Museum Education Online: Museums’ Position in the Virtual World

Originally posted on Medium. December 8, 2016.

Museum education is continuing to evolve as a museum field after many years of creating programs for schools and the public. While I have over seven years’ experience in the field so far, I have seen many changes to advance the field and make an impact on the community around us. For instance, in my last blog I discussed the continuously evolving inclusion of programs for people with special needs. Also, the internet has given the world, especially the museums, opportunities to connect and provide ways to learn online. This week I am looking at museums in the virtual world, including social media and online learning, and my reactions to these changes. When I was growing up attending museums, the internet was still a new concept created and not many websites offered online learning. As a child, I visited more museums than finding out about museums on the internet. My family would drive down to see Washington D.C., Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and Gettysburg battleground during the summer. I used the internet later to assist me with research for school and I used the internet more when I went to college and graduate school.

When I was at Western New England getting my Bachelor’s degree I participated in different courses that used online tools as part of curriculum. Most of my classes were in person courses with activities and assignments taken in an online portal, MYWNEC, as a supplement to these courses. I took two online courses, and with some exceptions the class met online; my first course was a psychology course that was entirely online and my second course was an art history course that occasionally had assignments where I had to attend a museum to complete them. I had a few courses that took place completely in the classroom. Meanwhile while I was at Central Connecticut State University getting my Master’s degree, there were no online courses provided in the program but I used resources online as part of my research for papers and projects. For instance, when I worked on the proposal for Connecticut Historical Society’s next exhibit which was eventually accepted and became Cooking by the Book (it was displayed from January 2013 to April 2013), I used their online collections resource to decide which objects to include in the proposal. Outside of school I took a few online courses on edx.org about various subjects including history and interactions in the classroom; I take these courses at my own pace to keep my skills relevant and updated. While I was becoming a museum professional, I saw how museums utilized the internet to create websites that provide information about their exhibits, programs, and resources.

Each museum I worked for have various ways visitors and potential visitors can access what they offer on the internet. On Stanley-Whitman House’s website, it has the history of the house and information on the museum as well as information about education programs, adult group programs, and special events & programs. The Stanley-Whitman House also provides information about the collections, gardens, exhibits, and research services. On Connecticut Landmarks’ website, it provides information about the nine properties it owns especially the two properties I worked at, Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House; the website also provides other information including information about the organization, upcoming special events, events calendar, a link to the facilities rental site, various ways individuals can donate to the organization, ways to get involved in the organization, and press releases. On Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society’s website, in addition to information about the historic house museum/historical society and on how to become a member, it has information about school, youth, adult, and public programs as well as information about their exhibits especially their new tablet tour I learned about while I was a museum educator there. The website also has a Discovery & Learn section which includes the history of Noah Webster and West Hartford, brief descriptions of the historical society’s collections; a kid’s corner that includes interactive activities kids can download and click on tabs to learn about the history of West Hartford and Noah Webster, and teachers can download keys to a couple of the activities; and a Q&A section with the Executive Director that is coming up soon. On the Long Island Museum’s website, it has various information including on exhibits past and current, programs for students, adults, public and families, and a collections database that allows visitors to look up various pictures, books, and objects found in the museum’s collection. The previously mentioned museums’ websites have different ways to grab people’s attention and help bring them to these museums.

Museums use and should use the internet to their advantage to expand their reach to their audiences. As technology and the internet continue to evolve, museums also need to evolve to gain as well as maintain visitors to their exhibits. One of the books I read about museums and the internet is called Unbound By Place or Time: Museums and Online Learning by William B. Crow and Herminia Din published by the American Association of Museums Press (now called the American Alliance of Museums) in 2009. This book discusses various forms of online learning, the advantages and challenges of online learning, and how museums can utilize online learning.

Crow and Din also provided case studies that gave examples of how museums can create successful programs for visitors. The authors also stated that it is important to recognize that in the end our online programs are tools, no matter what we learn and experience our relationship with it will change as it evolves, and that what is consistent is our dedication and commitment for providing resources our museums offer. This is true even today especially with new technology being used in school and adult programs; at Long Island Museum for instance has a program for Alzheimer’s patients that use a tablet to play music related to objects and sections in exhibits. It is also true especially as skype is used to communicate with people and it has the potential to be used in more museum education programs. What do you think of the relationship between museums and online learning? Does your organization have online programs? If so, what are the advantages and challenges you find as an educator using these programs? If your organization does not use online learning programs, would you like to introduce this to your museum/organization and create your own?

