Museum Educator: A Vital Role in the Museum-Community Partnership

July 23, 2020

While all museum roles within the building are important in their own functions to keep the museum running, museum educators are especially significant now as we figure out life and learning in this next normal. I have been reading for months through social media my museum field colleagues’ posts on layoffs, furloughs, and not being able to continue job hunting due to the pandemic; many of those posts were from museum educators who find themselves furloughed, laid off, or their job hunting became harder or completely stopped. Also, the Tenement Museum Union announced on Twitter that 76 employees were laid off, including all of their part-time educators. It is sad to see so many museum educators are being let go when they are needed especially during this time for more engaging programs. Museums should find ways to survive through the pandemic, but I do not believe that letting museum educators go is the solution.

I do not claim that there is one solution or method to keeping the museum afloat in this unprecedented time since all museums are facing varying circumstances that effect their ability to function onsite and/or virtually. A recent survey shared by the American Alliance of Museums revealed unsettling information about the state of museums:

One-third (33%) of respondents were not confident they would be able to survive 16 months without additional financial relief, and 16 percent felt their organization was at significant risk of permanent closure. The vast majority (87%) of museums have only 12 months or less of financial operating reserves remaining, with 56% having less than six months left to cover operations. Forty-four percent had furloughed or laid off some portion of their staff, and 41 percent anticipated reopening with reduced staff.

It is a reality that many museums are facing in the United States, and a huge loss for the communities that rely on the resources museums offer. Numerous considerations need to be addressed but we should not consider letting go staff members as the number one option on keeping museums financially supported. When we let go of the majority of our museum educators, we face a number of consequences.

Over the years I have been writing about museum education, I expressed the importance of the museum educators’ role in not only the museum but in the communities they serve as well. In the “Museum Education Challenges: Why We Need Museum Educators” post, for instance, I have discussed the demand for digital content for museum programming and how museums need to adapt to increasingly changing needs of the community:

Like schoolteachers in the classroom, museum educators were forced to learn to adapt quickly to teaching lessons that are normally taught in person now online in varying platforms including Zoom, Google, and YouTube. Even though most museum educators have already begun teaching on the online platform before the pandemic, not all museums had utilized teaching programs online. Providing education programs is a continuous process for museum educators and losing personnel in the education department would be a disservice to our museums, communities, and our nations.

If we do not have enough museum educators to meet the demands of the schools, camps, scouts, home schools, et. cetera looking for help with virtual lessons and resources, our museums would not be able to claim that they are part of the community they serve. Another example of a blog post I wrote to discuss the importance of museum education in the museum and community is the one called “How Education Theory is Used in Museums”. In this post, I wrote about how museums develop programs based on not only museum association standards but also on the state and national standards for education:

By developing an education policy in museums, it will help guide the education department in when drafting programs that will hopefully be accessible to its audiences, fulfill its mission, and appeal to teachers looking for outside the classroom opportunities.

If we lose the majority of our educators, we will create a disconnect between museums and educational institutions including but not limited to public schools, private schools, and home school groups. While it is possible that the majority of museums may not consider letting go of higher-level museum education professionals, we cannot make the assumption that all museums will not let go of their education managers or directors. As education standards change, and as school districts change how their school years will be executed, museums need to keep up with the changes and maintain contacts with other educators to prevent themselves from falling behind as well as being able to develop education programming relevant to the school groups that come to visit both in person and online.

In other words, each of the previous blog posts I mentioned both within this post and in the resource section below point out that letting go of museum educators is disconnecting ourselves from the communities we claim to be a part of and serve. I came across a post called “Caution: Laying Off Museum Educators May Burn Bridges to the Communities Museums Serve” in which an evaluator shares their perspective of the importance of museum educators especially within the K-12 community. Some of the points they made were:

The teachers highly value the respect and support they receive from museum educators.  The work of K-12 educators is hard and can go unnoticed.  But of all the museum educators I know, they consider K-12 educators essential to the well-being of our students and communities.  As such, museum educators’ frame their work as bolstering the self-regard and confidence of K-12 educators.

Sometimes the students point out something they see to the museum educator, but other times the conversation is completely un-museum related—they just seem to seek adult engagement and interest.  These individual museum educators are important to them.  This was underscored to me when I administered assessments to students in the program.  Students, knowing they were doing something related to the museum program, immediately asked me where are their museum educators (Adam, Ah-Young, Alicia, Barbara, Lindsey, Sarah, Suzannah)? They were notably disappointed to see me instead of their friends at the museum.

The kinds of relationships I have observed as an evaluator clearly demonstrates to me that museum educators are essential to a museum’s missions.  Museum educators are often the name and face of the museum to the community.  If these names and faces go away, I worry museum will have burned bridges into their communities.

As a museum educator myself, I especially agree with the observation that museum educators create connections with the students they teach within the programs. I remember a number of instances throughout my career in the museum education field when some kids are working on projects and decided to create another project so they can give me a present as a way to thank me, and I remember how the kids would be comfortable sharing stories with me (museum and non-museum related). When visiting museums, children especially have the opportunity to connect with the world they live in and with the real-world concepts, artifacts, and documents to fully grasp the lessons they learn in the classroom. Museum educators help children and other audiences bridge the gap between the classroom and the world around us.

 Like many museum professionals right now, I do not have the solution that would solve all problems museums are facing in the pandemic. The best we can do for now is to figure out the main priority to help museums survive, and getting rid of museum educators is not the priority we should have.

