Online Communities: Why They Are So Important for Museum Professionals

Originally added on Medium, December 7, 2017

One of the best ways for museum professionals to fulfill their professional growth is to learn from each other through online communities. I follow and participate in the Facebook group Emerging Museum Professionals and in #MuseumEdChat on Twitter. There are many Emerging Museum Professionals Facebook groups for local museum communities, and there is one that covers emerging museum professionals all over the nation, the National Emerging Museum Professionals group. While I do follow many local emerging museum professional groups in New England and New York, I mainly focus on the national group to be able to hear from other museum professionals to gain more perspective on the museum field on a national level. Since museums are utilizing social media to get visitors and potential visitors attention, it makes sense that museum professionals take advantage of social media to communicate with one another.

It is important that museum professionals have the opportunity to connect with one another since one of the best ways to continue adapting programs and exhibits is to learn from other museum professionals. Not many museum professionals have the opportunity to meet with others in person for various reasons especially not having enough time and money to invest in traveling to museum conferences and workshops.

When we have online discussions, we are able to connect with many museum professionals from around the country and in some cases around the world. Also, we are able to get inspirations for our own practices including but not limited to programs, exhibits, collections policies, and administrative practices.

According to their Facebook group, the National Emerging Museum Professionals network envisions communities in which museum professionals make meaningful connections within and across backgrounds, disciplines, and institutions by: providing leadership, responding to changing needs, enriching experiences, growing capabilities, sharing resources, advocating for the museum profession, connecting groups on a local and national level.

In the National Emerging Museum Professionals group, there are many topics discussed among participants in the group. Some examples include but not limited to resume help, volunteer recruitment, advice on how to write a collections management policy, how volunteers can be recognized/appreciated, and looking for inspiration for youth programming. Any of the members post questions or discussion points posed to other participants in the network, and many give their responses based on their experiences.

I find these discussions helpful because I find out what other museum professionals have done in similar projects I have worked on at the time. I participate in the discussions and I also save conversations on Facebook so I can refer to them later to get some inspiration for my work in the museum field.

As well as Facebook, I also participate in the #MuseumEdChat discussions on Twitter. Museum Ed Chat hosts discussions usually on Thursdays from 8pm to 9pm to chat about museum education in addition to general museum topics. Each account holder of the MuseumEdChat account takes turns hosting the chat, and the topics vary on each discussion. The discussions begin with questions posed by the host and those who are participating live can respond with their answers. If one could not participate in the discussion live, they are encouraged to still answer the questions on their Twitter page and use the hashtag to make sure their responses are noticed by other followers. This Twitter discussion is open to all museum professionals not just museum educators since we all work towards the mission to educate the public using the resources we have in our collections and programs.

I participated in tonight’s #MuseumEdChat discussion which was about reflecting on this past year and what we hope to accomplish next year. One of the questions included: What are you most proud of from work this year? My response to this question was “I am the most proud when I see a smile on a kid’s face, and thank me for all the help I give them. I especially love it when they give me little gifts to show how they really appreciate the time they spent in a program.”

Another example of the questions posed in tonight’s discussion was: What are some big themes you noticed in the field in 2018? I knew that there are many themes that are discussed in our field especially within the past few months but I decided to respond with “I noticed that one of the big themes this year is how we should strengthen our connections with schools and other departments in the museum field. I hope we continue discussing this theme as well as many other themes in 2018.” It is important that we establish and strengthen our connections to pursue our missions and help others within our communities.

Other big themes I noticed stood out to me since these have been recently talked about and are especially relevant for the upcoming year. According to Seema Rao, for instance, she stated “Burnout and learning to handle change seemed like big themes of the year; and frankly, some people figuring out if they should leave the field.” It is challenging to stay in the field in our current state in the economy, and it is easy to feel less motivated so finding ways to inspire us is especially important. I am glad that we continue to have this discussion, and it is an important topic to continue talking about in 2018.

I also believe that we need to work on being able to take the time to focus on ourselves and think about our practice as museum professionals. I was glad to see that another participant in the discussion pointed this out tonight. One participant pointed out that “Finding consistent time to reflect on my practice, students’ work, and the overarching state of the field. In some ways that is my job, but I’ve been busy with other things the past six months. Carving out think time: the biggest priority for the coming year.”

When I read that statement, I kept thinking about how there are so many things I need to think about in my own practice and what is going on in the field. A lot of times I have been busy with many things both personally and professionally that I think there is not enough time in the day to do so. I am glad that I have been writing in my blog for over a year now since I am able to take this time to write about what is going on and react to what is happening. There is so much out there that I do not always have the time to write about all of it so I try to read as much as I can. I think we all need to remind ourselves to take that time and learn how we can be better museum professionals.

We should take advantage of our online connections, and see what we can learn from the experiences as we continue to move the museum field forward.

What social media discussions have you find the most helpful in your work? Are there other social media outlets you follow that offer similar help in your work?

 

 

 

Professional Development Programs: Managing Your Museum’s Online Reputation and Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs

Originally posted on Medium, February 2, 2017. 

In one of my previous blog posts, I said that professional development is important for all career paths. I still believe that is true. I recently attended a couple of professional development programs offered by the New England Museum Association and American Alliance of Museums. The New England Museum Association (NEMA) offers monthly online discussion series called Lunch with NEMA. NEMA’s program this month was called “Managing Your Museum’s Online Reputation Will Increase Visitors and Save Marketing Time and Expense”, and the presenters were Jonathan Lhowe and Terra Marcarelli from the Visit New England website. Lhowe and Marcarelli discuss how to attract today’s visitors and maintain museums’ online presence. Meanwhile, the American Alliance of Museums feature various online programs, including the EdComVersation discussions. The EdComVersation I attended this time was called “Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs” which featured several presenters giving case studies of how volunteer programs are run at different museums or organizations; each case study provide advice on how we can run our volunteer programs and make sure we utilize volunteers’ time to everyone’s advantage. It is important that volunteers feel like their time is well spent at the organizations and the museums or organizations need to see how volunteers’ work are assisting with their overall goals. By attending these programs, I not only learned more about the museum field but I also could see how the advice these programs gave can be applied to the museum education field.

