Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sri Lankan Landscapes in Transition

My Fulbright project is a study of cultural landscape ecology. I am concerned with rural and urban landscapes in transition. I'll be working with colleagues at the University of Moratuwa and at Rajarata University. 

One of my goals is to see Sri Lankan landscapes through the eyes of Sri Lankan people. As a teacher, I of course want to train students to observe their landscapes, and to awaken in them the enthusiasm for close observation of intangibles. These intangibles, I think, hold the key to new ways of learning. Hence they are as valuable as they are hidden in plain sight. 

Pulling together venues for student work has been a bit complicated. In part this is because I don't have formal teaching duties. Also I think this is because my modes and motivation might not be entirely clear to my colleagues. 

So here's an email I sent recently that may have clarified the situation. It resulted in an agreement to bring students into the field with us. On my dime!

Dear Professor B,

Dr. A forwarded your note to me. It is very exciting that you will join us in the field. I have been reading your work now for some years and I very much look forward to meeting you!

As for involving students in this field work, I wonder if you can suggest some methodology that we can use to make this a valuable learning experience for them. 

My goal is to walk through as many dry tank beds as we can find, and to document what we see. As in any cultural landscape ecology project, I suspect there are many intangibles we will observe, possibly for the first time, that will lead to further research questions. An important objective here is to encourage students to use their powers of observation and to develop as many questions for further research as possible. 

As you mentioned, dry tank beds have not been studied extensively so I anticipate that this will be a qualitative study, hopefully one that will whet the appetite of students for future tank research long after I have gone. I was in North Central Province for a week this past May, when I met Dr. A. My guide took me to about 20 small tanks around Mihintale and from that visit came the idea to study the dry tank beds. I think by studying subtle features of the tanks--colors, angles, curves, dimensions, artifacts, deposits, etc., as well as the relation of biotic to abiotic features we can gain insights into tank structure and function. 

So in short, the "methodology" here is transparent. It is the same used by Darwin, "observe, document, reflect, and question." I use this phenomenological, constructivist methodology with all of my students, both graduates and undergraduates. So if you can suggest a further methodological approach that will be of benefit to students I will be very grateful. 

So. Students will be coming into the field with us. Let's see where it goes!

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