Engagement and Skill Development in Biology Students through Analysis of Art by Liliana Milkova, Colette Crossman, Stephanie Wiles, and Taylor Allen
An activity involving analysis of art in biology courses was designed with the goals of piquing undergraduates’ curiosity, broadening the ways in which college students meaningfully engage with course content and concepts, and developing aspects of students’ higher-level thinking skills, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. To meet these learning outcomes, the activity had three key components: preparatory readings, firsthand visual analysis of art during a visit to an art museum, and communication of the analysis. Following a presentation on the methodology of visual analysis, students worked in small groups to examine through the disciplinary lens of biology a selection of approximately 12 original artworks related in some manner to love. The groups then developed and presented for class members a mini-exhibition of several pieces addressing one of two questions: 1) whether portrayals of love in art align with the growing understanding of the biology of love or 2) whether the bodily experience of love is universal or, alternatively, is culturally influenced, as is the experience of depression. Evaluation of quantitative and qualitative assessment data revealed that the assignment engaged students, supported development of higher-level thinking skills, and prompted meaningful engagement with course material.