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Blindfolded students find their way around campus

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 | 5:28 p.m. CDT; updated 9:51 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008
Graduate student Anne Felts helps professor Ronn Phillips lead his class around campus blindfolded on Tuesday in an exercise meant to help these designers learn to see in a new way.

COLUMBIA – Twenty-five years ago Ronn Phillips was blindfolded, as part of a class assignment, and instructed to walk around campus.

The result?

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“I got motion sickness and threw up,” he said.

All bodily functions aside, Phillips felt it was a successful exercise in teaching him to use his senses to perceive his environment. That’s why he does it now with his own students.

On Tuesday, Phillips led the students in his Environment and Behavior class around the MU campus for an hour, with their eyes masked from the sun with tin foil.

The purpose of taking the students all over campus blindfolded, he said, is so they can do environmental design in a different way.

“Everyone had the same experience,” Phillips said. “But each response is very different.”

The exercise prompted confusion from onlookers, and comments from the jumble of confused students included “I’m real excited there’s no stairs nearby;” “Sorry for whoever has to hold my hands — they’re sweaty;” and “I feel like I’m missing my big toe.”

Ryan Krull, a former student of Phillips’, saw the exercise going on and jumped in to help the toe-stubbing students.

“I remember when I did it,” he said. “I thought, ‘I gotta help.’”

After an hour of wandering blindly, students were dismissed and told to draw a cognitive map of where they had been.

According to the MU Honors College Web site, the Environment and Behavior class focuses on how people know and experience built and natural settings.

“It’s about taking away visual sense and using all others to interact with the environment,” Krull said.

Curtis Krusie, one of the students who participated in the exercise on Tuesday, described it simply as “a nightmare.”


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