Science comics: An effective tool for STEM education

Are science comics an effective tool for STEM education?  On November 7, Echo Rivera hosted our #scicommJC Twitter chat where she summarized a publication addressing the effectiveness of science comics. 

Twitter chat: exploring science comics as a teaching tool

There was also an activity as part of this Twitter chat. Participants were asked to draw a comic or cartoon to explain a topic they normally teach. We enjoyed seeing the range of contributions and topics.

This is Echo’s, which is about effective presentation design, and how increasing the font size people use on their slides has a cascading impact on other design elements.


This is Sherry’s, which is about the Curse of Privilege.

This is Heather’s, which is about the need for civic engagement offline.

Discussion around science comics

Participants also came up with, or shared ideas, for how to apply science comics to teaching:

I might [use comics]! Though I love creating memes instead (with free smartphone apps)! Less time 😀

What about asking students to draw their own cartoons? That’s fun and then you could see how they were interpreting the material?

Could incorporate creating an entire narrative for their cartoons/comics? World building around a topic or theme requires good understanding. So it could show how much they learned but also encourage more learning.  

Barriers for using science comics

One barrier that makes it difficult to use comics for teaching is that it can be hard to unlock student creativity if their prior academic experience has encouraged them to focus on grades instead of learning. These are some of the points that came up during the chat:

I had a hard time teaching my some of my honors chemistry students because they were obsessed with grades. 🙁

It makes me so sad when academia squashes creativity. We NEED that.

Follow up studies for using science comics

We asked participants these questions: What research questions did this inspire for you? What follow-up study would you like to see?

Here’s how they responded:

Testing the use of comics for teaching science to non-scientific audiences. Also, wondering about how different cultural interpretations of comics on understanding info & recall…

It would have been nice to survey the students and get their take.

Fascinating pilot! 1 complaint: no stats run on results. I’d assume because none of the results reported were significant

I’d like to see more variables collected for later analysis: time of class, # of students participating in discussion of comics..

Participants talked about how visuals have been effective for their own learning:

As a visual learner I concur. If I can get a picture of what’s happening, I understand it better.

YES! 1of most fun academic experiences: ANOVA class that used Mark Walberg memes to illustrate concepts

Matching the audience to the design of science comics

We also talked about how the structure might need to change depending on the audience:

Depends on the audience for the comics.  If comics to teach science were given to students in a humanities major (assuming a limited science curriculum), then comics would have to be structured differently.

I think the strength of the comics was that they allowed the students to draw their own interpretations.  Not any comic would have worked as well.

Take home message for using science comics for teaching

A key to the effectiveness of using comics for teaching STEM seemed to be its combination with reviewing the answers, and not so much just the comics alone. Here’s how our participants chimed in on the take home message:

When answers are discussed there’s more opportunity for discussion and learning the concept.

So comics + discussing answers must have some fancy synergy going on… That’s craziness! I mean… it’s happy craziness. But I wouldn’t have expected that giant jump…

A lot of people argue that comics help with literacy in general so it makes sense that comics could help students learn science!

We enjoyed this rich discussion around using science comics for education.  Be sure to join our next chat, or subscribe to our blog to receive these summaries in your inbox.

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