I've never before questioned the common distinction made between visual and verbal learners. I thought it was a useful way to ensure that we also cater for people who respond better to images. Now I'm not so sure. I think the distinction is too simplistic. In order to be a reader of written text you need a visual sensitivity (or spatial-graphic sensitivity via touch if you are visually impaired). You are helped to read better if you can decode (connotatively or denotatively) any further visual content around the words. The more visually you read, e.g. by scanning, the more visually presented the material and the more you can visualise what the text represents, the more effectively and efficiently you are likely to be able to read.
There has been an aestheticising tendency in modern Western culture which means that the visual imagery we value and expose is that which is connotative or expressive rather than diagrammatic. Connotative images don't appear to teach you very much (although they may train you to think by baffling you or raising questions, which is entirely valid and useful). This aestheticising tendency has led to us conflating the generic visual with visual art, and thereby to associate the textual much more with taking in information rather than aesthetics.
We tend to compartmentalise visual learning. We put it in the art 'box' or we say visual learners are arty. When we talk about visual education or visual literacy, we conflate it with art education.
Whilst I'm aware of Gardner's Multiple Intelligences and related systems, I wonder if they perpetuate this conflation, possibly by simplistic reinterpretation of them. I'm still musing on this, and I certainly don't have time for proper study of it right now, but here are some thoughts on what might be a more useful system for analysing people's preferences for learning and expression.
There are four dimensions in this system and each one is a spectrum. I've asked 10 people to place themselves on a spectrum for each of the dimensions. They are:
1) Ear/eye dimension: The extent to which you prefer to use your ears or eyes to take in information.
(I think the distinction between aural and visual preferences is more significant than the visual/textual preferences, and that because ears & eyes are the dominant senses for taking in information this is the most important dimension.)
2) Brain/body dimension: The extent to which you prefer mental/imaginative or physical/practical activity.
3) Production/Reception dimension: The extent to which you prefer to be active in decoding information or passive in receiving it.
4) Self/Others dimension: The extent to which you prefer to learn alone or with others.
In asking people to map themselves, I was interested to see that there didn't appear to be any pattern in terms of gravitation to poles. What I mean is that you might assume that certain types would gravitate to similar poles e.g. Eye people are Brain people are Production people are Self people (aka geeks). There was in fact no conforming to type. Of course, a sample of ten doesn't allow for any conclusions, and I haven't prefaced this with any recent deep reading. If anyone has any suggested reading or insights for me, I'd be most grateful so that I can follow this up.
Last week I went to the Royal Observatory Greenwich at the National Maritime Museum for a Flickr Commons community meetup. It was a perfect example of a 'community of interest', a group of people from different areas of work and expertise, united by their interest in the phenomenon of Flickr Commons. It was like a Flickr meetup as all of us had cameras, and we used them, but it wasn't quite like that because we were there to hear about the Museum's plans to develop its Commons presence and community. The curator of science history gave us a guided tour of the various buildings, talking about its evolution from a working Observatory to a museum. She showed us some old photos that they are hoping to put on the Commons, under a new separate account for the Observatory.
These include many images through the years of people being photographed standing on the Meridian Line. It's 125 years since the Greenwich meridian was officially designated so to celebrate that semi-round number they plan to set up a Flickr challenge to gather more images of that ritual, and not just those taken at Greenwich but on the meridian line as it circles around the globe.
Another plan is to gather old and new astrophotographic images, or photos of the heavens, as part of the celebrations for the Year of Astronomy 2009. The Museum has already started an Astrophotography competition. Also, they are involved in a Moonwatch event that will take place at the end of March or early April when the moon is in the best state to photograph.
It was good to meet some of the Museum staff, to see behind the scenes and hear some of their plans, for example, for an accessible archive building, to completely reorganise their galleries with a renewed focus on storytelling, and plans for their Cultural Olympiad project to involve local people in the World Heritage Site of Greenwich in partnership with other heritage organisations.
I went back to the Museum again today and it was completely animated, with children making collages, others doing dances with giant red silk socks on sticks, exploring the displays (including contemporary art exhibitions) and queuing for the Planetarium show. It seems as if future plans will make it even more more accessible and engaging for lots of different people.
If, like me, you follow environmental news, you will be feeling a tad unsettled these days. I’ve been unsettled about the environment for decades but lately it is clear that a drastic ecological crisis is unfolding, with the threat of runaway climate change. For some time it has troubled me that the cultural heritage and collections sector in the UK has approached this crisis so weakly. There are a small number of standout organisations, such as English Heritage and now the NMSI (helped by its new director Chris Rapley being a climate scientist). However, it has mystified me that there is so little central co-ordination and so little evident drive or publicity in whatever central activity that exists.
The first place to look for action is the DCMS. They held a conference in January 2008, which appears from the website to have led to no follow up action. (That said, see below for an update.) Of the DCMS family organisations attending this conference, those which really seem to be alert to the nature of the crisis are in the performing arts or contemporary arts sectors. These include Tipping Point and RSA Arts Ecology, supported by the ACE Arts & Ecology team. The cultural collections or MLA sector by contrast appears to be very timid and partial.
The MLA (the body which oversees museums, libraries and archives for the DCMS) has published nothing that I could find on its website about this issue. MLA does have staff responsible for sustainability but this seems to focus on economic sustainability (future funding and so on).
