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« The Science of Art | Main | 6 Simple Ways to get Started Doing Arts-Based Research »

November 19, 2018

Arts-Based Research as Pedagogy

By Patricia Leavy, PhD

It’s probably fair to assume that all educators aim for lasting learning. No teacher or professor wants their students to forget all that was covered as soon as the course ends. The arts can help. While the arts are important to learn for their own sake, that’s not the focus of this blog. Rather, as proponents of arts integration advocate, the arts can be useful in the teaching and learning of other subject matter.

In last week’s blog, “The Science of Art,” I reviewed some of the neuroscientific research on how we consume art. To recap, people become immersed in art, forming deep impressions. For example, the whole brain is transformed as people read novels. Given the positive pedagogical benefits of engaging with art, bringing art into the classroom to teach other subject matter, seems like, well, a no brainer. Using arts-based research (ABR) in the classroom may be particularly beneficial as ABR is art that is based on research, often created specifically to teach a particular subject. For example, in an education elective, instead of using a research article or monograph to cover a specific topic, one might use a novel, film, or play based on an education researcher’s scholarly research on the topic. If it’s good art, it will be engaging and provocative, but because it’s ABR, it will also be informative.

There are some topics that are particularly difficult to address in classrooms, and yet, we often think they’re among the most important. For example, for years I’ve been writing about interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches to research and problem-solving. Despite my extensive research on this subject, I’ve found it difficult to help students understand the importance of these practices, how they come to bear in real-world research contexts, and why any of it matters. These topics are often abstract and can be perceived as boring. Students can read a book or listen to a lecture, but do they really grapple with the issues at hand and will they care once the course is over? These questions motivated me to write my latest novel, Spark, which explores interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, problem-solving, and critical thinking, all through a fictional adventure story set in Iceland. I’ve included further engagement so the novel can function as a class text.

Many of us know from our daily lives that a novel we enjoy can be instructive, educational, inspirational, and challenging. Moreover, characters can linger on our minds for years after we’ve turned the last page. This is true of art across media. Herein we find the promise of bringing ABR into classrooms.

- PL

Author’s Note: For a comprehensive introduction to ABR please see my book Method Meets Art Second Edition and for a comprehensive review of the field please see the Handbook of Arts-Based Research. Visit Guilford Press for discount details.

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