Graphic Narratives to define effective teaching in a learning organization

Workshop Abstract

Variations of this workshop were delivered for the Ontario Instructional Designers Interest Group at McMaster on March 23, 2018, Ride The Wave K-12 Teacher’s conference in Gimli, Manitoba on May 10, 2018, and an Adult Education departmental retreat on June 8, 2018. The following proposed workshop abstract is based on these delivered sessions but aims to make better use of the literature available and is designed for a more diverse group of stakeholders: faculty, students, administrators, and staff.

This workshop is designed to uncover assumptions about what “effective teaching” looks like and why that’s important. Beyond the typical “vision, mission, purpose” workshops, this session aims to be an effective catalyst for meaningful change by using the five disciplines outlined by Senge (2006). Extending Senge’s work, the workshop also draws upon Sibbet’s (2011) work with Visual Teams; specifically how drawing can improve a learning organization. The workshop will use visual practice techniques to elucidate perceptions of effective teaching by enabling a dialogue towards mutual understanding.


Workshop Presentation

Graphic Narratives to define effective teaching in a learning organization from Giulia Forsythe

Annotated Bibliography

As part of my work with colleagues in education and professionals in knowledge management, many of the following articles were suggested to be helpful for my workshop. In some cases, like Miller’s (2017) On Knowledge Acquisition in Management Meetings, I sought out interesting references within her work. In other cases, like Kolb and Andrade, I looked for articles that cited these works. Ultimately, I selected many of the articles for the Independent Study proposal before thoroughly reading them. As a result, many were discovered to be inappropriate for the focus of the workshop. In other cases, the results of the findings directly contradict my anticipated outcome. This annotated bibliography is not extensively comprehensive for the field but is sufficient for the requirements for EDUC 5P98. Beyond the temporal parameters of this course, I plan on continuing to find relevant research to further improve this workshop with supporting and refuting evidence.

Ainsworth, S. (2006). DeFT: A conceptual framework for considering learning with multiple representations. Journal of Learning and Instruction, 16(3), 183-198.

The conceptual framework for using multiple representations to improve learning is described as DeFT, which is an acronym for Design, Function, and Task. Ainsworth describes how and when the use of multiple representations can and should be designed and used for particular functions, i.e. to promote better user interface design for specific cognitive tasks to improve learning. The conceptual framework draws upon Mayer’s cognitive theory of multimedia learning (1994) and Cognitive Load Theory in that it focuses on representing information using different modalities and the varying effects on working memory. Shifting from past expectations that “more is better”, research now shows that when images, videos, and text are shown simultaneously it can overload the working memory and interfere with learning. However, Ainsworth cautions that prescriptive approaches to design should be avoided but rather contextualized within particular functions and cognitive tasks. Originally, I thought this article would be helpful in providing a conceptual framework for working with participants in my workshop, as it was referenced by Miller (2017). While it is helpful when trying to display information to learners, referencing Mayer’s cognitive theory of multimedia learning (1994), this framework is less helpful for generative discussions like my workshop is attempting but rather more useful for online course material. In that sense, the framework and multiple representations are extremely useful, in particular when considering Universal Design for Learning (CAST, 2018), which is not mentioned in this article.

Universal Design For Learning
Andrade, J. (2010). What does doodling do?. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24(1), 100-106.

Andrade compared two groups listening to a “boring” voice mail message. One group was asked to “doodle” and the other was asked to just listen. The “doodling” group performed significantly better on memory recall than the non-doodling group. Due to the variability of individual doodling styles and unknown previous experience the doodling group was not asked to free-form doodle but rather to shade in pre-determined shapes. The rationale for shading versus doodling is logical because they were trying to prevent the participants from concerning themselves about the quality of their drawing and rather hone in on the absentmindedness that doodling elicits. Extending the results to represent the effects of drawing or doodling is an over-generalization. As such, use of this research to support the workshop should be limited to the fact that shading or colouring can aid concentration.

Why Doodling Matters (draft 1)
Ambrose, S. A. (2010). How learning works: seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco.

