Tutorial – how we look at the world

Something I tried in a tutorial this week went down quite well with the students. It was part of my series of tutorials geared towards helping students to see the world differently, to realise that there are different ways of looking at the world, and to appreciate that what you see depends on how you look.

In previous sessions I had them look out of the window and tell me what they saw, and I got them to read “The Little Prince” and think about what St Exupery would see when he looked out of a window, and I talked to them about how the observations that we make when we look at the world depend on  our expectations of what the world should look like. For example, I get them to think about how we start by looking at things (making observations, collecting data, noticing the world around us), then move on to interpreting those things we’ve seen, and finally arrive at conclusions or answers or what we might call a ‘view of the world’. So ‘data plus interpretation leads to conclusion’. Or ‘looking plus thinking leads to opinion’. Then I get them to consider, looking back to the left hand end of that sequence, how we decide what to measure, what data to collect, what to look at, what to notice. They agree that it will in fact depend on what I had put at the right hand end of the sequence: our view of the world. So then they realise it’s not a line but a cycle. We then consider whether it is a closed loop where our views will never change because we only notice things that our viewpoint leads us to consider relevant, or a spiral where noticing new things causes us to develop our view enabling us to notice more new things. We end up agreeing that we need to open our minds to new viewpoints to enable us to notice new things and break out of our closed loop of myopic ignorance. This can then lead on to discussions about how we acquire “new views” and I introduce the outrageous idea that the students might do some reading.

So, anyway, what was it that went down well this week? It was when I tried to illustrate my point using a camera. I asked the students in little groups to plan a photograph of the tutorial. They all came up with sketches of people sitting round the table in front of the whiteboard under the windows. ‘Great,’ I said, ‘so now take the photo’ and I handed them a camera. But the camera I passed round had a 300mm telephoto lens attached. Looking through that camera the best they could see was a corner of somebody’s head, or a fraction of a chair. It was fun (for me and for them) as they realised that  their vision of the tutorial had been based entirely on their “usual” perspective, and seeing it through this new lens they saw a whole different set of things. They couldn’t photograph the whole group or the whole room, so they started noticing much smaller things, noticing little details of things. They started looking at the room in a whole different way because I forced them to a different viewpoint.

So, next week perhaps the wide-angle lens? No, that’s exactly what they’ll be expecting.



Note: This post was originally posted in my other blog at http://petergknight.wordpress.com in March 2010 and transferred to Blank Atlas as I moved my Geography posts into one location.

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