NYCMER 2020: A Virtual Conference Experience

May 14, 2020

This past week I participated in the annual New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) conference. I previously wrote about past experiences with the NYCMER conference in which I discussed not only the content presented and discussed but also about the locations each conference took place. It was different this year since we are in the middle of a pandemic, and the conference was moved to a virtual platform. The conference was free to attend with the option to donate money to receive NYCMER merchandise based on the tier level chosen. One of the ways NYCMER was able to transition as quickly as possible to move the conference to the virtual platform was, they found a computer platform that was specifically designed to host virtual conferences. NYCMER and the conference committee used Hopin, the first all-in-one live online events platform made for any size where attendees can learn, interact, and connect with people from anywhere in the world, to host this year’s conference.

When I first registered for the conference, I was not entirely sure how the conference is going to be held in the digital platform. I watched a ten-minute introduction video to the Hopin computer app, and was impressed with how much we would be able to do; to summarize the video, participants would be able to do what we usually did during the conference, including attending the keynote session, sessions, poster sessions, Peer Group meetings, and networking, but from home. Since we were exploring a new way of interacting with one another, it was not going to go smoothly. Every now and then there were some technical difficulties, but we all moved passed them. On the morning of the conference, I used my personalized link to log on and joined the rest of my colleagues.

I attended the Keynote session, and this year’s Keynote Speaker was Chloe Bass who is an artist and public practitioner, and the author of the book Art as Social Action: An Introduction to the Principles and Practices of Teaching Social Practice Art. Bass’s speech was a very inspiring and on point to what we are going through during this pandemic. One of the takeaways from her speech that I especially found to be important is to think about our staying away from others as “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing” since we can still communicate with one another without being physically in the same space; also she pointed out that “social distancing” implies that we should not be communicate with and be kind to one another. Then we went into our sessions in the Sessions section of Hopin.

As usual it was hard to decide which session I wanted to attend but I remembered that as a NYCMER member I would have access to resources from each session, and this year NYCMER members will also have access to all of the session recordings. In the end, I decided on sessions that not only interested me but ones I thought my professional skills will need improvement on. The sessions I chose were: Using Theatrical Techniques to Engage Your Audiences, History Engages Science: Connecting history and STEM programming, Addressing Absence: Telling the Stories of Underrepresented Groups, and Beyond the Walls: Museum Educational Programs in the Digital Space.

In the Using Theatrical Techniques to Engage Your Audiences session, participants including myself learned some best practices from professionals who use these techniques at their museums to encourage more effective engagement with their audiences. The speakers in this session were Erin Salthouse (Access Educator at the Intrepid, Sea, Air, and Space Museum), Elysia Segal (Lead Teaching Artist at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum), Julia Butterfield (a Program Associate at Historic Hudson Valley), and Maggie Weber (Director of Education of The Old Stone House of Brooklyn). They broke down the session into three sections describing what is a theater in museums, museum theatre performances, and third person living history. Museum Theatre is a live interpretive presentation with performers who engage visitors by portraying characters and conveying a story or dramatic narrative; when developing a program, they stated that it is important to keep in mind the age of your audience, the topic, style, format, and accessible. Third person living history means that the staff does not pretend to be characters from history, or anyone documented as living at the site. Also, they described process drama which allows students to be in the roles to learn empathy as well as being empowered by the decision-making process. In addition to the previously listed, they pointed out how theatrical skills can help every educator especially by using skills every museum educator can use: tone, volume, body language, et. cetera.

In the History Engages Science: Connecting history and STEM programming session, it was aimed to inspire connections and new ideas. The session speakers were Samantha Hartford (Miller/Historian in the NJ Morris County Park Commission) and Erich Morgan Huhn (Education Assistant at Historica Speedwell in Morristown, NJ). They broke down the way we approach both history and STEM, then took a look at ways these fields can overlap in effective programming and even collaborate to build something new. Both of them shared examples from their respective organizations that used both history and STEM to educate school, homeschool, scout, senior, and adult groups. Also, the conclusions they made were that incorporating STEM in programs allows museums to explore beyond the site, STEM connections are always appreciated but rarely sought at a historic site, and that living history, demonstrations, hands-on, and other types of education programs can sneak STEM in.

