Uploaded by Gregory MacKinnon

ArtSciTech-Published Paper

Observational Drawing as a Means of
Integrating Creative Arts, Science,
and Technology
Gregory MacKinnon, Donna Livingston, and Fred Crouse
ABSTRACT - In a teacher education program, a process called “observational drawing” was
used as a means for integrating creative arts, science, and technology courses. The impact of
the embedded activity was assessed through a survey, interviews, and focus groups. Teacher
interns suggested that the activity not only allowed for an authentic application of observational drawing but it also demonstrated how technology can empower education.
Keywords: technology integration, science education, art education, teacher education, observational drawing
Computer technology has shown promise for
tant to first consider the delivery mode of such
empowering education. Most recently there has
pedagogy. A useful model for addressing the com-
been a call (Roblyer, 2005; Selwyn, 2002 ) for re-
plexities of the teaching/learning process has been
search to shift from solely comparative impact
developed by Mishra and Koehler (2006). By ref-
studies (Thompson, Simonson & Hargrave, 1996)
erence to Figure 1, the TPACK (technology peda-
to a more qualitative understanding of how to 1)
gogical content knowledge) model deconstructs the
better implement technology, 2) monitor impacts
interaction between content knowledge (the knowl-
of technology on societal goals and 3) consider
edge of the subject), pedagogical knowledge
negative sociological effects of employing technol-
(knowledge of the nature of learning including de-
ogy. The following study investigates the attitudes
sign, management, and implementation) and tech-
of teacher interns towards a subject-integrated
nological knowledge (how to employ technology).
assignment. Specifically, the teacher education
The overlap of each of three designated fields al-
instructors of three independent courses in art,
lows us to identify unique types of instructor un-
science, and information technology were inter-
derstanding. For instance, graphically an overlap
ested in feedback related to a single learning task
of technological and pedagogical knowledge (Gao,
that was built upon outcomes for each of the
Choy, Wong Wu, 2009) would have us consider
courses. The assignment involved using technol-
the domain question of “how does technology
ogy to highlight the drawing process in science
change the way I think about teaching.” Similarly,
education. The research question specifically was
an overlap of content and pedagogy may imply a
how the integration of these subjects in this par-
question of “how does my style of pedagogy im-
ticular fashion, created new and unique learning
pact the content I can deliver effectively.” Finally
the region represented by the overlap of technolo-
A Framework for Considering Integration
gy and content begs the question of “how technol-
In order to understand the interplay between
ogy impacts the types of content I can teach.”
the particular course objectives, it seems impor-
Whenever a teacher employs technology in teaching these and other factors are useful to consider.
VOLUME 2 NO. 3 (2012)
Figure 1. The TPACK model
Overlap of the Content
While the interaction of technology with any
content area may be thoughtfully considered in
the TPACK model, in this research we were also
looking at the overlap of three content areas namely
art education, science education, and information
technology education. (Figure 2).
Observational drawing and
cutaways in the context of
creating virtual field trips.
Figure 2. Overlap of Science, Art, &
Art and technology have been successfully integrated (Duncan, 1997; Schramm, 2000; Callow,
2001; Loveless, 2003; Stankiewicz, 2004; Phelps
& Maddison, 2008), in activities that involve: creation of art using graphics software (Freedman ,
1991; Ashford, 2002; Busby, Parrott & Olson,
2000), multimedia programs (Long, 2001), art as
it relates to design (Wood, 2004; Radclyffe-Thomas, 2008) and more recently, virtual visits to
museums (Roblyer & Doering 2010, p 379; John
Paul Getty Museum, 2011).
The integration of science and technology while
prominent in the media is often misunderstood.
Part of the confusion arises from a misconception
that these terms are synonymous in some way.
This is clearly erroneous when you consider the
oft-used definition of science as “a way of knowing” while technology is considered “a way of
adapting.” The primary aim of the scientist is to
understand the workings of the world by addressing fundamental questions through a logical and
systematic pursuit of knowledge; the “way” em-
phasizing the process of scientific investigation.
By comparison, the technologist seeks to use or
fashion tools that help respond to a real problem
of adaptation. In this way, it is easy to see how a
piece of chalk or a toaster are artifacts of the technological process. The computer represents only
a single example of a tool that helps us to solve
problems and therefore does not represent technology in its entirety by any definition.
