During our f-2-f meeting at ALA Annual, the residents took part in an active learning exercise called “Get the Picture”. The complete instructions for this exercise are available as Appendix C to our June ’08 Meeting Minutes, but here’s the gist:
Participants pair up and seat themselves back to back. One person will be given a picture and then will describe it to the partner. The listening partner is to draw the picture exactly as it is described. The drawer, however, cannot ask any questions. Draw only what you hear.
Here are the pictures the residents were asked to draw:
And here are the drawings the residents produced:
Not quite the same huh? I think we learned quite a bit about the ambiguity of language, even under the most conscientious of conditions. When the entire group gathered after our small breakout sessions, one of the coordinators pointed out this is not just an exercise in active listening. It’s also an exercise in direction for people who give instructions (library administrators, for example). Not only do we have to pay attention to what we are hearing and anticipate ambiguities; but we also have to be aware that our instructions (or our emails, as the case usually is) may give rise to alternative interpretations.
We were reminded very quickly during the course of this exercise that we weren’t as smart as we thought we were. In one instance, the partner was told to draw an isoceles triangle, not just a triangle. Clever? Yes, but there are two kinds of isoceles triangles: acute and obtuse. The drawer made the latter. The picture was of the former.