In the Addressing Absence: Telling the Stories of Underrepresented Groups sessions, participants including myself learned how educators at the Whaling Museum and Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor and the South Street Seaport Museum addressed these absences by developing new programs that told the stories of women and African-Americans through new programs. The speakers were Brenna McCormick-Thompson (Museum Educator at the Whaling Museum and Education Center in Cold Spring Harbor, NY) and Rebecca Manski (an independent educator currently based at the South Street Seaport Museum and Social Justice Tours). Both speakers talked about how they worked to refocus the narrative to include women more in the whaling industry narrative and African Americans more in the South Street waterfront narrative. McCormick-Thompson, for example, explained that by not telling women’s stories we lose the idea of what the economy was like in the whaling community since they were the ones who stayed behind to run their husbands businesses and fill their roles in advisory boards while they were out on the sea.

Also, both speakers split the participants into three separate groups (by providing links to two separate session spaces to split over 100 people into smaller groups by birthday month) to discuss the following questions: How can things change in society when we reintroduce these stories? What are the things stopping us? How can we effectively engage audiences? By discussing these questions, we begin to think about how we can create more inclusive programs and be able to share ideas to take steps towards creating new programming in our own museums and sites.

Between sessions in the morning and afternoon, we had opportunities to participate in networking, poster sessions, and peer group meetings. The Hopin conference platform has a networking section that allowed us to click on a connect button that selects a participating individual at random to connect with others at the conference. However, the challenge was to keep within a certain time limit that first began with a two-minute limit then it continued to increase after a number of participants told conference organizers that they kept getting cut off mid-sentence.  The poster sessions were numerous case studies that discussed various topics in museum education, and we were invited to hop around in the Expo section of Hopin to listen to each one. Also, the peer group meetings this year were split into two booths: one was a video overview of the Peer Groups and the other was NYCMER Secretary & Peer Group Liaison, Sierra Van Ryck deGroot will be on hand to answer questions. After the break, we went to the last sessions of the day.

I chose to attend the Beyond the Walls: Museum Educational Programs in the Digital Space session that explored whether and how the physical “third space” of the museum can shift online from the perspective of the Bronx Museum, which is a small museum with very little digital presence until March. The speakers were Nell Klugman (Education Programs Manager at the Bronx Museum of the Arts) and Patrick Rowe (Director of Education at the Bronx Museum of the Arts). Klugman and Rowe described what their programs were like before the pandemic and converting to the virtual platform. After describing their programs that involved teens in interviewing artists, designing graphics for posters, and participating in art programs on anti-gun violence campaign, the speakers revealed how they adapted existing programs to the online platform and keep teens involved in the existing programs they were previously involved in before the pandemic. Also, they led an interactive discussion of how best to share resources, reach communities, and achieve goals during the COVID-19 pandemic and the future beyond it. Once the last sessions ended, we went back to the Stage section of the Hopin platform for concluding thoughts and thanking everyone involved in setting up this year’s NYCMER conference.

While I missed being able to meet with colleagues in person, I liked that we were still able to have the conference in the virtual platform. Also, the number of individuals who have signed up for the conference had doubled compared to the previous year; normally about 250 people attend the conference in New York City and this year over 500 people have registered for the conference (with more on a waiting list). There were more individuals outside of the New York area who have attended the conference. They came from places including but not limited to Texas, Arizona, San Francesco, California, Chicago, Illinois, et. cetera. Also, there were individuals from England and Canada attending the conference, according to the president and vice president of NYCMER. Even though I would like to attend NYCMER in person once again, if it is decided to do another virtual conference, I would be happy to attend to connect with more museum professionals.

Links:

Hopin Demo

Hopin

https://nycmer.org/2020-conference/

2020 NYCMER Conference Program

NYCMER 2019

NYCMER 2018

#NYCMER2019: the Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow of Museum Education

May 16, 2019

It is that time of year again to talk about the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable Conference. On Monday, May 13, 2019, the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) held a conference for museum and museum education professionals, and this year was special because this is the 40th anniversary of NYCMER. In honor of its anniversary, the theme of the conference was “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” and was located again at the Teachers College at Columbia University. Like last year, I posted throughout the conference as a social media journalist to cover the sessions I went to.

