Teaching and Learning with the Arts Research Group

Teaching and Learning with the Arts Research Group

Teaching and Learning with the Arts


Elizabeth Johnston, Ed.D.

Teaching and Learning with the Arts Research (TLAR), a new special interest group or SIG opened in October, 2017 at the Center for Educational and Instructional Technology Research (CEITR).  The TLAR-SIG is organized to answer the driving question: What do the arts bring to teaching and learning? Research Fellows, Dr. Elizabeth Johnston and Dr. Rita Hartman are co-leaders for the SIG, which is supported by Dr. Mansureh Kebritchi, Research Chair for CEITR. 

Seven TLAR teams comprised of 22 people in total are investigating the visual arts, music, design, theatre and the art of leadership. The purpose of this short article is to present a little bit about their work and the context.

What is the research context?

The value of art has always depended on subjective explanations that did not seem to hold up under the requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). During the late 20th and early 21st century, advocates tried to associate student participation in the arts with greater achievement on academic standardized, objective tests required by NCLB.  These efforts were not especially successful (OECD, 2013).

An extensive review of the literature showed no substantive or consistent connection between student involvement in the arts and higher achievement on the NCLB tests that might not be explained by other factors (Bracey, 2001; Winner & Hetland, 2001).  However, qualitative observations of learning in or supported by the arts indicated some unique opportunities (Blasco, Moreto, Blasco, Levites, & Janaudis, 2015; Creech, Hallam, McQueen, & Vavvarigou, 2013; Delamarter, 2015; Eisner, 2002; Klein, 2017; Kresse & Watland, 2016: Shapiro, Rucker & Beck, 2006; Vázquez, 2014).

 Educators returned to the idea of art for art’s sake with the suggestion that students  learn valuable skills in the arts that are not learned anywhere else (Bracy, 2001; Winner & Hetland, 2001). The arts allow learners to expand the repertoire of meaning making by adding visual, auditory, story-telling, and other forms of expression (Eisner, 1999).  Further the arts engage learners, who then reflect and grow in the process (Klein, 2017).

The arts offer an alternative path to learning and development when compared to the sciences; one that incorporates aesthetics, flexibility in purpose, and the opportunity to relate form to content (Eisner, 2002). The visual arts focus our attentiveness and help us to develop an inner life where reflection is a possibility (Klein, 2017). Learning begins when the learner pays attention or becomes engaged (Klein, 2017). In general, the arts and design engage attention and stimulate imagination or the capacity to discover alternatives (Kolko, 2010) . By 2015, arts educators from 12 nations indicated a curricular shift  to the creative and critical thinking, problem solving and design that creating art can support (Milbrandt, Shin, De Eca, & Hsieh, 2015).  TLAR teams are developing research studies related to the visual arts, design, music, storytelling, and the art of leadership.

The visual arts: Observations of studio art classes where the goal is to create works of art indicated a second or hidden curriculum that developed important analytic and creative thinking skills (Winner, Hetland, Veenema & Sheridan, 2007)  Extensive classroom observations of studio art instruction showed students developing eight distinct conceptual skills: observing, envisioning, expressing, evaluating, exploring, engaging, persisting, and perfecting a craft. The visual arts require representative thinking, in which the artist observes and extracts essential elements.  Arts related training has been shown to strengthen some observational skills such as responsiveness to multiple perspectives and narrative, while developing empathy in medical students (Shapiro, Rucker & Beck, 2006).

Two TLAR teams are working on research related to the visual arts.  Team 3 (Liz Johnston, Jim Lane, Connie Raaz) will gather reflective narratives from late career professionals to explore their characterizations of early experiences with art education. Team 6 (Patricia Steele, Liz Johnston, Andrew Lawlor, Cassandra Steele, and Sonja Lamppa) will analyze 35 immersive, student centered, and highly visual VR and AR educational applications for similarities to the hidden curriculum of creative and critical thinking identified in studio art classes (Winner, et al., 2007).

Design is the human practice of devising, constructing, and continuously improving procedures, practices, and objects, and of creating something new and valuable in the process (Cross, 2006). Designers rely on both art and science to create an artificial world; or, in other words, the human world. Design shapes the experience of our daily lives; trains, traffic, tennis shoes, and tools are all the outcome of design.  The line in a lunchroom has been designed. Inevitably, principles of design were envisioned as an opportunity for leadership (Dunne & Martin, 2006)  as leaders consistently press for innovation and change.  Educational leaders shape the curriculums that will shape minds (Eisner, 1991); and, educators will consciously or unconsciously design a school day from curriculum to lunch breaks that will shape student outcomes.