As you ponder these questions, I recommend visiting these sites:
www.stanleywhitman.org
www.ctlandmarks.org
www.noahwebsterhouse.org
www.longislandmuseum.org

 

Book Review: Programming for People with Special Needs

Originally posted on Medium. November 23, 2016.

This week I am wrote a book review on Katie Stringer’s Programming for People with Special Needs: A Guide for Museums and Historic Sites which is about creating programs and exhibits that are accessible for all visitors especially visitors with special needs. I personally enjoyed reading this book because it gave me more insight on programming I am familiar with to an extent, and it made me reflect on my own experiences as a museum goer and professional. In my first blog post, I stated that as a kid museums have helped supplement my education whether I went during field trips or during family visits to various museums including Plimoth Plantation.

Each school year growing up, my educational plan would be adjusted since my summer experiences would give me various experiences that would change the way I learned from the previous year. My teachers understood that my mind was always changing so the lessons are planned accordingly and my Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P) was adjusted after each review. A part of my altering learning experiences I have always owed to my visits to museums. When I read the book, I saw the content from the perspective as a museum professional and as a former child with learning differences; I liked how Stringer handled the material and that she understood that programs would need to be adjusted to make sure all visitors get the full experience of what museums can offer. I recommend reading this book to at least get started on planning for your museums and/or at least to get to know how to address all audiences from all backgrounds including those with special needs.

Stringer’s book had six chapters dedicated to creating programs for every visitor especially for visitors with special needs. The first chapter introduces the book explaining museums as educational centers and brief history of disability in the United States. The second chapter shares details on etiquette on how to interact with visitors who have disabilities. The third chapter is dedicated to defining universal design and how museums and historic sites can benefit from implementing programs, exhibits, and spaces adhering to universal design standards. The fourth chapter reviews programs at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the New York Transit Museum, and explain what the programs are as well as the ways to adapt those programs for various audiences are explored. The fifth chapter is a case study from Tennessee of best practices for creating museum programs for all visitors especially those with special needs. The sixth chapter is the concluding chapter which ends with suggestions for museum professionals to make their own museums universally designed and accessible for audiences with special needs. Each of the chapters are divided into sections to explain certain aspects of creating programs for all audiences.

Chapter one discusses the museums’ roles as centers for education, disability rights and awareness, early exhibitions of people with disabilities. The chapter is divided into a couple of sections on museums’ roles in education and history of disabilities in the United States. The first section is called The Role of Museums as Centers for Educations which explained the history of museums and how they became to be centers for education as well as understanding museums’ roles in education. The second section is called Disability Rights and Awareness. Stringer explained the history of disability rights which began during John F. Kennedy’s presidency in the 1960s and led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The third section was called Early Exhibitions of People with Disabilities in which she talked about when individuals with disabilities were part of traveling circuses, sideshows, and dime museums; she iterated in the section that museums today want to appeal to as broad of an audience as possible, and explained the historical legacy of discrimination with focus on people with intellectual disabilities and other related cognitive and developmental disabilities. The last section was called Accessibility at Museums and Historic Sites and she discussed the ways historic sites and museums must do to adjust to make them more accessible.

Chapter two is dedicated to sensitivity and awareness of visitors with special needs and disabilities. The sections in this chapter include strategies and techniques for welcoming all visitors, workshops and training opportunities, and museums leading by example. Stringer explained in detail strategies and techniques to welcome all visitors, and emphasized that all museums should form partnerships and consultation groups that include community members who have disabilities. The workshops and training opportunities section reveals various examples for professional development for museum professionals such as information for staff training at the British Museum called “Disability Awareness Scheme”; it offers training for museum employees and volunteers through the SHAPE program, training for all visitor service and security staff by the access manager employed by the museum, and visual awareness training for visitor service staff. She also provided details about a few museums that are leading by example of innovative programs and opportunities for both staff and the public to learn more about disabilities and sensitivity including the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia which hosted an Autism Awareness Night in 2009. The Autism Awareness Night is a program for one evening the museum was open to families and children with autism, and the program was so successful that in 2010 the Please Touch Museum opened for a Disability Awareness Night for all children and families with disabilities.