On the morning of the conference, I went in to New York City with my husband as he was going in to work. By the time I arrived, I checked in and got ready to sit in the keynote session. The keynote session was when NYCMER related announcements and the conference’s theme was introduced and discussed through the keynote speaker. This year’s keynote speaker was Christy Coleman who serves as the CEO of the American Civil War Museum in Virginia. She discussed how she helped orchestrate the merger of the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar with the Museum of the Confederacy to create the American Civil War Museum. Also, she talked about how the staff and board of the American Civil War Museum work to fulfill its’ new mission to include more than one narrative of the American Civil War experience including talking more about the Native Americans, immigrant groups, and Mexicans who were often overlooked when educating school children about the Civil War.

Lindsey Steward-Goldberg @Steward2Lindsey

  May 13

I’m officially at #NYCMER2019 ! Any #MuseumEdChat at the conference this year? I’ll see you around #NYCMERsmj

Lindsey Steward-Goldberg ‏@Steward2Lindsey

  May 13

 We don’t talk about Native Americans, immigrant groups, Mexicans (African Americans escaped to Mexico to be free). There is so much that not many people knew about the Civil War. #NYCMER2019 #NYCMERsmj

After the keynote session, the first morning session I attended was called Empathy Mapping: Teachers on a School Field Trip. Empathy mapping, according to the session description from the conference pamphlet, is the process of diagramming qualitative user data in order to create a visual representation of the user’s needs and pain points. We participated in an empathy mapping exercise to promote user driven change and to improve how educators facilitate school field trips at our institutions. By learning the results from the empathy mapping created by the research team at the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum and participating in the exercise, we would employ the methods we learned to improve our school field trips.

Lindsey Steward-Goldberg @Steward2Lindsey

  May 13

  Instructions for our empathy mapping exercise. How to create an empathy map? #NYCMER2019 #NYCMERsmj

The second session I attended was called What We Say and How We Say It: Audio and Verbal Description that Consider Social and Historical Context. In this session, session speakers Justin Allen (New York City-based writer, performer, and art worker) and Kayla Hamilton (visually impaired artist, producer, and educator) helped us learn to answer questions like the following: How might verbal description and audio description present opportunities for discussing the ways artworks and performances address race, gender, and disability? Who or what are we describing, how are we describing, and why? We also participated in an activity where we were given a copy of an oil painting called Baby by Emma Amos and a worksheet to break down key information about the painting and the artist then write down our own description. On my worksheet, I started my description by describing the specific shapes as I would see them from left to right, then describes shapes that looked like a pair of legs, and the person (woman) in the painting; I connected it to the social and historical context by making an assumption that the painting might be a self-portrait and went into detail about the artist’s background.

During the lunch break, I attended the poster sessions which shared various projects and programs that museum educators have facilitated to help move museum education forward and it took place in an informal marketplace setting. For instance, I spoke with a presenter who talked about an arts program that collaborated with other organizations to help educate students about gun issues. Also, in honor of the 40th anniversary, I purchased a tote bag with the NYCMER logo and 40th anniversary embroidered on the tote. After having lunch, I attended the first afternoon session called Big Issues for Young Mind: Teaching climate, race, and other difficult topics. The session was described according to the conference pamphlet as:

As museum educators, we often are tasked with addressing “big issues” with our students. These are complex problems where it is essential to understand the past and present in order to think creatively about the future. In this session, we will use examples from two of these issues– race and climate change– to discuss how we can empower students of all ages to tackle issues we ourselves can find challenging. This session will provide tools to address some of the most difficult topics our institutions cover, as well as how to use the past and present to instill hope about the future.

During the session, we learned about how session presenters Clare Blackwell (School Partnerships Coordinator at Wave Hill) and Es-Pranza Humphrey (Teen Programs Associate at the New York Historical Society) educate school groups about the difficult topics. We also gathered into groups and were given scenarios to discuss among ourselves, then eventually with the rest of the participants, how we would handle the situation if we were faced with them in our practice at our institutions.

