Design Lessons Learned Documentation Bruce Barker IT6710 – Creative Designs for Instructional Materials May 8, 2010
Overview By far the two biggest design lessons I learned during the course were the importance of using pictures and a story for remembering a message. The statistics from Dr. Medina (2008, p. 234) that words alone result in 10% retention after 3 days but 65% with the inclusion of pictures, made a big impression on me. (I have 100% retention in my long-term memory!) Correspondingly, “Stories appear to enable understanding and memory, and much of both child and adult learning appears to be acquired through a story format. . . Also, stories engage the emotions, and this too aids memory.” (Abela, 2008, p. 65) I have not seen quantitative studies for using both pictures and stories, but I presume that long-term retention would surpass 65% when coupling an emotional story with related and compelling pictures. I believe these two design issues – pictures and story – are closely related, as a cohesive set of pictures tied closely to a storyline are certainly more powerful and memorable than a disjointed group of pictures.
Personal Relevance These design issues are especially relevant to my teaching, as I have been one to include many numbered lists, bullet lists, paragraphs, wordy instructions, etc. in the class slides for my classes. I usually include a couple of pictures from the text, and sometimes an additional photo or two, but they are still few and not always very strongly-connected to the main point of the lesson. I am now constantly thinking about how I can weave an anecdote or metaphor into my lessons, and then about which pictures might best connect with them. Our math curriculum is mostly based around “real-world problems” such as predicting the number of humpback whales in the future if native Alaskans are allowed to hunt 200 whales per year. Adding pictures to these lessons (e.g., the killing of a whale) will help the message and the math stick. There are also quite a few lessons, unfortunately, where the real-world problem is quite dry, such as the determining the number of defects in an assembly line. I would like to replace these with problems which are more relevant and interesting to my high school students, but we’ve been told to stick to the curriculum. It is probably even more important to develop some relevant anecdotes and pictures to supplement those problems.
Design Decisions Although I decided fairly quickly on the design lessons I would be most focused on in the future, I had trouble figuring out how to show it. My brainstorming went for days. It was very frustrating, and I kept muttering about my awful 7th grade art teacher who made me hate art and keep from trying any art class again. Then one evening while I was reading Cendrillon (French for Cinderella) to my three year-old daughter Alwena, it occurred to me that this was a perfect example of learning with pictures & stories. Kids love stories, including fables and fairy tales, which often
teach them important life lessons and morals through compelling narratives with fanciful drawings. My daughter is constantly begging me to read her a story, and every evening I have to make up a new story; I often use these stories to surreptitiously work in some type of behavior that we’re currently working on, as it’s much more effective than just telling her to behave a certain way. I decided that these were to be the two primary elements of my design – picture of me lecturing my daughter, and another, smaller picture of me reading a Cinderella picture book to her. My wife used a digital camera to shoot each shot. The first was done in our yellowish hallway, giving it a very yellow-orangey hue (not intended). I’m wagging my finger at her, but due to the camera having the auto flash function turned off, my hand is a blur; I put her thought balloon callout there. The “blah, blah, . . .” is meant to signify that she’s not getting, or trying to get, anything I’m tell her. My message is a simplified version of what I believe is a moral of the Cinderella story – that if you’re nice to people, even when they’re treating you horribly, good things will happen to you. I have a traffic sign that means to “don’t just use words” above that picture. I’ve debated whether to take that out, but decided to leave it the final image. The second picture shows my daughter and I lying in a bunch of pillows, with me reading her a Cinderella book, and her enthralled by my storytelling and envisioning a scene from the story via another thought balloon callout. I believe that the first photo and message serve to better frame the context – that I’m not just telling people to read to their kids, but that using a story with pictures is a much better way to get your message across than by just telling your kid to behave a certain way. I brought the two jpeg photos into PowerPoint, added the callouts and ‘traffic’ sign mentioned above, included a header for the Cinderella picture of “Tell a STORY, with PICTURES”. I also set a background texture, and did some minor effects (edge softening) on the photos. I used PowerPoint because I know how to use it better than any other image editing tool I’ve tried. Although there were some difficulties with the photo shoot, including having the camera set to a lower resolution, not using a flash, and having my head cut off on almost every take, I feel that my instructional message came out rather well. I think the message comes through in a way that most people can relate to, through the eyes of a child. I believe that Dan and Chip Heath would say that I have a fairly sticky design based on their six principles of successful ideas (Heath, 2008, pp. 16-18). It is simple (a picture book works better than just words), concrete (everyone can relate to bedtime stories), credible (people think “Yeah, I remember a lot of those bedtime stories after all this time!”), emotional (most people will have an emotional reaction when they think back to being read to at bedtime), and even though it’s only one frame, it tells a story (both the story and message of Cinderella, and story of parents trying to get their children to ‘behave’). It does not really have the Heaths’ 2nd principal of sticky ideas – unexpectedness – but with five out of six of their principals, I believe that they would rate it quite high on the stickiness scale.
References Abela, A. V. (2008). Advanced Presentations by Design: Creating Communication That Drives Action. San Francisco: Pfeiffer. Heath, C. and Heath, D. (2008). Made to Stick. New York: Random House. Medina, J. (2008). brain rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.