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Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn, a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning and critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy, and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at email@example.com or visit her website: Acts of Composition
Ralph Waldo Emerson in his famous essay, Nature (1836), talks about becoming a “transparent eyeball,” a philosophic metaphor that he describes as a state of being that can only be achieved in nature. It gives him peace and allows him to see beyond the structures that define him and see things in new ways. He says "I become a transparent eyeball. I am nothing, I see all." Emerson believes that in order to truly appreciate nature, one must go beyond merely looking at it and instead feel it and engage with it as both a sensory and intellectual experience. The transparent eyeball is “absorbent rather than reflective” and therefore a path to symbolic meaning and unexpected connections. I send students outside, to a place of their own choosing and ask them to spend time in nature and practice the intellectual exercise of moving between the micro and the macro.
1 - The Micro 2 - The Macro
Steps to the Assignment
- Have students read and respond to Emerson’s Nature essay. It is important that students have a strong understanding of his philosophy and the metaphor of the transparent eyeball.
- Ask students to post 3 thought-provoking questions and 1 passage from the text. Ask students to post the passages from the reading onto a collaborative Google document to guide discussion. Engage in full class discussions about the passages and questions and ask students to explain and interpret particular passages for a deep understanding of the text.
- Next, I ask students to go physically into nature and see what they can learn when they focus on it. Encourage students to focus on both sensory and intellectual experiences of nature. They can find a place in nature--a tree, a park, their back yard, a field, somewhere on campus, etc. and choose a place that is relatively free of distraction.
- I ask them to spend at least 15 minutes writing (no need to type this assignment) and try to record what they see, hear, notice, think. I want them to shift their attention back and forth from micro to macro and engage their “transparent eyeball.” I urge them to exercise the cognitive practices of moving back and forth between the whole picture and the parts--from the forest to the trees to the trunk to the bark to the ant to the blade of grass.
- It is important that they write freely and pay attention (and record) what they are seeing, feeling and thinking. Let them know it is OK to let their minds and writing wander wherever the experience takes them. Have them record the waves of their thoughts and the ways new thoughts emerge the longer they sit there.
- Using their phone cameras, have students take 10 total images – 5 micro and 5 macro.
- Choose one from each category (micro and macro) and post them to an individual slide to contribute to a collaborative Google slideshow. Have students include their names, location they visited and a significant passage from their experience transcript.
- Show or post the slideshow and have students share with the class.
Reflections on the Activity
Students experience a range of feelings and ideas from this assignment. They are often surprised at their reactions and ideas that surface during their time in nature. The concept of the transparent eyeball and the intellectual act of moving between the micro and the macro acts as a new lens and emphasizes the value of this kind of meditative experience.
Here are some of the responses and ideas generated through the assignment:
“I am noticing I am having a hard time separating the humans from the environment during this exercise. Probably due to the human geography/GIS course I am taking, probably due to the kids who are currently here playing on the other side of the park. Either way, humans ultimately are part of the environment, arguably even more now than when Emerson wrote his essay.” Brody
“How many others, like me, have let society overpower their sense of adventure and discovery?” Sydney
“It’s just wonderful how the world falls together to create little pockets of peace, and how those pockets are different for everyone.” Kelsey
“Nature is cool like that; it can give you what you need without you knowing exactly what that means. Nature is freeing. It's a place where when everything in the world doesn't make sense, nature is there to slow you down and zoom out- help you look at the bigger picture.” Hannah
“Just by concentrating on nature, I can block out everything that I haven't been able to get out of my head for days. . . This experience has brought a significant surge of happiness.” Litzy
The assignment is both experiential and multimodal and reminds us of the importance and connectedness with nature. Students are usually motivated to incorporate these ideas into their daily lives and find a deeper sense of gratitude and awareness of their surroundings.
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