University of Edinburgh

Exploring the Role of Creativity in VI Education

Presented on 12 June 2009

Dr David Feeney, VIScotland

Hierarchy of the Senses

hierarchy of the senses

The Traditional Hegemony of Vision

Sight has indeed proved to be a source of supreme benefit to us, in that none of our present statements about the universe could ever have been made if we had never seen any sun, stars or heaven. … I’m quite prepared to declare philosophy to be the supreme good our eyesight offers us. Why then should we exalt all the lesser good things, which a non-philosopher struck blind would lament and bewail in vain?
(Plato, Timeaus)

Privileging Vision

That is a blind man's question (Why do we spend so much time with the beautiful)
Aristotle (via Diogenes Laertius)

Had our perceptions no connexions with our pleasures, we should soon close our eyes on this world
(George Santayana)

Accounting for Ocularcentrism

Root of the hierarchy may be traceable to the fact that sight constitutes the modality through which things can be most obviously regarded as having presence:

From the very outset of formal philosophy, thinking has been thought of in terms of seeing
(Hannah Arendt)

... from the beginning onwards, the tradition of philosophy has been oriented primarily towards 'seeing' as a way of access to beings and to Being

Sight is perception par excellence because we become most easily aware of objects through visual agency and in visual terms

Reasoning Informing the Hierarchy

Anthropologists’ Perspective:
Reluctance of researchers from a variety of fields to go beyond the audio-visual and recover the importance of other senses is due not only to the relative marginalisation of these senses in the modern West, but to the racist tradition of regarding the 'lower senses' as predominating among 'primitive' non-Westeners

Early scholars interested in depicting the 'animalistic' significance of smell

Friedrich Schiller: as long as man is still a savage he enjoys by means of the tactile senses rather than through the higher sense of sight and hearing

Sensory Hierarchy

In the 19th Century, Lorenz Oken postulated a hierarchy of the senses:

1. European 'eye man'
Asian 'ear man'
Native American 'nose man'
Australian 'tongue man'
African 'skin man'
(Gould, 1985, pp. 204-205, Classen, 93, 405)

It was not always thus, (allegedly)

The hierarchy [of the senses] was not the same [in the 16th as in the 20th century] because the eye, which rules today, found itself in third place, behind hearing and touch, and far after them. The eye that organizes, classifies and orders was not the favoured organ of a time that preferred hearing.

Until at least the 18th century, touch remained therefore the master sense; it tests, confirms, what sight could only perceive. It assures perception, gives solidity to the impressions provided by the other senses that do not present the same security
(Robert Mandrou, Introduction to Modern France)

See also:

  • Roland Barthes, Sade, Fourier, Loyola
  • Donald M Lowe, The History of Bourgeois Perception
  • Ian Hacking, Why Does Language Matter to Philosophy?
  • Constance Classen: Toward an Anthropology of the Senses
  • Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes

Sensory Revolution

  • Weariness among contemporary artists and theorists of spectacular forms which target the eye
  • The 'triumph of visuality' is being undermined from within
  • Hostility to primacy of vision tends to take two forms:
    1) Criticism of reduction of the self to a passive, spectatorial role and the world to a representation
    2) Criticism of the consequent redundancy of non-visual modalities For aspects of modern art informed by this weariness of vision,
    see Feeney 2007

Vision and Learning

  • Approximately 70% of learning tends to be based on vision. Children who are blind or severely visually impaired therefore have reduced opportunities to learn.
  • Sighted children are abundantly and readily stimulated by their visual surroundings by light - the best source of spatial information required for perceptual and cognitive development.
  • The motivation to explore their environment through an integrated use of the other senses is vital to the early development of a visually impaired child.
  • We do not have to learn to attend to the stimulus of light - it is ubiquitous and invasive.
  • Non-visual forms of stimulation is not as immediately informative and is not demanding of attention in as direct a manner as light.
  • A visually impaired child's environment will yield information, but this information is not as abundant as the info to which his/her sighted peers can access and it is without the same level of 'demand value'.
  • The visually impaired child will therefore need some help in availing of the information which they need to further their perceptual and cognitive development.
  • This information is available to be found in the space that surrounds them.
  • "The world seeks infants who can see, but infants who cannot see must learn to seek their world" (Foulke & Hatlen, 1992).
  • You can help.
  • Try to find ways to provide opportunities for visually impaired children to notice differences and similarities in such stimulus dimensions as size, weight, surface texture, pitch, loudness and timbre.
  • Naturally, in cases of residual vision, visual stimuli should be utilized.

