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Drawing has been the traditional approach to improving spatial visualisation abilities in engineering design. The process of sketching could be applied to the vocational learner.

The Pedagogy of Sketching

Within the context of drawing being relatively under-theorised as a discipline, Richard Hare (1) explores the pedagogy of sketching as a means for (landscape architecture) students to engage with the complexities around them. Although his students are first-degree-level learners, it is not unreasonable to suggest that his argument – that when the learner uses the process of sketching, he consequently thinks and acts differently from those who do not engage in sketching – could be equally applied to the vocational learner.

Hare includes ‘observational drawing, idea generation, diagramming, design working drawing and doodling’ in his analysis, recognising that a sketch is not necessarily something that is ‘incomplete or ill-formed, though it may be both’ (1).

The Process of Sketching with Different Functions to the Learner

The process of sketching has different functions to the learner. For example, to a landscape architect (1) sketching:

  • Allows the collection of sensory impressions.
  • Makes possible the creation of a whole.
  • Facilitates the discovery and formation of problems.
  • Enables the learner to try and organise or solve problems.
  • Assists the learner in communicating his learning to others. We could propose that it also provides an opportunity for the learner to receive feedback from relevant others.

In an interesting example of Hare’s ‘music module’, he describes how students are required to create a sensory space in response to a piece of music. The piece of work they produce is evolutionary; beginning with abstract sketching, and moving to sketch modelling, when student’s responses and tutor’s feedback (and potentially the sketches of other students) become interspersed on the drawing board. The final stage is the use of photo editing software that allows further manipulation of the student’s response to the music.

Sketching as the development of diagrammatic representations is not just a tool that serves the academic aims of the curricula. It is not just a ‘skill’ to be applied to other activities – though tends to be regarded as such. Instead, it offers working, teaching, learning and reflecting methods. Most importantly from a pedagogic perspective, it is an essential element of the learning process as learners consider design problems and develop design solutions (1).

Picture Three-dimensional Shapes in the Mind

Drawing has also been the traditional approach to improving spatial visualisation abilities in engineering design. Despite the use of computer-aided design software, it is still considered that the most effective way for an individual to learn how to read drawings is to learn how to make them (2). By learning to draw, the individual is able to picture three-dimensional shapes in their mind. Manuel Contero et al., cite two studies, including a longitudinal study by Potter and Van der Merwe,  demonstrating that spatial ability influences performance in engineering, and that it can be increased by teaching that focuses on training ‘perception and mental imagery in threedimensional representation’.

While the examples above draw on occupational sectors with an obvious design content, it may be that sketching might help in other contexts.


  • Hare, R. (2004). The Act of Sketching in Learning and Teaching the Design of Environments: A total skill for complex expression. [Online]. Leeds Metropolitan University. Retrieved on Jun. 28, 2012, from http://slb06.gslb.arts.ac.uk/media/oldreddotassets/docs/cltad_2002hare.pdf
  • Contero, M., Company, P. Saorin, J. L. & Naya, F. (2007). Learning Support Tools for Developing Spatial Abilities in Engineering Design. International Journal of Engineering Education, 22(3), 470-477.

Lucubrate Magazine September 2019

The article is from the report “How to teach vocational education: A theory of vocational pedagogy” by Bill Lucas, Ellen Spencer and Guy Claxton, The City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development (December 2012)

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