The Doodle as a Research Tool

Use the doodle, make the doodle.

Over 20 years ago I recall a notebook in a physical science class.  It was Mrs. Brown’s class, and I sat next to Sharon.  The thing that makes this notebook stand out over all of the notebooks I have ever owned is that in addition to scattered notes on forces and magnets, Sharon and I used it to communicate through doodles.

Every margin, every scrap of space was covered.  We solved world problems and made lunch plans.  Illustrated jokes and designed homes.  We laughed, and the notebook is still one of the most indelible impressions of my high school education.

The doodle serves a cognitive purpose that is often overlooked in education, it creates in the mind of the doodler a meditative state.  That state makes the mind more open and ready to absorb and process new information and informational connections.  In short, through doodling you can actually improve cognition and metacognition.  According to a study published in 2009 in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, subjects given a doodling task while listening to a dull phone message had a 29% improved recall compared to their non-doodling counterparts. According to  Professor Jackie Andrade, Ph.D., of the School of Psychology, University of Plymouth, “this study suggests that in everyday life doodling may be something we do because it helps to keep us on track with a boring task, rather than being an unnecessary distraction that we should try to resist doing.”

Enter Google

Google has taken the doodle and added another way in which it can be educationally valuable.  On many days, Google changes their logo to reflect a timely topic.  These alternate logo doodles are sometimes artful, sometimes interactive.  And my favorite thing about them is that they create a micro-research project in quick order.

Today for example is Feb 29,2012.

Gioachino Rossini 220 Birthday/Leap Day

The Doodle is hoverable for a quick snapshot of what it represents and also clickable, which takes you to a series of pages related to the topic furnished by the google search engine.  Teacher’s looking for a quick research topic selection?  Here’s a tip.  Google archives the doodles.  Send your students to the google doodle archive and ask them to select from the options there.  Want to focus on discoveries, no problem the archive is powered by Google search, so add the word discovery.  Want to focus on a specific date or country?  It can do that too.   Just be careful, too much specificity and you may miss what you are looking for as the search is limited to the text caption/hovertext of the doodles.

Students as Doodler’s

Flipping the concept, if you want students to find the research themselves here is an alternate research assignment design.  Have students select a topic and create  a webliography of entries with valuable information.  Then have them identify key dates related to their research or create a timeline.  Finally, have them create a doodle accompanied by a statement justifying why this doodle should be used by doodle on a specific date and what it should link to.

Google hosts a contest for exactly this type of doodling and student work selected can earn valuable scholarships.  So you can take it to the next level, or keep this as a home grown assignment.  Contest info is at

Doodle On!

doodle from the notebook


It’s nice to meet you!

At one point in education students and teachers were limited by the untenable time frame of seeing each other during a grand total of about 40 minutes a day, usually in a group situation. Online teachers in the beginning often never met their students at all. So it was an all or nothing situation

Today that just isn’t so. Or it doesn’t have to be. Web-enhanced, blended and fully online teachers and students benefit from a variety of technological advances which have made meeting each other just a click away.

Goal 1: A little face time

In this arena, nothing beats SKYPE The free version of this is available for computers and smart phones and many tablets.  It has a simple video conferencing interface and allows you to talk and see.  In addition to saying hello, I have used this to proctor a test and the offer advice on lab work (note my labs always require adult supervision on the other side, they are not just web supervised).

Goal 2: Interactive Teaching or Tech Supportweb conference

While face time is nice, more often I find that I need to see what students are doing as much as or more than their face.  Sometimes I have to help with computer basics like updating java or allowing cookies as well.  Skype doesn’t usually meet this need well for me, and definitely doesn’t do it for group.  That said there are nice web-conferencing options which allow screen sharing, whiteboard use, allow recordings which can be shared out and other features.

The simplest that I have seen is  This allows basic screen sharing and is easy for most people to use and includes free software and mobile apps. It is limited to audio and chat interactivity. Downside-you can’t record it, no polling options, no whiteboard.

The best for education that I have seen is Elluminate.  However, the platform has been absorbed into the Blackboard Collaborate suite.  The newer option is a little less intuitive for k-12 students because the key features like emoticons and whiteboard tools are hidden behind menus and not directly on the screen.  It is more of a higher learning friendly platform.  Its still good, but I am not going to recommend it highly.

A more user friendly interface for k-12 seems to be InstantPresenter.  I am new to this interface but quickly becoming impressed with its ease of use and interesting options for branding and permanent links.

Goal 3: Web lecture or Webinar

Perhaps you weren’t looking for an interactive environment or even a live environment.  Pretty much all webconferencing standards- WebEx, GoToMeeting for example-allow a webinar environment.  Desire2Learn has recently unveiled Captivate which is nicely integrated with their LMS, and Blackboard has similar functionality.  However, my personal preference is probably lowtech-high interest.  It is a combination of offline software with a microphone and an interface which makes it web playable.  Here are my two suggestions.

1) Powerpoint + ispring free.  Create a basic powerpoint, record audio with the presentation.  Then using the ispring add-on you can convert it to a flash-playable.  Downside-iPad users need to download an app to make flash playable it will not play in the iPad web interface.

2)Camtasia Studio-This is a pricey option-there are free versions which can be cobbled together to do this, but there is an educator discount and you may be able to convince your institution to purchase it.  This allows you to have powerpoint, show your screen and video it, voice over with audio editing for quality, include external video, AND you can use your webcam to include that personalized face time.  Best of all these can be loaded to your webpage, or to YouTube or TeacherTube.  One of my favorite examples of this use is from Bozeman High School in Bozeman, MT a science teacher named Paul Anderson.  You can view his “Bozeman Biology” YouTube channel to see what this looks like.  He even has a specific video of how he makes his screencasts where he uses presentation software, pen software and video capture.