Kisida, B., Bowen, D.H., & Greene, J.P. (2016). Measuring Critical Thinking: Results From an Art Museum Field Trip Experiment. Journal of Research of Educational Effectiveness, (9)1.


This study uses original data collected through a randomized controlled trial to measure the effects of school visits to an art museum. Building on previous work, it finds positive effects of art museum visits on students’ ability to critically examine a work of art. Importantly, it validates previous findings with an additional experiment that utilizes a different style of art to assess critical-thinking outcomes, adding extra validity to the assessment instrument and the earlier results.

Key Findings:

This study used a randomized-control trial to explore the effects of an art museum field trip program on participating students. The results of the study include:
  • Students participating in the field trip program exhibited greater critical thinking about both representational and abstract artwork.
  • When responding to the representational artwork, this impact was greatest for students attending schools with high levels of low income students.
  • Female students exhibited greater levels of critical thinking skills than did their male counterparts.
  • Students who have participated in other cultural activities also exhibited higher levels of critical thinking skills than their cohorts.
  • The effects across subgroups for students were not consistent across the different types of art.

Significance of the Findings:

This research suggests that policymakers should be informed of and more fully consider the educational benefits of arts education, and scholars should consider broader approaches to measuring student performance in non-tested subjects. With the distinct benefit of arts education experiences as outlined here, the reduction or elimination of arts education programs can have a negative effect on student outcomes.


This study employs a randomized-control trial design to explore the impact of an art museum field trip program. The art museum field trip program received 525 school groups representing 38,347 students. These school-level applications were stratified, matched, and randomly assigned to either early or late participation in the program. A total of 67 matched pairs (35 in the spring and 32 in the fall) participated and had students complete critical-thinking assessment. Total participation included 134 applicants, over 7,500 students, and 111 different schools.

Students assigned to receive early attendance for the museum trip received a pre-trip packet, watched a video preparing them for the visit, participated in structured visits with paid museum staff, and engaged in open-ended discussion of the art on display. Trained researchers visited students approximately 3 weeks after their visit to conduct the critical-thinking assessment. The spring assessment focused on providing observations and interpretation of a representational piece of art. The fall assessment focused on an abstract piece of art. Students completed essays that were coded over 7 critical thinking component areas. Researchers than regressed the data based on student socioeconomic and other relevant data (including participating in individual arts lessons).

Limitations of the Research:

The authors identify the following limitations to the study’s findings:

  • The study’s data is based on observation and interpretation which could be biased;
  • The region where the treatment program occurred has relatively few large cultural institutions and, thus, the results may not generalize to other areas with more robust cultural offerings;
  • Due to the time limitations, it is not possible to say whether the findings would remain over time or the impact of repeated exposure; and
  • There may be spillover effects from other academic subjects on critical thinking skills.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Potential questions for future research include:

  • Do the results identified in this study have any long-term effect for students?
  • Do these results hold in areas with larger numbers of cultural offerings?
  • Do these results hold with other types of field trip opportunities?