The New England Museum Association’s “Managing Your Online Reputation” program began with statistics related to online presence of businesses in general then moved on to detailed advice for maintaining an accurate online presence to gain as well as maintain attention. Lhowe and Marcarelli explained that in the past reviews of museums and other businesses depended on in person visits and word of mouth. Today many people rely on online reviews from reliable sources including Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, and expedia; in fact, two-thirds of people are more likely to buy from a store if they find positive comments about it online, and half are less likely to buy if there are negative comments. They also stated that it is important to be a part of the people’s conversations since the consumers control conversations about your institution and therefore your institution can participate in the conversation to easily moderate it. Another take away from this program was social media is not just about followers and likes but social media can also be used to generate leads and conduct customer service to gain return on investment. Managing online reputation can contribute to museum’s educational purposes.

By participating in consumer’s conversations, the museums will be able to get accurate reactions to the summer camp programs, after school programs, adult programs, and other public programs; then the staff can understand how to improve their programs or how to run the programs. Connecticut Landmarks, for instance, has released a survey on Facebook that will provide data that will help them understand how they are doing, compare them to other museums, and help them understand how they can create better experiences for the viewer and their community. With the data they collect, Connecticut Landmarks will be able to better serve the community with re-evaluated educational programs. It is especially important if a museum created a new educational program like a lecture, family or summer program; the museum would want to see how participants reacted to the program to see what they liked about it and what can be improved upon for the future. The second program I attended went into detail about how evaluating volunteers and the programs can benefit the museum overall, and by attending I not only gained new skills but was reinforced by my unique advantage of both running a volunteer program and being a volunteer myself.

The American Alliance of Museums’ “Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs” discuss the importance of evaluating volunteers and the programs as well as providing specific case studies on how evaluations can affect volunteers and volunteer programs. The following are reasons why museums should evaluate the volunteers and the volunteer programs: evaluation can help give volunteers information they need to do better work and can help museums nab problems early (problems with program or problem volunteers); convey appreciation and reinforce value of volunteers; motivate volunteers to do both their personal best and give positive impact on the museums; and it allows museum to improve volunteer program. When evaluating volunteers and the volunteer program, museums need to keep these questions in mind: Are we attracting enough volunteers with the right skills? Is our volunteer program effective? Are volunteers having the best possible experience with us? The presenters also gave specific pointers about how to evaluate the volunteer programs and the volunteers themselves. To effectively evaluate volunteer programs, it is important to have constant and consistent formal as well as informal evaluations; also, it is important to build the evaluation into the handbook, expectations, and orientation, explain your motivations and methods then report back to the volunteers, and be prepared to actively use the results and feedback. To effectively evaluate volunteers, there are a few ways to proceed including self-evaluations (asking them about their own actions as volunteers can give museums a visual of what is exactly being accomplished), individual evaluation sessions with supervisor, informal feedback, and if they are leaving the museum provide an exit interview to see what the museum can improve on the program. Then the program went into specific case studies with details on how their programs are run and what methods were used that either worked or needed improvements; a couple of them include a teen volunteer program at the Winterthur Museum, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, and the Chicago History Museum. Volunteers can serve many different departments in a museum, and the education department is no exception.

Volunteers can serve different purposes for the education department in a museum including assisting with school programs and summer camps, and working on administrative duties in the office. In my experience as a museum educator, I have had the opportunity to work with volunteers as well as being a volunteer for museums because I hope to develop my skills as a museum professional and continue my career in the field. At the start of my career, I volunteered at my childhood hometown’s museum during college and later I began an internship at Connecticut’s Old State House as a graduate student; then I got a job as a museum teacher at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut. I then later worked for Connecticut Landmarks’ historic house museums in Hartford, Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House, as a museum interpreter (I gave tours for school groups and the public) and Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society as a museum educator; while I worked at these two historic house museums, I also volunteered to co-create and run a craft fair fundraiser for the Killingly Historical Society in Killingly, Connecticut. I created this fundraiser with my friend and grad school colleague to raise funds for operating the historical society; I ran the historical society’s twitter page to point out fun facts about the history of the town and advertise for the craft fair, talked to some interested crafters who wanted to sell their items at our craft fair and collect reservation fees, went with my friend to see the space where it will take place and organize the tables layout, and helped set up and clean up the fair. When I went on to the Long Island Museum, I oversaw scheduling volunteers to assist with larger school programs based on their availability and discussed with them what the students got from the lessons. Then when I went on to the Long Island Maritime Museum, I volunteered for a school tour, collected admission for a Boat Burning event, Past Perfect data entry and preserving books by scanning pages, and working at the visitor services desk. From my perspective, I can understand what volunteers need to complete their goals as well as making sure their work accomplishes work museums’ need to accomplish their mission.

Have you attended programs like these two programs? Did you attend these programs, and what did you think of these programs? What are your organizations doing to preserve your online reputations? What are your volunteer programs like? Do you feel that volunteers are accomplishing their goals and the goals of your organizations?

View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com

Museum Education Online: Museums’ Position in the Virtual World

Originally posted on Medium. December 8, 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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