Chapter three has examples of museums utilizing universal design successfully including the Boston Museum of Science, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Royal Ontario Museum. The Boston Museum of Science created accessible exhibits that every visitor can easily use. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a program referred to as “seeing through drawing” which is an activity for individuals with sight impairment. The Royal Ontario Museum offers Braille and large print booklets for visitors with sight impairments. There is a section about universal design in learning which focuses on the four essentials of universal design. The four essentials of universal design are to ensure that the lesson represents information in multiple formats and media, provides multiple pathways for students’ actions and expressions, provides multiple ways to engage students’ interests and motivation, and occurs in a safe environment. Stringer stated in the book that museum educators should remember these aspects creating lesson plans and programs for any groups. Chapter four has examples that are selected from museums that represent art museums, science and technology museums, and historic sites and history museums. The museums included in the book’s examples are MOMA, Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, Florida, New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum, Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution Museums in Washington, D.C. The programs from these museums highlighted in the book vary from those offered to senior adults, to children with disabilities, and to families that have a member with a disability.
In the Museum of Contemporary Art’s program, Stringer stated the museum staff stress that their program is not a field trip experience but rather community based instruction. A field trip is a visit or an isolated experience that supplements the curriculum; meanwhile community-based instruction relates to goals in the school, ongoing instruction, and continuing reinforcement and can translate to the real world instead of only the classroom. When I was a kid attending museums with my school, I assumed that museums are all about sharing its space for school field trips and for families visiting the museum. With experience in the museum field as a museum educator, I saw that museums are more than field trips and family trips; museums have and explore many ways to reach out to the community to use resources that explain the shared relationship museums and communities have in our society. Stringer explained there are opportunities for adaptation and integration at small museums and historic sites.

Chapter five explores the process of creating educational programming for children with special needs and the elements that create successful programs. There are seven key elements for effective programs that were explained and visually displayed in a table with details about each key concept and their purpose. The seven key concepts are sensitivity and awareness training, planning and communication, timing, engagement, object centered and inquiry-based, structure, and flexibility. I agree with Stringer when she reiterates that flexibility is essential for any museum work because we can plan for any possible outcome in each of our lessons but something unexpected will always happen no matter which group we work with; we come up with as many backup scenarios as we can to make sure we can still have successful programs for visiting individuals especially visitors with special needs or disabilities. The chapter also discusses a survey that were given to educators working with individuals with special needs; this survey asked questions including do they take them on field trips, kinds of disabilities they work with, desired learning experience from trip, and educator references for programs. The results of this survey were displayed in pie charts giving museum educators an idea of what other educators’ expectations were from the museums. Stringer stated that the takeaway from the survey was some people still believe that museums are not places where all students are welcome because of noise or behavioral problems that students may cause. Our museums have a long way to go to create programs and exhibits that can reach to all our audiences but the result will be worth it.

In the last chapter, it discusses the future of adapting programs for each visitor especially individuals with special needs. I am personally glad that the book is honest by not saying museums have completely figured out programming for all visitors of various backgrounds. Stringer revealed that the book does not explore all the options in the relatively new field of programs for people with special needs, and the field continues to grow as the population becomes more aware of the growing population of individuals with disabilities. I believe this book is a good starting point for museums to adapt their programs for all visitors of various abilities, and we need to use the experiences the museums in this book had as references for our own museums to follow suit. If we do not continue to adapt our lessons for our surrounding communities, we risk alienating people who could enjoy the experiences as well as learn from them.

Stringer’s book opened my eyes to ideas and concepts that I’m already aware of as a museum educator and things I was not aware of at the same time. For instance, I did not know about the Museum Access Consortium (MAC) of New York City which allows museum staff, volunteers, community members, and educators opportunities to discuss strategies together and to develop successful programs. Since I am still new to the museum community in New York, I am not surprised that I have not heard about this organization. This looks like a great resource I would use as I create lessons for all visitors of various abilities. Also, I learned more about audiences I have not worked with before; as a museum educator, I have worked on occasion with students with learning differences and I have worked with adults with memory loss in various programs. I have very limited experience working with children with autism for instance; Stringer found helpful advice on creating activities for children with autism including plan for multiple levels of development, incorporate levels of sense involvement, activities build success at any level in process and/or product, provide visual cues in set up, minimize distracting incorporate areas for sensory down time, and always have a backup plan. This advice will be very helpful for me and for museum professionals when creating programs for children with autism.