The Benefits of Incorporating Natural Resources

The stimuli used to implement these activities should be stimuli that occur naturally in the real world in which blind children function. It is surely more useful to practise noticing the difference between the songs of two birds than to practise noticing the difference between the sounds generated at two settings of the audio frequency oscillator. (Foulke & Hatlen, 1992)

The Senses in Learning

  • Education traditionally logocentric
  • Linguistic emphasis within academia became particularly intense in 1960s
  • Limits of the world are the limits of language
  • World as text
  • A 'sensory revolution' is currently underway
  • We are re-discovering a full-bodied understanding of culture, learning and experience
  • The implications of multi-disciplinary apologists for the body and the senses for VI learning are worth exploring

Visual Impairment can lead to difficulty with:

  • Recognition of Places: Orientation & Route finding
  • Recognition of Faces

Because friendly faces & sense of place are central to the school experience, the VI experience of both warrants some exploration:

Places, travel, route finding (see handout)

VI & Sense of Place

Mrs AS describing difficulty with route finding outside

  • Know where she is
  • Navigating outside
  • Busy places
  • Easily lost

VI Scotland Outdoor Education Sessions In collaboration with: Royal Blind School, Edinburgh Edinburgh Council

General Outline of Outdoor Sessions

  • Introduction & background
  • Rationale
  • Structure of Sessions
  • Links to Curriculum Outdoor education, visual impairment & learning styles
  • General benefits of participation in outdoor activity

Background Information

  • Regular physical activity benefits both physical and psychological health, and reduces risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and stress-related illnesses.
  • Although many people believe that children are naturally active, increasing numbers do not engage in levels of activity sufficient to maintain adequate fitness, and percentages of overweight children were at an all time high. (Nicklas, Webber, Johnson, Srinivasan, & Berenson, 1995; Sallis & Patrick, 1994).
  • Children who are visually impaired consistently exhibit lower levels of fitness than sighted peers. (Blessing, McCrimmon, Stoval, & Williford, 1993; Lieberman & McHugh, 2001; Skaggs & Hopper, 1996; Winnick & Short, 1985).
  • Furthermore, for children who are blind, activities of daily living demand increased energy; and the need to be fit might be even greater (Buell, 1982).
  • Other research has shown that children with disabilities including visual impairments are often neither fully socialized and not expected to pursue a full range of life options (Stein, 1996).
  • Physical activity levels of children who are visually impaired can be improved, therefore improving comfort and success of movement (Lancioni, Olivia, Bracalente, Hoopen, 1996; Lieberman, Butcher and Moak, 2001).

A Brief Word about Learning Styles

We all learn in different ways. Here are some of the most commonly cited learning styles:

Visual and spatial learners
These learners have very good visual recall and tend to be be able to remember scenes, objects or faces for many years. They like visually presented information such as charts, pictures, images, keywords display, memory and concept mapping.

Musical learners
Musical learners have good auditory recall and are often able to rehearse or anticipate situations by "hearing" them played out in their heads. They respond well to a variety of sounds including environmental sounds, music and the human voice. And tend to enjoy sound effects, storytelling, and music.

Kinaesthetic learners
These learners can use their bodies in highly differentiated and skilled ways. They will learn best by doing, where physical movement aids memory. Many boys are kinaesthetic learners and respond well to interactive exhibits and opportunities to feel, touch and handle, use computers and make things. They are often restless and like to move about during learning activities.  

Interpersonal learners
Interpersonal learners are able to understand and work with others. They respond quickly to changes in mood and adjust their behaviour accordingly. They enjoy discussions and group work, tend to be good at giving and receiving feedback, and usually respond well to discussion and group activities.

Intrapersonal Learners
Self-motivated and with a high degree of self–knowledge, these learners like time for quiet reflection and the opportunity to develop and express their thoughts. They tend to enjoy spending time alone, researching, thinking and reflecting on their experience before talking about this to others.  

Linguistic learners
Linguistic learners are sensitive to the meaning of words, to their order, their sounds, rhythm and inflection, and to their capacity to change mood, persuade or convey information.

