Freehand drawing activities in the classroom: opportunities and challenges

A growing number of academics and teaching professionals maintain that living in an image-rich culture in the twenty first century requires preparing visually literate graduates who are capable of critical reading, understanding and constructing images through critical thinking. However, it is important to recognise that to date very little pedagogical attention has been given to the development of visual literacy competences of business and management students. As professionals teaching international business and principles of responsible management to undergraduate students, we are responding to this challenge by creating a learning space which encourages the use of art-based activities such as freehand drawing in the classroom. Whilst there is growing evidence that art-based methods of teaching and learning could be usefully applied to the improvement of teaching practice in various disciplines and professions, applications of these methods are relatively limited in business and management studies.

When posing the question: “Tell me the last time you drew something?”, commonly the reply is “not for ages… in school, probably”. Sadly, it seems that our natural ability to draw and to explore the world through our drawings somehow disappears in the process of becoming adults. Our teaching experience shows that our students, who are often referred to as ‘digital natives’, are no different. When we ask them in the class “Who can draw?”, only few of them admit that they, indeed, can draw.

Appreciating this challenge, and believing that every single person can draw whether they recognise this or not, we introduced a freehand drawing activity as a vehicle for undergraduate business students’ learning about complex issues related to global social responsibility and responsible leadership. For example, in our seminars we asked students to explore the magnitude of corruption using their freehand drawings. This activity allows students to expand their knowledge by creating, discussing and presenting their own visual messages rather than relying on external sources to support their discussion. Images generated by students are used to facilitate further discussion about how business people can act in a socially responsible way and how they can contribute to sustainable global economy.

In our current research we recognise the potential of freehand drawing activities as one of the means of developing visually literate business graduates. We also suggest that academics could explore a range of innovative freehand art-based teaching practices in addition to technology-based approaches which are currently widely utilised to accommodate the learning needs of ‘digital natives’. On the other hand, we appreciate the challenges associated with the introduction of freehand drawing activities in the classroom. This might include, for example, persuading both staff and students of the value that freehand drawing could bring to their respective learning and teaching practices.

With our understanding that everybody can draw, we would like to encourage the use of freehand drawing within business schools’ curricula and beyond. With this thought in mind, we introduced our freehand drawing activity to teaching and learning professionals at a number of national conferences. For the freehand drawing activity, colleagues were asked to discuss the magnitude of corruption by drawing and presenting several examples of how $1 trillion (US Dollars) could be presented in more understandable terms.  The freehand drawings below are reproduced with the kind permission from our workshops participants.

By Dr Gyuzel Gadelshina, Dr Karla Prime, and David Spoors, Newcastle Business School


Gadelshina, G., Cornwell, A., & Spoors, D. (2019). Understanding corruption through freehand drawings: a case study of undergraduate business students’ visual learning in the classroom. Journal of Visual Literacy, 1-11.