The experience I do have, other than working on occasion with visitors with disabilities at the museums I worked at in Connecticut, is at the Long Island Museum I worked with adults with memory loss in the “In the Moment” program. The “In the Moment” program is a hands-on program that allows individuals with memory loss engage with LIM’s exhibits to stimulate their own memories. Each experience is different depending on what exhibit the day care service or Alzheimer’s Association group is interested in; a program is developed each time a new exhibit is installed. At each exhibit, the exhibit is viewed and a few items or sections are chosen as topics of discussion for the group; questions are brainstormed for them to answer; either music or objects are chosen to help connect with the exhibit and inspire discussion; and provide cookies, juice, and photographs of the featured items to bring home with them. At LIM’s Long Island in the Sixties exhibit, for instance, music of the 1960s was chosen that represented different sections of the exhibit and the pictures chosen were of a dress from the era, the set up for a girl’s bedroom in the 1960s, and the New York Mets section of the exhibit. From my experience, not every individual automatically start talking about what they see or what an item reminds them of but it allows them to be outside of their environments to experience something new or different; and it is always interesting to see what they enjoyed about the exhibit and what stimulated their memories. One woman was so moved by her experience that she started talking about all her life’s experiences including the fact that her family came from Italy and that she used to be a teacher. I always smiled whenever I get an opportunity to work with them so I can make a difference in their experiences. I wish Stringer’s book went into detail about programs for people with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other related memory loss, but someday there may be a book that will address more on how to create these programs if there isn’t already.

I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving! Be good to one another and be safe!

What Museums Mean to Me: My Relationship with Museums when I was a College Student

Originally posted on Medium. November 17, 2016.

In my first blog post, I wrote about how my love for museums has begun as a child and I will share how this love has continued since then. Recently I read the latest edition of Journal of Museum Education in which the articles focused on the relationship between museums and universities, and how that relationship can be improved. In an article written by the guest editors Beth Maloney and Matt D. Hill, they briefly discussed the articles in the journal and expressed hope that this journal will be able to be used as a source for successful collaborations. As I read this edition, I thought about my own experiences in museums as a college student, and I believe there is potential in creating more successful collaborations with colleges and universities. My career in museums began when I was in college; I was involved in Western New England College’s (now University) Historical Society as both a member and treasurer. Also, I went on a couple of trips to museums for one of my courses. Of course, I gained more experiences in museums as a graduate student at Central Connecticut State University.

While I was a college student at Western New England College, I was the treasurer of the Historical Society which is a club that encouraged visitations to various museums in the area and in neighboring states. I volunteered to be a treasurer for the Historical Society when no one else wanted to take over since the last treasurer left the organization and because I was also a treasurer for Western New England’s Campus Chorus so I already had the experience; I was then given the previous slips and forms to reorganize the organization’s budget, and since then I was re-elected as treasurer each year it was not until a few months before I graduated from college that someone was willing to take on the role. As a treasurer, I was responsible for organizing and maintaining the club’s budget for various materials such as pens and t-shirt as well as expenses including hotels, museum fees, and food for Historical Society trips. We planned trips to various museums including Springfield Museums, Old Sturbridge Village, The Pequot Museum, The Salem Witch Museum, Salem Maritime National Historic Site, The House of Seven Gables, and The Breakers Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. I also planned the trip to a couple of places in New York including Hyde Park and Martin van Buren’s home with the Historical Society. During the four years I was both a member and treasurer of the Historical Society, I went to various museums in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. This experience not only taught me about running an organization whether it was a college organization or behind the scenes look at how a museum is run but it also was a source of many wonderful college memories I look back fondly on.

I attended museums while I was taking courses at Western New England, but unfortunately there were not many opportunities for going to museums in many of my classes and I was a History major. Much of my History courses at the time were taken in the classroom with limited possibilities for exploring museums; my freshman seminar course gave an overview on possible career paths we could take as History majors and invited professionals (also WNE alumni) to discuss their work outside college, and a few of them were museum professionals. While my History courses had guest speakers come into the classroom, a few of my other courses could have a couple of visits to museums. In my art history course, I was able to visit the Springfield Museums to complete an assignment. My France and French Caribbean culture course also had class at the Springfield Museums where we visited art galleries featuring French artists and had discussions about the artists and their works. After I graduated from Western New England, I continued to visit museums and became more involved with museums.