In the context of science and science education
however, the use of computers has certainly had
its impacts. Researchers have long been using
computer technology for collecting and collating
data in an effort to understand scientific processes. In addition, the copious amounts of data and
the computational power of the computer has allowed for effective predictive simulations of phenomena ranging from earthquake analysis to understanding worldwide epidemics. The use of computer technology has even allowed researchers to
simulate the active sites of enzymes such that we
can effectively and visually steer potential drugs
into three-dimensional spaces. This has given the
scientist valuable and instant feedback on whether
the synthesis of a new compound is worth pursuing in the laboratory. Clearly, these computer technologies have had a tremendous impact on science and the way we understand processes of the
world around us.
In science education, arguably the “signature
pedagogy” (Gurung, Chick & Haynie, 2009) that
uses computer technology, is the integration of
computer probes into classroom investigations.
Whether students are collecting motion data from
a car accelerating down a ramp, sampling pH
changes in an acid rain experiment or monitoring
respiration in a plant through a gas pressure
probe, the use of probes for collecting data quickly has changed the way we teach science. Data
collection is so much faster that multiple experiments can be undertaken and data graphically
displayed in minutes. In the classroom, this shifts
the emphasis from laborious collection of data to
more constructivist activities (Brooks & Brooks,
1993) based on “analysis” of the data. Moreover,
teachers can design activities that rely on a certain retro analysis where students must predict
the scientific situation which will generate certain
types of graphical representations. This type of
higher -order thinking has been uniquely and
thoughtfully integrated into classroom instruction
VOLUME 2 NO. 3 (2012)
through computer technology (Williams, Retson
& Symons, 2003).
Science and art have a long history of integration that is rooted in the scientific representations
created by zoologists such as Darwin (2011) in
his adventures on the H.M.S. Beagle and the inventor Leonardo Da Vinci (2011), neither of whom
had access to photography.
More fundamentally, topics such as perspective in art have been nicely examined from the perspective of rudimentary physics (Shlain, 1991).
At a higher level of sophistication, the topic of fractals has been rendered beautiful through an artistic lens (Briggs, 1992). In public school education, a concerted effort has been made to integrate
art and science (Clement & Page, 1993). In a reversion to early applications of art in scientific
drawing, there is a growing trend of having young
children draw their scientific experiences and experiments for inclusion in formative classroom
assessments such as personal science journals
and portfolios (Shepardson & Britsch, 2000).
Observational Drawing in Science
At all levels of instruction, our current educational climate of constructivist learning (Brooks
& Brooks, 1993) and situated cognition (Brown,
Collins & Duguid, 1989). provides a perfect opportunity to promote skills (and knowledge) in both
the disciplines of science and art. We can accomplish this by allowing the skills required for art to
enhance the skills needed to do good science. In
the integrated project described below, the skill of
interest is “observation” (Rommel-Esham, 2005).
Being keenly observant is a developed and learned
behavior useful to both art and science in the classroom, the laboratory, and for field studies.
Observational drawing is an essential learning
tool that is not normally taught in the public
school curriculum. In the context of the art class,
we can look carefully at what we are drawing, but
when we have to draw what we see, there is potential for us to learn to observe at a refined level;
consider for instance textures, colors, and relative sizes as possible attributes. In science, being
able to articulate subtle differences in what we
observe is a useful skill in guiding inference, prediction and classification.
A typical lesson in observational drawing might
advance by the plan outlined in Table 1.
Table 1
An Observational Drawing Lesson Outline
Step 1: First Drawing: Students are introduced to the concept of schematic drawing by representing a flower on computer paper, 8x11, with HB pencils.
Step 2: Introduce the concept of SCHEMA. Schematic drawings are symbols representing
complex ideas. Stick people are schema for humans. Flying birds are simplified, becoming extended letter ms. In this exercise the first flowers created are usually daisies or tulips. Their stems
often grow out of the ground (a line), with a round rayed sun shining above. Interestingly, the
same schematic models are produced whether working with a grade 2 class, or with adults. Adult
and children’s use of schemas do not represent an ability to draw. Schemas are simply untutored
visual ideas.
Most humans use a schema when asked to make a representational drawing, unless trained to
look more carefully at the world around. The acute observation skills called for in observational
drawing are what link visual art and science curricula.
Step 3: Learning to Look. Students choose an object to draw from preselected specimens.
They are asked to examine it carefully, making sure to identify parts with scientific terms, petals,
stamen, leaf umbels, etc. and choose one view to represent, left view, right view, front-on, top or
bottom. They lay the flower on the table, so that the view is visible.
Students are asked to:
* notice that every petal is a different shape/size and that some have defects/bumps etc.
* notice that each side of the stem is slightly different
* pay attention to the leaves. Are they rounded, pointy, have serrated edges, point up or down?
