May 16, 2019
It is that time of year again to talk about the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable Conference. On Monday, May 13, 2019, the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) held a conference for museum and museum education professionals, and this year was special because this is the 40th anniversary of NYCMER. In honor of its anniversary, the theme of the conference was “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” and was located again at the Teachers College at Columbia University. Like last year, I posted throughout the conference as a social media journalist to cover the sessions I went to.
On the morning of the conference, I went in to New York City with my husband as he was going in to work. By the time I arrived, I checked in and got ready to sit in the keynote session. The keynote session was when NYCMER related announcements and the conference’s theme was introduced and discussed through the keynote speaker. This year’s keynote speaker was Christy Coleman who serves as the CEO of the American Civil War Museum in Virginia. She discussed how she helped orchestrate the merger of the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar with the Museum of the Confederacy to create the American Civil War Museum. Also, she talked about how the staff and board of the American Civil War Museum work to fulfill its’ new mission to include more than one narrative of the American Civil War experience including talking more about the Native Americans, immigrant groups, and Mexicans who were often overlooked when educating school children about the Civil War.
After the keynote session, the first morning session I attended was called Empathy Mapping: Teachers on a School Field Trip. Empathy mapping, according to the session description from the conference pamphlet, is the process of diagramming qualitative user data in order to create a visual representation of the user’s needs and pain points. We participated in an empathy mapping exercise to promote user driven change and to improve how educators facilitate school field trips at our institutions. By learning the results from the empathy mapping created by the research team at the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum and participating in the exercise, we would employ the methods we learned to improve our school field trips.
The second session I attended was called What We Say and How We Say It: Audio and Verbal Description that Consider Social and Historical Context. In this session, session speakers Justin Allen (New York City-based writer, performer, and art worker) and Kayla Hamilton (visually impaired artist, producer, and educator) helped us learn to answer questions like the following: How might verbal description and audio description present opportunities for discussing the ways artworks and performances address race, gender, and disability? Who or what are we describing, how are we describing, and why? We also participated in an activity where we were given a copy of an oil painting called Baby by Emma Amos and a worksheet to break down key information about the painting and the artist then write down our own description. On my worksheet, I started my description by describing the specific shapes as I would see them from left to right, then describes shapes that looked like a pair of legs, and the person (woman) in the painting; I connected it to the social and historical context by making an assumption that the painting might be a self-portrait and went into detail about the artist’s background.
During the lunch break, I attended the poster sessions which shared various projects and programs that museum educators have facilitated to help move museum education forward and it took place in an informal marketplace setting. For instance, I spoke with a presenter who talked about an arts program that collaborated with other organizations to help educate students about gun issues. Also, in honor of the 40th anniversary, I purchased a tote bag with the NYCMER logo and 40th anniversary embroidered on the tote. After having lunch, I attended the first afternoon session called Big Issues for Young Mind: Teaching climate, race, and other difficult topics. The session was described according to the conference pamphlet as:
As museum educators, we often are tasked with addressing “big issues” with our students. These are complex problems where it is essential to understand the past and present in order to think creatively about the future. In this session, we will use examples from two of these issues– race and climate change– to discuss how we can empower students of all ages to tackle issues we ourselves can find challenging. This session will provide tools to address some of the most difficult topics our institutions cover, as well as how to use the past and present to instill hope about the future.
During the session, we learned about how session presenters Clare Blackwell (School Partnerships Coordinator at Wave Hill) and Es-Pranza Humphrey (Teen Programs Associate at the New York Historical Society) educate school groups about the difficult topics. We also gathered into groups and were given scenarios to discuss among ourselves, then eventually with the rest of the participants, how we would handle the situation if we were faced with them in our practice at our institutions.
The last session I attended was called Technology in Museums: when it works, and when it doesn’t. In the session description, it stated that
Right now we are feeling tons of pressure to add ‘technology’ into everything we do. When does that make sense? When does introducing technology actually take away from our objective? How can we figure this out before pouring thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into a ‘new’ technology product? This session will dive deep into these questions in a roundtable format. Presenters will highlight a few examples of their own tech/museum collaborations (including major fails) and a format for thinking through a technology decision. Then we will break into groups to workshop current technology questions you are facing.
While we were waiting for the session to start, we were encouraged to write down a technology that we are proud of and a technology we wished to not use either for personal or professional use. Once we heard the example of technology that made booking, scheduling, and managing registrations for school programs easier from the speakers Meg Davis (founder of Explorable Places, an online platform that facilitates field trip discovery and registration), Melissa Branfman (Museum Director at Wyckoff House Museum), and Danielle Hilkin (Director of Education & Outreach at the Wyckoff House Museum), we broke into groups to discuss current technology questions faced in our museums and figure out what we could do to facilitate our use of the current technology and how to improve the experience of using technology in our spaces.
At the end of the sessions I attended the Concluding Reception located in the Learning Theater inside the Teachers College. There was a raffle in which I won two VIP passes to the Intrepid Museum. As usual, I enjoyed the conference and I wished I was able to attend more of the sessions because it was hard to only chose the four sessions. Also, I think it would be great to have some more representation of museum professionals that are not in the education field since museum educators often collaborate with them especially curators and collections managers. I once again thank NYCMER for a wonderful and informative conference.
To learn more about NYCMER, visit the website: http://www.nycmer.org