Mathematical/Logical learners
Problem solvers with a capacity for constructing solutions non-verbally. They readily see patterns and relationships in the world around them. and like information to be sequenced in a logical order and to make strong connections between concepts. They tend to respond well to logical progression through a set of themes or ideas. This particular learning style responds well to traditional teaching methods.  

Naturalist learners
These learners enjoy being outside and notice patterns and rhythms in nature. They often have a strong sense what is fair and elect to think through the impact of their actions on those around them. When indoors, they enjoy spaces that are airy with natural light, but always appreciate the opportunity to spend some time outside the school building as part of a visit.

Based on Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory

Gardner's Multiple Intelligences (Note Overlaps)

diagram Accessed: 20 April 2009

Conclusions of Model Demonstration Project Diverse Learning Styles Research

  1. Students with disabilities frequently have learning styles that differ from those of students without disabilities.
  2. Instructors trained in learning styles and who revised their teaching style accordingly increased the success of their students with disabilities.
  3. Students with disabilities who received training in accommodating their learning style preferences did better than students with disabilities who did not receive such training.
  4. Students with disabilities responded more favourably to learning-related self-esteem enhancers than students without disabilities.

Visual Impairment & Learning Style

  • Seventy per cent of learning is based on vision. Children who are blind or severely visually impaired therefore have reduced opportunities to learn.
  • The motivation to explore their environment through an integrated use of the other senses is vital to their early development (Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, Melbourne, 2001).

Infants and toddlers without disabilities learn from doing.

This way of learning fitted poorly into the educational methods to which children with disabilities were most often exposed.

Dr Lilli Nielsen found that children who are blind would also learn if allowed to explore and experiment.

Nielsen thus developed the approach termed Active Learning:
"If, given the opportunity to learn from his own active exploration and examination, the child will achieve skills that become part of his personality, and so are natural for him to use in interaction with others and for fulfilment of his own needs, and will gradually make him ready to react relevantly to instructions and education, in other words to develop to be as independent as possible."

Lights, camera ... The Role of Physical Activity

  • Physical and outdoor education can play an important part in helping visually impaired pupils to overcome a lack of confidence in themselves and also provide a channel for profitable integration.
  • The aims of the physical education curriculum for children with special needs do not vary from the aims of all children. The difference comes in the objectives, which, have to take into account any limitations imposed by these children's special needs.
  • T As Williams (1984) stresses, physical educationists need to understand the implications of visual handicap in order to plan suitable programmes for visually impaired children and not simply to give visually impaired children a skeleton selection of the activities that sighted children are taught.
  • Frequently, visually impaired pupils are found to be less fit than their sighted peers. They tend to be overweight, more sedentary and physically weaker, finding sustained exercise difficult to maintain. (Mary Lee and Lindi MacWilliam, Learning Together, RNIB/Royal Blind School, 2008)
  • As far back as 1972, the Vernon Report underlined the importance of visually impaired people being as physically independent as possible if they are to 'play the fullest possible part in the community at large'.
  • Vision is considered to be one of the most important senses contributing to learning. The more visual experiences children have, the more their brains are stimulated, leading to a greater accumulation and variety of visual images and memories.
  • Without body awareness, good posture and balance, visually impaired children will have great difficulty in performing daily living skills and mastering efficient mobility techniques.
  • This means that one of the most important aspects of physical education programmes for visually impaired children is to build up, through activities, a steadily increasing love of freedom of movement.
  • Body and spatial awareness should automatically be increased.
  • Physical education has an important part to play in assisting successful integration of visually impaired pupils into mainstream schools.

The Role of Physical Activity

Physical education influences the overall development of children:

  • physically encouraging correct posture and fitness
  • psychologically instilling confidence and poise
  • alertness and vitality which offset frustration
  • and socially, in working with others, sharing responsibilities and experiencing leadership.

Frostig and Maslow (1970) attribute the capacity of movement education to improving children's ability to learn academic subjects. Because of the nature of their special needs, visually impaired children need to experience physical education and outdoor activities as much, if not more often than, sighted children who can benefit from rapid acquisition of the basics of most physical activities visually.

Visually impaired children who feel safe and confident in physical activities will willingly share them with sighted children.

