Online programs navigate learning curves

If there has been any backlash against online education by traditional bricks-and-mortar universities, that notion is usually couched in words such as “confusion” and “misuse.” Confusion as to what online learning is supposed to be and how to make it effective. Misuse as in one-size-fits-all approaches for students and faculty who are neither prepared nor motivated — the proverbial mistake of trying to fit the round peg (fluid online models) into the square hole (traditional, on-ground models.)

“Many colleges and universities came to e-learning for reasons other than teaching and learning quality,” says Jeff Borden, a vice president and director of the center for online learning at Pearson, a leading education company that provides a huge array of services, including online courses. “Some saw a quick financial win. Some saw it as interesting for research. Some wanted to be ‘cutting edge’ for their marketing efforts. Others were scared as they lost on-ground enrollments and believed it was the only way to survive. “But, as e-learning has ‘grown up’ to be a viable and very real alternative for millions of students, many schools have had to catch up to efficacy,” Borden says. “Obviously, it’s a never-ending experience — we find the same to be true in face-to-face teaching and learning. But over time, more schools have figured out what works for them and/or their student population.”

For many, Borden says, the key is a blended approach.

Some schools, for example, offer classes that meet part-time online and part-time on ground. Others offer full courses online. At Chaminade University of Honolulu, where Borden is a lecturer, fully online courses make up most of the eLearning, but a hybrid model is the fastest-growing approach in general, he says. Like anything in its infancy, online learning has indeed had its growing pains. Central Michigan University (CMU), which jumped into the pool early, hit a technical wall in 2006 with Blackboard, a widely used e-learning platform, due to faster-than-expected enrollment growth, say Marnie Roestel, manager of online programs, and Kaleb Patrick, director of graduate programs. CMU updated its management systems and has kept up with enrollment since, they said, while reminding faculty to maintain academic standards.

Northwestern University in early April announced that Courses for Semester Online, a consortium of universities in the U.S. and Europe offering a set of online courses that could be taken at any of the schools, would end this summer. Reasons included resistance by some faculty to the model and difficulty in maintaining consistency across the spectrum. “On the basis of a lot of experience, I can attest to the fact the consortia are very hard to manage,” says former Princeton University President William Bowen. “There is a great temptation for lowest-common-denominator thinking to prevail. This is a field in which you need nimbleness and the ability to test things out, to make mistakes and fix them, and I’m not convinced consortia are very good at that.” The CMU online experts say universities have been, overall, slow to embrace online education. The likely reason: They realize it isn’t easy to do right.

Students, meanwhile — especially adults in the workplace — are champing at the bit for it, statistics indicate. They want it because it fits their increasing need for higher education at their own pace, in their own space, and because it works well in a new, job-hopping environment that requires short bursts of focus on specific skills that serve career goals.  “As with any technology, it takes time as well as practice to test their capabilities and optimize their effectiveness,” says Drexel University Online President Susan Aldridge. “Online education isn’t something you do by the numbers,” Aldridge adds. “It’s an ongoing process of discovery and improvement, which is guaranteed to produce mistakes along the way. By embracing those mistakes, we are learning to navigate the roadblocks in a way that defines and leads to true success, for both our students and our faculty.”

According to the Sloan Consortium, a nonprofit think tank devoted to online learning, most increases in online education are happening at two-year institutions. Pam Quinn, director of online learning for seven community colleges in Texas, says not to blame the medium. “If students are not engaged in online learning, either the courses are not designed properly or the faculty are not trained appropriately in online learning communities that support student engagement,” says Quinn, provost for the Dallas County Community College District’s LeCroy Center for Educational Telecommunications.

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Adding more people to online education equation

Roger Schank is a pioneer in using computers as teaching tools, and his latest venture has reached an interesting conclusion: The best way to cut costs is to reduce automation and use more human input. The main thing to improve education, said Schank, now a professor emeritus at Northwestern University, is to do away with classes, lectures and tests. The key to effective education, he said, is to learn by doing. “Online education allows you to break away from old, outmoded methods and try new things,” he said. “That’s its main benefit.” In the 1990s, Schank and his Northwestern colleagues devised several courses that enabled businesses to train people by using computer automation. When a trainee had a question, the computer would play a video clip of an expert telling an anecdotal experience that addressed the question.