Resources:

https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/07/22/894049653/one-third-of-u-s-museums-may-not-survive-the-year-survey-finds

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/07/22/a-snapshot-of-us-museums-response-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/

https://www.aam-us.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/2020_National-Survey-of-COVID19-Impact-on-US-Museums.pdf

https://hyperallergic.com/578201/tenement-museum-education-staff-layoffs/

Caution: Laying Off Museum Educators May Burn Bridges to the Communities Museums Serve

Museum Education Challenges: Why We Need Museum Educators

How Education Theory is Used in Museums

Education Programming: How Important Flexibility is in School Programs

The Importance of Education Management in Museums

Museum Education Challenges: Why We Need Museum Educators

May 21, 2020

While museums figure out plans to reopen their doors, museums should consider making sure our education missions remain intact by taking care of their museum educators. Museums have been moving towards becoming more accessible, inclusive, and diverse by focusing on engaging visitors and engaging with the community. Museum professionals are concerned about keeping out museums functioning financially, and we should not lay off or let go of educators and other front-line museum workers (museum professionals who directly interact with the public). In the past week, I shared previous blog posts I wrote on how important museum educators are to supporting museums’ education missions and engagement with their communities.

As a museum educator myself I sympathize with my colleagues in the museum education field while figuring out how to work and find work during this pandemic. Museum educators are the first ones to be let go when something goes wrong in the museum financially. In this day in age especially it does not make any sense to do so when museums are education sources for the community. Now that we are going through a pandemic, museum educators are needed to help visitors continue to use museum resources from a safe distance while the museums are closed, and we have the ability to be flexible when unexpected things happen. In the post “Education Programming: How Important Flexibility is in School Programs”, I pointed out examples of flexibility they face while implementing school programs:

Each museum educator understands very well that timing is important to be sure to effectively give an educational and a memorable experience. It is important to figure out how to be flexible when challenges arise. School buses, for various reasons, arriving late to the museum. School groups needing to leave early from the program. Teachers not sharing pre-visit materials to help students understand the experience they would be participating in before the visit.

Museum educators now are either considering or planning education programs to be implemented on the internet. Like schoolteachers in the classroom, museum educators were forced to learn to adapt quickly to teaching lessons that are normally taught in person now online in varying platforms including Zoom, Google, and YouTube. Even though most museum educators have already begun teaching on the online platform before the pandemic, not all museums had utilized teaching programs online. Providing education programs is a continuous process for museum educators and losing personnel in the education department would be a disservice to our museums, communities, and our nations.

This past month I came across posts from Brian Hogarth and Jason Porter on museum education and the current crisis. Brian Hogarth, Director of the Leadership in Museum Education at Bank Street College in New York, wrote the post “Code Red for Museum Education Profession” which described concerns the museum education profession has faced before and during the coronavirus pandemic. Jason Porter, the Director of Education and Programs at MoPOP (the Museum of Pop Culture) in Seattle, wrote “Making the Case for Museum Education in the Midst of a Crisis” in which he discussed the importance of museum education and his experiences during the pandemic. Hogarth pointed out that while museums made some progress in terms of diversity and inclusivity, they have not made progress in retaining museum educators in the field:

Museums had been making serious efforts to diversify the field and make it more equitable and inclusive. But at the same time, there has been an inflation of degree requirements and required experience levels, even for entry level and junior positions. In addition, as a “caring” profession, like nursing and teaching, the museum education field is largely made up of women. Cuts to these jobs will exacerbate the feeling that what is perceived to be women’s work is undervalued and underpaid, especially in the nonprofit/cultural sector.

This was a small profession to begin with. An even tighter job market for museum educators will be filled by people with additional resources at their disposal, those in positions with higher salaries, or who have partners with more secure jobs that can cover gaps or drops in income.

Not everyone in the museum education field has additional resources to fall back on and increasing requirements for the positions will continue to alienate individuals from entering and contributing to the museum education field. Another excellent point that Hogarth made was: Without new measures to restore and sustain the field, the current situation will deter many talented and interested people from seriously considering the profession as a valid career choice now and in the foreseeable future. I will also add that it will and already has deterred current museum education professionals from staying in the profession if new measures are not introduced to maintain talented individuals in the museums. Jason Porter continued the museum education discussion in his post.

In my blog post “The Importance of Education Management in Museums”, I pointed out that Education management is a continuous task museum professionals are aware of, and when we are able to form a solid foundation for the museum education management system museums can successfully fulfill their educational missions. Porter shared his experience as the head of the education department of his own museum while describing the current problems managers are facing in museum education during the crisis. He stated in “Making the Case for Museum Education in the Midst of a Crisis” that:

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, managers and directors of interpretation or education and programming have been left with fewer staff members (or dwindling numbers), holding out hope that soon we will return to normal in time to execute the programs we planned for the fall, and facing a future in which digital engagement — long the “extra” component of our interpretive work —  is now the primary way in which we’ll connect with our visitors and communities.

It is harder to maintain a functioning education department when the number of museum educators in the department continuously fluctuates, and we need to figure out how we need to face this new reality. All museum education professionals faced the impact of cancelling, postponing, and rescheduling programs they anticipated in implementing for schools, scouts, adult groups, senior groups, homeschools, and many more members in the community. As a result of so many changes happening all at once, including but not limited to changing programs and working from home, museum educators have become even less secure about the roles they will be able to fulfill and leaders need to recognize the need to maintain a healthy work relationship while we are staying at home. Porter recognized the need for stronger connections between leadership and staff:

All around in the museum field, we’re witnessing the kind of leadership decisions that reflect hastily considered responses and panic instead of vision and progressive thinking, leaders following the prevailing winds instead of charting new courses. I believe that educators and interpreters will be key to the survival of our institutions (and current and future sources of revenue). Of course, I also acknowledge that my institution has found a way to afford to respond in this way and that not every organization is privileged to have the option of retaining all staff members. But if you have the forum (and the time) to make a compelling case for why educators, teaching artists, interpreters, and evaluators will be essential to your work whether visitors can walk into your galleries or only have access to you through Zoom and Youtube, I say you should do it. It may help to show your leadership the way forward.

It is important to take advantage during this unprecedented time, if possible, to use leadership roles to prove educators are essential for museums. If we recognize that museum educators are essential, then we will be able to figure out the next steps in improving the museum education field.

Links:

Code Red for Museum Education Profession

Making the Case for Museum Education in the Midst of a Crisis

Education Programming: How Important Flexibility is in School Programs

The Importance of Education Management in Museums

Curiosity about History: What Does this Mean for Museum Educators?