While I was in the graduate program at Central Connecticut State University, I continued to visit museums and this time my visits were more focused on developing my career in the museum field. I started my museum experience by having an internship at Connecticut’s Old State House during the summer where I assisted with one of the last school programs of the school year where over a hundred students participated in various activities including an I Spy activity which kids designed their own spy glasses using paper towel rolls and walked around the Old State House playing I Spy. Also, I assisted with public programs including the Farmer’s Market, and Conversations at Noon (lunchtime lecture series with guest lecturers presenting in the Old State House gallery). I also created an Animal Scavenger Hunt as a summer activity for kids to find pictures of animals in the Education Center based on clues I wrote. In many courses I took while in graduate school, my classmates and I were encouraged to complete projects and we collaborated with museums and organizations to gain exposure for our collaborations. For instance, for my Museum Interpretation course we were split into small groups to write a proposal for an exhibit that will be featured at the Connecticut Historical Society; my group’s proposal we collaborated on writing, about the split between in and outside the kitchen and featured a few pieces from their collections in our presentation, was approved by the decision committee at CHS with some changes suggested. We then collaborated with University of Connecticut art students to design the exhibit. This exhibit became Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart and it was opened from January 18 to April 13, 2013. During graduate school, we were also encouraged to attend conferences. I attended a few New England Museum Association conferences which were held in various cities in the area and have various opportunities to have sessions and ceremonies at museums. I continue to attend museums even as a museum professional to enjoy the exhibits and to continue developing my skills as a museum educator.

I am thankful for each of the opportunities that I gained and I hope that wherever I end up I will be able to take the lessons with me. We should be able to develop a better relationship with universities, and show them that we have resources they can use in teaching in the classroom and aid in their students’ career paths. Have a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving everyone!

Writing about Museum Education

Originally posted on Medium website on October 19, 2016

As I continue my career in museum education by having many adventures in the field, I realized someday I want to be able to look back on all of the work I accomplished and be able to share these experiences with other educators. This was when I thought about writing this blog series. When I started to create this blog, the first words I see are “Tell your story.” I kept thinking about how to start this first blog entry, and when I saw those words I thought about how to begin this story. In order to tell my story of when I first found my passion for museum education, I will start from the beginning.

When I was a child, my mother encouraged my sisters and I to visit museum during family vacations. One of the family vacations was a trip to Plimoth Plantation with my nana, mom, and my two sisters. During that trip, all of us were in the meetinghouse and suddenly my mom and nana saw me go up to the pulpit to pretend to be a minister. My mom told me years later that I encouraged people coming into the meetinghouse to come sit down on the benches and a bunch of people sat down as I continued my pretend lecture; I even came up to people to give them communion and shake their hands. This is one of those kids say and do the most interesting things, and not only that it was also the moment that I truly enjoyed learning about history. My family made a number of trips over the years, and I enjoyed visiting museums and sites such as Monticello, Battle of Gettysburg battleground, Colonial Williamsburg the most. Education for me has always been my favorite part of life, and while at times it was challenging for me field trips especially to museums have given me a way to understand the lessons I learned in the classroom.

In school I was a student with learning differences that according to my I.E.P. (Individualized Education Plan) made speech, reading, and math a series of challenges I overcame as I continued my education. I thank my teachers every day for their commitments they made to fill my head with knowledge and their efforts to provide my classmates and I educational experiences outside the classroom. Even when I entered Western New England College (now University) in Springfield, Massachusetts and joined the Historical Society I enjoyed planning Historical Society trips to places such as Salem and Old Sturbridge Village. While I was in college, I looked back on my experiences and realized that I wanted to have a career in the museum field. Every day I was thankful for all of those field trips and family vacations I went on. Each of those trips gave me wonderful experiences I will always cherish.

While I was in graduate school at Central Connecticut State University, I began my museum career at the Old State House in Hartford as an intern in the education department during the summer. Then I worked as a Museum Teacher at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington as I continued graduate school. Towards the end of my graduate program, I began working as a Museum Interpreter at Connecticut Landmarks’ historic house museums, Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House, where I gave tours to both school and the public. After I graduated with my degree in Public History in 2013, I also began to work at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society as a Museum Educator. Then I transitioned to New York to work as a Museum Educator with the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. I also have been working as a Parish Historian for the church I grew up going to and volunteer at various museums on Long Island. All of these experiences I plan to talk about as I continue to write in this blog.

This story will continue not only with a discussion about my experiences in greater detail but I also will discuss recent topics in the field as well as recent books and journal articles I read. I also will write about conferences and workshops I attended. What I hope to accomplish with this blog is to give educators and aspiring educators both a personal account of and resources on the museum education field. I will end this entry with one of my favorite quotes on education:

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”
― Albert Einstein