The technology was effective, but it’s more costly than online learning, which has become common on the Web. Yet most online efforts are based on classes, lectures and testing, which Schank believes are outmoded. To provide effective online learning at competitive costs, Schank has started a new company, Socratic Arts, based in Evanston, that devises curricula that immerse a student in a learning experience. If someone wants to learn how to manage an e-commerce company, for example, he must write a business plan, form a company and deal with numerous day-to-day problems that the curricula throws at him. This is done in collaboration with other students, as would happen in real life. Some communications occurs online and some doesn’t.

“If you have to write a business plan, there are many books that can help you with that,” said Schank. “We point the student to them rather than reproduce the books online. The student writes a business plan, submits it online, and then a mentor reads it and critiques it. This happens again and again as the student learns about writing a business plan. “Students collaborate with each other to solve problems. They don’t work in isolation.” University faculty can provide some individual mentoring, or experts can be recruited for specific tasks, such as helping with writing a good business plan. Computer technology helps the mentors provide students with needed individual attention.

Schank’s company is working with Carnegie Mellon University’s computer science school to develop curricula that will lead to master’s degrees. He also has been in talks with some Chicago educators about starting programs aimed at students in college and high school. “In most high schools, the seniors tend to goof off,” said Schank. “We can rearrange things so that students take care of their requirements by the end of the junior year and then spend their senior year in my curriculum learning about what they want to do in the world. “They could leave high school knowing enough to get a job directly or knowing how to get the most out of their college education.”

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Online Education An Issue Of Profiting By Degrees

When basketball star Shaquille O’Neal belatedly earned his college degree last month, he declared, “Thank god for the Internet.” The January-February issue of Mother Jones would not doubt his sincerity, but it might well raise questions about the academic worthiness of his endeavor. It takes a hard look at campuses nationwide rushing to go online in “Digital Diplomas,” a most critical dissection of a seemingly unstoppable trend in higher education. O’Neal, who is not a subject of the cover story, left Louisiana State University early eight years ago to dunk basketballs and now earns about $20 million a year. He stands characteristically tall at the moment as the most famous online graduate of what the politically left-leaning near-monthly deems the troubling “brave new world of higher education.”

It’s estimated that more than half of the colleges and universities offer some courses over the Internet, part of a growing market in what is tagged virtual learning that, according to Merrill Lynch, could constitute a business with $7 billion in annual revenues by the year 2003. A few schools, like New Jersey’s Seton Hall University and the University of Colorado, offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees achieved entirely online. The magazine does not discount the allure of all this, but discerns growing anxiety over the possibility that commercial, not academic, considerations rule, especially as institutions see the possibility for hawking their wares for nice profits. No one disputes the ease with which the Internet can transfer information. The questions really arise as to how the actual educational experience would be altered, — especially as often-crucial face-to-face meetings with teachers become something else — and whether the nation would be headed toward a two-tiered system of on-campus and online diplomas, with the former likely to remain more prestigious and influential.

The two-tier, possibly class-based, potential may be hinted at by the belief thatonline learning would tend to draw single mothers and working parents. It is also possible that such a social reality might lead to online learning becoming more focused on lower-cost education, aimed at producing workers for low- and mid-level jobs. For sure, there are large sums of money at stake. For example, the University of Chicago has cut a deal with UNext.com, a venture of the convicted junk bond king Michael Milken, to offer partner schools what one industry publication estimated to be $20 million in royalties over five to eight years for the right to use the schools’ names to marketonline courses. The initial qualms over such an enterprise have to do with the profit incentive and how that might in some fashion dilute, and possibly pollute, a university’s mission. At minimum, it serves to sharpen a discussion that will surely become more lively as the years roll on — and Shaquille O’Neal looks back even more proudly on his online degree in general studies (assuming he hasn’t simply purchased his alma mater by then).