Two TLAR teams are working on research related to design in schools.  Teams 1 and 2 (Rita Hartman, Liz Johnston, Cheryl Burleigh, Diana Hart, and Marty Hill) are conducting a case study of principals who are applying design principles of awareness, empathy and design interventions to improve student outcomes.

Making or listenting to music has been shown to support social interactions, personal development, and feelings of empowerment and well being (Creech, et al., 2013). Music is practice based, emphasizing excellent skills through lifelong development (Watling, et al., 2013).  Music has been linked to memory as well (Creech, et al., 2013) and supports social collaboration especially late in life (Creech, Hallam, Gaunt, McQueen, & Pincus (2014). TLAR team 4 (Rita Hartman, Liston Bailey, and Jennifer Caitlo) are interviewing professionals, whose passion for music started at an early age. How has the thread of music run through their lives? 

Theatre, film and story telling: A storyteller whether sitting around a fire or making a movie organizes and makes meaning of the vast experiences of daily life.  Stories allow the teller or listener to reframe identity and experiences in a new light, to define meaning, and instill hope or (conversely) despair. Story tellers identify and represent key aspects of experience in the telling and retelling of story, which can be in the form of poetry, stories, autobiographies, raps and (even) songs (Miller, 2015).

Stories from the movies have been used in several settings as teaching aids including medicine (Blasco, et al., 2015) online education (Kresse, & Watland, 2016) and education (Delamarter, 2015). Becoming immersed in a story can create memories of an emotional, affective, and intellectual nature and lends to potentially powerful teaching and learning (Blasco, et al., 2015; Delamarter, 2015; Vázquez, 2014).  TLAR team 5 (Nola Veazie, Liz Johnston, Cheryl Burleigh) will gather narratives from counselors as to how movies or film stories can provide therapeutic support for behavioral change in incarcerated women.

Team 7 is an exploratory research design where members Regina Saldono, Sally Evans, Jan Cardwell, and Nandita Verma are working with Xeno Rasmusson to develop research agendas beginning with extensive literature reviews.  

The TLAR teams are part of a CEITR initiative led by Dr Mansureh Kebrtichi to support faculty scholarship.  TLAR team members are collaborators who are growing in scholarship, practice, and leadership.



Blasco, P. G., Moreto, G., Blasco, M. G., Levites, M. R., & Janaudis, M. A. (2015). Education through movies: Improving teaching skills and fostering reflection among students and teachers. Journal for Learning Through the Arts, 11(1). Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/2dt7s0zk

Creech, A., Hallam, S., Varvarigou, M., Gaunt, H., McQueen, H., & Pincus, A., (2014). The role of musical possible selves in supporting subjective well-being in later life. Music Education Research. 16,(1). 32-http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14613808.2013.788143

Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (2013). The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music Education. Online first, 21 March 2013.

Cross, N. (2006). Designerly ways of knowing. Berlin: Springer.

Delamarter, J. (2015). Avoiding practice shock: Using teacher movies to realign pre-service teachers’ expectations of teaching. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 40(2), 1-14.

Dunne, D., & Martin, R. (2006). Design thinking and how it will change management education: An interview and discussion. Academy of Management Learning and Education, I(4), 512–523.

Eisner, E. W. (2002). The arts and the creation of mind. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Eisner, E. W. (1991). The enlightened eye: Qualitative inquiry and the enhancement of educational practice. New York, NY: Macmillan.

Kline, S., R., (2017) Coming to our senses: Everyday landscapes, aesthetics, and transformative learning. Journal of Transformative Education16(1)3-16. https://doi.org/10.1177/1541344617696969

Kolko, J. (2010). Abductive thinking and sensemaking: The drivers of design synthesis. Design Issues, 26 (1), 15ñ28. doi: 10.1162/desi.2010.26.1.15

Kresse, W., & Watland, K. (2016). Thinking outside the box office: Using movies to build shared experiences and student engagement in online or hybrid learning. Journal of Learning In Higher Education, 12(1), 59-64.

OECD (2013), "Cognitive outcomes of visual arts education", in Art for Art's Sake?: The Impact of Arts Education, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Shapiro, J., Rucker, L., Beck, J., (2006) Training the clinical eye and mind: using the arts to develop medical students’ observational and pattern recognition skills. Medical Education40:263–8

Vázquez, K. (2014). Speak out loud: Deconstructing shame and fear through theater in a community-based service-learning project. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(1), 113-137.

Watling, C., Driessen, E., van der Vleuten, CPM.,Vanstone, M., Lingard., L.(2013) Music lessons: revealing medicine’s learning culture through a comparison with that of music. Medical Education 47:842–50.

Winner, E., Hetland, L., Veenema, S., & Sheridan, K., (2007) Studio thinking: The real benefits of visual arts education, Teachers College Press.

About the Author



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