* eliminate visual noise from around the flower. Place it on a flat surface next to the drawing
paper. This is done so that the eye can focus on the subject without extraneous visual information. Background visual noise confuses the senses, and makes sight connected to drawing skills
difficult. Observational drawing focuses sight.
Step 3: The Drawing: Materials: manila or other drawing paper (10x18 or similar proportion to
accommodate flowers, stems, leaves and roots), and sharpie markers.
Choices in page placement and focus are highly individual, as are the marks that will be made
on the page. Two students drawing the same flower will make very different compositions and will
solve problems in different ways.
1) Decide on the composition. The flower drawing must fill the page from top to bottom. To
accomplish this, the drawings must be large. Consider drawing the stem down the L or R side of
the paper, perhaps cropping the left leaves (drawing off the page).
Students are asked to lay out the design on the paper using gestures with their hands. Where will
the stem sit, the flower etc.? Allow freedom in placement decisions, but no tracing!
2) Demonstrate quickly for the students. Choose one small area to draw first. Begin at the top of the
plant or with the flower part. Some students choose to start at the bottom, with the stem because
it seems easier. In reality, it is much more difficult. Encourage a top start.
A flower contains too much visual information to keep in the mind at once. Choose one petal or leaf
that can clearly be seen, and begin at that point. Begin near the top, in the planned position.
3) Begin by drawing only one side of the petal, keeping the eye on the outline of only that shape.
Remember each petal is different in size and shape when you look carefully. Draw every lump,
bump and unexpected shape as it is seen. Draw exactly what is there no matter how odd or unleaf-like the line seems. Repeat with every section of the flower. Allow the eye to concentrate on
only the one section that is being drawn at a time.
Continue with another part, perhaps the stem. Where does it join the plant? Draw each side of
the stem separately. Even straight stems have slightly different lines on each side. Notice every
bump and bud. Draw both sides of any tiny connecting stems continuing to leaves and perhaps to
berries. Even though they may be tiny, draw both sides.
As the drawing grows, be aware of the positive and negative spaces that are being created. The
positive space is the area inside the forms. The negative space is behind.
The world of our current students is a visual
one. We are bombarded with images daily. The
visual world passes by in a superficial way, unexamined. This unexamined life does not serve
knowledge, hence the importance of observational drawing, a learned skill of sequestering the detail and nuance of the actual object being drawn.
Observational drawing, on its own, makes neither an artist nor a scientist. In situating observational drawing in an authentic task for students,
it is possible for students to grow in their ability to
recognize detail. When children draw observationally they are forced to look at objects in a unique
way. As they draw, they learn to see more, as they
see the act of drawing reinforces their memory.
The Integrated Task
The following task (see Figure 2) was posed to
62 teacher interns in a 2 year post–degree Bachelor of Education program at a small liberal arts
college of 3500 students in Canada. Students in
this program are required to take courses in Creative Arts, Science Education, and Instructional
Technology. The overall assignment was designed
to 1) incorporate outcomes from each of the courses, 2) avoid assessment duplication and 3) provide an authentic task demonstrating integration
of subject areas. In the public school system it is
very common for teachers to adhere to learner
outcomes in each subject area. What is more difficult for teachers to do is, to deconstruct individual outcomes (Wiggins & McTighe, 2008) and
employ authentic tasks to weave all of the outcomes together under the singular activity rather
than leaving them within the independent content
areas. This assignment was intended to promote
an example of this process.
In the science education course, the instructor
has frequently asked students to create “virtual
field trips.” These projects take multimedia such
as pictures, sound, and video from an actual nature walk (e.g. seashore, forest, farm etc.) and combine them in a PowerPoint® presentation. The intent is to create a database of field studies that
public school children can access in the classroom year round. Quite independently, in the instructional technology course, students have often been asked to demonstrate their familiarity of
PowerPoint® features through a presentation
where content choice is flexible. In the Creative
Arts course, students routinely have practiced
observational drawing of a host of objects.
This teacher intern project involved integrating
all of these course objectives into one activity and
adding a further technological component. Teacher
interns were asked to create a virtual field trip in
PowerPoint®. The slides were to be non-sequential and instead hyperlinked through a table of
contents (see Figure 3). In this presentation, they
were to demonstrate the capability to incorporate
not only pictures/drawings and video but also a
running personal commentary which nested the
content within several classroom activities. In this
way the presentation acted as an interactive template for learning. Part of the assignment was to
create several samples of specialized slides. On
these particular slides, clicking on an observational drawing (Figure 4) would yield an enlarged
cutaway cross-sectional drawing (Figure 5). In
addition, it was required that a click on the cutaway observational drawing itself would yield a
second drawing; a rendering of a microscopic image of the cross-section (see Figure 6).