Quickly: In an interview with the January-February National Geographic Traveler, flamboyant Virgin Airlines chief Richard Branson says he tries to find out where anairline’s crew is staying, then books there since those spots are “reasonably priced and always a lot more fun than most typical business hotels.” He also indicates that he’s exploring the notion of Virgin Dating, so, “If you’re sitting in seat 3G and I’m in 2A, you will be able to send a message to my seat telling me you want to meet me, or one to my neighbor discreetly asking them if they will change seats.” . . . The combined Dec. 25-Jan. 1 Sports Illustrated included an homage to great rank-and-file sports fans around the land, as well as a poll of pro athletes on related matters, such as the dumbest fans (basketball’s Vancouver Grizzlies and football’s Oakland Raiders are among the losers) and best groupies (the Los Angeles Lakers’ and Miami Dolphins’, among others). It includes choicest lines they’ve heard from hecklers (“You could give aspirin a headache”) and best retort by a player (“You’d better check your wife, a ballplayer is missing”). . . . The realist photographer Helen Levitt, whose best efforts were in the 1930s and 1940s, is the subject of a lovely symposium, marked by critiques of specific shots from the likes of documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, in the winter Threepenny Review ($5, 1426 Oxford St., Berkeley, CA 94709). “Levitt’s photographs are marvelous exactly because they make mystery from fact,” writes Janna Malamud Smith in dissecting one of Levitt’s shots of graffiti, this a chalk stick figure of a woman whom one takes to be a housewife.

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Florida approves online-only public university education

Tallahassee (Reuters) – Public university students in Florida next year will be able to start working toward college degrees without actually going to college, under a law Governor Rick Scott signed on Monday in front of educators and business lobbyists. The state-run University of Florida plans to start a series of online bachelor’s degree programs next year, with $15 million start-up funds for 2014.

Until now full-time online education has just been available to elementary and high schools in the state. “This bill transforms education in Florida,” said House Speaker Will Weather ford, a Republican who has long been a proponent of “virtual learning” in public schools. “Now, we will be home to the first fully accredited, online public research university institute in the nation,” said Weatherford. “These bold higher-education reforms will help increase Florida’s global competitiveness and ensure our students have meaningful opportunities after high school.”

California and Texas are developing totally online university programs, while Illinois considered the idea and discarded it, according to a spokesman for the American Public and Land Grant Universities Association in Washington. State Senator Bill Montford, a Democrat from Tallahassee who is executive director of the Florida Association of School Superintendents, said, “I haven’t heard of any state that’s moving as aggressively as Florida can” in online education.

The online courses will cost no more than 75 percent of in-state tuition for regular classes at the University of Florida. The online university degree programs are part of an education package pushed by Scott and the state’s Republican party leadership that they say will more closely link curriculums with the needs of employers. The state’s new education law also retreats in some areas from the toughened curriculum required in 2010, the year before Scott became governor. Students can select “scholar” courses, but others can focus more on job skills and will be able to graduate without passing tougher courses in math and science.

The governor, who campaigned in 2010 on a platform of creating 700,000 jobs in seven years through a series of business-friendly tax cuts and regulatory changes, has made job-oriented education and low tuition a big part of his economic development package. Scott last year caused a stir by saying he did not want Florida’s higher education system producing anthropologists or other specialized graduates whose main job prospect is teaching others to do what they do. Before the session, he persuaded all 28 state colleges to come up with four-year bachelor’s programs costing $10,000 or less in tuition, emphasizing skills sought by employers.

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Online learning is ‘the blackboard of the future’

Children in nurseries will soon be learning through Moocs (Massive Open Online Courses) as the internet revolution changes the face of learning, according to the man who first pioneered their use in higher education. Today’s two- and three-year-olds have been born with keyboards “pinned to their fingers”, Dr Anant Agarwal, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, insists. As a result, it makes sense to utilise the skills they had acquired and give them a basic start to literacy and numeracy through computer games in the kindergarten or nursery schools.

“Two- and three-year-olds love video games and they’re able to play with iPads – all they have to do is wipe their fingers over the keyboard,” he said. “That’s happening already in the home and it would be really fun for them to use those skills in the kindergarten,” Dr Agarwal, told a seminar organised by the Education Foundation, an education think-tank, during a whistlestop UK tour. His visit includes talks with MPs, the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, and universities minister David Willetts on how Moocs can transform education. He was speaking amid growing scepticism over the impact that Moocs could have on higher education. In an article in Times Higher Education, Diana Laurilland, of London University’s Institute of Education, argued that unsupervised learning online was not the answer. “Free online courses that require no qualifications or fee are a wonderful idea, but not viable,” she said. Take-up of the idea in the UK had been slower than expected, academics have also argued.

However, Dr Agarwal, said a “blended” approach – combining first-time higher education students and providing additional resource material for those already at university will turn them into a success story. He has pioneered Moocs – setting up a programme through an MIT/Harvard-based company edX, of which he is president. It has now been snapped up by 1.8 million learners worldwide and offers courses which can end with the learner gaining a certificate validated by an Ivy League university in the US (MIT or Harvard) to boost career prospects.

