PROJECT-BASED LEARNING: Utilizing Artistic Pedagogies for Educational Leadership

By Hunter-Doniger, Tracey | Art Education, March 2018 | Go to article overview

PROJECT-BASED LEARNING: Utilizing Artistic Pedagogies for Educational Leadership


Hunter-Doniger, Tracey, Art Education


PROJECT-BASED LEARNING (PBL) is a dynamic classroom approach in which students actively use driving questions to explore real-world problems and acquire deeper knowledge through constructive investigations (Stepien & Gallagher, 1993; Thomas, 2000). Although not a new pedagogical approach, PBL has recently gained in popularity and come to the forefront of educational trends. PBL is a pedagogical form of hands-on, non-rote memory learning, combined with the design process and experiential learning. I contend that this pedagogical approach is the foundation of how art educators teach students. This "nontraditional" method of teaching may be new to the classroom but the fundamental notions of exploration, skill building, and application of material have always been a mainstay in the art room.

I never teach my pupils; I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.

-Albert Einstein1

As administration and generalist teachers grapple with the nuances of PBL, they are searching for professionals who can simultaneously instruct preservice teachers and lead professional development on this "new" pedagogy. Art educators can and should lead this charge but how can we persuade administrators and generalist teachers to recognize our expertise? In this article, I recall my experience with PBL leadership, how it related to artistic pedagogies, and its significance for educational leadership.

My Encounter With PBL

I attended a cross-departmental meeting regarding the development of an outdoor learning experience at an 881-acre historic property (Figures 1 and 2). A generous donor who often painted the wildlife on the estate bequeathed this unique property, located along the Intercostal Waterway of South Carolina, to my university. The caretaker of the property explained that the donor wanted the land to be used as an urban refuge for inner city children to interact with nature and experience the beauty within pristine forests and ecosystems.

This piqued everyone's interest and got them thinking how this land might benefit their students and academic interests: The science faculty saw the property as a biology lab for college students, the anthropology professor imagined anthropological digs, and the environmentalist envisioned an ecological test center. Everyone had deeply involved ideas, but they were looking at the property through the singular lens of their departments. Meanwhile, I thought of this majestic property as an experience where hands-on learning and problem solving could integrate and connect learning in various ways. Because the donor was an artist, my ideas focused on an art-infusion project where paintings and sketches are made for scientific inquiry data as part of an ecological question.

The possibilities made it hard for me to contain my excitement, yet my enthusiasm was ignored as the debate about possible uses continued. A non-arts colleague suggested that we should try PBL, which he defined as "a new way to teach students; we could integrate other subject areas with hands-on projects." Everyone nodded in agreement but someone asked, "Who has this type of pedagogical background?" I sat astonished, mouth agape. I had not only made that exact suggestion but also given a specific example of how to do it.

Oddly enough, when the dean asked, I alone volunteered to spearhead the curriculum development for this property. The science and technology professors shook their heads at me, as if to suggest that I did not know what I had gotten myself into. They were wrong. I knew exactly what I was volunteering for. Indeed, 15 years of teaching art in the public schools had prepared me to lead the PBL.

A Discussion of PBL: A Student-Centered, Inquiry-Based Approach

In traditional teaching comprising direct instruction, the teacher presents the objective and the student is a passive participant in the learning process (Hollingsworth & Ybarra, 2009). William Kilpatrick (1918), a colleague of John Dewey, proposed the notion of student-centered learning through experiences, arguing that this project method could be applied universally to all subjects. …

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