Starting with helpful case studies as examples at the beginning of each chapter, this book provides rich evidence for the seven principles that can inform good teaching. The seven principles are 1) Organizing information, 2) prior learning 3) motivation, 4) metacognition, 5) feedback 6) guidance, and 7) developing mastery. Each have a dedicated section exploring the research and practical applications. The first two principles, organizing information and prior learning can be supported through the workshop by building a schema of one’s own understanding, to make prior knowledge explicit. This prevents misunderstandings, uncovers assumptions, and allows the facilitator to begin at the place where the participants are situated. Organizing this prior knowledge allows a group to seek common ground and make sense of complex topics. Additionally, Senge’s (2006) work on Learning Organizations around group inquiry, meaning and purpose align well with the sections on metacognition and motivation. Metacognition allows mental models to become known and articulated which can lead to dialgue and for a collection of people, this would be what Senge calls group inquiry. Senge describes how important it is for individuals to discover meaning and express their purpose before they can properly contribute to a team. This is also consistent with the learning principles about motivation, where Ambrose et al (2010) remind us that we need to understand the perspective of the learner who would ask, “whats in it for me?”. The goal setting Senge describes for strategic planning also aligns with the principle for learning 5) feedaback and 6) guidance.
In many ways, if everyone read this book, teaching in higher education would massively improve. Since that is not really a viable option, this book can act as a helpful guide in facilitating the learning of participants in the workshop, acting both as a model and a framework.

how learning works

Biktimirov, E. N., & Nilson, L. B. (2003). Mapping Your Course: Designing a Graphic Syllabus for Introductory Finance. Journal Of Education For Business, 78(6), 308-312. 

This article was removed because it did not facilitate the development of the workshop and focused too heavily on the individual teacher’s curriculum versus the system as a whole. There also isn’t any research data beyond anecdotal evidence to support the assertions that a graphic syllabus can be a useful tool for learning, though I do believe creating a graphic syllabus is a useful self-reflection activity for instructors to articulate the connections and intersections of content in their course.

Brookfield, S. (1984). Self-Directed Adult Learning: A Critical Paradigm. Journal of Adult Education Quarterly, 35(2), 59-71. doi: 10.1177/0001848184035002001

This article was also removed because it is outdated and subsequent articles have continued this conversation beyond the introduction of criticality required in self-directed learning. It was also a poor choice, since the workshop is design to be facilitated not self-directed.

Brookfield, S. (2010). Leading Democratically. New Directions For Adult & Continuing Education, (128), 5-13. doi:10.1002/ace.386

This excellent article should be the basis for all academic meetings, both at the departmental level and in the classroom. Similar to Senge (2006) and Sibbet (2011), Brookfield describes a systems level approach to leadership that supersedes the individual leader to enable greater connections within a group to build community. Leveraging the power of the group through open and inclusive communication, Brookfield makes a convincing argument for democratic leadership to increase individual and collective commitment. He first posits four things that democracy requires to function: first it requires full participation, second it’s an economic arrangement, and third it needs to subvert hegemonic structures. Democratic leadership, according to Brookfield, is a process not a position. That means that everyone ha a right to lead. This shift of power is required to allow, in Senge (2006) terms, “shared vision”. Also similar to Senge, Brookfield’s focus on dialogue or group inquiry is a key component towards democratic leadership for meaningful change. Democratic leaders, much like good teachers, act as facilitators in a learning organization. Good facilitators are often invisible in that their efforts are not put towards getting credit for good ideas but are instead used to build consensus and ignite meaningful and respectful dialogue around opposing perspectives. Brookfield warns that democratic leadership has the potential to over-discuss and debate the smallest of trivial issues and conversely that in its goal to seek consensus it might extinguish or diminish meaningful dissent that is required for a democracy to flourish. Allowing for a diversity of voices and resisting hierarchal structures are two examples of democratic leadership that are also important approaches in the classroom. If I were able to fuse Brookfield’s impassioned argument for inclusion with Sibbet’s practical approach to team performance, my workshop would be impressive. As with many of these articles, it is not the concept that is difficult but the implementation.

Kolb, D.A., Boyatzis, R.E., and Mainemilis, C. (1999). Experiential Learning Theory: Previous Research and New Directions: Case Western Reserve University.