February 27, 2020

Earlier this month, the American Alliance of Museums released a blog post called “Curiosity About History is Growing Across Generations, a New Survey Finds” by Conner Prairie President and CEO Norman Burns. The blog post revealed survey results from a survey conducted by Connor Prairie, Indiana’s first Smithsonian affiliate museum which is an outdoor museum that inspires curiosity and fosters learning by providing engaging and individualized experiences for everyone. They wanted to find out what individuals thought about history and museums since the general initial impressions of museums is each one focuses on one discipline (i.e. history, art, science) or one type (i.e. children’s, zoological, and nature). Also, they found that similar surveys have not been conducted in decades which was why they decided to conduct their own national survey. After examining the results, they emphasized how museums have the potential for so much more than a house for collections and museums will continue to evolve with the changing society. Once I read the blog, I kept thinking about what the survey results mean for museum educators teaching programs in history and decided to share a few examples from the blog post to illustrate how museum educators can utilize the results for their practices.

Museum educators in history museums, historical societies, and historic house museums in recent years have been learning to incorporate other disciplines to provide well-rounded experiences for the audiences they teach. In my experience as a museum educator, I developed my skills in teaching not only history but also art and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). All museum educators, including myself, could benefit from finding out from their audiences how to best create memorable and educational experiences. This survey is an example of what we can take away about how we can harness the increasing interest in history. In the post, Burns pointed out museums role in helping individuals connect with history:

The survey found that, second only to gatherings with their families, Americans most often mentioned visits to museums and historic sites as the situation that makes them feel most in touch with history. When asked which sources they most trusted for knowledge of the past, Americans put museums and historic sites first, ahead of grandparents, eyewitnesses, college professors, history books, movies, television programs, and high school history teachers. The survey demonstrated that America’s history museums have broad appeal and respect, while also having a real personal impact on Americans. People connect with the past when they visit museums and historic sites, and award these institutions a credibility that is greater even than an eyewitness’s account or a grandparent’s memory.

I have seen visitors who came to the museums I worked for tell me about what book, television show, movie, etc. that inspired them to visit this museum and asked questions confirming whether or not the information they learned in other mediums was accurate. For instance, at the Three Village Historical Society, which works within the community to explore local history through education, I spoke with visitors who came to see the Historical Society’s exhibit about the Culper Spy Ring (who collected intelligence during the Revolutionary War for General George Washington) because of the AMC television show Turn about the Culper Spy Ring. A lot of questions I received were how accurate the show was to what happened during the Revolutionary War and how the Culper Spy Ring operated. Museum professionals should make sure that their research is up to date when anything new is discovered so the narrative presented in programs and exhibits are accurate especially since our institutions are seen as credible sources of information.

The survey also pointed out that history museums are the number one most trustworthy source of information in America. Therefore, museum professionals, especially museum educators, have been doing something right for survey participants to state history museums are the most trustworthy source of information.

Burns continued to share results from the survey and some of the findings including why history is valuable to us personally, to our communities, and to our future. According to the survey,

96 percent of Americans believe it is important to look at our history to inform our future.

91 percent of Americans agree that it is important that people learn about history to build a strong foundation for the future.

42 percent of Americans now have a higher level of curiosity in history as compared to this time to last year.

Millennials showed the highest level of increased curiosity, at 55 percent, compared to 42 percent of Gen Xers and 28 percent of baby boomers.

These results show increasing interest in and curiosity about history within generations in America, and it is important to also appeal to the younger generations who seem to be the most interested in learning about history especially since a large number of individuals see history as a way to inform the future. Also, other results from the survey revealed that Americans believe in history museums can stress the importance of protecting the environment and develop critical thinking skills. Museum educators should learn about the communities their museums serve, and with survey results like this one we are able to evolve with the communities we are a part of.

Links:

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/02/03/curiosity-about-history-is-growing-across-generations-a-new-survey-finds/

https://www.connerprairie.org/

https://www.connerprairie.org/new-survey-nine-in-10-americans-say-our-past-should-inform-our-future-curiosity-in-history-expands-across-generations-with-millennials-leading-the-way/

Building Skills in Museum Education through Online Courses

February 6, 2020

One of the ways all professionals, especially museum education professionals, should take advantage of professional development opportunities is taking courses that will develop skills we use in our professions. Sometimes it is more convenient to take online courses that allow museum professionals to schedule their coursework around their available time. Online courses provide opportunities to connect with other individuals when one is not able to get that experience in a regular course. There are many options to explore for online courses especially for museum education courses.

The most recent example of options I came across is from MuseumDev, which offers 4-week courses for museum professionals taught by subject experts with specialized skills and practical experience. MuseumDev courses are offered to those who are currently employed in a museum and want to broaden their skill set, on the job market for museum positions and want to gain a competitive advantage, considering a career in museums or a museum studies degree and want to investigate the field more, and in allied professions and think these courses would benefit their career (such as collectors, dealers, artists, educators, and technologists). These pass/fail courses expect students to spend about 16 hours on coursework, and they are taught asynchronously which means students can complete assignments as well as participate in discussions on their own time.

One of the classes MuseumDev offers is on inquiry-based and museum education which offers a collaborative atmosphere to explore key ideas through discussions, small group work, and independent research such as theories of learning, motivation and flow experiences, and the role of questions and information. When students take this course, they will hopefully gain confidence in contemporary museum education practice, build practical skills in teaching with objects, improve group facilitation skills, and become familiar with trends and issues impacting the field.

Also, the American Association for State and Local History offers online courses that usually last between four and six weeks. The courses offer each students a change to engage deeply with subject material over an extended period of time, all at their own pace. During each course, students can keep track with regular chats and other interactions with the accessible faculty, and discuss the course material with classmates in online forums. I took a course from AASLH on Museum Education and Outreach which is about how we can facilitate visitors’ meaningful and memorable experiences in the informal environments of museums. The program looks at the larger umbrella of programming at sites and explores the large concept of who our audiences are, how best to connect with them, and what is needed to develop various methods.

