doodle notes

A while ago I saw a news report about these guys. They specialize on providing note takers for big events (usually speakers). The note takers try to produce an extended doodle that captures the essence of what’s spoken. I thought it was pretty cool, I remember someone in the report talking about how, for him, it really helped him internalize and synthesize information from presentations. He concentrated on finding images that connected to the material and found some non-linear ways to represent all(?) the information.

This weekend I’ve been at a conference all about upper-division physics curriculum, and in the last session I thought I’d give this technique a try. I did it for a couple different presentations, but I purposely chose to do it for Melissa Dancy’s on the research about why PER ideas are slow to disseminate. I wanted to do it for her because I was sitting next to her and I wanted to show her what I created. She got a kick out of it, and I thought I’d post here both what I did and what I thought about the process.

Here’s the link to the pdf that my Surface Pro produced via OneNote.

I have to say that it was really fun to do it. I used a bunch of stick figures and some drawings along with the occasional keywords. What I really liked is how I 1) concentrated like crazy, but 2) didn’t feel stressed or exhausted doing it. I really liked how I had to come up with a cool/funny/informative/whatever way to represent something, often trying to connect the new idea to the existing doodle. Of course, OneNote and its infinite page size and ease of changing pen colors really helped, along with my super cool Surface Pro (I promise I’ll stop promoting that one of these days).

There were some times when I felt like just writing out a sentence would have worked just as well (or better) but I wanted to really give the doodling a chance.

Having tried it, I think I might try it some more about meetings etc. We’ll see, but I’m pretty excited about how it got my brain to engage in a different way. I’m really curious if any of you think this might be good to encourage students to do it.

Side note about technology: I had my Surface out for nearly the whole conference, mostly taking notes in OneNote in full-screen mode, but admittedly occasionally checking email etc. What was interesting is that I think I appeared more engaged with the conference than I would have been using the keyboard (as opposed to the stylus). My screen was flat to the table, not blocking anyone’s view of my pretty face. I only used one hand to take notes, though I’m not sure if that’s meaningful. It’s interesting how many people have talked to me about the recent study showing how laptop note-taking seems not to really help people. I felt that my Surface enabled me to take digital (and thus easily saved, searched, not lost etc) notes in a format that is incredibly flexible (handwriting/doodling) while maintaining the ability to do other things too (yes, I’m talking about checking email 🙂

So what do you think? Here’s some starters for you:

  1. This is cool! Could you come to a meeting with me on …
  2. This is dumb. Melissa (or whomever) can just post her slides and you could fully engage without writing anything.
  3. This is cool. Here’s how I do something similar . . .
  4. This is dumb. I can’t figure out anything from those notes. I bet you won’t be able to either after a few days.
  5. This is cool. What would it be like to lecture like this?
  6. This is dumb. I don’t know how to draw.
  7. Wait, you didn’t mention how Mathematica played a part.
  8. I’m Melissa and I think this was really cool because . . .
  9. I’m Melissa and I’m mortified that this post exists because . . .
  10. You’re using technology, so the study about laptop notetaking applies directly to you.

About Andy Rundquist

Professor of physics at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN
This entry was posted in teaching, technology. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to doodle notes

  1. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

    update: tonight I went to a marching band parents meeting. They through a lot of logistical information at us and I found it really hard to do the doodle note taking. Of course, I was thinking at the time that a hand out would have been better for all those logistics.

  2. Joss Ives says:

    I’m Melissa and I am mortified because you didn’t mention Mathematica.

    I have been paying attention to Derek Bruff’s posts on the visual note taking, but have not tried it out myself. Maybe this is the push I needed to try it out myself. I admit that in a lot of talks I have good intention in terms of taking notes, but I rarely succeed. Once I get my Surface Pro 3 I will have lots of space for all sorts of doodles.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      It’s funny. When I went to check out Derek’s blog posts about this I realized that they were actually how I found this stuff in the first place. What I did when I wrote this post was just google “doodle note taking” and found the link I posted above. However, Derek’s post has a link to a book called The Sketchnote Handbook written by Mike Rohde who doesn’t appear to be affiliated with the link I put above (that link site doesn’t use the word Sketchnote). So it seems there’s at least two different groups doing this sort of thing.

      • bretbenesh says:

        Melissa took my comment. I can only also provide a link:

      • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

        yep, I feel bad for not linking to that originally (my internet connection at the airport was pretty poor, so I really only used the first link I found when I did a “doodle notes” google search). Thanks for putting it here!

        On Mon, Jun 9, 2014 at 9:51 AM, SuperFly Physics wrote:


  3. Steve Dickie says:

    I like this idea, but I do wonder how useful the notes would be later. Some tablet note taking apps will record audio and sync it with the notes. I think this could be helpful when reviewing notes at later date.

    The study on laptop notes pointed out that students basically shut off the part of their brain that thought about the material and they just became transcription machines. This technique goes to the opposite extreme.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      Yeah I’ve used both LiveScribe pens and OneNote’s recording tools for lecture notes. I like them a lot, especially when going back to remember something. However, neither made me as active a listener as this approach did. Now, the question is, what matters more? An active brain (that might get tired) or a good set of useful notes for later?

      On Wed, Jun 11, 2014 at 3:50 AM, SuperFly Physics wrote:


      • Steve Dickie says:

        The thing I liked about this approach with synced audio is you could have the best of both worlds. Active engagement while taking the notes and audio to fall back on if needed.

      • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

        yeah, that’s true. The OneNote synced audio is hit or miss as far as where you can click to hear audio. But it lets you easily incorporate other colors, screen clippings, etc.

        On Wed, Jun 11, 2014 at 8:40 AM, SuperFly Physics wrote:


  4. Andrew Kennett says:

    This doodle approach reminds me of one of the VSP (Very Smart People) at university whose lecture notes always just looked like cartoons, didn’t stop him topping the class, after this article maybe it helped. (I just googled him Dr Stephen Bosi — looks like doodle notes took him a long way).


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