Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - 10:30 AM

OOS 21-8: Learning to see and drawing to learn: On the value of integrating art into ecological education

Loren B. Byrne, The College of Wooster

Science and art provide distinct but complementary methods for observing nature. Training one’s self to make observations from both scientific and artistic perspectives might help generate novel and deeper understanding about organisms and environments than can be afforded by using either method alone. However, art and science are often mutually exclusive in our educational curricula, thus limiting opportunities for students to explore how art and science methods can inform, and perhaps enhance the outcomes, of each other. Although drawing is usually considered an artistic endeavor, it has relevance to scientific training (especially in ecology) because it can be used to help refine and improve one’s observational skills. During the drawing process, one’s attention becomes focused on closely observing the detailed, abstract and, perhaps, unexpected characteristics of a subject and relationships among those characteristics. In essence, the drawing process fosters learning about how to “see” a subject clearly and objectively. Arguably, such seeing is also a valuable scientific skill. Drawing is thus a method that can be used to promote scientific learning about characteristics of, e.g., organisms and ecosystems. For ecological education, drawing also has value as a way to creatively illustrate and communicate abstract concepts and processes that can only be seen in the “mind’s eye.” Contrary to popular belief, drawing skills can be improved through techniques that help one learn to “see” clearly. As such, including such techniques in ecology classrooms is a novel way to actively engage students in learning how to make better scientific observations of nature.