In the Museum Education and Outreach course, the assignments are made weekly to allow for regular feedback and dialogue. While work can be done at one’s own pace, meeting deadlines is encouraged to maximize the experience. Throughout the course students develop a toolkit of strategies, policies, and documents ready for immediate implementation. When I took this course, I developed my own toolkit that I hope to be able to adapt for future projects and fully enjoyed interacting with colleagues from around the country as well as learning from them about other things that will help with museum education programming.

I am also familiar with Museum Study which according to their website build courses with three goals in mind: quality of material covered, engagement of the teacher, and interaction among students. Each course consists of lessons developed by the instructor, readings to supplement your knowledge and address your particular situation, and activities to reinforce understanding and generate discussion about the challenges we face in our institutions. Museum Study also hosts AASLH courses and their Steps program to aid students in fulfilling institutional goals.

Another example of online classes comes from Museum Classes, which is a pioneering training site from the Northern States Conservation Center. I noticed that the course list has varied topics on museums including but not limited to collections care, collections management, security, interpretation, care of paintings, and education in museums. The NSCC not only offers classes but they also have a certification program with some focuses on Museum Administration & Management, Museum Facilities Management, Exhibit Practices & Public Programs, Certificates in Museum Studies, and Collections Management & Care. There are two levels for each certificate program, and the Certificates in Museum Studies program is considered to be a level one program which provides students a basic understanding of many different facets of museums; the rest of the programs are level two programs that provides in-depth knowledge of one area in museums. According to their website, the requirements for the certificate program is to complete ten full courses and two short courses, attend one statewide, regional or national multi-day museum conference, complete a final project (which can be in the form of an exhibition, a paper, a conference presentation, or other format approved by NSCC), and attend a final chat session with instructors online to answer specific questions that test knowledge of the museum topics studied.

Since there are so many options for online courses, it is important to do the research on courses and see what is right for your needs. I included a list of links of courses I referenced in this post as well as additional ones I came across.

What courses, whether or not they are museum related, have you taken or are considered taking?

Links:

https://museumdev.com/

https://museumclasses.org/

Northern States Conservation Center: https://www.collectioncare.org/

https://www.moma.org/research-and-learning/classes

https://www.coursera.org/courses?query=museum

http://www.museumstudy.com/courses/

https://www.edx.org/school/smithsonianx

The History of Museum Educators, Part Two: Children’s Museums

December 12, 2019

Last week I wrote about my reaction to part of this edition of the Journal of Museum Education, a publication by Museum Education Roundtable. I continued to read the Journal and after I finished reading the Journal, I thought I would give my thoughts on the rest of it. As I mentioned last week, the articles made me think about my previous experiences. This week while I read the rest of the Journal, I thought about my experiences in children’s museum. While these articles reminded me of my experiences, I always find more to learn in the Journal of Museum Education.

The most recent edition of the Journal of Museum Education, for instance, had a couple of articles focused on children’s museums. In the article “Museums for Somebody: Children’s Museum Professionals and the American Association of Museums (1907-1922)”, Jessie Swigger discussed the origins of children’s museums and the contributions of museum professionals in these children’s museums. Swigger discussed the first three children’s museums in the world opened in Brooklyn, New York (1899), Boston, Massachusetts (1913), and Detroit, Michigan (1917). She examined contributions of children’s museum professionals and museum education through presentations at the American Association of Museums (now known as the American Alliance of Museums) given by the curators of the first three children’s museums: Anna Billings Gallup’s (Brooklyn), Delia I. Griffin (Boston), and Gertrude A. Gillmore (Detroit). The review of papers delivered to their colleagues demonstrated how their pioneering educational approaches, including encouraging visitors to interact with objects and creating opportunities for children to become empowered and invested museum visitors, continue to shape the field. Also, the article pointed out the value of including children’s museum professionals in conversations on museum education. Another article about children’s museums revealed another example of the value of children’s museum professionals contributions to conversations on museum education.

In the article “What Caregivers Observe about Their Children’s Learning During a Visit to the Children’s Museum” by Jessica J. Luke, Eileen D. Tomczuk, Susan Foutz, Nicole Rivera, Lisa Brahms, Kari Nelson, Barbara Hahn, Melissa Swank & Kimberly McKenney, they pointed out that while significant research focused on caregiver-child interaction in children’s museums little is known about what caregivers might be observing or perceiving about their children’s learning. The article discussed a study conducted by the Children’s Museums Research Network to examine what caregivers observe about their children’s learning during a visit to the children’s museum. Data were collected through online questionnaires (N=223) and follow-up phone interviews (N=20) with caregivers recruited from eight children’s museums across the U.S. Results show that caregivers could identify numerous things they discovered about their child(ren) in the museum, including their interests, social skills, thinking/problem-solving skills, and emotional regulation. What contributed most to these discoveries was opportunities to watch their children play and interact with others, and to play with unique materials and activities that they don’t have access to at home. The signage and floor staff were seen as minimally important. These findings have implications for exhibit design and staff facilitation in children’s museums.

As a museum professional who has experience working in a children’s museum, I loved learning more about the history of children’s museums and what other children’s museum professionals have discovered about children’s learning in their research. The research reinforced what I learned about how children learned and interacted with museum exhibits. I learned in my experience in a children’s museum about the constructivist method which allowed children to get involved in the process of their own learning; what I learned in my experience is that the constructivist method cannot be relied on alone to educate children, and therefore a little bit of instruction is important to give children context to what they need to learn. In a couple of blog posts I have written, I wrote about children’s museums and my experience in a children’s museum.

The post “Maker Space: Museums Can Benefit from Having a Creative Space” is where I related what I learned in the children’s science museum Maritime Explorium and how I translate my experience from historic house museums into the newer experience. Another blog post I wrote was “Is Children’s Play Declining? What are Museums Doing to Encourage Playtime” in which I wrote about my reaction to an article in the Huffington Post called “Children’s Play is Declining, But We Can Help Reclaim It.”