Education, he claims, had been slow to embrace new technology. “Transportation has changed completely from the 1600s – from ox carts and carriages to rocket ships… [but] education has not changed really since the introduction of the text book. Even that – and the introduction of the blackboard in 1862 – had been controversial, as folk worried about the monks being put out of business…. The blackboard was criticised because it meant teachers had to turn their back on a class, thus threatening classroom discipline.” Education’s time has come, though, and it will be unrecognisable within 10 years, he predicts – not at the expense of lecturers’ jobs, but simply by changing the way students on degree courses learn as well as by attracting a new online audience. Dr Agarwal said research shows the average student’s attention span is six minutes and, when faced with a lengthy lecture, that goes down to only two minutes. Yet the average lecture in a UK university can last from 50 minutes to two hours.

Use of Moocs had significantly cut the number of letters sent out by universities to students in danger of falling behind, it is claimed. One university had reduced the number of such warnings to students from 50 to only two over a two-year period after the introduction of Moocs. Another saw a 41 per cent failure rate cut to nine per cent. “Our main aim is to increase access to learning,” said Dr Agarwal. He acknowledged Moocs were “slow to get on in the UK”, but added: “My message would be to try them out and, if you don’t like them, flush them down the Thames.” The Open University has led the way, he said. Some of his audience spoke of the reluctance of teachers and lecturers to embrace them and feared that OU students would now be better equipped to make use of them than others.

Dr Agarwal’s visit coincides with the OU’s second course on its new social learning platform Future Learn, which will enable students to study the moons of our solar system. “The course provides answers for those who want to know more about moons and may perhaps spark further learning of planetary science and astronomy,” said Professor Alan Rothery, who is leading the programme. Dr Agarwal concludes: “If teachers don’t embrace it [Moocs], there is no hope of going anywhere… this is the world that today’s children are being brought up in. The UK has some of the greatest universities in the world and I am interested in inviting them to join this experiment. The whole movement is less than two years old, and for those universities who have started on it, these are very, very early days.”

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Teacher “training” vs. Teacher “professional development”

My blog posts are picked up in Facebook via RSS feed, and Fred Martin commented there that he prefers “professional development” to “training” to describe in-service educational opportunities for teachers.  It’s a good point.  My adviser, Elliot Solo way, once appeared on PBS talking about how “Dogs are trained. Teachers aren’t trained. They’re taught.”  “Professional development” sounds more like what executives and other knowledge workers do, so it’s a better, more respectful, and more descriptive term.  I agree with all of that, but I propose an argument that claims that “teacher training” is not a bad thing, and may be something we need more of, especially in computing education. “Training” is defined as activity leading to skilled behavior.  Fire fighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, and soldiers are “trained.”  Training is associated with providing service to the community, which is certainly what teachers do.  Training is about developing skill, and teaching is clearly a skill.  Athletes train.  I trained for three years for my black belt.  In these senses, “training” is about learning to the point of automatically, so that the learner can demonstrate the skill under stressful conditions.
CS1 teachers do learn to the point of automatically how to help students.  After a few years of teaching Media Computation, I could often tell what was wrong with a student’s program just by looking at the output image or listening to the output sound.  Totally silent output sound?  You may not be increment the target index, so all the source samples are being copied to the same target index.  Black edge on your composed pictures?  Probably an off-by-one error where you’re not changing the right and bottom most edges of the picture.  That automatically comes from knowledge of the domain and seeing lots of examples of student work, so that you learn the common errors.  Such automatically is useful to be able to help many students debug their programs in a brief class time or office hours.
A teacher’s job is stressful.  It is hard for a teacher to manage a classroom of (sometimes unruly, always attention-demanding) students.  A teacher must apply learning under stressful conditions, and reaching automatically will help with multitasking around many students.  However, in computing education especially, we barely have time to teach teachers the basics of computing, let alone become proficient, and in no way, automatic.  Without the time and “training” to develop those automatic responses, teachers have to work harder, spending more time to figure out each student problem. Fred’s right — “professional development” is more respectful, and clearly conveys that teachers areknowledge-workers.  “Training” is also an appropriate term, that recognizes the skilled service that teachers provide and the hard, stressful job that they have in responding to many students needs.  In computing education especially, we need to give teachers more support that looks like “training,” and not just introducing the concepts in “professional development.”