Older visually impaired children require a full and active physical education programme throughout their time at school, 'because of their tendency to be less active than their sighted peers, they need physical activities to avoid the poor muscle tone, poor posture and obesity that are too often present in visually impaired students.' (Scott, 1982)

'Spending leisure time in self-fulfilling recreation activities is essential to visually impaired individuals' well-being. visually impaired individuals have a right to learn what options are available. Whether they decide to use their leisure time reading a novel off the best seller list, going fishing, gambling, or mountain climbing is unimportant.' (Huebner, 1986)

The Role of Physical Activity

  • Visually impaired children face a greater risk of becoming sedentary than do their sighted peers.
  • Pangrazi (1988) is worried that the present generation of obese children will grow into inactive, poorly-motivated adults, far more prone to heart disease and back problems than those who are taught to enjoy being healthy and fit when they are young.
  • The dangers of visually impaired children falling into this trap are far greater, especially if they are not exposed to a wide range of physical activities whilst at school.
  • The photographs in the following slides provide evidence that visually impaired children can, and do, take part in and enjoy a wide range of physical education activities and outdoor pursuits.

Learning Styles & the Outdoors

My one desire is that nothing shall remain a mere word to me; anything that is reportedly beautiful, great and venerable, I want to see and judge for myself ... I shall never rest until I know that all my ideas are derived, not from hearsay or tradition, but from real living contact with the things themselves.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Travels in Italy

Berleant and Environmental Participation [See Handout]

  • "To introduce the other senses into aesthetic perception," Berleant suggests, "we must overcome established tradition, for relying on the close involvement of the body disrupts the lofty contemplation considered essential to aesthetic pleasure" (Berleant 2002: p 7).
  • "Appreciating landscape," he insists, "is not a matter of looking at an external landscape. In fact, it is not just a matter of looking at all" (Berleant 2002: p 10).
  • Berleant reports that "our understanding of experience has expanded greatly to involve all the bodily senses and not just the eye. We now recognize that the conscious body does not observe the world contemplatively but participates actively in the experiential process" (Berleant 2002: p 10).

Learning Styles & the Outdoors

In the outdoors, we experience:

  • the perceptual discrimination of textures as well as colours
  • the somatic consciousness of masses and volumes
  • the depth and directionality of sounds
  • the feel of the wind, sun and moisture on the skin
  • the kinesthetic awareness of the different surfaces under our feet
  • awareness of our movement as we ascend, descend or move unevenly along a relatively level surface, curving, turning or travelling in an approximately straight direction.

Somatic Participation

We must recognize in environmental appreciation the importance of the somatic sensibility: the bodily awareness of the force of mass, the pull of empty space, the kinesthetic contribution in physical movement, along with the visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory and gustatory qualities that suffuse all experience. (Berleant 2002: p 12).

Background to VIS Partners

Royal Blind School

A national school offering the highest quality provision to meet the needs of children and young adults with a visual impairment. The school offers both residential and day placements for pupils from throughout Scotland and the UK.

The school is located on two sites in Edinburgh: Canaan Lane Campus and Craigmillar Park Campus. Departments include a pre-school unit (early years and nursery), primary and secondary.

It is the goal of the Royal Blind School to enable all young people to become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors to society.

City of Edinburgh Council

The City of Edinburgh Council supported Edinburgh's Forest School pilot project (2006-2008) in partnership with the Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Career Scotland and the Forest Education Initiative. 

As part of the Edinburgh & Lothian’s FEI cluster group, the Council is currently supporting the further 3 year Forest School project 2008-2011.

The Council hosts a Forest Education Development Officer, currently Jenny Watters, who helped VIS to coordinate the project.

The main aims of the FEI cluster groups

  • to support teachers and environmental professionals wishing to deliver Forest Schools through supporting them undertaking a comprehensive accredited Forest School Leader Course
  • to build a pool of educational resources, equipment and tools for member use
  • to provide a network for its members and interested individuals and organisations to benefit from sharing ideas and best practice.

It is hoped that this training will encourage a more sustained educational use of woodlands in the City.

Key Elements of Forest Schools

Forest school works with a range of people, children, young people and adults in the outdoors. 

Key elements are:

  • To use woodlands
  • To give freedom to explore using multiple senses
  • To have regular contact with user groups
  • Visiting a site regularly over time
  • To have a high adult to pupil ratio
  • To be linked to the curriculum
  • To improve health and wellbeing through Active Learning
  • To use learning and teaching strategies which raise self esteem, develop confidence, independence, language and communication skills, while raising levels of physical activity and mental wellbeing. 
  • To teach participating pupils also about the woodland in order to enable them to manage and care for their local countryside sites.