By reading these articles in publications such as the Journal of Museum Education, museum professionals and museum educators share their knowledge and learn from one another to help move the museum field forward.

Resources:

Jessica J. Luke, Eileen D. Tomczuk, Susan Foutz, Nicole Rivera, Lisa Brahms, Kari Nelson, Barbara Hahn, Melissa Swank & Kimberly McKenney (2019) What Caregivers Observe about Their Children’s Learning During a Visit to the Children’s Museum, Journal of Museum Education, 44:4, 427-438, DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2019.1672136

Jessie Swigger (2019) Museums for Somebody: Children’s Museum Professionals and the American Association of Museums (1907–1922), Journal of Museum Education, 44:4, 345-353, DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2019.1663685

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2017/06/23/maker-space-museums-can-benefit-from-having-a-creative-space/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2017/07/20/is-childrens-play-declining-what-are-museums-doing-to-encourage-playtime/

The History of Museum Educators: Why the Role Is Important Today

December 5, 2019

I recently received my copy of the Journal of Museum Education, a publication from Museum Education Roundtable, in the mail and I began to read this edition. This last edition for the year is about the history of museum educators. Once I heard about this edition, I decided to read it and give my thoughts about the history of museum educators as well as the significance of museum educators today. I started reading a few articles, and I plan to give my thoughts on the rest of the Journal once I finished reading it. Each article provided some more insight into the field I am a part of and made me think about my previous experiences as a museum educator in relation to what is discussed in the Journal.

There are a number of compelling articles and case studies that illustrate the role of museum educators as well as current trends that are influenced by the museum education community. The first article I read was “Where Does the History of Museum Education Begin?” written by the assistant editor Nathaniel Prottas. Since the beginning of my career as a museum educator, I have been curious about how museum education began and learned the complexity of museum education. After I read Prottas’ article, I realized that the origins of museum education are just as complex as museum education is today. He pointed out that Given the variety of museums that exist today, from science centers, to historic homes, to literary museums, a unified history of the field could never do our past justice. With multiple types of museums not just in North America but in Europe, Africa, and South America, we would not be able to pinpoint the exact origins of museum education. All museums have at least one thing in common: their missions are driven by education. When I continued to read the rest of the Journal, I began to learn even more about museum education background that fascinated me.

Another article I read, for instance, was “The Influence of Progressivism and the Works Progress Administration on Museum Education” written by Carissa DiCindio and Callan Steinmann. In this article, DiCindio and Steinmann described the Federal Arts Project (WPA-FAP) (1935-1943) of the Works Progress Administration which was a federally funded program designed through Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to keep visual artists at work during the Great Depression. Many art programs took place through museums and exhibitions that were brought to Americans with both public programs and outreach. Their article pointed out that there is a continued legacy of community-driven, education-centered approaches in museums today such as outreach initiatives, studio programs, and responsive community programs that seek to bring visual arts experiences to the public. It is a perfect example of how previous museum programs and policies influence current practices in museum education, and why it is important to learn from these experiences to then move forward in fulfilling educational missions in museums.

The next article that captured my attention was “Gallery Games and Mash-ups: The Lessons of History for Activity-based Teaching” written by Elliot Kai-Kee. Kai-Kee took a closer look at the late 1960s and early 1970s and found dissatisfaction with standard approaches that resulted in numerous experimental programs using approaches emphasizing movements, the senses, and feeling. He described the programs, such as Arts Awareness at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Susan Sollins’ gallery games at the National Collection of Fine Arts in Washington, DC, that left a legacy of experiential, activity-based teaching. His argument for current experimental programs for museum mashups and gallery games is to build solid programs and pedagogy on the foundation of improvisation and experimentation museum educators still need a theory of activities in the museum. I think we can always learn from previous examples when developing our own activity-based lessons. Previous lesson plans help museum educators see what has been done to educate intended audiences, and by inferring what worked and did not work we are able to improve the quality of our programs and expand our program offerings. It is important to keep up to date with education theories being utilized to maintain relevance in the school communities.

I especially thought a lot about my previous experiences when I read the article “Museums and School Group Chaperones: A New Future for an Old Role” by David B. Allison. Allison pointed out that chaperones play a key role in the experience students have in museums, and in most museums the parents and caregivers are underutilized and underappreciated. His article proposed a new approach to how chaperones might be catalysts for learning during museum visits. As a result, with the framing of a two-year grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services that resulted in a partnership with two school districts and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Museum learned that chaperones are essential to ensuring inquiry-driven education guides field trips. I appreciated Allison’s article and his emphasis on the importance of chaperones. As a museum educator, I have dealt with chaperones with varying participation in the programs. I shared my experiences in a previous blog post about chaperones and how we should include their involvement in program.

My experiences, outlined in the post “Museum Education Programs: The Challenges of Having Chaperones Be Effective Participants”, showed me that each chaperone had different expectations about what the chaperones’ roles should be. Some were involved with engaging the students by assisting and working with them, and other chaperones were standing to the side paying attention to their phones and not engaging with what is happening within the program. The article Allison wrote for the Journal proves that we are still working on figuring out how to engage chaperones with the programs.

As I continue to read this edition of this Journal, I hope to continue to takeaway more knowledge to adapt for my own practices in my career.

Resources:

Nathaniel Prottas (2019) Where Does the History of Museum Education Begin?, Journal of Museum Education, 44:4, 337-341, DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2019.1677020

Carissa DiCindio & Callan Steinmann (2019) The Influence of Progressivism and the Works Progress Administration on Museum Education, Journal of Museum Education, 44:4, 354-367, DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2019.1665399

http://www.museumedu.org/jme/jme-44-4-the-past-in-the-present-the-relevancy-of-the-history-of-museum-education-today/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2017/06/16/museum-education-programs-the-challenges-of-having-chaperones-be-effective-participants/

Interpretation: The Importance of Storytelling in Museum Programs

October 3, 2019

I recently started to have discussions about interpretation and storytelling for current projects I am working on, and they have inspired me to reflect on interpretation in museums and historic sites. Since officially beginning my career in the museum field in 2012, I learned about the importance of translating historical narrative for visitors to understand and to be engaged with the experience. As I continued my career, the discussions among museum professionals I noticed focus on using storytelling methods to get visitors’ attention.