Lindsey Steward-Goldberg  @Steward2Lindsey

  May 13

 Possible reasons why race is a difficult topic to talk about. #NYCMER2019 #NYCMERsmj

The last session I attended was called Technology in Museums: when it works, and when it doesn’t. In the session description, it stated that

Right now we are feeling tons of pressure to add ‘technology’ into everything we do. When does that make sense? When does introducing technology actually take away from our objective? How can we figure this out before pouring thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into a ‘new’ technology product? This session will dive deep into these questions in a roundtable format. Presenters will highlight a few examples of their own tech/museum collaborations (including major fails) and a format for thinking through a technology decision. Then we will break into groups to workshop current technology questions you are facing.

While we were waiting for the session to start, we were encouraged to write down a technology that we are proud of and a technology we wished to not use either for personal or professional use. Once we heard the example of technology that made booking, scheduling, and managing registrations for school programs easier from the speakers Meg Davis (founder of Explorable Places, an online platform that facilitates field trip discovery and registration), Melissa Branfman (Museum Director at Wyckoff House Museum), and Danielle Hilkin (Director of Education & Outreach at the Wyckoff House Museum), we broke into groups to discuss current technology questions faced in our museums and figure out what we could do to facilitate our use of the current technology and how to improve the experience of using technology in our spaces.

At the end of the sessions I attended the Concluding Reception located in the Learning Theater inside the Teachers College. There was a raffle in which I won two VIP passes to the Intrepid Museum. As usual, I enjoyed the conference and I wished I was able to attend more of the sessions because it was hard to only chose the four sessions. Also, I think it would be great to have some more representation of museum professionals that are not in the education field since museum educators often collaborate with them especially curators and collections managers. I once again thank NYCMER for a wonderful and informative conference.

To learn more about NYCMER, visit the website: http://www.nycmer.org

Social Media Journalists at Conferences: My Experience As One At NYCMER 2018

Added to Medium, May 24, 2018

At each conference I have attended, and of course I am sure everyone reading this post felt this way as well, there are so many sessions I have wanted to attend but I could not be in more places at once. Twitter began to provide opportunities to share information from conferences on the social media platform. This year the NYCMER conference, React & Respond: The Next Steps, held at Teachers College at Columbia University this past Monday (May 21st) had social media journalists sharing their impressions about the conference and the highlights of each sessions. Rachel Ropeik, the Social Media Coordinator for NYCMER, asked myself and other NYCMER members to join her team of social media journalists.

NYCMER Social Media Journalists, Courtesy of Rachel Ropeik, Social Media Coordinator, NYCMER via Twitter

We were asked to cover the conference via Twitter by tweeting our impressions of and thoughts about the keynote session and the rest of the conference sessions. I attended the sessions, and then I tweeted some highlights of the sessions I chose to attend. All of the social media journalists, and other NYCMER conference participants following on Twitter, used the hashtags #NYCMERsmj and #NYCMER2018 to participate in conversations on the social media site. We also included photographs we took during the conference to give followers visuals of what we covered in the sessions we participated in. In this blog post, I included some of my tweets I shared during the conference for each session I participated in with brief descriptions.

This year’s NYCMER conference began with a keynote that discussed this year’s theme: React & Respond: The Next Steps. The keynote was moderated by Keonna Hendrick who is School Programs Manager at the Brooklyn Museum, cultural strategist, educator and author, nurturing equity through art and museum education. Hendrick posed questions to the keynote participants Gonzalo Casals and Annie Polland. Gonzalo Casals is the Director of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. His experience ranges from innovative cultural programming and authentic community engagement strategies to progressive cultural policy. Annie Polland is the Executive Director at the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS). Previously, Polland served as the Senior Vice President for Programs & Interpretation at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum where she was responsible for developing programs and content for over 250,000 annual visitors.

