VISUAL THINKING STUDIOS

Research Methods

 Aesthetic Development Interview

VTS's main instrument is a non-directive interview, the Aesthetic Development Interview or ADI, that involves showing subjects a reproduction of a work of art and asking them to talk about it as though thinking out loud. This interview is tape-recorded, transcribed, and parsed. A sampling of thought units is coded using a manual covering thirteen different domains of thinking that was derived over a fifteen-year period using the same interview protocol. We further study each interview in context to understand how each thought unit fits into an over-all pattern of thinking.

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Writing Samples

Because of consistent teacher reports that the students write more and better as a result of their VTS discussions, writing assignments are collected and analyzed. They are also used as part of VUE's teacher professional development program as they provide evidence of growth in writing and critical thinking skills.

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Material Object Interview

Originated from the Aesthetic Development Interview (ADI), the Material Object Interview (MOI) utilizes a material object such as a coin, a fossil, or a map in place of a work of art to elicit thoughts. As with the ADI, this non-directive interview follows the same procedures of collecting, coding, and analysis.

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Abigail Housen: An Empirical Approach

Abigail Housen began in the mid-1970s to try to understand how varying degrees of exposure to viewing works of art affected people's viewing experiences. Her search for understanding of what she came to call aesthetic development was based on the same empirical approach that had guided Piaget, Vygotsky and Loevinger. Abigail looked for patterns and order in behaviors she could observe, and followed the interpretations that emerged based on her findings. She used unobtrusive measures that left the subject free to behave entirely naturally. Unlike many theorists in arts education, she did not begin with a hypothesis that she then tried to prove. This firm grounding in empirical evidence and in unobtrusive measures continues to set Abigail's theory apart from other prevalent theories on learning in the arts.

The core of Abigail's data collection is a non-directive, stream-of-consciousness interview, called the Aesthetic Development Interview, which has proven reliable in a wide range of studies. The interviewee is given an image and asked to talk about what he or she is looking at. No directive questions are asked, thus insuring that the interviewer does not influence the interview. The subject is simply invited to talk as if s/he were thinking out loud, talking about what is seen. The interviews are taped, and then transcribed and coded using an empirically-derived coding manual. A temporary aesthetic stage is assigned in this process, and this scoring is then compared to a clinical analysis, arrived at by an independent reading of the entire interview.

Only when these two stage scores — derived by two very different means of study of the same material — conform is a final aesthetic stage assigned to the interview. The aesthetic development stage score is used as a framework for understanding other information gathered through observations, questionnaires, content questions, journals, portfolios of related assignments, and other primary and secondary data.