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The Educational Value of Field Trips

The school field trip has a long history in American public education. For decades, students have piled into yellow buses to visit a variety of cultural institutions, including art, natural history, and science museums, as well as theaters, zoos, and historical sites. Schools gladly endured the expense and disruption of providing field trips because they saw these experiences as central to their educational mission: schools exist not only to provide economically useful skills in numeracy and literacy, but also to produce civilized young men and women who would appreciate the arts and culture. More-advantaged families may take their children to these cultural institutions outside of school hours, but less-advantaged students are less likely to have these experiences if schools do not provide them. With field trips, public schools viewed themselves as the great equalizer in terms of access to our cultural heritage. Today, culturally enriching field trips are in decline. Museums across the country report a steep drop in school tours. For example, the Field Museum in Chicago at one time welcomed more than 300,000 students every year. Recently the number is below 200,000. Between 2002 and 2007, Cincinnati arts organizations saw a 30 percent decrease in student attendance. A survey by the American Association of School Administrators found that more than half of schools eliminated planned field trips in 2010–11. The decision to reduce culturally enriching field trips reflects a variety of factors. Financial pressures force schools to make difficult decisions about how to allocate scarce resources, and field trips are increasingly seen as an unnecessary frill. Greater focus on raising student performance on math and reading standardized tests may also lead schools to cut field trips. Some schools believe that student time would be better spent in the classroom preparing for the exams. When schools do organize field trips, they are increasingly choosing to take students on trips to reward them for working hard to improve their test scores rather than to provide cultural enrichment. Schools take students to amusement parks, sporting events, and movie theaters instead of to museums and historical sites. This shift from “enrichment” to “reward” field trips is reflected in a generational change among teachers about the purposes of these outings. In a 2012‒13 survey we conducted of nearly 500 Arkansas teachers, those who had been teaching for at least 15 years were significantly more likely to believe that the primary purpose of a field trip is to provide a learning opportunity, while more junior teachers were more likely to see the primary purpose as “enjoyment.” If schools are de-emphasizing culturally enriching field trips, has anything been lost as a result? Surprisingly, we have relatively little rigorous evidence about how field trips affect students. The research presented here is the first large-scale randomized-control trial designed to measure what students learn from school tours of an art museum. We find that students learn quite a lot. In particular, enriching field trips contribute to the development of students into civilized young men and women who possess more knowledge about art, have stronger critical-thinking skills, exhibit increased historical empathy, display higher levels of tolerance, and have a greater taste for consuming art and culture.

Design of the Study and School Tours
The 2011 opening of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Northwest Arkansas created the opportunity for this study. Crystal Bridges is the first major art museum to be built in the United States in the last four decades, with more than 50,000 square feet of gallery space and an endowment in excess of $800 million. Portions of the museum’s endowment are devoted to covering all of the expenses associated with school tours. Crystal Bridges reimburses schools for the cost of buses, provides free admission and lunch, and even pays for the cost of substitute teachers to cover for teachers who accompany students on the tour.
Because the tour is completely free to schools, and because Crystal Bridges was built in an area that never previously had an art museum, there was high demand for school tours. Not all school groups could be accommodated right away. So our research team worked with the staff at Crystal Bridges to assign spots for school tours by lottery. During the first two semesters of the school tour program, the museum received 525 applications from school groups representing 38,347 students in kindergarten through grade 12. We created matched pairs among the applicant groups based on similarity in grade level and other demographic factors. An ideal and common matched pair would be adjacent grades in the same school. We then randomly ordered the matched pairs to determine scheduling prioritization. Within each pair, we randomly assigned which applicant would be in the treatment group and receive a tour that semester and which would be in the control group and have its tour deferred.
We administered surveys to 10,912 students and 489 teachers at 123 different schools three weeks, on average, after the treatment group received its tour. The student surveys included multiple items assessing knowledge about art as well as measures of critical thinking, historical empathy, tolerance, and sustained interest in visiting art museums. Some groups were surveyed as late as eight weeks after the tour, but it was not possible to collect data after longer periods because each control group was guaranteed a tour during the following semester as a reward for its cooperation. There is no indication that the results reported below faded for groups surveyed after longer periods.
We also assessed students’ critical-thinking skills by asking them to write a short essay in response to a painting that they had not previously seen. Finally, we collected a behavioral measure of interest in art consumption by providing all students with a coded coupon good for free family admission to a special exhibit at the museum to see whether the field trip increased the likelihood of students making future visits. All results reported below are derived from regression models that control for student grade level and gender and make comparisons within each matched pair, while taking into account the fact that students in the matched pair of applicant groups are likely to be similar in ways that we are unable to observe. Standard validity tests confirmed that the survey items employed to generate the various scales used as outcomes measured the same underlying constructs.
The intervention we studied is a modest one. Students received a one-hour tour of the museum in which they typically viewed and discussed five paintings. Some students were free to roam the museum following their formal tour, but the entire experience usually involved less than half a day. Instructional materials were sent to teachers who went on a tour, but our survey of teachers suggests that these materials received relatively little attention, on average no more than an hour of total class time. The discussion of each painting during the tour was largely student-directed, with the museum educators facilitating the discourse and providing commentary beyond the names of the work and the artist and a brief description only when students requested it. This format is now the norm in school tours of art museums. The aversion to having museum educators provide information about works of art is motivated in part by progressive education theories and by a conviction among many in museum education that students retain very little factual information from their tours.

