Sketching Can Help Students Learn, Research Shows


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Sketching is a rapidly executed freehand drawing that is not usually intended as a finished work. Especially for children, it is considered as important for their development. Children draw to express their feelings and thinking. Drawing is an especially important outlet for children who do not yet have the verbal skills to communicate their feelings. In addition, sketching has many benefits for children. This exercise allows children to learn many subjects.

But sketches consume a long time and are difficult to grade. To make it easy, scientists from the Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering have developed a new solution called ‘Sketch Worksheets’. Sketch Worksheets is a software equivalent of pencil and paper worksheets that provide real-time feedback to students.

It analyzes student sketches and then compares them to the instructor’s sketches. For example, an instructor might ask students to draw the chambers of the heart. If a student misplaces an atrium, then he or she is alerted to the mistake by the Sketch Worksheet.

In actual, the software is based on an artificial intelligence platform called CogSketch. CogSketch is a sketch understanding system and high-level model of human vision that automatically reproduce and understand human-drawn sketches.

Scientists goal for Sketch Worksheets is to be accessible to instructors in any field. For that purpose, they tested the software for more than 500 students in biology, geoscience, and engineering, ranging from the fifth grade through college.

It consists of an analogy model that compares the instructor and student sketches. Students and instructors apply conceptual labels to their sketches to express relationships among the drawings’ different parts. Without needing a deep understanding of the sketch’s subject matter, it compares the labels and provides feedback.

Forbus, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Computer Science said, “We hope that others will follow the lead of the geoscientists and create Sketch Worksheets to help their students learn. This is a step in creating software that can communicate with people as flexible as we communicate with each other.”


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