NEA Awards Grant to U of A to Study Benefits of Field Trips

December 12, 2016

The University of Arkansas has been awarded a $149,500 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to study the effect of the arts on students' health and social and emotional well-being. The NEA announced on Dec. 12 the first projects funded through a new program, NEA Research Labs.

The NEA received 44 applications from universities nationwide, and the U of A project led by professor Jay P. Greene in the Department of Education Reform was one of only four projects selected.

NEA Research Labs funds investigations into how the arts contribute to positive outcomes for individuals and communities in projects involving both the arts sector and non-arts sectors, such as health care, education, business and management.

In 2013, Greene and other researchers studied field trips by Northwest Arkansas schoolchildren to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. More recently, they have expanded this line of research to examine the effects of school field trips to see live theater at TheatreSquared in Fayetteville.

They have found that field trips to cultural institutions have significant benefits for students beyond educational aspects of critical thinking and recalling facts. These other benefits included historical empathy, tolerance and interest in returning to museums and theater productions.

Last year, the Department of Education Reform created the Character Assessment Initiative (Charassein) led by professor Gema Zamarro to study non-cognitive outcomes in education.

"As director of Charassein, I am very excited about the award of the NEA grant as it will allow us to expand on Charassein's objective of getting a better understanding of how character skills are developed," Zamarro said. "In this case, through the study of how the arts could contribute to shaping these important skills."

As recipients of the NEA grant, they will team up with Pace University's Social Cognition and Imagination Lab to study students in fourth and fifth grades in Atlanta who either do or do not attend arts-related field trips such as visiting an art museum, hearing a symphony or seeing a play.

This NEA Research Lab has the potential to identify particularly how disadvantaged students in urban settings might be differentially affected by multiple arts experiences. Further, the longitudinal data collected through this project could yield future studies of other cognitive and emotional outcomes associated with arts-enriched experiences.

The project, to be called "The Arts, Creativity, Cognition and Learning," will design research to answer several questions:

  • Do multiple field trips per year to arts institutions affect elementary school students' social and emotional outcomes?

  • Do these observed outcomes vary by the students' socioeconomic and other characteristics?

  • Will longitudinal analysis show enduring effects on these outcomes over several years?

Surveys administered to students will collect information on a variety of social cognition outcomes, including perspective, tolerance, and interest in arts activities, to see whether students who go on the field trips differ from students who do not and whether any further differences accrue over time.

The Woodruff Arts Center, which is the site of the Alliance Theatre, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, will provide the field trips to the participating Atlanta schools.

"We are extremely grateful to the National Endowment for the Arts as well as our partners at the Woodruff Arts Center for this opportunity to expand rigorous social scientific research into how arts experiences affect students," said Greene, the principal investigator for the project. "Many of us believe in the importance of the arts in education, but projects like this supported by the NEA Research Labs allow us to gather evidence that may better inform those beliefs."

The grant begins in August of 2017 and runs for two years, after which there is a possibility for it to be extended.

Greene holds the Twenty-First Century Endowed Chair in Education Reform, and Zamarro holds the Twenty-First Century Endowed Chair in Teacher Quality.

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