Results
Recalling Tour Details. Our research suggests that students actually retain a great deal of factual information from their tours. Students who received a tour of the museum were able to recall details about the paintings they had seen at very high rates. For example, 88 percent of the students who saw the Eastman Johnson painting At the Camp—Spinning Yarns and Whittling knew when surveyed weeks later that the painting depicts abolitionists making maple syrup to undermine the sugar industry, which relied on slave labor. Similarly, 82 percent of those who saw Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter could recall that the painting emphasizes the importance of women entering the workforce during World War II. Among students who saw Thomas Hart Benton’s Ploughing It Under, 79 percent recollected that it is a depiction of a farmer destroying his crops as part of a Depression-era price support program. And 70 percent of the students who saw Romare Bearden’s Sacrifice could remember that it is part of the Harlem Renaissance art movement. Since there was no guarantee that these facts would be raised in student-directed discussions, and because students had no particular reason for remembering these details (there was no test or grade associated with the tours), it is impressive that they could recall historical and sociological information at such high rates. These results suggest that art could be an important tool for effectively conveying traditional academic content, but this analysis cannot prove it. The control-group performance was hardly better than chance in identifying factual information about these paintings, but they never had the opportunity to learn the material. The high rate of recall of factual information by students who toured the museum demonstrates that the tours made an impression. The students could remember important details about what they saw and discussed.

Critical Thinking. Beyond recalling the details of their tour, did a visit to an art museum have a significant effect on students? Our study demonstrates that it did. For example, students randomly assigned to receive a school tour of Crystal Bridges later displayed demonstrably stronger ability to think critically about art than the control group. During the first semester of the study, we showed all 3rd- through 12th-grade students a painting they had not previously seen, Bo Bartlett’s The Box. We then asked students to write short essays in response to two questions: What do you think is going on in this painting? And, what do you see that makes you think that? These are standard prompts used by museum educators to spark discussion during school tours.
We stripped the essays of all identifying information and had two coders rate the compositions using a seven-item rubric for measuring critical thinking that was developed by researchers at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The measure is based on the number of instances that students engaged in the following in their essays: observing, interpreting, evaluating, associating, problem finding, comparing, and flexible thinking. Our measure of critical thinking is the sum of the counts of these seven items. In total, our research team blindly scored 3,811 essays. For 750 of those essays, two researchers scored them independently. The scores they assigned to the same essay were very similar, demonstrating that we were able to measure critical thinking about art with a high degree of inter-coder reliability.
We express the impact of a school tour of Crystal Bridges on critical-thinking skills in terms of standard-deviation effect sizes. Overall, we find that students assigned by lottery to a tour of the museum improve their ability to think critically about art by 9 percent of a standard deviation relative to the control group. The benefit for disadvantaged groups is considerably larger (see Figure 1). Rural students, who live in towns with fewer than 10,000 people, experience an increase in critical-thinking skills of nearly one-third of a standard deviation. Students from high-poverty schools (those where more than 50 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches) experience an 18 percent effect-size improvement in critical thinking about art, as do minority students
A large amount of the gain in critical-thinking skills stems from an increase in the number of observations that students made in their essays. Students who went on a tour became more observant, noticing and describing more details in an image. Being observant and paying attention to detail is an important and highly useful skill that students learn when they study and discuss works of art. Additional research is required to determine if the gains in critical thinking when analyzing a work of art would transfer into improved critical thinking about other, non-art-related subjects.

