five reasons why drawing should be taught alongside writing, reading and talking to science students of all ages. While they do not include data to support their arguments, they do include numerous references to studies in the cognitive science and learning literature. Overall, this article is very helpful to my research because it provides a succinct justification of why my research interest is important.


Bronson, P., and A. Merryman (2010, July 10). The creativity crisis. Newsweek.

While we do not typically cite Newsweek articles in our research, I found this article to be very inspiring and appropriate because it provides a broad context for what drives me the biology classroom. Bronson and Merryman cite studies from many disciplines in support of their thesis that creativity is in sharp decline in the U.S.—and that creativity is key to success in many disciplines, including science. Further, they argue that creativity can be taught by persistently exposing students to circumstances where they can practice divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) combined with convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result). Further yet, improving creativity leads to enhanced motivation. Thus, teaching students how to ask questions, design experiments, etc. is an important process whether they go on to be scientists or not. This article is relevant to my research because it argues for the broad importance of creativity.


Dahmani, H-R., P. Schneeberger, and I. M. Kramer. (2009). Analysis of students’ aptitude to provide meaning to images that represent cellular components at the molecular level.CBELife Sciences Education, 8, 226-238.

This study compares students’ ability to interpret cell biology illustrations that are realistic and complex (as occur in publications) versus those that are simplified (such as often occur in text books). This provides one example of methods that can be used in the classroom to test the value of two similar but distinct approaches involving drawings (in this case viewed, not generated by students).


Leutner, D., C. Leopold, and E. Sumfleth (2009). Cognitive load and science text comprehension: Effects of drawing and mentally imagining text content. Computers in Human Behavior, 25, 284-289.

This paper addresses one of the key issues that has flummoxed me in my research and that is a central issue to multimodal learning in general: cognitive load. One the one hand, student activities such as drawing exercises present the opportunity to help students learn by increasing their cognitive load in a beneficial way. However, there is always a danger that these exercises can increase effort without improving understanding (creating more heat than light) by increasing cognitive load in a harmful way. (See Mayer.) Although this study has a small sample size (N=111), it provides a helpful example of an experimental design that sets out to control for several variables (prior knowledge, verbal ability, spatial ability) while measuring student-reported cognitive load in a drawing exercise. The authors conclude that constructing mental images was a more effective for students at improving their comprehension than constructing drawings on paper because the latter was too overbearing in terms of cognitive load. This paper shows the value of including questions in a post-test that are process-related rather than content-related.


Mayer, R. (2005) Mutlimedia Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mayer is one of the most widely-cited experts on the subject of multimedia learning, where multimedia refers to any combination of words and pictures regardless of whether they are in print or on screen. He has published numerous articles on his experiments parsing the psychological pros and cons of different combinations of learning materials, summarized beautifully in this book—a must-read for anyone interested in the effectiveness of drawings, photos, animations, etc. Mayer organizes his insights into twelve principles of multimedia design: Coherence, Signaling, Redundancy, Spatial, Temporal, Segmenting, Modality, Multimedia, Personalization, and Image principles. These provide a very helpful framework for posting specific hypotheses in biology education, whether in the classroom or regarding the effectiveness of online materials.


Pashler, H., M. McDaniel, D. Rohrer, and R. Bjork. (2009). Learning styles: concepts and evidence. Phychological Science in the Public Interest, 9, 105-119.

It is common knowledge that students have different “learning styles” so it is assumed that teachers should teach in a format that matches the preferences of the learners (such as visual learners versus aural learners). The authors review the enormous literature and conclude that while almost everyone claims to have a preference for mode of learning, there is no adequate experimental evidence to justify assessing and catering to particular learning styles in the classroom. This is important paper for my research topic because it addresses the obvious question of whether “visual learners” will differ from other learners in how they learn from drawing exercises. So far (as of 2009) there is no strong empirical evidence that there would be a difference (which is not to say that there is no difference; it just has not been demonstrated).


Ramadas, J. (2009). Visual and spatial modes in science learning. International Journal of Science Education, 31, 301-318.

Ramadas echoes Van Meter and Garner’s (2005) message that although there are a number of claims about the importance of visual and spatial thinking in science education, the evidence for many of these claims is lacking. For this and other reasons that she cites, the study of visual representation in science is important. Ramadas provides a very helpful review of the important related work in cognitive science and developmental physchology—a daunting literature which, for example, has shown that mental imagery is an important phenomenon that can be studied empirically, and successful model-based reasoning depends on a combination of verbal and visual.


Tanner, K. D. (2011). Reconsidering “what works.” CBELife Sciences Education, 10, 329-333.

This paper articulates one of my ongoing concerns that the data that I collect in my classroom with my certain cross-section of students at a certain time are relevant to me in my own metrics of progress but likely not to most readers of the SoTL literature. Tanner provides a number of very helpful and provocative reminders to keep the nature of research, the variability of students, the variability in instructor experience, and other factors in mind when designing and publishing experiments. What “works” for students in one context many not work at all in another.


Van Meter, P., and J. Garner. (2005). The promise and practice of learner-generated drawing: literature review and synthesis. Educational Psychology Review, 17, 285-325.

This is a gold mine. The authors provide four very valuable services in this paper: (1) a review of all the claims that are made in the literature regarding the value of student drawing exercises (e.g. drawing improves observation, helps with acquisition of knowledge, improves text comprehension, and stimulates interest) pointing out that most of these claims are unsupported by data; (2) a nuts-and-bolts review of studies that actually provide data, with enough detail to give a sense of the types of experimental designs that have been used (ranging widely in student ages and disciplines); (3) a summary of the overall state of the field, explaining that the heterogeneticty of past results is probably accountable for the relative loss of interest in this subject since the mid 1980s; and (4) a framework for research to move forward, based on Mayer’s generative theory of textbook design. Overall, this is a must-read paper for anyone interested in using and/or testing student drawings as learning tools. One disheartening (in terms of research methods) but interesting and important message is that the utility of drawings as learning tools is highly context dependent.

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