A brain isn’t just left-sided or right-sided. It is a single working unit that makes it possible to understand the interdisciplinary nature of knowledge.
This view is expressed by Edmond Alkaslassy and Terry O’Day in Linking Art and Science with a Drawing Class, published in Bioscene: Journal of College Biology Teaching, the refereed quarterly publication of the Association of College and University Educators.
Alkaslassy and O’Day (2002) wanted to help students recognize the shared skills required in art and science, so they designed a drawing course for second-semester freshmen enrolled in an introductory biology class. This drawing course was taught in conjunction with the biology lecture/lab class. The researchers wanted to use the drawing course as a tool to reinforce the message that good observational skills are beneficial in both an artistic and scientific setting (Alkaslassy and O’Day, 2002).
Unlike other experiments in which drawing activities are incorporated into a lab class, Alkaslassy and O’Day (2002) were careful to keep the drawing class free of heavy biological content. They wanted the drawing class to be a course where students could improve their drawing ability. That’s it.
To preserve this format, they made sure drawing exercises did not resemble biology homework for fear the drawing course would become a “help session” (Alkaslassy and O’Day, 2002) for the biology class. Students were not even required to label drawings of subjects they had not yet learned about in the lecture class. Adding labels to drawings was viewed as being “tantamount to asking (students) to study and learn biology” (Alkaslassy and O’Day, 2002). The authors wanted to see if improved drawing ability had an effect on student observational skills and, therefore, an effect on academic performance in the lecture class.
Did learning how to observe in a drawing course improve academic performance in the biology class?
No. During the semester, all students enrolled in Biology 202 were required to complete five exams and twelve labs. At the end of the term, the mean scores of students enrolled in both the drawing class and the lecture/lab class were lower than the mean scores of the other students.
Alkaslassy and O’Day (2002) propose some reasons why this may have been the case:
- The students who enrolled in the drawing course were academically weaker than students who did not enroll in the drawing course. College GPAs and SAT scores between the two groups were compared. The historical indicator of student success in the Biology 202 course (verbal SAT scores) were lower for students enrolled in the art course and the lecture/lab course.
- The self-selected students enrolled in the drawing course because they were already concerned about their performance in Biology 202 and wanted the extra “tutorial”, which of course they did not receive because the drawing course was not designed to be a “help session”.
- The drawing course created a false sense of understanding caused by the repeated observation of biological subjects.
Did the drawing course improve student drawing ability?
Yes. Alkaslassy and O’Day (2002) state this outcome can be observed in the pre-instructional and post-instructional drawings of trees completed by students. One example of a pre- and post- drawing is included in Alkaslassy and O’Day (2002). Students’ own comments about their improved drawing skills reinforce this finding.
Did students recognize observation as a shared skill worth developing in art and science?
Yes. Student comments about the relationship between drawing and biology suggest they were beginning to recognize the interdisciplinary nature of learning. Here is an example of one student’s comment in Alkaslassy and O’Day (2002):
I have realized, during my labs, how much more attention I pay to what I am trying to draw. Before I took this drawing class, I would’ve drawn a worm like a long skinny line and not given it its true justice of what it is really composed of.
The paper by Alkaslassy and O’Day is available online for free. See the Literature Cited section below.
Alkaslassy, Edmond and Terry O’Day. 2002. Linking art and science with a drawing class. Bioscene: Journal of College Biology Teaching 28(2): 7-14. Web.
25 April 2011. <http://acube.org/bioscene/>