Historical Empathy. Tours of art museums also affect students’ values. Visiting an art museum exposes students to a diversity of ideas, peoples, places, and time periods. That broadening experience imparts greater appreciation and understanding. We see the effects in significantly higher historical empathy and tolerance measures among students randomly assigned to a school tour of Crystal Bridges. Historical empathy is the ability to understand and appreciate what life was like for people who lived in a different time and place. This is a central purpose of teaching history, as it provides students with a clearer perspective about their own time and place. To measure historical empathy, we included three statements on the survey with which students could express their level of agreement or disagreement: 1) I have a good understanding of how early Americans thought and felt; 2) I can imagine what life was like for people 100 years ago; and 3) When looking at a painting that shows people, I try to imagine what those people are thinking. We combined these items into a scale measuring historical empathy.
Students who went on a tour of Crystal Bridges experience a 6 percent of a standard deviation increase in historical empathy. Among rural students, the benefit is much larger, a 15 percent of a standard deviation gain. We can illustrate this benefit by focusing on one of the items in the historical empathy scale. When asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “I have a good understanding of how early Americans thought and felt,” 70 percent of the treatment-group students express agreement compared to 66 percent of the control group. Among rural participants, 69 percent of the treatment-group students agree with this statement compared to 62 percent of the control group. The fact that Crystal Bridges features art from different periods in American history may have helped produce these gains in historical empathy.

Tolerance. To measure tolerance we included four statements on the survey to which students could express their level of agreement or disagreement: 1) People who disagree with my point of view bother me; 2) Artists whose work is critical of America should not be allowed to have their work shown in art museums; 3) I appreciate hearing views different from my own; and 4) I think people can have different opinions about the same thing. We combined these items into a scale measuring the general effect of the tour on tolerance. Overall, receiving a school tour of an art museum increases student tolerance by 7 percent of a standard deviation. As with critical thinking, the benefits are much larger for students in disadvantaged groups. Rural students who visited Crystal Bridges experience a 13 percent of a standard deviation improvement in tolerance. For students at high-poverty schools, the benefit is 9 percent of a standard deviation.
The improvement in tolerance for students who went on a tour of Crystal Bridges can be illustrated by the responses to one of the items within the tolerance scale. When asked about the statement, “Artists whose work is critical of America should not be allowed to have their work shown in art museums,” 35 percent of the control-group students express agreement. But for students randomly assigned to receive a school tour of the art museum, only 32 percent agree with censoring art critical of America. Among rural students, 34 percent of the control group would censor art compared to 30 percent for the treatment group. In high-poverty schools, 37 percent of the control-group students would censor compared to 32 percent of the treatment-group students. These differences are not huge, but neither is the intervention. These changes represent the realistic improvement in tolerance that results from a half-day experience at an art museum.

