Visual Thinking: Exploring current practices and perspectives re student notetaking

Dawne Irving-Bell, Peter Hartley

Research output: Contribution to conferenceLecturepeer-review


Despite its importance in supporting learning in every academic discipline, student ‘notetaking’ is under-researched and under-theorised. Many studies are out-dated, analysing students’ behaviour before learning technologies became ubiquitous.

Current advice/guidance is also problematic. For example, can we believe one widely reported study that students should abandon laptops in favour of written notes to improve cognitive processing?1. This study received significant media coverage in the UK and USA2. Recent studies suggest more complex relationships, but unanswered questions remain about the best ways for students to use laptops and other devices/software in notetaking3.

As well as uncertain evidence on the media to use, there is little current research on either what students record as content or how they do it (e.g., use of diagrams/visual methods). For example, our survey of university websites found very limited and uneven support in this area. Few sites offer comprehensive introductions to visual methods for effective notetaking.

This session will analyse progress and discuss implications from our ALDinHE-supported project, focusing on the following main aims:

1. To investigate students’ notetaking practices/preferences across as wide a range of subjects as possible. Our ongoing questionnaire survey examines how and why students use methods of notetaking, the range of support they have received, and which methods are most used in specific disciplines

2. To pilot and evaluate structured interventions on effective notetaking with student groups from different disciplines, which can be disseminated for adoption/adaptation across the sector. A mix of survey and interview/focus group methods is being used to identify and evaluate changes in students’ behaviours and attitudes.

Our practical explorations with students (post and undergraduate) have focused on two methods which can be used across most if not all HE subject areas (sketchnoting and concept mapping) while offering key differences in approach. Both offer visual representation, but concept mapping uses quite ‘strict’ conceptual links/rules whereas sketchnoting offers a more ‘free-flowing’ and personal approach. Both methods are paper and/or computer based. While both are supported by research, demonstrating their contribution to learning and understanding, our preliminary findings are that they are sadly under-used across HE.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2022
EventALDcon22: The Learning Development Conference - University of Northampton , Northampton , United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Jun 202215 Jun 2022


ConferenceALDcon22: The Learning Development Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Note Taking
  • Visual Thinking
  • Sketchnoting
  • Concept Mapping


Dive into the research topics of 'Visual Thinking: Exploring current practices and perspectives re student notetaking'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.
  • The Great Global Note Taking Survey

    Beckingham, S., Baff, D., Faulkner, S., Hartley, P., Hallam, SARAH-JANE., Irving-Bell, D., Swanton, K. & Wooff, D., 2022.

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review

    Open Access
  • Developing visual mnemonic codes as an aid to effective memory recall

    IRVING-BELL, DAWNE. & WRIGHT, SARAH-JANE., 5 Jun 2019, p. 44-44. 1 p.

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review

    Open Access
  • Effective sketchnoting: A beginners guide

    IRVING-BELL, DAWNE., 5 Jun 2019, p. 22-22. 1 p.

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceLecturepeer-review

    Open Access

Cite this