Timelines, story boards and comic strips

page from Comics are research

Al-Jawad M. Comics are Research: Graphic Narratives as a New Way of Seeing Clinical Practice. Journal of Medical Humantities. February 2013

Drawing gives us a way to explore and play with the sequence of events. Formats such as annotated timelines and storyboards (short comic strips) can help us visualise and communicate ideas about what has happened in the past or to project into the future.

Comics are increasingly used as a tool for undertaking research and/or communicating its results.  Here’s an example from Dr Muna Al-Jawad of the Brighton & Sussex Medical School – part of the movement known as Graphic Medicine.

Another example is Nick Sousanis’ graphic novel, Unflattening (Harvard University Press 2015) originally submitted as a PhD dissertation on the relationship between visual and verbal modes of communication, in a format perfectly aligned to the subject matter.

In your own studies, you could use storyboards to help plan your social and academic life for the next week, or to reflect on what’s already happened. Here’s a cartoon by a ststudent placementudent about to go on work placement and thinking about what her first day might be like.

Depending on your subject, you could also use comic strips to help you describe and analyse narrative structure in books or film or academic essays. Business or law students might imagine the history behind a company takeover or a difficult personnel issue or imagine how a particular legal agreement might have an impact on different parties in the future. Making abstract ideas more tangible in this way can help in understanding the human factors in events and how cause and effect play out in the lives of organisations and individuals

Picturing to Learn  was a project involving undergraduate science students and faculty from Harvard, MIT, Duke University and Roxbury Community College, part of the Harvard Envisioning Science Program. For their assignment, students were asked to create freehand drawings/diagrams/comic strips to explain specific concepts in quantum physics to high school students ie to non-experts.

Try using this approach to explain concepts in your own subject to a non-specialist friend. It will help you clarify your own understanding and build up a useful collection for revision.

(First posted as part of the University of Brighton Big Draw October 2019)





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