The Museums Association published a consultation document on sustainability, which does mention environmental sustainability as one of several themes, including economic and social sustainability, but there is no mention of an ecological crisis and the environmental actions proposed are very weak. None of these initiatives explores how the sector will need to adapt to the effects of climate change, nor do they really address the power of the sector in raising public awareness and helping us cope with a climate-changed future. They make the common assumption that environmental action is all about making operational changes to reduce carbon footprint.
I’m intending to do some more research and take further action on this so if anyone out there can help answer my queries below with information or just vague thoughts I would be really grateful:
1. What agreement does the Department for Climate Change & Energy have with other Government departments, such as DCMS and DCSF, to help them in taking urgent action (not just in internal action to reduce carbon footprint)?
2. What actions are the DCMS Museums Sustainable Working Group taking? What progress have they made? Who is representing the sector? How can other stakeholders contribute to their work?
3. Should work to address climate change & the broader ecological crisis be uncoupled from ‘sustainability’ initiatives? (Sometimes these seem to exist to define the several distinct meanings of the term, and there is a danger that in a recession economic sustainability i.e. where are we going to get money from? takes over.)
4. Would a sector environmental crisis initiative be more effective if it was structured in the following way:
- Uniting sector leaders but also involving a wider public & independent agencies (e.g. using digital media)
- Covering both measures to ameliorate the crisis and adapt to future change (given that this is not an ‘if’ scenario but a ‘happening now’ scenario)
- Covering both pragmatic/operational measures and public engagement
- Covering both climate change (the crux of the crisis) and broader aspects of environmental degradation including the loss of biodiversity and pollution
- Encouraging intersections with higher education, creative industries and science & technology research industries to promote innovation
- Investing in digital culture
- Using the set of risks posed by climate change in the UN report as a basis for adaptive actions, see my chart in this essay on Cultural Education for a Changed Planet http://www.box.net/shared/iroup4vla6 ?
Update: I had a brief chat with Patricia Mandeville (followed by an email exchange), responsible for sustainability at DCMS. She told me that although the Sustainable Working Group doesn’t have resources to be continued, some more things are happening:
- A focus group on Feb 25th covering five topics of waste, lighting, events, setting up an Environmental Management Strategy and staff awareness.
- Having realised there wasn’t a lot of research on climate change and the cultural sector, they are undertaking research led by Arup which includes work on adaptation, using the UK climate change projections that will be published in April. This will include considering the impact of loss of land mass.
- I asked about work in public engagement: She does get involved in the outreach side but is aware that the DCMS can’t be too prescriptive. She says that more public-facing initiatives are happening and in the pipeline, including a major Science Museum exhibition coming on climate change.
- In terms of relationship with MLA, she said there is no formal agreement but they do encourage them to reduce their carbon emissions as an organisation. This is clearly an area where they could do more.
- On a question about their relationship with the Dept for Climate Change she said they are bound to reduce emissions across sector bodies by 80% by 2060, must follow sustainable procurement rules and must complete an annual report on Sustainable Operations on the Government Estate.
- In answer to a question about how people could interact on these policy areas, she mentioned English Heritage’s site: http://www.climatechangeandyourhome.org.uk/live/ (Given that I meant how we could interact on DCMS/MLA policies on environmental issues, this isn’t quite what I had in mind, but I do think English Heritage could potentially lead in online community building around this topic.)
- She also mentioned a new website coming soon called http://www.greenermuseums.org set up by a freelance consultant called Rachel Madan.
Final update: I’ve set up a blog to channel my thinking about Ecology and Cultural Heritage, and am very keen to sign up other authors to contribute to it. Register to use WordPress and ask me for an invite:
My last post was 9th January. It’s now 16th February. What are my excuses this time?
- One of those never ending bad colds that men call ‘manflu’, which women could call ‘bird flu’
- Being away on a fantastic photography course in Spain and a conference in Belgium
- Deciding as a New Year’s Resolution to do less, to relax more and have more family time (the best decision I’ve made in a long time)
- Being clear that this blog is a place to put personal thoughts when they are worth sharing, not forcing it full of any vaguely relevant news
- And, my least excusable excuse, Twitter.
Now for my defence of Twitter. It is without doubt a 100 times more lively and informative than Facebook. It’s the place where I get feeds from the media tailored to me e.g. The Guardian and from BBC i-player (BBC Earth and Radio 4 etc). It’s where I find out about the latest cultural and digital initiatives, because people post so many more links on Twitter than they do on FB. It’s where you can get blog feeds and ideas from people you admire or support, individuals or organisations. My delicious links are growing much faster with the links I’m being fed. (If you want to see some of the things I’ve found lately, my links are fed into this blog.)
Also, my mind is boggling much more about big issues to do with the environment, science, religion and society. I feel more immersed in the world (or in the web?!) than I ever did before. It’s like being in a giant library where you’re dipping into everything, skipping between the humour, crime, philosophy and art sections, as fast as you can, whilst chatting with other people and sharing what you find.
One good reason for switching allegiance from Facebook is today’s news that their Terms of Service have now changed so that they can take and use all of your content however they like, even if you close your account. So, all your photos, all your writing in groups and fanpages, all your project ideas, all the annotated links and more, all belongs to them. I won’t be closing my FB account but have joined a protest group and will be using it less.
The downside of Twitter is that I am spending a good deal more time online and have spent less time doing personal writing and blogging. But, I have a few posts lined up, so watch this space.