Virtual Conferences: New Format in Professional Development in Museums

June 11, 2020

Last week I participated in the American Alliance of Museums’ (AAM) first virtual conference, and I began describing my experience in last week’s blog post. I thought that this week I will not only continue to describe my experience at #AAMvirtual but will discuss the virtual conferences in general. After the first day of #AAMvirtual, I attended more sessions from June 2nd to June 4th with an additional session added to address the Black Lives Matter movement.

On June 2nd, in addition to the general session, I attended the sessions: Engagement Strategies During Times of Low (or no) Attendance, Museum-Goers & The Pandemic: New Research, and Pivoting Your Programming: Virtual and Other Unique Options for Small Museums. Also, there were virtual networking events that were divided into four groups: Career Management,  Creativity and Innovation, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (which was cancelled since the format of the happy hour did not fit the needs of the field), and Emerging Museum Professionals. The general session featured a keynote from Lonnie G. Bunch III, the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian, and a discussion with representatives from the Ford Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Their discussion explored how museums can contribute to a prosperous, just and equitable future as society struggles with intractable social, environmental and economic problems; what priorities and issues are most important to the funders of museums today and into the future; and how will philanthropy become more equitable and inclusive and how will this affect the funding for all types of museums?

In the Engagement Strategies During Times of Low (or no) Attendance session, the speakers took a closer look at how museums can engage with their audience during times of low, no, or altered attendance. This session had speakers Cara Seitcheck (Smithsonian Institution), Rebecca Peterson (Vizcaya Museum & Gardens), and Zachary Wnek (Latah County Historical Society) leading the discussion with participants. The discussion focused on three major ideas which are audience outreach and engagement through digital and virtual means; a crash course on digitization and digital preservation policy as a way of engaging your audience through sharing collections; and an abbreviated guide to hosting awesome outdoor events to put your audience at ease (and allow them physical distance). Also, the discussion took a closer look at the challenges and opportunities involved through the lens of historic sites.

Meanwhile in the Museum-Goers & The Pandemic: New Research session, Susie Wilkening of Wilkening Consulting has been conducting ongoing qualitative research with museum-goers and snap polling the broader U.S. population to assess attitudes toward museums, their value, and their support. Wilkening Consulting is conducting an ongoing qualitative research with museum-goers and snap polling the broader U.S. population to assess attitudes toward museums, their value, and their support. During the session, Wilkening shared the latest results from the research and discussed with the rest of the participants on how these findings can inform how our museums engage our audience virtually and how to reopen with museum-goers’ interests in mind. In the Pivoting Your Programming: Virtual and Other Unique Options for Small Museums session, participants listened to examples of how small museums are continuing to connect with their audiences, even when COVID-19 forces museums to shut their doors, from the session speakers; the speakers were Ann Bennett (Laurel Historical Society), Lin Nelson-Mayson (Goldstein Museum of Design), Marjory O’Toole (Little Compton Historical Society), Rachel Regelein (Log House Museum), and the discussion was moderated by Janice Klein of EightSixSix Consulting. Since in the last blog post I mentioned that I had previous plans before receiving my email that I had the reduced conference fee, I was not able to attend morning sessions in the next couple of days.

On June 3rd, the sessions I attended were The Future of Museum Evaluation after COVID-19 and Racism, Unrest, and the Role of the Museum Field. The Future of Museum Evaluation after COVID-19 session included a discussion addressing the question: How will the COVID-19 pandemic impact the ways we conduct research and evaluation? Also, they discussed about how we may need to change our data collection efforts at our museums after our doors reopen. A recently added session, Racism, Unrest, and the Role of the Museum Field session was led by Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole (National Council of Negro Women, Inc. and Baltimore Museum of Art), Lonnie G. Bunch III (14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution), and Lori Fogarty (Oakland Museum of California). A number of questions were addressed during this serious discussion such as: As museums set their sights on financial recovery and reopening, how do we ensure that we are centering equity and prioritizing the needs of our country’s black and brown communities and colleagues? How do we create a space for healing, and building authentic relationships across difference? How do we use what is an unbearable time for many, to come together in solidarity and use the strength of the museum field to fight racism across the country?

On June 4th, I attended the following sessions: Small Museum Boot Camp: Organizational Management and International Hot Topics: Discussions from Kyoto. In the Small Museum Boot Camp: Organizational Management session, they pointed out that it is especially important to understand the basics of organizational management to help prepare for and guide your institution through a crisis. Since the session was created to meet the needs of small museums, it provided a fast-paced introduction to the main areas of management, including long-range and emergency planning, best practices, and legal requirements. The International Hot Topics: Discussions from Kyoto session introduced issues that were raised at the 2019 International Council of Museums (ICOM) general conference in Kyoto, Japan such as climate change, disaster resilience, and cultural heritage preservation; inclusion, diversity, and decolonization; and immigration, and ethical dilemmas. Each of them was amplified by the pandemic and the search for the new definition of museum. Once the virtual conference had concluded, I thought about each of my experiences at the conferences on the virtual platform and how museum associations have numerous considerations when working on transferring on-site to online.