Interpretative programs are significant for all history museums, historic house museums, and historic sites since how visitors see them and enjoy their experiences in these places would affect the way they viewed museums. The Technical Leaflet, a publication of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), called Telling the Story: Better Interpretation at Small Historical Organizations written by Timothy Glines and David Grabitske went into detail about interpretation and what small organizations can do better for their programs. Glines and Grabitske pointed out that Historical interpretation translates human stories from the past into meaningful thoughts for people in the present. As museum professionals our educational missions we strive for are to tell human stories people can identify with to have a better understanding of the history we present in our museums.

When I began graduate school and my career, I began to see the importance of relating human stories to the public and taking visitor input into account for interpretation. At the Connecticut’s Old State House, for instance, there were many frequently asked questions visitors have asked during tours that inspired staff to do more research to include in the tour narrative. In my blog post sharing my memories about the internship, I stated

I sat in on staff meetings to find out what common questions were asked during tours we did not already have answers for and I used those questions to do research to answer them. I regularly visited the Connecticut State Library to do research, and recorded answers into the Google Doc so we would be able to answer them in the future.

By finding out information visitors want to know most about, we would be able to have visitor input in the narrative. When interpretative programs are developed it is important to understand who the audience is and how to capture their attention to explain our relevance within the community and the overall historical narrative. Marcella Wells, Barbara Butler, and Judith Koke’s book Interpretive Planning for Museums: Integrating Visitor Perspectives in Decision Making pointed out that museum planners must apply intentional effort and deliberation if they are to fully integrate visitor perspectives into their plans. In other words, there must be full commitment to incorporate visitor perspectives when considering planning interpretive programs. I saw the start of fleshing out this important point when I was working in Hartford on an interpretive project.

Something I have thought about when I gave tours at Connecticut Landmarks before the project started is the amount of information I tell visitors. Throughout the tours, I would figure it out the appropriate balance for each group of visitors. Glines and Grabitske also stressed the importance of sharing the right amount of information when storytelling. According to Glines and Grabitske, they pointed out that: we must pay attention to the interests of our visitors by telling meaningful stories, making sure not to fatigue them mentally with breathless depth or fatigue them physically with no chance to take it all in. When I started giving tours, I noticed there was a ton of information provided to each educator giving tours. It would be impossible to include all of it in one tour which is why it is important for us to chose what information to include in the narrative we tell. I also noticed that at that point I was more focused on making sure I hit each point than telling a story. The interpretive project I worked on with Connecticut Landmarks seemed to be moving towards telling a story.

While I was at Connecticut Landmarks’ Butler-McCook House, I joined the rest of the staff in interpretive planning meetings to draw in more visitors to the historic house. We realized that by using a theme, not only were we working towards visitors making connections, but it also focused on telling a narrative. Because there are many themes that are found in the Butler and McCook family history, there are different narratives visitors can choose to learn about and keep coming back to see something different than their previous visits. I briefly talked about this experience in my memories blog on Connecticut Landmarks’:

During my time at the Butler-McCook House, I was a part of the team that worked on revamping the tours by picking a theme of the house and researching the theme for a more engaging visitor experience. Each of us picked one theme to research on our own to present to the rest of the Connecticut Landmarks team, and I chose the Industrial Revolution and its impact on Hartford and the family.

The purpose of the theme I chose for a new tour was to show the Industrial Revolution had an impact on the city of Hartford especially on its residents including the Butlers and the McCooks. I chose five key objects that will support the theme and its purpose including Tall Case Clock which was made approximately 1750 by Benjamin Cheney, and this is an example of a locally made piece that was made before the Industrial Revolution to show the differences between craftsmanship and factory made items. Another example of a key object was the Mill Ledger C, 1818-1826 which was John Butler’s, one of the family’s ancestors’, ledger which recorded payments to men and women who labored in his paper mill; this revealed what the employees were paid for their labor in early industrial work. After selecting key objects, I chose key documents and photographs then created a tour outline highlighting the narrative relevant to the Industrial Revolution theme.

To read a copy of the interpretive project, I included a link here. The Industrial Revolution was an important theme for the tour since we are all affected by technological advances, and to help visitors understand the impact of the Industrial Revolution it is important to use relevant examples.

Another example of using examples to help visitors connect with the historical narrative was while I taught school programs at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society. In one of the chambers inside the house, I talked to the kids about the history of Noah Webster and his work on the first American published dictionary; I also discussed the objects that were displayed in the room. One of the kids asked me about how the bed warmer was used and I did so by describing the process and after asking them if they have seen the movie Pirates of the Caribbean I told them about how one of the characters used a similar bed warmer in one of the scenes. By connecting this object to something they have seen before in modern times, they were able to make that connection and use it to refer to it at a later point when they shared their experiences.

When I move forward in working on a current interpretative project, I will not only keep in mind the experiences I have had but incorporate more lessons I will continue to learn each step of the way.

Resources:

American Association for State and Local History, Technical Leaflet # 222, “Telling the Story: Better Interpretation at Small Historical Organizations”, History News, volume 58, number 2, Spring 2003.

Wells, Marcella; Butler, Barbara; Koke, Judith, Interpretive Planning for Museums: Integrating Visitor Perspectives in Decision Making, Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, Inc., 2013.

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/02/07/museum-memories-connecticuts-old-state-house/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/04/25/museum-memories-connecticut-landmarks-historic-houses-in-hartford/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/05/23/museum-memories-noah-webster-house/

Services Examination: Explorable Places

August 22, 2019

As a museum professional, there are so many services I learned about that offer various ways to facilitate museum practices. For instance, there are services that help museum educators run booking and scheduling school programs. There are also services that help education programs get attention from parents and teachers to learn about field trip opportunities at museums; one of those services is Explorable Places. According to their website, Explorable Places helps parents and teachers find great learning experiences outside the classroom.

