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Walking as Learning to See: Workshop delivered by Professor Roberley Bell at the American University of Sharjah

Monday, May 8, 2017

This is an excerpt from the original blog post found here.

Professor Roberley Bell, an American artist with experience in interdisciplinary arts at a foundational level, led the workshop that 110 freshman students were a part of. Professor Bell teaches in the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and this was the second time she has offered this workshop at AUS.

The students, who were grouped into teams of three, had to work on an observation journal as an expressive extension of learning to see time and space. For the two weeks of the workshop, which began on March 7, the students worked on the observational journal, and on March 20 they displayed their artwork based on that journal, such as maps and visual reference collages, in an exhibition at the college.

The aim of the workshop was to teach the students, as creative practitioners and designers, to see the world with all of their senses and not just rely on their eyesight to observe their surroundings. The idea was to consider walking as a means to see with their senses. We live a hectic and fast-paced lifestyle, which means that we often don’t take the time to observe and appreciate the things around us. However, according to Professor Bell, walking heightens all of our senses because when we are in a particular place, and not just going past it, we smell the air, we feel the ground underneath our feet and we hear the noises that fill the surroundings. Walking also slows us down, so the pace of our sensory observation also slows, which means that we really are able to take in more information. It’s really important for us to go beyond what something really looks like in order to understand space, said Professor Bell. Moreover, as we walk undirected, the unknown unfolds because we let our senses lead us to the things that interest us as we drift from one place to another. So the students, as they walked, tried to use all of their senses to understand the space of the city through the user.

The project got them out of the traditional classroom, and the city became their laboratory, their class, their site of learning. The students were given the freedom of choosing the sites they wanted to observe in the city. According to Professor Bell, projects such as this can benefit students in several ways, some of which they might not even realize. Such projects help them acknowledge that there is no shortcut to solving a problem, and that one needs to do the research and hard work in order to succeed. The students also learn to trust their instincts, and learn to believe in a design project that is created through a laborious process. Another valuable aspect of such a workshop is that it helps to instill confidence in the students, and makes them realize that to be a good designer one has to invest the time and energy, and has to passionately want to do such type of research to understand something. Workshops such as these also provide opportunities for a diverse student body to work together in a collaborative setting.

To read the complete blog post go here.