What would a classroom experience look like if it were described in a visual form instead of in a written form?
Richard Hickman explores this in Visual Art as a Vehicle for Educational Research. An advocate for the use of the arts in classroom research,
Hickman (2007) carefully designed a project that uses art as a research tool. His project is different than the projects we usually learn about in this column because he went out of his way to avoid creating a project that used drawing as a research tool. This difference is important to note. Hickman (2007) explains that he did not create a drawing project because:
- A drawing is not necessarily art.
- Drawing research is often about drawing and its use as a thinking tool — not just by artists, but by anyone.
- Projects that use drawing as a research tool have their data reported as text, not images.
Hickman (2007) wanted to investigate something different. He wanted to investigate if it were possible to gather data and report data through the arts (emphasis mine).
Hickman’s pilot project involved graduate students assigned with the task of recording and explaining their experiences as student teachers. Nineteen students of art and design preparing to teach secondary school were told to “capture, in visual form, the essence of your experiences of classroom life” (Hickman, 2007). They were also told to include commentary that would help them present their visual work to their peers. During this six-month project, students conducted on-going observation in their respective classrooms, participated in small group seminars and engaged in reflective thinking (Hickman, 2007).
What was the outcome? You’ll have to get the paper to see the artwork for yourself since student reporting was done in a visual form. I will say that how the artwork captured interactions between the teachers and students is interesting. All I can do here, however, is present the observations and take-home messages Hickman (2007) shares in his paper. They are:
- Visual art forms can help explain aspects of the teaching and learning process that are not easy to explain in words.
- Visual art is engaging.
- Visual art forms can be used to tell an entire story at one time.
- Visual art can offer layers of information through “metaphor, analogy and iconography” (Hickman, 2007).
- Visual art can transform boring daily life into an experience that can change our perceptions.
- Visual art forms are accessible to everyone.
Hickman (2007) feels his attempt to investigate the extent to which art-based classroom research can enhance teaching and learning was a success. Even so, he does acknowledge that some forms of visual art are not self-explanatory. So his recommendation is that each piece of visual art be accompanied by a brief commentary by the artist so that an artist’s work is not misinterpreted.
Hickman’s study made me wonder…What would my classroom and the informal learning activities I lead look like if they were captured in a visual form?
What would your classroom look like?
Hickman, Richard. 2007. Visual art as a vehicle for educational research.
The International Journal of Art and Design Education. 26(3): 314-324