What do you see?

They let me out last week, to give a talk at a schools event, about studying at university. As well as a chance for some fresh air – and to discover the back roads of Dorset – it was also an opportunity to try out some new things.

In particular, I had been toying around with how to communicate what happens in a university, as compared to a school. Central to that – I decided – was building individuals’ capacity for self-awareness and self-reflection.

So I showed them this:

With no other cueing, I then asked everyone to write down what they saw on a post-it note and put it on the wall. I then grouped them together.

Now the group I did this with was only about 10 people, so I wasn’t too surprised that more than half had just written ‘lego’ on their post-its, but I was also happy that we got some variations on that, usually involving colour.

The point of the exercise is to expose the multiplicity of meanings and interpretations that are available to us. As I noted to the group, as well as being ‘lego’, this was also:

  • A photo of lego
  • A powerpoint presentation
  • A teaching aid
  • A collection of light across the visible spectrum
  • A set of neurological stimuli
  • A set of memories about lego and, by extension, a gateway into a thoughts about children, childhood, parenthood, play, leisure, work and the rest.

All of these are valid and legitimate ways of seeing and interpreting, but we all too easily fall into the trap of seeing things in one way in any given situation (consider how you’d change your answer depending on the context I which I asked you).

A key part of being self-reflective is the acknowledgement that our way of seeing and understanding things isn’t the one way available. This isn’t to diminish your viewpoint, but to enrich it, by bringing in a fresh set of eyes that can potentially tell you more about what is happening and how.

I’ll admit that in the limited time I had, the students were a bit bemused by this, so I’d say that doing this a second time, after the discussion, using a very different kind of object, would be useful in grounding this notion, perhaps by asking them to write a list of how they feel right now. You’d want to let them keep this to themselves, but it would strengthen the message that single explanations are not the only option and that some self-exploration is a rewarding experience.

What do you think [sic]?

One Reply to “What do you see?”

  1. This is fantastic – I’m going to use this for my IR theory class in the first week. Students usually have preferences for a particular theory and often just want to beat up on the others. So this is a nice way to talk about the value of other viewpoints.

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