Helping teachers put art back in schools

The funding of arts programs at public schools has been fraught with debate for many years. As budgets have shrunk and administrators look for places to cut costs, arts education has become a common target. Schools need to get creative if they’re to continue offering students even a minimum of exposure to art and music. And it’s important that they do because research shows that arts education can be as critical to a child’s development and future success as reading, math, and science. With the help of a Social Innovation grant from Udemy, one Bay Area nonprofit is making real strides toward helping teachers incorporate more art into their lesson plans.

Funding for arts education has been an issue as far back as 1982, when Art in Action was founded in Menlo Park, CA. The group became a 501(c)(3) organization in 1999 and has since expanded its reach to help make visual arts education possible in schools across the U.S. When Art in Action discovered Udemy, they already had a platform to deliver their curriculum online, but they lacked a way to share their methodology with teachers and educators who wanted to create their own lessons incorporating art­related content. Art in Action also wanted to demonstrate its thought leadership to a broader community.

Art in Action heard about Udemy’s Social Innovation program through social media and nonprofit blogs and thought it sounded like a great approach for extending their expertise without interfering with the on­site, in­school delivery of its curriculum. They didn’t have the resources to pilot a project on their own, and the Udemy platform was easy to implement and intuitive to use. Publishing the course on Udemy solved the problem of how to provide teachers anywhere with tools and techniques to adapt for their own classrooms.

“After looking at lessons on the Udemy website, we felt that this type of online learning would be a good platform for us to test our content, reach new audiences, and increase brand awareness,” said Art in Action’s Executive Director Jeffrey Dollinger. “The grant offered the financial support we needed to make the project a reality.”

To get started, Art in Action Program Manager Kelly Bravo followed Udemy’s step­by­step instructions on how to create an online course. “Udemy’s recommendations for equipment, lighting, and general video issues were extremely useful,” she recalled. Udemy also introduced Bravo to screencasting software that Art in Action now uses for other projects.

For its STEAM On! course on Udemy, Art in Action started with video footage taken during the testing phase of “Spirals in Nature,” a lesson that integrates art, science, and math by using the Fibonacci sequence to explain spirals in nature and art. Then they added new video footage and content specifically for the Udemy course that teaches how to design an art lesson that integrates with the core curriculum. The course provides a comprehensive step­-by-­step overview of how to create a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) curriculum from the ground up for K-­8 school teachers, education providers, and parent volunteers.

IMG_442434309Today, more than 750 students have enrolled in the free STEAM On! course on Udemy. Many have left glowing reviews, one calling the course “enlightening and enjoyable” and another saying they’d “definitely recommend this lesson to anyone interested not only in teaching about art but also for those who want to explore beyond and create a synthesis between art and science.” The great feedback speaks volumes, considering it’s coming from people who are teachers themselves. They also appreciate the convenience and ease of being able to rewind and follow the video lectures at their own pace. Once they’ve completed the course, students (aka, teachers) have new confidence and skills to take back to their school as well as a sample curriculum outline to get them started.

Art in Action has advice for other nonprofits wanting to take advantage of Udemy’s online learning platform to distribute their own expertise and reach a wider audience. “No matter how small your nonprofit, know that this can be a highly collaborative process. You don’t have to go it alone and along the way your organization will pick up vital communication, organization and outreach skills that will provide dividends for your own programs,” said Dollinger.

About Art in Action
Art in Action’s mission is to ignite students’ thinking and creativity by providing engaging visual arts programs through which they learn art history, appreciation, and skills.

Over the past five years, Art in Action has increased the number of students receiving art education through its program by 65 percent and now serves more than 51,000 students per year in hundreds of schools nationwide. The organization offers over 110 in­depth art lessons that help students learn to describe what they see, view art in its historical context, expand their vocabulary, and develop creative confidence through fun art projects. These lessons are aligned with Common Core subjects and many integrate with STEM subjects as well.

That’s a lot to achieve with only a small staff, even with the help of hundreds of volunteers. Publishing their STEAM On! course with Udemy is enabling Art in Action to reach even more teachers. And, from there, even more kids are getting the chance to experience the learning benefits of art education and have a lot of fun doing it.