Why It Helps to Draw and Write on a Board

The University of California at Davis showcases on its webpage its top graduate student teachers. Doctoral students in universities in the United States often serve as instructors in undergraduate courses. I took the liberty of copying a photo of one of the awardees, Erin Melcon, who taught statistics. Erin, was noted as a graduate student teacher who received the following comment in evaluations from students: “She must become a professor!”

Above copied from UC Davis'
"Top graduate student teachers" by Julia Ann Easley
What caught my attention was the blackboard with written equations and drawn graphs. With the widespread use of lecture slides, it might be a bit perplexing to see a chalkboard being use in a 21st century university classroom. Of course, being a professor of chemistry, I was not as puzzled. I often used the board to make sure that I was not going too fast through the lecture. Powerpoint could really make one breeze through a lot of material quickly.

Kidding aside, writing and drawing with one's hand may direct attention which can then help students learn. Now, we have a study that supports this idea. A paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, demonstrates this in four different experiments.

Effects of Observing the Instructor Draw Diagrams on Learning From Multimedia Messages.
Fiorella, Logan; Mayer, Richard E.
Journal of Educational Psychology, Aug 17 , 2015, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000065 
In 4 experiments, participants viewed a short video-based lesson about how the Doppler effect works. Some students viewed already-drawn diagrams while listening to a concurrent oral explanation, whereas other students listened to the same explanation while viewing the instructor actually draw the diagrams by hand. All students then completed retention and transfer tests on the material. Experiment 1 indicated that watching the instructor draw diagrams (by viewing the instructor’s full body) resulted in significantly better transfer test performance than viewing already-drawn diagrams for learners with low prior knowledge (d = 0.58), but not for learners with high prior knowledge (d = −0.24). In Experiment 2, participants who watched the instructor draw diagrams (by viewing only the instructor’s hand) significantly outperformed the control group on the transfer test, regardless of prior knowledge (d = 0.35). In Experiment 3, participants who watched diagrams being drawn but without actually viewing the instructor’s hand did not significantly outperform the control group on the transfer test (d = −0.16). Finally, in Experiment 4, participants who observed the instructor draw diagrams with only the instructor’s hand visible marginally outperformed those who observed the instructor draw diagrams with the instructor’s entire body visible (d = 0.36). Overall, this research suggests that observing the instructor draw diagrams promotes learning in part because it takes advantage of basic principles of multimedia learning, and that the presence of the instructor’s hand during drawing may provide an important social cue that motivates learners to make sense of the material. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved)
Fiorella and Mayer, the authors of the above study, have also written a book entitled, "Learning as a Generative Activity: Eight Learning Strategies that Promote Understanding". The book primarily centers, as the title suggests, on meaningful learning as a generative activity. The activity is making sense of the material being presented. One may regard generative learning as a step above rote learning. One not only remembers the material presented but also follows the flow. In generative learning, a student is able to select (pay attention), organize (understand the order) and integrate (see the whole picture). Apparently, seeing the instructor's hand draw can make a significant difference in this deeper learning..