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9:45pm on Wednesday, 11th April, 2007:

Landmark Decisions


I just spent an hour in Lee Sheldon's computer game production class here at Indiana University. Sigh. If only I were allowed to teach EE224 like that. Teaching methods here are so much more dynamic, interactive and, well, imaginative than is possible at Essex, no matter how much innovation we'd like to put into them. Tomorrow, for example, I'll be attending a class given by Thom Gillespie in a pizza restaurant. That's just not an option at Essex for all manner of reasons (not least of which is that I'd have to pay for the pizzas myself). I think our courses perhaps cover the core material in more depth, but whether the students learn more that way is another matter entirely. It must be so liberating to teach here.

Oh, yes, landmarks!

After leaving Lee's class, I had to come back to the hotel. Lee gave me directions, which began, "see that door down there?". I did indeed. However, I went too far down the staircase, got lost in a warren of corridors, and finally emerged from an entirely different exit. I looked up for a landmark, and realised to my horror that every single building was a landmark. They're all huge, they're all distinct, I recognised them all, and yet I had no idea which ones were near the hotel. I realised I was suffering from landmark overload. I could have found it if I'd known which direction was west, because that's where the hotel is, but it was cloudy so I couldn't tell where the sun was (other than "up").

OK, so I knew the hotel was close, and I knew I'd recognise it if I saw it, so I set about walking in a circle around the building where Lee had given his lecture. My strategy was to continue while I recognised the landmarks, then turn if I saw one I didn't. After 270 degrees of walking I spotted the tower that told me it was the hotel, and here I am.

The reason I got lost was, of course, entirely cultural. What I recognise as landmarks are buildings that are unusual in the UK, such as large, imposing ones standing in parkland. When every building is large and imposing and standing in parkland, that makes everything a landmark, which is about as useful as nothing being a landmark. As I was walking around looking for the hotel, I encountered a group of new or prospective students being shown around; their guide pointed to a building, said, "that's also part of Kelly" or something, and that was enough for it to sink in. After a lifetime of exposure to large, imposing buildings standing in parkland, they had no problem incorporating them into their cognitive maps. This would seem to suggest that they have some other way of noting where they are, which is rather too nuanced for me to use at the moment.

Still, enough exposure to this and I'm sure I'll pick it up. Either that or the police will arrest me for crossing a state boundary on foot...

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Copyright © 2007 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).