Figure 3. Virtual field trip: Table of contents
VOLUME 2 NO. 3 (2012)
Figure 3. Observational drawing of a
tree trunk
Figure 4. Observational drawing:
First cutaway of a tree cross-section
technology and in particular the relative ease of
accomplishing this technology task, 2) students’
impression of the integrated aspect of the assignment and 3) students’ impression of how the outcomes of each subject area might be served by
the assignment. Aspects of the survey were prepared as modifications of established instruments
(Christensen & Knezek, 2001). The survey was
field-tested with 5 students and edited for clarity
to remove ambiguity in the intent of each question. The survey was administered to 62 teacher
interns (45 females, 17 males) with 100% response
rate. The survey results were collated and the
trends identified. Note that while survey results
for all questions yielded response ranges within
one standard deviations of the mean for the question, it is duly recognized that the Likert scale is
not a continuous variable hence a very different
purpose for the survey. The primary aim of the
survey was to direct the researchers to investigate
more deeply the rationale behind the observed
trends via qualitative methods. To that end, a semistructure open-ended interview schedule was developed (Patton, 2002) and field-tested/edited with
a sample of three students. Individual thirty
minute interviews were conducted with a randomly-selected group of ten invited students (6 female,
4 male). The interviews were audio-recorded. The
recordings were transcribed and coded (Miles &
Huberman, 1994) for emergent themes. The thematic analysis of the survey and interview data
was shared in a member check (Guba & Lincoln,
1989) with a research colleague who was not otherwise involved in the project. Two focus groups
of five students each were invited to discuss and
corroborate the results (Morgan, 1997). The culmination of the survey, interview, and focus group
results follow.
Figure 5. Observational drawing of a
microscopic image of a twig crosssection
Research Approach
An electronic survey of 50 questions (Likert, 5point scale) was designed with questions to ascertain: 1) students’ comfort level with computer
Students in this sample were very comfortable
with such technologies as word processing,
spreadsheets, databases, PowerPoint®, internet
searching, and social networking through email.
They were not intimidated by the prospect of creating a hyperlinked presentation nor with the digital photography involved in preparing their virtual field trip. While a few students expressed mild
difficulty adding audio commentary, they overcame this challenge very quickly. In general, student aptitude with computer technology and associated technical problem-solving was very good,
sufficient that pre-disposition to technology was
deemed to be an insignificant factor when filtering
students’ impression of the impact of the integrated task.
Based on the empirical feedback, the nature of
the integrated assignment shows great potential.
Emergent indicators fell into two categories. In the
first instance, and rather predictably, students
were unanimous in their appreciation that the assignment combined the outcomes of three separate courses. Their comments centered around the
observation that, in their teacher education courses, they were consistently taught to integrate subjects within “real world” contexts in an effort to
pose authentic and relevant educational tasks to
their public school students. One focus group
paraphrased this by saying “we so often are told
to integrate subjects but having an example where
our instructors combine course outcomes in a single activity is extremely instructive for us.” Further probing of these intern comments unearthed
an inherent fear that deconstructing outcomes and
developing an awareness of course outcomes is a
difficult and learned skill. A second focus in this
thematic area was integrating technology. Teacher interns related their difficulty in “appropriately” integrating technology into their public school
curriculum. Interviews revealed that interns found
it very easy to see how the use of technology in
this integrated task promoted constructivist teaching approaches (Jonassen, Peck & Wilson, 1999).
Said one intern “you have to understand constructivism first and then you can see how the technology can enhance that mode of teaching; in this
exercise we could buy into how the computer accessed a different way of teaching from a constructivist perspective.” And from a focus group “we
could see from the assignment how the technology scaffolded the learning through providing a
unique framework to combine science and creative arts.” From surveys, interviews, and focus
groups it was clear that teacher interns overall
found the integrative aspect of the assignment to
be a good case study of how a teacher might approach combining course objectives and technology implementation.
