Notebook: An Argument

Posted on May 7, 2014


So here’s something. I’m working on something tentatively called “The Notebook Project,” which will be an investigation into notebooks, sketchbooks, daybooks, lab logs, journals–any sort of process thing–and their role in learning and cognitive development. Here’s a video I made about it.

Notebook: An Argument from Charlie Huette on Vimeo.

I realize that when I wrote “process thing” above, it’s probably not very clear or helpful, but I haven’t come up with a better general term yet to describe these things. In the research, they’re variously called “cognitive extensions,” “enculturated informational structures,” and “artifact extensions,” which aren’t names that are much more useful than “process thing.” So I’m going with that until I come up with something I like better.

But the central question I’m interested in is this: what’s the role of process in a predominantly outcome- and product-focused educational climate? If we assume that learning is active (rather than passive), it follows that the outcomes we seek from students also involve elaborate active processes through which learners explore, clarify, elaborate, and test ideas before they arrive at products and outcomes. But those process steps are very often routinized to the point of becoming themselves outcomes or products. Know what I mean?

For example: when we have students work on projects or complex problems, we typically assign outlines, brainstorming sheets, mind maps, graphic organizers, or one or more of other similar activities as a way of helping to move them along. Not necessarily a bad thing, but these activities often become an end in itself (if that makes sense). The notion of it being incremental, developmental, exploratory, is lost as it becomes something to complete. Completion is not the point; it’s almost the opposite. If that makes sense.

So as part of this project, I’ve been exploring alternatives to this. I’ve been asking students, friends, engineers, artists, musicians, teachers–anyone, really, who will talk to me–about about their process of imagining, developing, testing, and acting on their ideas. And I’ve found that very many of them use some version of a notebook to develop their ideas. So: that’s the jumping-off point for the project as a whole.

This video is my first stab at articulating some of the key ideas of the project as a whole, in the form of an argument on behalf of notebooks. I welcome your comments, reactions, and suggestions. (I say to the seven people who will read this.)