Book encourages readers to experience life

Book encourages readers to experience life

Book encourages readers to experience life
November 03
23:52 2014

Samantha McDonald / Senior Staff Writer

To excel in the competitive field of communication design, one must not only have skills, but also a certain kind of creativity based on past experiences. After discovering that a number of his students lacked this quality, UNT assistant professor of design Alex Egner sought to make tangible change.

Releasing the activity booklet “Experience Passport” early in October, Egner aimed to expand readers’ knowledge of the world around them through a set of prompts that require the exploration of cultural subjects or experiences sans Google.

“I think it’s really easy for people to lock themselves in their own cultural bubble,” he said. “The idea here is to force yourself to push beyond that and try to experience a lot of different things.”

Egner cited the Internet as one of the driving forces for his creation of the book. As the father of two young children, Egner became familiar with their habit of searching online for answers to their questions rather than asking their parents, which he said essentially prevents healthy human interaction and necessary analog experiences.

“All information is accessible, which is fantastic in a lot of ways, but we also lost the thrill of the hunt,” he said. “It’s very different from the actual sights and smells, the immersion in being in those new places and environments.”

Broadening horizons

Initially discussed in conversations among faculty members in the communication design department, the idea of expanding perspectives in the face of a cultural gap led to a project that formed the beginnings of “Experience Passport.”

Egner and several design professors noticed a lack of social, political and cultural literacy among their students and decided to introduce them to activities that would allow them to experience the world around them instead of simply turning to online search engines.

“We’re coming at an interesting point in history where there’s this major generational rift that’s occurring,” Egner said. “There are people called digital natives and digital immigrants, who will never know a time before the Internet existed.”

In 2012, Egner and his colleagues developed a list of activities for design students in addition to the curriculum, such as visiting art museums and reading classic novels. After completing the prompts, students received stamps in true passport fashion to mark their accomplishments.

“Ultimately, the book is about taking yourself out of your comfort zone and pushing you to do something that’s a little new, uncomfortable and different,” Egner said.

‘Past our apartment walls and computer screens’

Targeted primarily at communication design students, the original version of “Experience Passport” featured prompts that ranged from asking students to list agencies for which they would like to work to making students list items they collected that may be unrelated to design.

4_exper_web2

Assorted stamps that students collect in their experience books during their journey as a communication design major.

Upon hearing about the project, publishing group Chronicle Books contacted Egner and asked him to write a similar book for a more general audience. The output was a 45-prompt list entirely different from the original work, but communication design senior Laura Gross said that this made the book both user-friendly and adaptable to individuals regardless of age, background or interest.

“In our small community, it is undeniably important, even necessary, for us to look to outside life and experiences, past our apartment walls and computer screens, and the passport was the perfect way to do so,” she said. “It allows us to experience the world in an organized, structured manner and creates a great start to exploring on our own.”

Using a Moleskine notebook, Gross created her passport, which she likened to a diary, with writings as well as cut-and-pasted images to prove that she had completed the tasks. The following year, Gross and participating students compiled a PDF of the pages of their passports. They then printed, bound and assembled it into a booklet, which more closely resembled the published “Experience Passport” version.

“I definitely have some odd, funny stories from the experiences I had when getting through my passport,” Gross said. “It’s a great tool to really expand your world, even if in a small way.”

Passport positivity

Many lessons can be learned from simply following the tasks set out in “Experience Passport,” but among the most lasting is the idea of positive reinforcement.

This type of conditioning happens when a certain consequence follows a specific behavior, leading to an increase in the frequency of that behavior, said behavior analysis program coordinator Brook Wheetley.

“Many behaviors we engage in that start out as rule-governed or instruction following behavior end up contacting strong, positively reinforcing consequences,” she said.

In the case of Egner’s book, readers are given a task to accomplish with the understanding that following through will lead them to better experience the culture that surrounds them. Readers might then be more inclined to continue performing the tasks even after completing the “Experience Passport,” which might help in their growth as human beings.

“There are two ways you can use words: one is before the behavior to encourage the behavior to happen right now or soon, and the other is words that follow the behavior and strengthen it in some ways,” behavior analysis regents professor Sigrid Glenn said. “The reason for adding social reinforcement is to get the behavior going, and then it takes off on its own by its natural consequences.”

Featured Image: The Experience Passport started as a journal that students could record their experiences while obtaining a degree. Photos courtesy of eggnerd.com

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