Over the past year, Dr. Jun Wang, research assistant professor at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University; his research partner, Felice Frankel, a research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); a team of students from across Syracuse University; and me, serving as a project research assistant, worked to create a new tool for digital learning.

That tool is a website, titled DoodleBook (DoodleBook.org), and the site recently launched.

Developed with funding through the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative, the mission of DoodleBook is to make science more accessible and engaging through art. The purpose of the site is to provide science students and educators, from kindergarten to college, with a free online space to create, collaborate, and share their own digital drawings.

The work was inspired by Frankel’s Picturing to Learn project, where MIT and Harvard undergraduates majoring in science created drawings to explain scientific phenomena to high school students.

Excited about the potential for drawing as a tool for students and science enthusiasts in and out of the classroom, Dr. Wang saw an opportunity to infuse new energy and greater creativity into science education.

Why Drawing for Digital Learning?

A key question addressed in the research was, ‘Why use drawing as a teaching tool?’

There are many reasons, because the discipline of drawing:

  • Increases student observational skills, a key skill for scientists
  • Rewards creativity and out-of-the-box thinking
  • Appeals to naturally artistic and visual students
  • Allows English language learners or students with weak language skills to express learning without technical vocabulary
  • Gives students the opportunity to use technology in a meaningful way.

A Check on Understanding

Drawing is also a great way to check for genuine understanding because there’s no need to rely on other people’s words to explain a concept or principle.

Even for participants in our project, many illustrators noted that their own understanding of particular process or phenomena increased and became much deeper after they figured out how to explain the concept using visuals, rather than words.

Why DoodleBook is Important to Digital Learning

In this project, we believe that drawing is an exciting and important tool for science educators as they educate the young minds of today who will help solve the ecological and economic challenges of tomorrow.

Over the past year, the project team has written and illustrated more 125 topics across all disciplines of science. All of these are available on the site.

While more educator and user features are forthcoming, DoodleBook is ready for review, and we are encouraging SU faculty and students, and the wider community to check it out and pass the word along to friends in the science, education, or art departments.

Draw Along on DoodleBook!

Also, feel free to add an illustration yourself, if inspiration strikes! Integrated Google login makes it easy to create a profile and to start drawing.

DoodleBook is just getting started – and the research team can’t wait to see what people will create in the future!

If you are a science educator interested in using Doodlebook in your classroom or if you have any comments or want to suggest improvements for the site, please post in the comments below. We’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback!

Kyra Leanne Nay, author of this post, is a May 2015 graduate of the Syracuse University School of Information Studies master’s degree program in Library and Information Science with School Media specialization. She was a research assistant on the DoodleBook project during her studies, researching and writing all the topics for the site, plus coordinating the work of DoodleBook’s illustrators.

In June, Kyra began working as a children’s librarian at the Maple Heights branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library System, just outside of Cleveland, OH. She’s now in the middle of a busy summer reading season, and is channeling her passion for STEAM learning into planning for a Sun Party this month. Held in conjunction with the Cuyahoga County’s Astronomical Society, the event will feature a sun telescope, DIY sundials, and a scale model of the sun and its planets.