Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why images and writing are important

I have noticed that, during any discussion, if anyone starts drawing a schema and annotating it,
everybody's attention very soon concentrates on the schema,
fingers point to the drawing to indicate something,
and it becomes much easier to come to a common understanding and solution.

Drawing a schema on a A4 paper, as opposed to a whiteboard, makes it easier for all interlocutors to freely participate and contribute, and it eliminates the cleavage :o) between the speaker and the listeners.
Also, A4 papers are easily composable and reusable.

I have noticed that when I expose something to someone, and at the same time I write it down, it becomes much easier for me to follow a logical thread - it works both ways! - and the interlocutors seem more relaxed and comfortable, knowing that all the information is persisted and he doesn't need to waste any brain power trying to memorize it.

So, why this?

As a starting point, I assume that our visual cortex

is much more developed than our auditory cortex


(the Wikipedia talks about 140 million neurons per hemisphere for the first, I could not find data for the second)
I assume that, as a rule of thumb, the more neurons one can get involved in information processing, the faster and more accurate this will be.
For this reason I started carrying with me everywhere a pile of A4 sheets and a couple of pens of different colors... it's creative and fun!

Language teachers say that when you can show together the WRITTEN sentence with VIDEO of the scene and AUDIO, the 3 sources combined assure the highest retention of the information. That's why I think watching DVDs with subtitles is the best way (apart from live interaction mediated by emotions, e.g. falling in love) to learn a language.

I also read about a woman who became blind, and managed to turn part of her visual cortex into processing area for sound.... she was able to listen to audiobooks at 4x normal speed! This tells me how powerful and how flexible our visual cortex is.

I assume also that cultural biases also influence the way we learn. Italians for instance get much better a message when associated to body language - and this was for me a handicap when I started working in Anglo-Saxon world.

For a dictionary of Italian gestures, here you have a priceless visual dictionary :

I will explore in future the power of gesturality and comedy to mimick IT events, like the sending of a message or the raising of an Exception. I personally understand much better a message flow when I can see something in movement.

I envisage a world where in IT projects part of the documentation will be expressed with animated cartoons depicting actual examples of Use Cases. How many times I have been craving for this! But the day of Cartoon Driven Development will come :o) ! In future, the documentation of a Use Case with different scenarios could look like this (Donald Duck being the UML Actor):

and IT people life will be a bit more entertaining. 

Evidently, most of the visual cortex must be dedicated to the processing of movement.
But then again, culture plays its influence, probably neuron allocation changes with culture and time. The brain is, above all, a PLASTIC organ.

Funnily, I see that Computer Science helps neurology with Neuroinformatics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroinformatics
but the opposite doesn't seem to take place (we could call it Infoneurotics  :o) )! God only knows how much Neuroscience would help preventing IT project from going spaghetti...

Last but not least, let's mention the Theory of multiple intelligences by Howard Gardner . Basically, we all have different pathways to learning, one should mix different techniques together to address each specific audience.

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