Interest in Art Museums. Perhaps the most important outcome of a school tour is whether it cultivates an interest among students in returning to cultural institutions in the future. If visiting a museum helps improve critical thinking, historical empathy, tolerance, and other outcomes not measured in this study, then those benefits would compound for students if they were more likely to frequent similar cultural institutions throughout their life. The direct effects of a single visit are necessarily modest and may not persist, but if school tours help students become regular museum visitors, they may enjoy a lifetime of enhanced critical thinking, tolerance, and historical empathy. We measured how school tours of Crystal Bridges develop in students an interest in visiting art museums in two ways: with survey items and a behavioral measure. We included a series of items in the survey designed to gauge student interest:
• I plan to visit art museums when I am an adult.
• I would tell my friends they should visit an art museum.
• Trips to art museums are interesting.
• Trips to art museums are fun.
• Would your friend like to go to an art museum on a field trip?
• Would you like more museums in your community?
• How interested are you in visiting art museums?
• If your friends or family wanted to go to an art museum, how interested would you be in going?
Interest in visiting art museums among students who toured the museum is 8 percent of a standard deviation higher than that in the randomized control group. Among rural students, the increase is much larger: 22 percent of a standard deviation. Students at high-poverty schools score 11 percent of a standard deviation higher on the cultural consumer scale if they were randomly assigned to tour the museum. And minority students gain 10 percent of a standard deviation in their desire to be art consumers.
One of the eight items in the art consumer scale asked students to express the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “I would tell my friends they should visit an art museum.” For all students who received a tour, 70 percent agree with this statement, compared to 66 percent in the control group. Among rural participants, 73 percent of the treatment-group students agree versus 63 percent of the control group. In high-poverty schools, 74 percent would recommend art museums to their friends compared to 68 percent of the control group. And among minority students, 72 percent of those who received a tour would tell their friends to visit an art museum, relative to 67 percent of the control group. Students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are more likely to have positive feelings about visiting museums if they receive a school tour.
We also measured whether students are more likely to visit Crystal Bridges in the future if they received a school tour. All students who participated in the study during the first semester, including those who did not receive a tour, were provided with a coupon that gave them and their families free entry to a special exhibit at Crystal Bridges. The coupons were coded so that we could determine the applicant group to which students belonged. Students had as long as six months after receipt of the coupon to use it. We collected all redeemed coupons and were able to calculate how many adults and youths were admitted. Though students in the treatment group received 49 percent of all coupons that were distributed, 58 percent of the people admitted to the special exhibit with those coupons came from the treatment group. In other words, the families of students who received a tour were 18 percent more likely to return to the museum than we would expect if their rate of coupon use was the same as their share of distributed coupons.
This is particularly impressive given that the treatment-group students had recently visited the museum. Their desire to visit a museum might have been satiated, while the control group might have been curious to visit Crystal Bridges for the first time. Despite having recently been to the museum, students who received a school tour came back at higher rates. Receiving a school tour cultivates a taste for visiting art museums, and perhaps for sharing the experience with others.

Disadvantaged Students
One consistent pattern in our results is that the benefits of a school tour are generally much larger for students from less-advantaged backgrounds. Students from rural areas and high-poverty schools, as well as minority students, typically show gains that are two to three times larger than those of the total sample. Disadvantaged students assigned by lottery to receive a school tour of an art museum make exceptionally large gains in critical thinking, historical empathy, tolerance, and becoming art consumers. It appears that the less prior exposure to culturally enriching experiences students have, the larger the benefit of receiving a school tour of a museum. We have some direct measures to support this explanation. To isolate the effect of the first time visiting the museum, we truncated our sample to include only control-group students who had never visited Crystal Bridges and treatment-group students who had visited for the first time during their tour. The effect for this first visit is roughly twice as large as that for the overall sample, just as it is for disadvantaged students.
In addition, we administered a different version of our survey to students in kindergarten through 2nd grade. Very young students are less likely to have had previous exposure to culturally enriching experiences. Very young students make exceptionally large improvements in the observed outcomes, just like disadvantaged students and first-time visitors. When we examine effects for subgroups of advantaged students, we typically find much smaller or null effects. Students from large towns and low-poverty schools experience few significant gains from their school tour of an art museum. If schools do not provide culturally enriching experiences for these students, their families are likely to have the inclination and ability to provide those experiences on their own. But the families of disadvantaged students are less likely to substitute their own efforts when schools do not offer culturally enriching experiences. Disadvantaged students need their schools to take them on enriching field trips if they are likely to have these experiences at all.

Policy Implications
School field trips to cultural institutions have notable benefits. Students randomly assigned to receive a school tour of an art museum experience improvements in their knowledge of and ability to think critically about art, display stronger historical empathy, develop higher tolerance, and are more likely to visit such cultural institutions as art museums in the future. If schools cut field trips or switch to “reward” trips that visit less-enriching destinations, then these important educational opportunities are lost. It is particularly important that schools serving disadvantaged students provide culturally enriching field trip experiences.
This first-ever, large-scale, random-assignment experiment of the effects of school tours of an art museum should help inform the thinking of school administrators, educators, policymakers, and philanthropists. Policymakers should consider these results when deciding whether schools have sufficient resources and appropriate policy guidance to take their students on tours of cultural institutions. School administrators should give thought to these results when deciding whether to use their resources and time for these tours. And philanthropists should weigh these results when deciding whether to build and maintain these cultural institutions with quality educational programs. We don’t just want our children to acquire work skills from their education; we also want them to develop into civilized people who appreciate the breadth of human accomplishments. The school field trip is an important tool for meeting this goal.

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