NORMAN — A recent study from the University of Oklahoma shows that graphic novels may improve memory and be more effective in teaching students than a traditional textbook.
The study, titled “Graphic presentation: An empirical examination of the graphic novel approach to communicate business concepts,” featured an experiment with 140 undergraduate business seniors and will soon be published in Business Communication Quarterly.
Jeremy Short was the lead author of the study. He has co-authored traditional as well as graphic novel works including a Harvard Business Case in graphic novel format and the “Atlas Black” graphic novel.
In the experiment, one set of participants read a short excerpt from “Atlas Black: The Complete Adventure,” a graphic novel created to teach key management concepts using the storyline of two students aspiring to start their own business. A second set of participants read material from a traditional textbook covering the same topics.
After reading, participants were given a short quiz about the material covered in the excerpts. In the study, the participants who had read the graphic novel excerpt were better able to recognize direct quotes than those who read the traditional textbook.
In a companion study, 114 students assigned a graphic novel in a senior-level business course were asked to provide feedback regarding their experiences with the book. More than 80 percent of students indicated that the graphic novel compared favorably to traditional textbooks.
“With that kind of information, that really has a lot of implications about how we should be teaching business, how we should be teaching a lot of things, really,” Short said.
Short said he believes his study is the first of its kind in business or any field that directly compares the impact of traditional textbooks and graphic novel/comic type content. He'll host an exhibit about using graphic novels in education at Friday's TEDxOU at the University of Oklahoma.
“Maybe just a simple graphic explanation ... is the way to go, and maybe where people should be putting their resources if they want their employees to recall things better, their students to recall things better,” Short said.
Aaron McKenny, a doctoral candidate at OU, was co-author of the study. McKenny said when he was first exposed to one of Short's graphic novel textbooks, he read the entire thing cover-to-cover overnight, whereas he's never been inspired to try that with a regular textbook. He said students or employees are more likely to want to finish reading instruction in graphic novel form.
“If they're more motivated to read (a graphic novel), but they're not going to read a textbook, then their recall for a textbook is going to be pretty low,” McKenny said.
Dave Ketchen, a professor at Auburn University who has written traditional textbooks as well as graphic texts such as “Tales of Garcon: The Franchise Players” (a graphic novel cowritten by Short focusing on franchising and family business), also spoke out in favor of incorporating graphic elements in teaching.
“Storytelling has long been a powerful tool to convey rich concepts in organizations, and it may be that the most effective employee handbooks in the future will have pictures and a story to tell,” Ketchen said in a news release.
Maybe just a simple graphic explanation ... is the way to go, and maybe where people should be putting their resources if they want their employees to recall things better, their students to recall things better.”