Since the first time Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory was introduced in 1984, educators have been drawn to the ELT as a way to approach differences in individual learning. This article revisits the theory and the VARK survey that classifies learners into four categories based on the learning styles inventory. VARK represents the different learning styles: visual, auditory/aural, read/write, and kinesthetic and the survey asks a series of question designed to determine an individual’s learning style. This learning style inventory maps your preferences by calculating a number for each of the areas of the experiential learning theory. The learner then has a numerical association for each of 1) Concrete Experience (CE), 2) Reflective Observation (RO), 3) Abstract Conceptualization (AC), and 4) Active Experimentation (AE). By subtracting RO-AC and AC-AE, the learner then can plot themselves on an axis which would put them in one of four categories. The four category descriptors Diverger, Converger, Assimilator, and Accommodator. Each category then has corresponding personality traits that describe how the learner prefers to solve problems and approach new learning. An additional section describes what types of professions a person would be well suited for, based on where in the graph they would plot themselves. The article attempts to address the main criticism that the LSI is not psychometrically valid by arguing that the tool is not meant to be prescriptive but rather descriptive. However, much research since has disproven even the descriptive potential of the LSI (Husmann & O’Loughlin, 2017; Knoll et al., 2018) which makes the ELT concept itself problematic. While the theory itself may have been disproven, if we revisit Ambrose (2010) and Senge (2006) the power of the LSI might reside in the metacognitive approach and reflective inquiry. Taking the time to reflect on one’s own personal learning preferences is a useful activity, even if the resulting categories are a bit forced and superficial. As with many structuralist descriptions of learning phenomena, there is some truth in the categories but most people probably exist in the liminal spaces in the edges more than in any one distinct grouping. With this recognition, using Kolb (1984) won’t do any harm to learners and could act as an excellent prompt for deeper explorations into one’s own thinking.

Kolb's Experiential Learning CYCLE, Learning Styles & examples

Miller, L. A. (2017). On Knowledge Acquisition in Management Meetings, 120. Retrieved from

For her Masters thesis, Miller investigates the use of real time visualization using web conferencing software with a group of 33 managers from around the world. The author found that managers connecting online using real time visualization considered the meetings to be more effective than regular web conferences. Using the whiteboard interface of the web conferencing tool, Miller captured the words and imagery of meetings and allowed the managers to contribute to the whiteboard. Instead of minutes being distributed post-meeting, the minutes were enlivened by colourful drawings and words created in real time for all to see as the experience unfolded. This concrete experience into a reflective observation blends the first two elements of Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning cycle. Miller’s overview of visualization methods for knowledge acquisition is helpful as there is some consistency with Senge’s (2006) mental models and team learning, though it’s not explicitly mentioned. Miller’s use of the framework provided by Pfister & Eppler (2012) is a sensible way of positioning the visualization in meetings in that in facilitates knowledge creation, sharing, and documentation. Overall, Miller found that almost 80% of the managers felt that real time visualization had a positive effect on knowledge acquisition. A minor concern, as repeated throughout many of these articles, is the repeated assertion that visualization techniques address learning styles. See the Kolb (1999) article for more detailed explanation of why referencing learning styles is not a sufficient rationale to include visualization in knowledge management.

Olson V., Zipp, G., D’Antoni, A.  & Cahill,T. (2010). Does the mind map learning strategy facilitate information retrieval and critical thinking in medical students? BMC Medical Education, Vol 10, Iss 1, p 61 (2010), (1), 61.

This research finds that mind map learning strategy does not facilitate information retrieval but doesn’t impede it either. Researchers found that the strategy was not great for short-term recall and imply it might be better for longer term recall. Authors suggest learners may require more training on how to construct mind maps. Standard note-taking might be so familiar that it is already commonly used strategy for success. This finding is disappointing as the use of mind maps to make prior learning explicit is a commonly used teaching technique that has anecdotally facilitated learning. In future developments of this workshop and literature review, I would like to look for more examples of mind map research to see Olson et al’s findings are consistent in other research findings.

Pfister, R., & Eppler, M. (2012). The benefits of sketching for knowledge management. Journal of Knowledge Management, 16 (2), 372-382. doi: 10.1108/13673271211218924

The three ways that sketching can be used in knowledge management are Knowledge creation, Knowledge sharing, and Knowledge documentation. The authors assert visualization can reduce cognitive load for idea generation by allowing sketches to act as a place to hold the concepts while a group works through issues. Specifically looking at disciplines in design, computer science, and psychology, the authors describe sketching as a thinking tool for collective graphic memory. The research cited and the subsequent framework are useful for those interested in incorporating sketching into knowledge management. This article contains many useful resources to include in the workshop.

Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday/Currency.

This book inspired me to shift my workshop from individual-focused towards more organizational-centred. There is a great deal of insight that can be gleaned from this book, though it is challenging to put its wisdom into practice. When it was released, it represented a seismic shift in the managerial mindset, in its calls for holistic systems thinking in order to achieve maximum organizational effectiveness. It’s difficult to argue with many of its assertions for the need for an organization to align its overall meaning and purpose with individuals within its organization. The Learning Organization, as Senge describes it, must make explicit individuals’ mental models towards achieving personal mastery, in order to work together with a shared vision for team learning. The narrative and examples are convincing but implementing is much more elusive. There is a real need for a skilled facilitator to “hold the context of the dialogue” (p.243). This stipulation is neither trivial nor speedy. Senge spends most of the book describing why this should be done and less time on how. Paired with Sibbet’s (2011) work there is real potential to visually facilitate a group towards a shared vision. Senge’s pedagogical perspectives are encouraging, as he references Schon’s reflective practice and the alignment with Ambrose et. al’s (2010) How Learning Works.

open systems seminar handout

Sibbet, D. (2011). Visual Teams: Graphic Tools for Commitment, Innovation, and High Performance. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Using the Sibbet-Drexler Team Performance Model, this book describes the seven steps to effective teams: Orientation, Trust Building, Goal Clarification, Commitment, Implementation, High Performance, and Renewal. Building consensus and the importance of ensuring the individual participants’ visions are concepts that resonate with Senge’s (2006) Fifth Discipline. Sibbet does not explicitly mention Ambrose et al. (2010) however, many of his approaches are aligned with How Learning Works, as is described in the Senge (2006) annotation.
Of the seven stages Visual Teams, my workshop will focus on the third most impactful section: Goal Clarification, though there is a danger in cherry picking specific sections and not following the full process. In particular, ignoring the team building and trust building sections and skipping to the third section directly might short circuit the process. Some suggested activities require high emotional intelligence which might contradict traditional notions of academic work. The book outlines some of the common types of resistance that one might encounter but not really a solid plan to counter such resistance. This leaves me feeling vulnerable at attempting these processes on my own as I would not know how to manage contrarian responses to the workshop.

Sousanis, N. (2015). Unflattening. Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 2015.

This beautiful dissertation turned publication serves to challenge the prevailing notion that serious academic work can only exist as text. Sousanis lays out each page with rich visuals to accompany well cited philosophical and scientific notions about knowledge acquisition. The layout of a graphic novel page is read in part and whole due to its visual layout. The idea is that text in itself is flat and adding a visual component to learning enables a fuller learning experience. While it seems revolutionary that Sousanis’ doctoral work was done in comic format, he is successful in outlining the historical, theoretical, and evidence-based rationale for inclusion of visual material. No less academic, in its referencing, Sousanis makes use of the whole page to convey meaning, as described in his Grids and Gestures article below.

Sousanis, Nick (2015) “Grids and Gestures: A Comics Making Exercise,” SANE journal: Sequential Art Narrative in Education: Vol. 2 : Iss. 1 , Article 8. available at:

This article describes an activity that allows participants to practice graphic creation in a scaffolded way. Even the most inexperienced are able to create a comic-like interface using the simplest of shapes and markings in order to express meaning. This is extremely useful in visual practice workshops to allow participants an easily accessible way to approach drawing and organizing shapes to convey meaning.

References Cited


CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from

Husmann, P. R. and O’Loughlin, V. D. (2018), Another nail in the coffin for learning styles? Disparities among undergraduate anatomy students’ study strategies, class performance, and reported VARK learning styles. American Association of Anatomists. doi:10.1002/ase.1777

Knoll, A. R., Otani, H., Skeel, R. L., & Van Horn, K. R. (2017). Learning style, judgements of learning, and learning of verbal and visual information. British Journal Of Psychology, (3), 544.

Mayer, R. E., & Sims, V. K. (1994). For whom is a picture worth 1000 words e Extensions of a dual-coding theory of multimedia learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 86(3), 389e401.

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