I learned about Explorable Places during this past year’s New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) conference. It was in the session I attended called Technology in Museums: when it works, and when it doesn’t, which discussed when it makes sense to add technology to museums; the session asked questions such as: 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? The speakers, one of them was the founder of Explorable Places, discussed their partnerships to draw more teachers and students to their museum. Since attending the session, I decided to take a closer look at the website to see how this service works.

On the website, there is a place where one can find trips, assemblies, and performances by typing in one’s zip code. At the time of this post, the featured cities are New York, Kansas City, Metro-Denver, and Philadelphia.  In the modify search and search results page, there are five sections to help adults find opportunities and connect with museums to book programs. One can look for experiences by subject, grade level, activity, cost, and accommodations such as lunch space and special education programs. Also, one can look for programs that have the option to book online. When I clicked on one of the museums, a profile of the museum I selected appears which provides a brief description of the museum, pictures, and contact information.

Each profile also includes information on lunch spaces so they know if the museum has a place to eat or if there is a place nearby students can eat, and they provide information about bathrooms. Also, the profile has a section that showed tags for subjects, activities, grades, cost, and accommodations the museum has based on the search results. For instance, I went onto the Children’s Museum of the Arts profile and found the subjects educators teach are technology, arts, art, visual arts, and media/film. Profiles have a section called Learning Experiences which list educational opportunities with information such as a brief information, grade levels, capacity, price options, and duration of program. If a museum’s profile has this feature, adults could book online through Explorable Places portal which will take them to the museum’s calendar of availabilities and will guide them through the steps to book a program at the museum. I see the potential of helping more museums, parents, and teachers form connections to provide and participate in opportunities. Explorable Places’ home page includes links to pages for cultural partners, parents, and teachers to help them find what they are looking for.

For cultural partners, Explorable Places wants to help parents and teachers find them and the programs they offer. If an institution was not found on the Explorable Places site, they can reach out so Explorable Places can add them to the list to spread the word to site members. There are three tiers available for those considering reaching out to the site. The first tier, which is free, allows one to manage the page to include a photo of the site or program, one hundred words to describe what the museum/site does, up to five subject tags (verified for accuracy), and contact information and link. Each tier after the first one has additional features such as highlight learning experiences and unlimited bookings.

For parents and teachers, after clicking on the link it directs visitors to the places webpage. There are places in the states of Pennsylvania, Kansas, Colorado, New York, Delaware, and a couple of places in Massachusetts. Some of the places that are listed on the website are but not limited to Four Mile Historic Park, Old Sturbridge Village, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, and the Gore Place. Also, there is an opportunity to sign up to become a member so one could be informed about new museums or sites added to the cultural partners list.

To learn more about what Explorable Places offers and see if it is right for your site, students, or children, I included the website in the resources section.

Announcement: I will be attending this year’s AASLH Annual Meeting in Philadelphia next week from August 28th to August 31st. Instead of writing a blog post next week, I will be posting my reactions on social media and compile highlights for a post when I return. To follow my reactions to the sessions and events live, follow me on Twitter at this username: @Steward2Lindsey

Resources:

https://www.explorableplaces.com/

NYCMER 2019: https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/05/16/nycmer2019-the-yesterday-today-and-tomorrow-of-museum-education/

Virtual Museum Experiences: Impressions of Museum Education Roundtable’s Journal of Museum Education

August 1, 2019

This week Museum Education Roundtable released the forty-fourth volume, number three edition of their journal, Journal of Museum Education, online. In case you are not familiar with the journal, the Journal of Museum Education is a peer-reviewed journal released by the Museum Education Roundtable four times a year that explores and reports on theory, training, and practice in the museum education field. Each journal is divided into at least four sections, and in the latest edition they are: Editorial; Articles; Tools, Frameworks and Case Studies; and Book Review. In this edition of the Journal, there are four articles focused on virtual reality, five pieces in the Tools, Frameworks and Case Studies, and a book review of the book Intentional Practice for Museums: A Guide for Maximizing Impact by Randi Korn.

On Museum Education Roundtable’s website, they released links to the articles from this edition Virtual Visits: Museums Beaming in Live focusing on using virtual reality for museum experiences. I believe that utilizing virtual reality in museum education is a helpful tool for visitor experiences, and while it does not replace the in-person experience, but it especially is a benefit for individuals who are not able to for various reasons be in the physical space. I have limited experience with virtual reality, but I continuously seek professional development opportunities to advance my skills as a museum educator; which is why I took advantage of reading these articles.

At the Long Island Explorium, a children’s science museum, I have worked with virtual reality programs for educational and entertainment purposes. Each visitor had the opportunity to wear a virtual reality headset and participate in a couple of programs that came with the Microsoft virtual reality system. One of the programs allowed visitors to tour through the solar system wearing the headset and using the handsets participants can click on each star, planet, etc. to learn more about everything about solar systems. The second program gives participants two ancient ruins and their modern landscapes to tour through to learn the history of each civilization; participants can tour through either Peru or Rome. What was different about this program from the solar system program is participants can move around a little bit as if they were really standing in the locations. The Microsoft system we used connected to the PC and Smartboard which allowed individuals who were not wearing the headset to view what the person wearing it sees.

Since I was guiding visitors and showed the rest of the museum staff how to use the virtual reality, I have gained some experience using it and recognize the value of virtual reality in museums. Both programs provide an educational opportunity for visitors to explore space and civilizations where they are most likely have not been before. When I read the latest edition of Journal of Museum Education, I shared the sentiment the Editor-in-Chief, Cynthia Robinson, shared in the journal

“Although virtual access does not provide some of the authenticity of a physical encounter, it is no less meaningful than reading a history book to learn about and imagine the past, or viewing a filmed documentary of a place we would otherwise not visit.”