Map of Craigmillar Park

map of craigmillar park

Structure of Sessions

structure of sessions

structure of sessions

Links to Purposes of A Curriculum for Excellence

Purpose Example 1 Example 2 Example 3
Successful learners Knowledge & skill development Positive impact on long term memory Increased capacity for engagement and motivation
Confident Individuals Positive impact on attitude, belief, self-perception Increases confidence and coping strategies Promotes positive behaviour & fitness
Responsible Citizens Increases social development & community engagement Positive attitude towards environment and relationships Renews community pride & sense of belonging
Effective Contributors Increased interpersonal skills Increased capacity for teamwork & group cohesion Increased capacity for creative expression

9 Outdoor Learning Design Principles in 'Taking Learning Outdoors'

Challenge & Enjoyment: Active Learning, Engaging & Motivating

Coherence: Draws on different strands of learning, often into single extended experience

Relevance: Contextualises learning to the world and life beyond school

Choice: Opens horizons to the varieties of learning beyond setting

Breadth: Wide variety of educaitonal contexts and environments exist over the doorstep

Progression: Suitable for all from 3 to 18, progression to different settings, didactic or self-led, progression in values and content

Depth: Awareness of interdependence of different natural life-forms reinforces link between cognitive and effective learning, providing a bridge to further understanding

Expression & Creativity: Working in smaller groups encourages imaginative responsiveness to stimulating settings, context and activity

Holistic: Intellectual, physical emotional aesthetic and spiritual development can occur together

Benefits of Outdoor Education

  • Skill-focused learning will result in increased capacity for problem solving, team building and self-reliant activities.
  • Collaboration in team undertakings provides rich opportunity for the cultivation of personal growth and social awareness.
  • Intrinsic enjoyment and satisfaction derived from participation in outdoor activities.
  • Provide non-competitive environment for achievement.
  • Opportunity to overcome fears and apprehensions and make strides in the development of self-confidence with implications for all aspects of personal development.
  • Participation in enjoyable outdoor activities reinforces a positive attitude to education and reinforces learning across many areas of the curriculum, while encouraging participants to take greater responsibility for their own learning.
  • Development of trust and tolerance and the willingness to give and receive support from peers. Instils a sense of appreciation of the value of group activities, mutual support, co-operation and reciprocity.
  • Help to attain the Scottish Executive's declared objective: "The Executive is keen to raise the profile and uptake of outdoor education as a whole which can effectively knit together many of the strands of sustainable development in a rich learning environment."
  • To embed learning in experience and provide visually impaired young people with an opportunity for first-hand/hands-on experience.
  • General increase in quality of life and establishment of a connection between the use of green spaces and mental and physical health in the minds of politicians, schools, policy-makers and the general public.
  • Helps parents to overcome the fears and reservations that prevent their visually impaired children from participating in a wider range of physical activities.
  • Fosters sensitivity to the environment, helps participants see themselves in a global context and to develop as citizens with an awareness of the need for the sustainable use of the world's resources.
  • The development of communication, problem solving and decision making skills and the cultivation of a positive 'can do' attitude.
  • Broadening of the children's horizons, the development of aspirations, and the development of an enthusiasm to take challenges on rather than shy away from them.
  • Cultivation of relationships with peers and leaders in the context of shared endeavour which will help provide a sound basis for responsible citizenship.
  • Develop good practise in the domain of outdoor activities for visually impaired participants.
  • Helps solve the problem of how to include VI young people within a wider anti-obesity drive.
  • Helps VI participants identify their favoured learning styles and provides a conducive environment in which to utilise them.
  • Fostering Independence & Confidence

The Way Forward

Possible Extensions

  • To explore (dis)continuities between indoor and outdoor experiences for VI pupils
  • To facilitate more VISKIDS outdoor sessions
  • To investigate ways of 'bringing the outdoors inside' through a series of creative workshops

VIS Aspirations

  • To bridge the divide between mainstream and specialist schools
  • To work on a consultancy basis facilitating creative workshops in mainstream schools attended by VI pupils

Bringing the Outdoor Inside

The continuities between outdoor and indoor education can be explored in at least two very beneficial ways:

1) Through the development of effective multi-sensory learning environments

2) By applying Simon Hayhoe's theories in relation to perceived risk and task-avoidance in VI education