They need to consider what platforms they would use to host speakers, sponsors, and attendees. The New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) decided to use the Hopin conference platform which I shared in the blog post the demo on how to use the platform. We were encouraged as participants to watch the demo ahead of the NYCMER conference to learn how it worked. Navigating the NYCMER conference felt easier to interact with, and it made me wonder if the conference were on more than one day would the experience feel the same way as it did on a one-day conference. The American Alliance of Museums’ conference, since it is a multi-day conference, had a different experience; it is easy for many museum professionals to get Zoom fatigued after a while. AAM decided to use a virtual platform through CommPartners, which helps organizations conceive, develop and fulfill their education strategy by providing a wide range of online education services including curriculum design, instructional design, webinars, webcasts, livestream programs and virtual conferences . The main learning platform they developed is Elevate Learning Management System (LMS) that helps enable, empower and engage users with contextual learning opportunities enriched by peer collaboration to form dynamic experiences.

Both AAM and NYCMER dealt with various things that they worked on once they learned about attendees experiences throughout the conferences. NYCMER conference committee members made sure that they extended the networking timed one on one sessions up to five minutes when attendees had raised concerns that the initial two minutes was too quick to have a full conversation with other attendees. I myself have begun conversations with museum professionals, and have all of the sudden the conversation ended abruptly leaving conversation topics incomplete. During the AAM conference, I heard about some attendees having hard times logging into sessions and not having a place outside of moderated open-ended chats and networking events to talk with more museum professionals. The staff worked hard to help attendees with technical issues and created a networking tab towards the later half of the conference.

The American Alliance of Museums and the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable conferences were the only virtual conferences I have attended so far since many museum associations have decided to move their on-site conferences online. I received an email from the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) earlier this month which stated,

Due to the ongoing uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, AASLH will hold its 2020 Annual Meeting this fall online instead of gathering in person in Las Vegas…

…We appreciate the hard work of the 2020 Host and Program committees, and we hope to carry as much of that forward as possible. The conference theme, even more relevant now than when it was selected, remains the same: “What Kind of Ancestor Will You Be?” Although it is disappointing not to gather in person this fall, the flexibility of an online format gives us the chance to offer greater relevancy. The conference will address questions that are emerging from the pandemic, such as defining what history institutions will look like and how they will operate in and after the recovery. We will also continue to examine the unique roles that history museums, historic sites, historical societies, and other history organizations, including AASLH, must play in combating racism, among the nation’s most deep-seated societal challenges.

The AASLH Annual Meeting is usually held in August or September each year, and this year it was originally going to be in Las Vegas, Nevada before moving the Annual Meeting online. The New England Museum Association (NEMA) also made an announcement that they were moving their onsite conference that was planned to be in Newport, Rhode Island to online. Also, NEMA decided to change the conference theme to Who Do We Think We Are Now? By updating the conference theme, they stated that it is an opportunity for our field to come together and share lessons learned, emerging best practices, and think tank solutions for the challenges ahead. I look forward to finding out how they will engage attendees in discussions about the museum and history fields and how they will address the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement in their sessions.

If you have experienced virtual conferences or any online professional development program, what are your impressions of the experiences?

Links:

CommPartners’ Elevate LMS

Hopin

Hopin Demo

AAM Virtual Conference 2020 Experience

NYCMER 2020: A Virtual Conference Experience

NEMA 2020

AASLH Annual Meeting 2020

For blog posts on more topics in museums, museum education, and public history, check out this page: Blog Posts by Topic

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lindseystewardgoldberg

I am a passionate and dedicated individual who is determined to provide local and national history for future generations to appreciate their roots and teach the next generation. My love for museums began from a very young age. When I was a child, my family encouraged myself and my sisters to visit various historic sites and museums including Plimoth Plantation and Salem Witch Museum, and continued as I grew up when I saw places such as the Birthplace of Abigail Adams. My lifelong passion for history led me to earn my Bachelors degree in History from Western New England University and my Masters degree in Public History from Central Connecticut State University. While I was in the Central Connecticut State University Public History graduate program, I worked on the Connecticut Historical Society’s “Cooking by the Book” exhibit that my group came up with the original proposal for. I also helped set up art exhibits at CCSU’s art galleries, and wrote a lesson plan on women contributions to society in the eighteenth century as a final project in the program for the Stanley-Whitman House museum. Along the way, I gained various experiences within school activities and museums. My experiences include working with students in school programs at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut, Connecticut’s Old State House, and Connecticut Landmarks Hartford properties. I also volunteered at the Franklin Historical Museum in Franklin, Massachusetts where I provided tours for visitors, helped organize public programs connected with town events, and kept an inventory of the museum’s collections. I became a full time Museum Educator with the Long Island Museum where I teach programs, and take on administrative roles such as schedule programs. Today, I am an independent museum professional working on various projects. For instance, I joined the Long Island Maritime Museum and Three Village Historical Society volunteering in the education and visitor services departments. I continue to look for opportunities in which I educate school groups and the public on the significance of the arts, history, and sciences in our society through the museum education field.

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