Lindsey Steward‏ @Steward2Lindsey 9:04 AM – 21 May 2018
Welcome to this year’s #NYCMER2018 I’m looking forward to learning more about today’s theme 🙂 What are your thoughts about this year’s theme? #NYCMERsmj

Lindsey Steward @Steward2Lindsey 21 May 2018, 9:23am
I’m also glad that NYCMER is requiring salary information in job postings. It is important for us to show our support for equity and best practices in salary sharing and negotiations #NYCMER2018 #NYCMERsmj

Lindsey Steward @Steward2Lindsey 21 May 2018, 9:49am
Allows people to upload pictures that tell their immigrant stories. What a great idea to be able to share and identify with people’s stories #NYCMERsmj #NYCMER2018

 

Lindsey Steward @Steward2Lindsey 21 May 2018, 9:56am

Interesting thought: If you could create a poem or an inscription on the Statue of Liberty today, what would it say? #NYCMERsmj #NYCMER2018

Lindsey Steward @Steward2Lindsey
I think board of trustees should also participate in programs and conferences like @NYCMER This will also help staff and board work together especially on diversity. It is unfortunately not surprising when no one said they were from a museum board. #NYCMER2018 #NYCMERsmj
10:48 AM – 21 May 2018

The first session I attended was Virtual Field Trips: Traveling Through Time and Space to Connect Museums and Audiences. During this session, Frantz Lucien, an educator at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum who specializes in community outreach and engagement, and Charissa Ruth, a freelance educator whose resume includes the Intrepid Museum, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Cooper Hewitt Museum, discussed their experience with virtual field trips. Lucien and Ruth discussed the benefits and challenges of running and planning virtual field trips. They also performed a demonstration what a virtual field trip is like by giving us a brief demonstration of what it would be like to be in space without wearing a space suit.

Lindsey Steward @Steward2Lindsey 11:29 PM – 21 May 2018
A test to see how Virtual Field Trips work via Skype #NYCMERsmj #NYCMER2018

Lindsey Steward @Steward2Lindsey 1:13 PM – 21 May 2018
Lindsey Steward Retweeted Paul Orselli
Paul, I think there should be required professional development programs for museum leaders, directors and board of trustees, to talk about salary and the importance of having salary information included when searching for a job candidate. #NYCMERsmj #NYCMER2018
Paul Orselli @museum_exhibits
#NYCMER2018 Food for thought over lunch: How can we get ALL orgs to require salary ranges on job postings? #NYCMERsmj

During the lunch break, I attended poster sessions that shared various brief information related to this year’s theme. One of the most interesting poster sessions I attended is Neuroscience and Museum Education. Megan Kuensting from The Met’s School Programs team shared some highlights gleaned from her Master’s program in Neuroscience and Education at Columbia University Teacher’s College, including questions about the potential for inquiry-based education to reduce student stress.

Lindsey Steward @Steward2Lindsey 21 May 2018, 1:37pm
Check out this fascinating information about Neuroscience and Museum Education! #NYCMER2018 #NYCMERsmj

The second session I attended was Beyond White Feminism: What Stands Between Museums and True Gender Equity: A Journal of Museum Education Facilitated Dialogue presented by Alicia Greene, the Community Engagement Program Developer for Boston Children’s Museum, and Margaret Middleton, the exhibit designer and museum consultant with over ten years’ experience in the museum field. In this session, we brainstormed topics about our concerns in the museum workplace in addition to discussing the upcoming edition of the Museum Education Roundtable’s Journal of Museum Education. An important take away from the session is that Museums still struggle to achieve gender equity in the workplace and the fight for representation in the galleries continues.

Lindsey Steward @Steward2Lindsey
This is to keep in mind when thinking about equity and resolving issues within the system put in place in museums. #NYCMER2018 #NYCMERsmj

The third session I attended was Making Room: Creating and Sustaining Effective and Inclusive Learning Environments presented by a former instructor and a current Museum Education Program Director at Bank Street College of Education, Cynthia Copeland and Cathleen Wiggins. This session was a participatory workshop which model interactive techniques and activities where participants explore scenarios and potential outcomes relevant to their communities.

