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Seeing it differently: New perspectives in art education with international students
Random objects, creative name badges and mask making brought new insights when RU art education majors shared an interactive class with nine students from Mexico Dec. 1.
On the Covington Center classroom front desk sat four items: a glue gun, a rock, a hammer and a stuffed animal. Discussing the similarities and difference among these items, RU students mingled with their international guests.
In this exercise, Richard Bay, professor of art education, explained such activities used in an elementary classroom setting help school children increase their perspectives through the comparison of the objects’ textures, weight, volume, size, materials and usage.
Seemingly different items have more in common than one might expect, much like the two cultures that combined during this unique class opportunity. The inverse can be true as well. It is all about perspective. Through this class, both cohorts gained a deeper understanding about each other’s perceptions and cultures.
“When RU students interact with international students, they acquire a different set of skills,” said Charlene Dandrow, associate director of the Language and Cultural Institute at Radford University (LCI@RU). “They develop an important 'literacy' that enables them to successfully engage with diversity, which nowadays is a crucial skill to have in the competitive global market.”
Dandrow organized the international visit. Through a partnership with Virginia Tech, LCI@RU provides language-related programs and services for academic and professional development.
The group of nine students originated from Peublo, Mexico. Eight were sophomores or juniors from Benemerito Instituto Normal Del Estado General Juan Crisostomo Bonilla, majoring in kindergarten through sixth grade elementary education. The ninth was an industrial engineering student at the Instituto Tecnologico De Puebla.
These students were part of a new Mexican government supported program called Mexican Proyecta 100,000, whose goal is to sponsor 100,000 Mexican college students from all majors along with professionals to study English in the United States for one month by 2018.
“Although they were only here for one month to learn English, I took the opportunity to try enrich their experience at RU,” Dandrow said. When applying to host this group, she asked specifically for student teachers. Including them in Bay’s class was one way to provide more activities that would enhance the group’s academic studies.
As witnessed in Bay’s course, when diverse groups work together, they discovered similarities that help foster mutual understandings.
Bay’s class provided several activities, as opposed to a straight lecture. The very first involved making artistic name badges with pre-cut out shapes of paper.
“Since we were in a one-on-one situation, it offered a personal exchange between these groups. The initial name tag making was the ice breaker. Just a creative free experience where introductions could be made and a warm hospitable atmosphere set,” Bay said.
The final project, after the comparison activity and a pizza break, involved paper mask making.
“The first comment my students made was that all the guests’ designs were organic in nature and conveyed natural themes. Also as we find in all our workshops the variance of personal interpretation and how an activity like this brings personal joy and success,” Bay said.
Along with the classes feelings of success, this experience left the RU students wishing for more. According to Bay, they want to visit their new friends at Benemerito Instituto through a cultural exchange. Overwhelmingly both groups agreed that they wanted to spend more time together.
Scott Ford, one of the RU art education majors, summed up the benefits of this learning opportunity, “Not only did we learn how people of another culture view what is soon to be our professions, but we all had a wonderful time working together and putting lesson plans that we could use in the future to practice with people who are sure to think about things in a way that is new to us. This was a truly enlightening and beneficial experience."
To learn more about the Language and Cultural Institute at Radford University, visit http://www.radford.edu/content/lci/home.html.
To learn more about the art education program, visit http://www.radford.edu/content/cvpa/home/art/programs/undergraduate/art-education.html.