Introducing Sketchnote to School of Visual Communication at Ohio University students: Julie M. Elman

We are very excited to introduce our guest: 

Julie M. Elman.

Julie teaches Publication Design at Ohio University (School of Visual Communication) and when our friend Scott Torrance (thank you so much Scott!) introduced  her to us, we instantly fell in love with her project.

She wrote

... I often talk about the different ways to brainstorm and develop ideas/concepts. I think sketchnoting will bring a whole new (and exciting) dimension to this process. 

I’ll be introducing the background info and the how-to’s of sketchnoting to students who’ll be part of a study abroad program in Edinburgh. 


Ok, let’s jump into the project! Here are Julie's notes about the project and some great sketchnotes from her students.


In all the years I’ve been teaching and practicing publication design, I had not run across Mike Rohde's concept of “sketchnoting" — but the moment I did, a couple of things clicked. One, I knew that sketchnoting could be easily integrated into a study abroad curriculum I had been preparing for this summer. And two, I realized that in all the years I had talked about developing concepts when teaching design, I had never truly deconstructed the process of sketching as a way to generate ideas and increase understanding. I assumed that when I asked students to "create sketches before heading onto the computer,” they would know what to do. But really, they didn’t. 

From mid-July to mid-August, 17 students and three faculty members (including myself) were part of the Scotland Field School, a study-abroad program based in Edinburgh. (This program is part of the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.) For the past 30 years, the Scotland Field School focused solely on documentary photography. This summer was the first time design was introduced into the mix — and the first time I had been part of this program. Of this year’s group of students who traveled to Scotland, four were publication design majors.

While in Scotland, I knew that getting the students past the “I can’t draw” hurdle would be tough — and I was right. Student Caylie Runnels, in reflecting about her experience, wrote, “My main challenges were the sketchnotes and getting over my hatred of drawing and having it be shown to people. I hate doing things I’m not good at, and having to show and do it in front of other people is very frustrating, but I tried to do the best I could.” Her thoughts were echoed by the other three design students.

Despite their initial resistance and fears of exposing “unfinished” work, they forged ahead with their sketchnotes. (The general focus of these was on people, places, things — not meetings.) While they oftentimes cringed at their squiggly lines and stick people (their inner critics had gone wild), I was delighted with what they came up with. Watching them undergo this process made me realize that sharing unfinished, sketch-y work was a vulnerable event.  In the end, what they produced was a wonderful complement to the student photographers’ images. Bringing together the different ways of seeing, the design students created a magazine that encompassed all of the students' creative work: photographs, sketchnotes, infographics and personal mini-essays. 

I believe that sketchnoting was critical in helping these design students see Scotland in ways they would not have seen had they not stopped to observe the country through their pens and notebooks. In addressing how she might apply what she learned during this trip, Caylie Runnels wrote, “I realized I need to take a step back and slow down my process sometimes and not worry what everything looks like at the very beginning of the process — because that’s what it is. A process.”

— Julie M. Elman  



“Things ewe might not know” sketchnote by Caylie Runnels. “Sketchnoting was very effective in the beginning (of the trip) when I was just learning,” Caylie wrote, when looking back on the entire experience. "It was an excellent way to observe.” Caylie took a more conceptual approach to this sketchnote by concentrating on interesting facts about sheep — and odd, archaic laws in Scotland. Caylie graduated from Ohio University in August.




“Cooking in the Castle” sketchnote by Emily Wolfe. In this sketchnote, Emily looked at some of the kitchen lore from Stirling Castle. “I really think in hindsight the sketchnotes were a great addition to the assignments,” Emily wrote. Emily will be a sophomore at Ohio University this fall. She’s also a self-described “foodie."



“Royal Botanic Gardens” sketchnote by Katy Schwarz. Katy explored the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh and created a sketchnote that was a collection of facts about this place. “The assignment to me that was the most challenging was the one that sounds the simplest — sketchnotes,” she wrote. "I really struggled with finding a balance between making it a drawing and making it a journal entry. I found myself wanting to just draw a picture of what I did/saw, but a sketchnote is more than that.” Katy will be a sophomore at Ohio University this fall.




“St. Andrews” by Molly Dixon. Molly focused on sketchnoting the world-famous links course at St. Andrews.“ Sketchnoting was really useful and interesting in the first portion of the trip, and helped me get a sense for where we were and take in all we were experiencing.” Molly will be a junior at Ohio University this fall.



 You can find more about  the School of Visual Communication on:

@viscomohiou (twitter + instagram)



Such a great read Julie!

Thank you for sharing with us. All of these sketchnotes look FANTASTIC!

We are very excited to see teachers and students applying sketchnotes in innovative ways—especially when it helps learners understand and remember more of what they are learning.

Let your students know we love new submissions here at Sketchnote Army!

- Mauro & Mike


Capturing sketchnoting process with Google Glass: Corey Latislaw

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