A new article in Education Next describes a large-scale randomised controlled trial designed to measure what pupils learn from field trips to art museums. It was based on the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Northwest Arkansas, which opened in 2011. Although the museum is in a deprived area, there was a very high demand for school tours. It is in an area that did not previously have a museum, tours are free, and the museum even covers the cost of transport, lunch, and cover for the teachers going on the tour.
The researchers were able to work with the museum to allocate tour slots to 525 schools that applied (representing 38,347 pupils). They created matched pairs among the applicant groups based on similarity in age and other demographic factors. Each pair was randomly allocated to go on their tour in the first term, or have their tour deferred and act as the control group. Surveys were administered to 10,912 pupils and 489 teachers at 123 different schools (both treatment and control) on average three weeks after the treatment group received its tour.
The findings revealed that treatment pupils displayed a stronger ability (around 9% of a standard deviation) to think critically about art than the control group, a 6% of a standard deviation increase in historical empathy, a 7% of a standard deviation increase in tolerance, and their interest in visiting art museums was 8% of a standard deviation higher. These benefits were particularly significant for disadvantaged pupils, with pupils from rural areas, schools in deprived areas, and pupils from ethnic minorities typically showing gains two to three times larger than those of the total sample. The authors conclude that the less prior exposure to culturally enriching experiences pupils have, the larger the benefit of receiving a school tour of a museum.
Source: The Educational Value of Field Trips (2013), Education Next.