By including virtual reality in museums, museum professionals can provide another medium they will utilize for programs and exhibits to reach out to visitors. My experience with virtual reality showed me the potential of its use in a children’s science museum and based on the programs I worked with I have no doubt it could work with varying types of museums.

Individuals can take advantage of virtually visiting museums and participating in museum programs that are far from home, or places that are not entirely handicapped accessible. According to one of the articles, “Virtual Visits: Museums Beaming in Live”, Allyson Mitchell stated

“Museum educators already interpret the collections and content of their institutions through educational programming to meet the needs of family, school age, adult, senior, and community audiences. IVL [Interactive Virtual Learning] programs provide a similar real-time connection to a museum professional who facilitates personalized learning experiences that actively engage groups visiting virtually to forge deeper connection to cultural institutions and lifelong learning.”

IVL programs provide live interactive broadcasts that offer visitors at a distance real-time connection to a museum professional and resources. I had my first experience with an IVL program during a professional development program. During last year’s New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) conference, I participated in a session called Virtual Field Trips: Traveling Through Time and Space to Connect Museums and Audiences in which session speakers discussed the benefits and challenges of running and planning virtual field trips. Also, they performed a demonstration what a virtual field trip is like using Skype by giving us a brief demonstration of what it would be like to be in space without wearing a space suit. As I continued to read the Journal of Museum Education, I realize the continued potential of virtual reality use in museums not only in programs but with museum collections.

In the article “Defining Interactive Virtual Learning in Museum Education: A Shared Perspective”, Kasey Gaylord-Opalewski & Lynda O’Leary discussed how all cultural institutions can benefit from a top-notch virtual learning program in terms of outreach, diversity, and promotion of collection. According to Gaylord-Opalewski and O’Leary, there are multiple benefits of using

“The world of IVL is commonly viewed as an addendum to an onsite experience with cultural institutions such as zoos, museums, libraries, science centers, and the like. Through dedicated virtual educators trained to interpret collections using synchronous technology, IVL programs serve not just as an addendum to onsite experiences, but rather as a conduit for greater outreach and promotion to audiences that may never have the opportunity to visit the collections of a museum in person – due to budget, physical limitations, or distance.”

While the program I used at the Long Island Explorium was used as one of the additions used onsite, I believe in the potential to reach out to many current and potential visitors who do not always have access to museums in person. Museum professionals have always investigated ways we can draw more visitors to our museums and sites, and as technology continues to develop we continue to figure out different ways we can reach out to people to share resources and collections.

Discussion Questions: Have you used virtual reality, whether it was in a museum or not? What is your reaction to virtual reality? Do you think virtual reality could be useful in museums? Why or why not?

Resources:

www.museumedu.org/jme/jme-44-3-virtual-visits-museums-beaming-in-live/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2018/05/24/social-media-journalists-at-conferences-my-experience-as-one-at-nycmer-2018/

How History is Seen by the Public: AASLH Partnership for Grant-Funded Project

June 27, 2019

History has always been a subject I have been interested in studying and, as I developed my education and career, I became more interested in finding effective ways to translate the study of history to school children and adult visitors. Over the years, I participated in professional development programs that delved into museum education and involving the public in conversations to help visitors learn more about topics in history, art, STEM, et cetera. I continue to grow and improve the quality of my practices as a museum educator. As the summer begins, I started to reflect on my previous experiences and figure out how I can be a better museum educator as I turn to focusing back to history.

This past week I learned about the partnership between the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), Washington, D.C.-based FrameWorks Institute, National Council on Public History (NCPH), and the Organization of American Historians (OAH) that received a grant for a new project researching American attitudes towards history called “Framing History with the American Public”. The grant of $479,000 is from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation which is a foundation that endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies. According to an article released by AASLH

Over the next three years, we will carry out a comprehensive, nationwide study of how the public views, interprets, and uses a wide variety of history activities and will develop new tools to strengthen the field’s communications efforts.

“Framing History” will not only provide unprecedented detail about how Americans view these organizations and their work, it will build, test, and share tools that all organizations and practitioners can use to positively affect public understanding of the value of history. Whether it’s a historical society communicating with new audiences, an academic department talking with potential majors, or a museum making their case to funders or legislators, this project will provide history practitioners with tools to frame their messages as effectively as possible.

It is an interesting project to me because my background in history and public history naturally leads me to finding ways to connect with the public to help keep history relevant. By having that information, it will especially help museums and historical societies including the Three Village Historical Society strengthen their communication skills in educating the public on history. If we can improve the way we connect with the public, we will be able to express the significance of history and why we need to keep historical sites and objects protected.

The article continued by briefly explaining the three phases of the project including the partners establishing a panel of history professionals representing the overall history field to identify and principles experts use to explain their work. Another phase of the project was to utilize focus groups, surveys, and on the street interviews to fill in gaps on the understanding of history. Then the last phase is to develop and share those tools and educational materials to ensure historical professionals in the community of the effectiveness of the results.

I am glad that it will take some time to complete the project, even though at the same time I would like to know at an earlier point than stated, because it is important to accurately gain the information needed so we can better serve the public and provide a compelling argument for sharing and preserving history. I also believe the information that will be gathered from the research will also help bring more people in the history field since they will be more informed of what makes history important for our country and for our world. There are a lot of myths about the history major that are addressed in articles like the American Historical Association’s article “History Is Not A Useless Major: Fighting Myths With Data” written by Paul B. Sturtevant, and by having a comprehensive information to share with the public it could inspire more students to major in history and therefore preserve future historical scholarship. To learn more about the project, check out the link from AASLH in the resources section.

I look forward to learning more as the project commences!

Discussion Questions: How do you feel about history? What do you hope for from this project? What do you think we could do to improve communications about history?

Announcement: Because next Thursday is the Fourth of July celebration in the United States, I will not post a new blog post, but I will share previous posts next week.

Resources:

https://aaslh.org/aaslh-receives-mellon-foundation-grant/

https://mellon.org/

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/april-2017/history-is-not-a-useless-major-fighting-myths-with-data