Exactly why they matter has something to do with the way our brains work, and the explosion of technology, and a little bit of viral success. And a lot of not very disciplined people with very short attention spans that have to remember information conveyed to them in a group setting.
The point of notes is to capture important ideas for future reference. While it’s nothing new to take notes that combine images with words and phrases, graphic notes are actually an evolution of this idea. Traditionally only a handful note taking styles, primarily combination notes, and Cornell notes, concept-map notes, and a kind of mash of the three are taught in school. These work--but not for all people.
Then Ken Robinson’s Changing Educational Paradigms exploded across the internet, and the sound of the little marker squeaking across the whiteboard became synonymous with digital storytelling. Iconic even.
Why? Because graphic notes like these don’t just capture ideas, they tell a story. And that matters because human beings young and old love a good story. The video game industry, billion dollar marketing campaigns, Hollywood, even sports teams and musical artists all live and die by their ability to relay a story we can connect with–and that matters in the academic world as well.
The water cycle has a story to tell that is exceptionally hard to document in an outline form–and impossible to do so engagingly or enthusiastically. Same with Faulkner’s use of Symbolism, the causes and effects of war, the need for education to evolve, or the merits of Freakonomics. Graphic notes, done well, can tell a story. Which means they can be curated and, more importantly, shared.
And in the era of tablet PCs, smartphones, and instagram, this means everything. It may not seem natural for a student to share their graphic notes on vine or deviantart, but why not? Students will be content creators for the web. The last time I checked--people get paid to do that! If it’s important and elegant and worth sharing, they’ll share it.
As you can see below, graphic notes from a TED Talk tell a story while recording and documenting important information in a highly visible, elegant, and shareable way.
Helping students understand how to make graphic notes isn’t as simple as sharing these images and say “do this” (though that’s a start). Like all learning, it’s a matter of modeling, scaffolding, and patience. Hopefully these examples–including the classic How to Read a Book and Seth God’s Stop Stealing Dreams--will help