A gift for countless school children to come

Integrating Arts Education: Werklund/Rozsa research influences creation of new U of C course

In 2013/2014 the Rozsa Foundation funded research by the Werklund School of Education centered on Socially Empowered Learning - a conceptual design based on cognitive psychology and social theory that underpins learning focused on increasing social empowerment and intellectual engagement. In 2016, the research findings concluded that combining arts and social awareness with educational curriculums definitively improves students’ engagement and performance. Following the outcome of those findings, a new course titled “Integrating Arts Education” has been approved and added to the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education’s 2018/2019 calendar. The course is described as:

“A preparation for artists and educators to design effective learning in, about, and through the arts.  Discipline-specific knowledge and technique in and about art, dance, drama, and music will be acquired in a studio environment, and applied through an interdisciplinary, collaborative lab.  Learner outcomes include interdisciplinary planning skills, aesthetic awareness, critical and analysis thinking, and inter-arts competencies.”

The course confirms the effectiveness of funding such research, and furthers the Rozsa Foundation’s commitment to pushing for structural change and ongoing impact within Alberta’s educational systems, and beyond. 

About the research

The Werklund School of Education conducted a study exploring nation-wide research which showed deplorably low results for middle-school student engagement. With fewer than 40% intellectually engaged in their every day school work, Werklund framed this crisis as “collective powerlessness requiring intervention”.

The study included a 42 item survey conducted among four schools in a large urban school district. 359 students, grades 5-7 completed the survey before and after their respective programs.

The study notes, “Socially Empowered Learning is not a teaching strategy per se, but a theoretical framework for instructional design that incorporates all four parts of the definition (group-based, creative, real-world, social change), and four requisite elements: 1) It is socially empathetic, collectively considering social issues from the perspectives of others, particularly the disempowered; 2) It is socially ethical, collectively acting on behalf of others, particularly those oppressed by social inequity; 3) It is socially empowering, collectively addressing real-world issues to impact positive social change; and 4) It is socially entrepreneurial, with a design that iteratively fosters entrepreneurial spirit to collectively create social value. (Martin, 2014b)”

A key player in implementing the study was Trickster Theatre, which runs “Kids Go Global”, a comprehensive program that partners school and non-government organizations with the theatre’s programming. The program explores global issues and ways children can take action, while inspiring others to do the same.

The theatre implements “curriculum prototyping focused on socially empowered learning and the arts”, and was a perfect fit for the Werklund study.

“This project allowed our children to take a very important issue that is known worldwide, to discover what they understand about it, change their own perspectives, and then put out a piece that is going to influence other people.”

- Nicole Barr, Teacher - McKenzie Towne School



Major findings of the study

Three treatment groups utilized two programs during the study: 

1. Arts Integrated Collective Creation (AICC), which allowed students to collectively explore topics through artistic experiences and theatrical episodes that were scripted, rehearsed and performed. 

2. Educational Social Enterprise (ESE), which saw students explore issues through collective contribution to initiatives that create social value and/or social change.

3. Combined: students received both programs (AICC and ESE) in tandem.

  • The highest increase in Intellectual Engagement, Social Empowerment, and Entrepreneurial Spirit came from the combined program that employed social enterprise and arts integration.
  • All three programs significantly increased Entrepreneurial Spirit
  • English as Second Language (ESL) students had higher scores on Intellectual Engagement than those with English as a first language.
  • Exploratory Analyses are also reported that suggest other possible effects.
  • Findings advance the theory of Socially Empowered Learning in identifying an instructional approach that most effectively increases Intellectual Engagement: Educational Arts-Integrated Social Enterprise (EASE).

(Martin, Calvert, & Friesen, 2016)

What does this mean?

Further from Werklund’s report:

“Educators will want to keep the definition, requisite elements, and research findings of this study in mind as they design Socially Empowered Learning experiences for their students. First, activities should be group-based, to exploit the capacity of collective efficacy and group potency to empower the group. Second, it is critical that these activities offer creative challenges for students through the arts (art, dance, drama, music) to create optimal conditions for perspective taking and flow. Third, learning should address real-world issues, explored through multiple perspectives, and provide opportunities to design social change initiatives that makes an observable impact. Real-world issues connect students to society at large, and provide an authentic platform to consider the ethical complexities of determining what is right and wrong. Fourth, experiences need to provide opportunities to make positive social change. This final requirement is essential to create conditions for developing collective efficacy and group potency: the act of making the change increases entrepreneurial spirit and boosts intellectual engagement. 

Planning Socially Empowered Learning activities also includes making sure they are socially empathetic (design ways to explore the perspectives of others): ethical (design ways to explore right and wrong); empowering (design ways to empower the group by empowering others); and entrepreneurial (design ways to create new social ventures). These four elements were derived from a compendium of psychological research, are supported by our findings, and play an important role in the overall practices that lead to increased intellectual engagement.

Last, findings advance the theory of Socially Empowered Learning in identifying an instructional approach that most effectively increases Intellectual Engagement: Educational Art-Integrated Social Enterprise (EASE).” (Martin, Calvert, & Friesen, 2016)

The Rozsa Foundation is proud to see this research having a real impact on our educational system. It is a long held conviction of the Foundation that arts and education must coexist in equal measures to create a responsible, empathetic, and engaged society. We are committed to furthering these systemic changes as we move into the future.

Read more about the research and Trickster Theatre in this in-depth article by Eric Volmers of the Calgary Herald.