Lindsey Steward @Steward2Lindsey 21 May 2018, 3:45pm
I love this quote! Everyone should feel like they are represented in the storytelling process. #NYCMER2018 #NYCMERsmj

I enjoyed this year’s NYCMER conference, and I thought it was a great idea to start having a team of social media journalists share information from the sessions. At first I was concerned that it would be a challenge to participate on Twitter and during the sessions at the same time. I decided to make a couple of tweets during the sessions then I tweet my reactions after the session ended. There was a lot of great reactions on the sessions at the NYCMER conference, and if you are interested in reading more tweets from the conference go to Twitter and look up #NYCMERsmj and #NYCMER2018.

How do you feel about having social media journalists during conferences? Does following conversations on Twitter make participation easier?

 

Reflections on the NYCMER 2017 Conference

Originally posted on Medium, May 25, 2017.

On Monday, I went to New York City to participate in the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable Conference located this year at the School of Visual Arts. This is my second NYCMER conference I have attended since coming to New York, and both times I enjoyed the learning experience each one offered. Last year I attended with a team and this year I attended on my own. This year’s theme was “Inclusivity: From Within and Beyond” which discusses inclusion and diversity in the museum education field in New York. As with each conference I have previously attended, it was very hard to pick which sessions to attend and I wish I would be able to multiple myself to attend each session offered. The total amount of sessions presented at NYCMER was about 27 sessions, and that does not include the poster session and peer group meet & greet over treats sessions. In this post, I will go into some depth of my experience the second time around providing the highlights of the day, and my experience participating in networking events.

In the morning, I traveled to the train station to take the train into New York City for the conference. Once I arrived at the School of Visual Arts, I checked in, received the schedule, wrote out my name tag, and attended the Keynote Session. The Keynote Session is a session that announces NYCMER business and introduces the conference’s theme. Also, the Keynote also included a discussion about this year’s conference theme with speakers Amy Bartow-Melia (the MacMillan Associate Director for Audience Engagement at the National Museum of American History), Laura Huerta Migus (the Executive Director at the Association of Children’s Museums), and moderator Esther Jeong (Global Tech Diversity Business Partner at Google). The discussion and speeches talked about building a diverse museum workforce where the realities of museology were discussed and the case study of the American History Museum on how the museum developed exhibits and programs that defined what it means to be an American. After the Keynote Session, I attended the first session in one of the School of Visual Arts buildings.

Rainy Train Ride into the City

My name tag from the NYCMER conference

The session I attended was called “Designing Professional Development Experiences which Increase Inclusive, Visitor-centered Teaching”. I enjoyed this session especially because it started with a brainstorming game for how we learn as learners; those include but not limited to retention, visual guides, experiential learning, auditory reflection, and team building. The presenters from the Guggenheim Museum presented examples of ways to create opportunities for educators to learn from their audience or community, and presenters from the Children’s Museum of the Arts based their professional developments on grant goals and the museum’s goals to identify internal best practices with consultants, design sustainable peer to peer learning structure, change practices and institutional approaches, identify tools that benefit all children and empower all staff. After that conference, I met with peers to go have lunch and we traveled the area to find out where to have lunch; we also stopped to admire puppies as we looked at places to eat.

Puppies I saw while looking for a place to eat for lunch

Once we had lunch, I went to the Poster Session which is where professionals give informal presentations on aspects in the museum education field. For instance, one of the posters I saw was for the Guerilla Haiku Movement which presents the argument that poetry can be used to engage new audiences. There is also an activity which challenges participants to create a haiku with 17 syllables about what we learned at the conference so far and our perspectives on museums. I had created one that had one less syllable which states: “Museums provide a learning environment for all learners.” All learners are, by definition, inclusive and it is important that every person who visits museums can learn what they have to offer.