It was quite challenging to get a sense of how
interns felt each subject area of the triad was
served by the integrated assignment. Themes of
their responses from survey, interviews, and focus groups are discussed here. Interns found the
process of observational drawing to be difficult. A
characteristic perception is captured in the comment “you know, I really thought drawing was just
sketching what you saw at first glance; what I have
learned to do is to look more closely at the detail
of what I am looking at.” When probed further,
interns revealed the value of integrating the activity with science. As relayed by one focus group
“we would not have delved deeper into the finer
characteristics of the objects we were drawing if it
weren’t for the science being the driving rationale
for investigating specific features.” Further another group suggested “because the anatomy of organisms is central to understanding its life processes, we looked much more carefully at our
VOLUME 2 NO. 3 (2012)
specimens in completing the observational drawing; I feel this task has taught me to notice details
in objects like texture.” Finally in several interviews the paraphrased comment was “learning to
observe more carefully in order to draw more realistically has become a learned process.” It is clear
that teacher interns see the integration of science
and observational drawing as an authentic task
that has taught them to not only be more scientific but also more adept at capturing detail in their
drawing. Furthermore, interns expressed a need
for their own students to learn the process of observational drawing as a life skill. Upon further
investigation of this potential, it was noted in many
interviews that teaching observational drawing
would be helpful for young students to discern
the difference between observation and inference.
As expressed by one intern, “my students often
make conclusions about what they think they observe; this is different from what is actually there;
I think teaching them observational drawing would
help them make the distinction.”
Interns preparing to teach science were quite
enthusiastic about the notion of using cutaway
diagrams to show microscopic features of life-size
organisms. In interviews, the majority of these
teachers suggested that their students would be
quite motivated to use the computer technology
to examine objects more carefully. In focus groups,
interns were enthusiastic about the virtual field
trip giving public school students access to a nature experience that was otherwise not possible.
In fact, teacher interns expressed a confidence that
they could create their own database of virtual
field trips.
As eluded to before, teacher interns appreciate
practical curricular examples of technology integration. The central theme that emerged primarily
from interviews was that computer technology is
often designed for specific purposes. As commented by one intern, “we have access to standard software that is used for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations…that sort of thing; more
expensive software for specific one-day classroom
applications is hard to justify; what we as interns
find most useful are examples of integration of
office type applications in non-traditional approaches.” The educational literature makes reference to use of computers as mindtools (Jonassen, 1996) which may subvert the intended uses
of their designers. More recently (Maddux &
Johnston, 2006) a designation has emerged which
categorizes higher order integration strategies as
“Type II” technologies. In this example the readily-available PowerPoint® program is utilized to
promote more advanced outcomes than simply
presenting content. Interns noted in interviews that
in approaching the greater task of creating a virtual field trip, they were able to learn about the
range of media that could be incorporated in a
presentation. This type of “just-in-time” learning
has been deemed by many to be much more effective than “just-in-case” learning (Halverson &
Collins, 2009). In particular, they found the hyper
linking of slides, in a non-linear fashion, to be a
useful tool for creating a stand-alone interactive
learning object (Wiley, 2000). In focus groups, interns were enthusiastic about the virtual field trip
giving public school students access to a nature
experience that was otherwise not possible. In fact,
teacher interns expressed a confidence that they
could create their own database of virtual field
It is important to note that in our sample of
teacher interns the level of technological literacy
seemed very good judging by survey measure. Interns expressed no intimidation associated with
the problem solving necessary to use the PowerPoint® software or add media to their virtual field
This study has established that integrating subject area outcomes in teacher education is not only
well-received by interns for its reduction of their
workload, but moreover a useful learning model
for interns whose work will invariably involve collapsing learning objectives. This is particularly
relevant in a school context where teachers are
asked to “cover” more curriculum every year.
Given that some critics of integrated curriculum will posit that something is lost by not studying individual subjects, this sample of teacher interns felt that there was great value in situating
all the learning objectives in a real context. In this
instance, the context was a problem-based task
where teachers were to create a virtual world field
trip to give their students access to nature.
The process of observational drawing was found
to be extremely illuminating to these interns. It
was notably a foreign activity for most interns, and
by no means an easy task. Students suggested
that the inherent value for themselves and their
students became immediately evident. In summary, interns felt observational skills were important
in many aspects of learning that transcended subject areas.
While this research indicates the positive potential for integrated assignments and in particular observational drawing, it is important to note
that collaborative instructors are central to the
success of such a project. A clear articulation of
the assignment objectives for each component
content area (e.g. science, art, technology) is necessary and a scoring rubric is just one tool which
may provide such a framework.
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About the Authors
Gregory MacKinnon, PhD. is a Professor of
Science & Technology Education at the School of
Education, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova
Scotia, Canada B4P2R6
[email protected] (contact author)
Donna Livingston is a Lecturer in Creative Arts
Education at the School of Education, Acadia
University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada B4P2R6
Fred Crouse is a Lecturer in Information Technology at the School of Education, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada B4P2R6
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