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New Teaching Methods Explored at OCU
A second group of Oklahoma City University professors will give their feedback this month on a revolutionary style of teaching that is already showing favorable results. About two dozen faculty members have been trained how to use arts integration in their classrooms since the program’s inception three years ago. The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) at OCU might have the best recipe to help students retain knowledge and help instructors make their jobs more interesting. The university emphasizes arts integration through all types of curriculum. It’s like putting the creativity from things like visual arts, film studies and theater into a mixing bowl, adding analytical courses like math and biology, then setting the mixer on high and letting the contents blend for an entire semester. A more accurate description, according to Chris Garrett, director of CETL, would have to be experienced to be properly understood. “Students recognize that these courses are not like traditional classes and they have reported that they want more of them,” Garrett said. “Not only is this way of instruction engaging our students, but arts integration also helps them develop critical thinking and creative thinking skills.” He shared a couple of examples of how arts integration has been applied at OCU. For instance, a history professor has her students carefully analyze artistic works from a certain era to learn more about what the people of that time were experiencing. The technique can also work the other way. Garrett explained how a theater class was asked to read a series of plays about scientists. The drama students were tasked with trying to surmise whether the biographical and scientific information presented was accurate. CETL has not found any courses that can’t include at least some arts integration. He said even the biology, business and law departments have had representatives in the program. “Fifteen to 20 years ago, few professors in higher education, particularly those at research institutions, looked at teaching as serious intellectual work. But since that time there has been a movement that has spread across academia in the USA and even internationally that has encouraged a change from that mindset,” Garrett explained. “Through approaching teaching as a scholarly endeavor and being more critically reflective of their own teaching practices, many professors have become more focused on assessing student learning. Rather than just lecturing in the classroom many are now considering other methods for active learning and engaging their students.” The center’s sister organization, the Fine Arts Institute (FAI), focuses on community outreach programs in fine arts and is directed by Roxanne Reed. The two programs collaborate on the arts integration initiative at OCU. Both programs were developed and funded with a $4.6 million grant received from the Robert and Ruby Priddy Charitable Trust in 2005. CETL and FAI provide and facilitate faculty development opportunities for OCU’s professors. Faculty participants, for example, take a week-long trip to places like Santa Fe, N.M., Chicago or San Francisco, where they are immersed in the arts. Also, through its year-long program, faculty create and design learning activities that integrate the arts into their courses. Garrett says the feedback from students and teachers is showing early positive results. “Using arts integration as an instructional methodology is an effective way of engaging our students. They’re grappling with ideas in significant ways, exploring and discussing—this is active learning and that’s when learning sticks,” he said. “Students come away looking at things in a different way with a desire to learn more, even when they’re away from school. The classroom doesn’t have to be the only place where learning occurs.”