Guerilla Haiku Movement Poster, Poster Session

Haiku I created during Poster Session

The third session I attended after seeing the posters and networking with colleagues was Resource Workshop: Designing Accessible Materials. This workshop was divided into a few sections where each presenter shared their experiences and handed out resources for participants’ references. Then the fourth and last session I attended was The Challenges of Confronting Difficult Content. In this session, the presenters from the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum discussed the school programs they developed and explained how their lessons approached difficult content. This session was interesting since these programs provided a way for students from third grade to seniors to express their thoughts on the events through art and discussion. The takeaways from the session are to address the common question: How to translate difficult content in ways that allow all visitors to correct with sensitive subject matter? And the second takeaway was as a differentiated and inclusive practice, strategy transcends content by incorporating storytelling and historical contents and current resonances/present day connections. Once the session ended, I attended the concluding reception at the Revel Restaurant.

The Revel Restaurant provided a place for NYCMER participants to network and unwind after a long day of attending sessions. The closing reception was a cocktail hour and hors d’oeuvres event where I could meet more museum professionals. I enjoyed meeting everyone who I made valuable connections with both during the sessions and the concluding reception. The conference experience I have had in the past has always made me feel inspired and fulfilled in gaining knowledge and making meaningful connections, and this conference is no exception. I have enjoyed the NYCMER conference, both last year’s and this year’s, and I look forward to the next one.

What are your favorite parts of a conference or conferences you have attended? Is there a session that made you reflect on your own experiences as a museum professional (or professional of your chosen field)?

Writing about Museum Education: Using Professional Development to Our Advantage

Originally posted on Medium. October 26, 2016

I truly believe professional development is important for all career paths, especially in the museum education field. Professional development in the museum education field have many opportunities to help museum professionals develop their careers to make sure they are up to date with latest theories and skills. There are many ways any professional can develop their skills in their chosen careers. For instance, there are conferences, networking, courses, online and workshops professionals can develop their own skills and use those lessons to share with their organizations to continue to grow. These options allow every professional to gain insight in their own professions, and by sharing my experiences in participating in professional development I hope this would inspire both emerging professionals and seasoned professionals to take advantage of what our organizations can offer. As a museum educator, I participated in various professional development programs including conferences and workshops.

I attended annual New England Museum Association conferences held in various cities in the New England states. The ones I attended were at hotels in Newport, RI in 2013, Boston/Cambridge, MA in 2014, and Portland, ME in 2015. The first conference’s theme was called Who Cares? Why Museums Are Needed More Than Ever; this theme touched on exactly how museums can still be relevant today. The second conference’s theme was called Picture of Health: Museums, Wellness, & Healthy Communities which explained how museums can promote health and wellness. The third conference’s theme was called The Language of Museums which discussed communication within the museum, among the staff, and with museum visitors to best serve the surrounding community. Each conference lasted for three days, has various sessions related to each department in the museum field as well as to the overall conference, and some off-site sessions allowing participants to explore the area where the conference is held. The conferences start with Keynote Sessions lead by speakers related to the theme and discuss how the conference’s theme advances the museum field.

Also, the conferences provide various networking opportunities including opening events at local museum, and Professional Affinity Group Lunches; the Professional Affinity Group Lunches (or PAG Lunches) allow professionals to meet with other professionals in the field, such as museum educators, take a boxed lunch ordered ahead of time and participate in discussions as well as group activities. NEMA conferences also provide a couple of sessions for professionals who were attending the conference for the first time; there was a session on the introduction to the conference and newcomer’s reception for networking opportunities. When I attended the newcomer’s session and reception in 2013 as a graduate student, I was introduced to how the conferences were set up and the panelists gave me and other newcomers advice on how to choose sessions as well as how to take advantage of networking with colleagues. These newcomer’s sessions are very helpful because it made me feel comfortable about navigating through the conferences, and when I introduced a friend and colleague to the NEMA conference I made sure she went to these sessions. As I transitioned to the museum community in New York, I took advantage of attending conferences and events in New York City.

