What can we learn from comparing the NAEA/AAMD study and the study at Crystal Bridges?

Last week, we at RK&A were delighted at the release of the NAEA/AAMD impact study exploring the effects of facilitated single-visit art museum programs on students in grades 4 to 6.  A common question that we have fielded since we first shared preliminary results of the NAEA/AAMD study at the NAEA National Convention in March of 2018 is:


How do the findings of the NAEA/AAMD impact study compare to the study at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art?


We have been intentionally slow in responding in detail to this question, as coming to a full and deep understanding of the NAEA/AAMD impact study findings alone has taken considerable time.  Comparing and contrasting our study to the study conducted by University of Arkansas researchers at Crystal Bridges is unquestionably important in growing knowledge.  We also recognize that our reflection will continue with museum practitioners at the study symposium on October 13 and after.  Yet, we want to share our preliminary thoughts so you can consider them along with those penned by Jay P. Greene, one of the researchers of the study at Crystal Bridges, in this blog post.


While it is tempting to jump to conclusions about how the two studies reveal similar and different insights about school programs, it is necessary to consider the research design of each study for context.  Both studies explored the effects of single-visit art museum programs or field trip programs on school students.  From there, our approaches differed.  For example, we looked at the effects of programs nationwide (at six museums) and focused exclusively on students in grades 4 to 6.  In contrast, the study at Crystal Bridges explored the effects of programs at one museum on students ranging from grades 3 to 12.  Additionally, we used a quasi-experimental approach.  We carefully assigned classrooms across three study groups and museum partners considering many factors.  We used regression analysis to explore the effects outside the program variable that might affect results among students.  In contrast, the study at Crystal Bridges was experimental, and used randomized assignment of classrooms to study group.  Both studies used questionnaires and performance-based assessment in which students looked at and responded orally or in writing about a work of art.  The tables below present a quick comparison of research design:

Regarding the studies’ findings, a few findings are similar.  Specifically, the NAEA/AAMD study found that students who experience a single-visit program in a museum recall the experience more emotively than those who received a classroom program.  This aligns with findings in the study at Crystal Bridges that show students who have a single-visit museum program recall at a very high rate details about the paintings they had seen.  Another parallel relates to the concept of multiple interpretations.  Specifically, from the NAEA/AAMD study, we found that students who had a single-visit museum program are more accepting of multiple interpretations of a work of art, which relates to some of the findings about tolerance from the study at Crystal Bridges.


The NAEA/AAMD study also revealed some additional benefits of single-visit art museum programs.  In particular, our study explored effects in the area of creative thinking.  We found that students who had a single-visit museum program ask more complex questions about works of art than those who had not.  This is significant, as questioning demonstrates an openness and curiosity inherent in creative thinking, and it is also instrumental to interpretation skills, which are associated with critical thinking.


In the chart that follows, we placed the four main findings of each of the two studies side by side; we have placed the findings that we see as parallel next to each other.

Again, the parallels we see are based on a preliminary comparison.  If you have not read the findings of the NAEA/AAMD study, the Summary & Discussion and Technical Report are both available on the NAEA Museum Education Division website.  We have quoted relevant sections of the study at Crystal Bridges above, but please also explore the publications from the study at Crystal Bridges yourself, cited below:

Bowen, D.H., Greene, J.P., & Kisida, B. (2014). Learning to think critically: A visual experiment. Educational Researcher, 43(1), 37-44.

Greene, J.P., Kisida, B., & Bowen, D.H. (2014). The educational value of field trips. Education Next, 14(1), 78-86.

Kisida, B., Bowen, D.H,, & Greene, J.P. (2016). Measuring critical thinking: Results from an art museum field trip experiment. Journal of Research and Educational Effectiveness, 9(S1), 171-187.


Note that, while we have only highlighted the four main findings from each study in this post, we encourage you to read the full studies and think about what we did not find, as that can be as interesting as what we did find.


We look forward to thinking more about these comparisons and implications for museum practitioners at the study symposium on October 13 and afterwards!  If you have not already registered for the symposium, a live streaming feature will be available via the NAEA Museum Education Division website.

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