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Flipped Textbooks: Engaging Student Learning by Design

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Rose Gonnella, co-author of Design Fundamentals: Notes on Type, describes the thinking process behind the creation of the 'flipped' textbooks in the Design Fundamentals series, a new concept in book design.
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There are hundreds of textbooks on the visual elements and principles of design. And textbooks remain as they have been since the Gutenberg and the Bauhaus: a written lecture, the narrative designed in a grid, information unfolding page after page within a formal structure. Textbooks are necessary. Textbooks add depth and breadth of knowledge. But could a textbook potentially teach more effectively if it practiced an active, contextualized process of constructing knowledge?

Teaching strategies in the trenches of the classroom have spawned a massive amount of research in order to effectively engage students in learning and retention of knowledge and skills. And it's been shown that active, project-based learning, constructivist learning, learn-by-doing, flipping the classroom, journaling, visual note-taking, think-share-pair collaborations, and study teams—work!

There is a delightfully visible and robust audible change in the staid climate of the classroom when students break out into pairs or larger teams, teach each other, or actively solve problems or create on the spot.

Active students learn best—with more depth—and retain more information when engaged fully in the process of learning rather than listening (lecture) or reading (book) to acquire knowledge. Constructivist learning—students teaching each other, with the instructor guiding with probing questions—engages discussion that in turn leads to a richer learning experience. Essentially, these methods give students a greater control and deeper responsibility for their learning outcomes. They "own" the process and hence the knowledge and therefore are most likely to retain it.

Applying these proven teaching methods to textbook design creates a model information delivery system to involve the students directly. Students "author" the content by way of direct learning, then design the delivery of the content and choose the master images—with guidance from the professor.

Our Flipped Textbooks

Experience in the classroom reveals that students trust each other; they are buddies in the educational process. They trade notes, discuss problems and issues, and review assignments among themselves. Students share their notebooks frequently.

Filled with anecdotes, illustrations, lettering, wise asides, and purposeful doodles, students' notes cover and distill major points of information presented in the classroom.

A flipped textbook offers the same approach as note swapping in the classroom, simulating a student notebook to connect with students in their own creative shorthand. For art and design students who think visually and are inherently creative, the flipped textbook feels right.

Do It Yourself

The Design Fundamentals textbooks combine experiences and interests with constructivist learning, think-pair-share collaboration, and the flipped classroom, with visual journals.

Drawing from Keri Smith, who created a popular series of journaling prompts, and visual note taking made famous by Mike Rohde and his Sketchnotes, the flipped textbooks series not only teaches, but it inspires and it is meant to guide and encourage students to transform their own notebooks into a rich learning experience and a memorable visual journal.

Along with reading and interacting with the textbook, encourage students with a journaling/note taking assignment. The challenge is to listen for key points during a lecture or video, and later illustrate them, choosing illustrations and creating notes that are a deeply personal learning experience.

The Design Fundamentals series—Notes on Color Theory, Notes on Visual Elements & Principles of Composition, and Notes on Type—looks, feels, and functions like students' notebooks from university level courses in color, principles of composition, and basic type design.

Our three casual, quirky, artful, witty, fun, surprisingly educational (!) books have the dual purpose of both teaching and inspiring learning. The educational content is interpreted and crafted through handwriting, lettering, collage, photography, and scads of drawn and painted illustrations in a variety of media: pen & ink, watercolor, acrylic, marker, pencil, pens, colorful pens, color pencil, soy sauce (funny, yet true). We like to call the series our adventure in flipped textbooks.

Rather than looking as though the text is a lecture, the Notes series of books feels active and engaging, and as if the books came directly from the hand of a student. (They did.)

The Design Fundamentals series is meant to be desired reading and learning, not required reading. They are lovable! Learn from and enjoy them for a long time.

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