I attended my first New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) conference in May 2016. The NYCMER conference was located at the Morgan Library & Museum near Penn Station. While it was like the NEMA conferences I attended in the past, the differences include the focus was professional development for museum educators, and all on site sessions were at the museum not at a hotel. NYCMER conference started with a keynote session with many sessions related to the museum education field. The keynote session at the beginning of the conference featured speakers Steven Seidel, Faculty Director of the Arts in Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Jennifer Ifill-Ryan, Associate Director, Education & Community Engagement at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Learning, introducing the overall importance of storytelling in the museum education field. Unlike the NEMA conferences which had some sessions related to museum education, all NYCMER sessions were more focused on subjects related to the museum education field. For instance, I attended a session that shared how to engage new audiences through playful experiences presented by staff from Museum Hack, a program designed to engage individuals with museums and to help museums develop their skills in creating interactive programs. Not only have I taken advantage of attending conferences, I also participated in a workshop in New York.

Last week I attended a workshop hosted by NYCMER and El Museo del Barrio called “Exhibition Designs for Educators”. The workshop event started with an activity on creating an exhibit related to one object; we were split into four different groups and were given a task to create an exhibit using prompts to interpret the object in four different ways. The challenge was we were not told what the object was, and we were expected to create an exhibit with an unknown artifact. What I can describe about the object is it looked like a cement block with a whole in it, and had nails sticking out of it. This group activity allowed us to discuss with each other ideas about how we can achieve our mission. My group’s prompt was to create an open exhibit that has a warm, inviting environment. We decided to create a model of our exhibit; our model had the object on a pedestal in the center of the exhibit with seats around it and wires between the seats. I asked the group what if we included inquiry-based questions to allow the visitors of our exhibit to be able to talk about the object, and we agreed in addition to inquiry-based questions on the wall we also included a box next to the pedestal with answers related to the object. To create that warm, inviting environment, we decided to use bright colors associated with comfort for the wall and seats then used a darker color for the floor to complement the object. After a few minutes, each group presented their exhibit ideas.

The rest of “Exhibition Design for Educators” workshop had three panelists discuss their involvement in exhibition and how it can be translated to education. NYCMER’s event mission was to make sure everyone attending will have a better understanding of the relationship between exhibition design and interpretation, and how educators can take advantage of their colleagues’ strategies in their own practice. These panelists explained their approaches to the practice of designing exhibits and their approaches to integrating interpretation. The first panelist was Ricardo Mulero who has been involved in exhibition projects include the National September 11 Memorial Museum and James Madison’s Montpelier in Virginia; he discussed his experiences working on projects for these museums and revealed at the end the object we created exhibits for was a cast of Kodak Camera packaging foam (circa 1970s). The second panelist was Sofia Reeser Del Rio who is the Curatorial Programs Coordinator at El Museo del Barrio; she discussed her approach to exhibit design as a form of storytelling and used a seed as a simile for an exhibit. Like a seed, ideas need to be nurtured and supported by research, emotions, imagination, appropriate gallery space, and planning to become successful projects.

The last panelist was Paul Orselli, the President and Chief Instigator at Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc. (POW!) who discussed about creating prototypes or a tool to engage in co-creation outside museum, exhibit diplomacy (or how to try things quickly, answer simply, and let visitor answer you), and hybrid museum. Orselli also used Elvis Presley to explain exhibit prototyping by using each letter of his first name to discuss each step for prototyping; use everyday materials to make it easier, looseness in opportunities during development, have exhibits be vermicious or to worm around on different subjects, have iteration or in other words keep trying, and sharing ideas with visitors and other professionals. What I took away from this experience is being able to come up with ideas for integrating exhibit and education programs, and will hopefully use these discussions to assist in planning future programs. I believe I left the workshop with a better understanding of the relationship between exhibition design and interpretation.

These are only some of the emerging and seasoned professionals can develop their skills in museum education. Volunteering is another great way to get involved to not only help an organization but you can also continue to utilize and develop your skills. I volunteer as a Parish Historian for the church I grew up attending to keep track of the collections and figure out ways to utilize the collections; also, I volunteer for the Historical Society of Greater Port Jefferson and the Long Island Maritime Museum teaching school programs and working within the visitor services department. The previous experiences I shared with you all will hopefully show how much we can learn from professional development, and how important it is to take advantage of these events. I will leave you with the following questions to ponder on: What are ways you take advantage of professional development? Is there a session or workshop that inspired you? Have you presented at a conference before, and if you have what did you like most about your experiences?