On the first night of traveling, I landed in Monument Valley campground just at the entrance of the 17-mile self-guided scenic drive. The sun was just dipping below the horizon and I was able to take a few shots of the fading hues behind a couple of rock structures receiving all the attention.
On the edge of the cliff, with the best view at camp, was a guy who had been traveling for a year after selling his organic food restaurant in NY. I asked him about the location of the scenic drive and he claimed he had been sitting in that spot for three days taking in the view. We spoke longer and later I again asked him again about the location of the entrance assuming he had been joking and he responded, “I have been sitting here doing nothing for three days. It’s an amazing view.” We both started laughing at the absurdity of it all but deep down it made me think. This guy had simply been taking in data for three days so you can imagine the intensity of that view; a photograph could never begin to capture that experience.
This led me to thinking about education and how we use visual realia in second language acquisition. It is a widely accepted practice but it’s just good teaching and should be used with all students. As I agree that this is a good strategy, it is only one because within a four-walled classroom, the options are quite limited. If learning took place outside, in front of the things that we use for visual realia, learning would be taken to an entirely new level.
A photograph might capture 1% of the photographer’s experience. The ‘being there’ involves all the senses, which in turn provides an emotional experience. There is no possible way a photograph could possibly relate that to the viewer. Could you stare at a photograph for three days? How would you recreate the differences in sunlight during sunrise and sunset?
Some may argue that upon seeing a photograph a person can tap into background emotional data that will allow them to transfer this to the new photograph. For example, if I have been to Sedona I could recall the emotions I’ve had upon seeing rock formations and apply them to a photograph of Monument Valley even if I haven’t been there. Others say that students don’t need to get out of the classroom and even if they did there is too much to see, so what’s the point. The problem is that most students don’t have experiences outside of the classroom resulting in no experiential data to transfer to the visual realia being used in the classroom. Those of us who have been lucky enough to travel can look at pictures from a place we’ve never visited and get excited about going there based on our past experiences.
Even if a photograph could relay up to 25% of the ‘being there’ information, there is still a huge portion missing, only because we limit the educational experience to a physical location.
The bottom line is that when students experience things first hand, they begin to form files of data that can then be transferred to new learning situations. So, if a photograph moves you, imagine what it would be like to actually be there looking at it.