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Arts Integration Program Improves Educational Experience
A faculty training program at Oklahoma City University has changed the way professors think about work. Now in its final year, the Priddy Fellows arts integration program is geared toward university professors to show them how they can transform the art of teaching into, well — an art form. “When students take their core curriculum, they often are more engaged and learn better when instructors infuse art and creativity into their teaching,” said Chris Garrett, director of OCU’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL). The center runs the Priddy Fellows program at the university. One measure of the program’s success comes from faculty and student feedback, Garrett added, more so than standard testing results. “Several of our faculty members have reported that this way of teaching has been transformative for them,” he said. “And students recognize that these courses (taught by Priddy faculty participants) are different from their other courses, and they want to take more of these types of classes.” Although other universities have arts integration programs, OCU Fine Arts Institute Director Roxanne Reed said the Priddy Fellows approach is unique because it is campus wide. The Fine Arts Institute handles the outreach component of the Priddy Fellows program. “Most of the other programs focus on one specific area, usually in the education departments because they’re trying to create good teachers,” Reed said. “But we focus on all of the subject areas here because the techniques are universal and can be applied to any line of study on campus.” Each school at OCU has had a representative work through the Priddy Fellows program except for one — the Ann Lacy School of American Dance. However, the dance school’s associate dean, Melanie Shelley, was the CETL interim director before Garrett took over, so every school has been touched by the arts integration teaching techniques. Entering its fourth year, there have been 33 faculty members accepted to the program. The professors are chosen by a competitive process with between eight and 10 accepted each year. The training program includes workshops, outings, a “learning community” camp session, guest speakers and a week-long arts immersion trip to a cultural city. Priddy Fellows have been on summer trips to San Francisco, Santa Fe, Chicago and New York City. During their experience in the learning community, Priddy Fellows get feedback and help in designing their syllabi around integrating the arts into their area of teaching. “Another advantage to arts integration is that it makes the process of learning subjects more fulfilling. It’s not just the outcome of a test or learning by rote. It’s more personally rewarding to realize we are creative beings,” Reed said. Reed noted that students who are taught arts integration are better candidates when they start looking for jobs after college. “When you talk to business leaders, they’ll tell you there is a need for employees who have strong creative thinking skills. There’s been a lot written in business journals about people who can think outside the box,” she said. History professor Marie Hooper praises the teaching techniques she learned as a Priddy Fellow last year for their ability to engage her students. “I moved from content-driven classes to process-driven, and now all my classes not only fully integrate the arts but require students to demonstrate critical skills far beyond those in 'traditional' style classrooms,” Hooper said. “They love learning about the arts and discovering their own creativity.”