Should Museums Die? A Conversation about Reforming the Museums

August 6, 2020

Last weekend there was a Death to Museums unconference that was livestreamed on August 1st and 2nd, and is now available to view on their YouTube channel. According to their website, Death to Museums is inspired by 2019 edition of FWD:Museums, a journal produced by students and faculty in the Museum and Exhibition Studies program at the University of Illinois at Chicago:

At the time of publication, the journal questioned whether museums can continue “business as usual” or if they should be reimagined anew. We find renewed relevance in this theme at a moment when museums are collapsing before our very eyes. We challenge the idea of returning to “normal” once the pandemic ends when “normal” means inequality, instability, extremely low wages, and an embarrassing lack of diversity across museum staff. Instead, we want to harness the collective potential of museum workers working towards radical change.

The way they challenged the idea of returning to “normal” was the unconference, and on each day there were presentations covering a wide-range of topics that focused on the goal to challenge oppressive museum practices and change the practices for the better. Some of the sessions include but not limited to A Proposal to White Museums, Museum Empathy and Compassion Fatigue: How Museums Can Support Staff Wellness, Not “Now, More Than Ever”—How Museums Can Talk Straight in Weird Times, Museum Internships Past, Present, and Future: Dismantling Systems of Powers from the Ground Up, and Dismantling Barriers to Progressive Action. I recommend watching all of the sessions to see for yourselves the discussions about reforming museum practices.

While we are all focusing on protecting each other and staying safe during the pandemic, museum professionals are taking advantage of this opportunity to discuss the changes that need to be made and had needed to be made for a long time now. Among the many calls for change in the museum field, museum professionals discuss the issues museums have not made enough progress in resolving especially during this pandemic including poor pay, anti-union, gender pay gap, and other inequitable and inhumane behaviors that turned museum professionals away from the field. I have also discussed some of the issues that were presented in the sessions in previous blog posts, especially under the What’s Going on in the Museum Field section. Reform in the museum practices is really needed, and before making changes we also need to address as well as acknowledge the foundations of museums that led us to this point. The changes we need to make not only should be focused on the institutions but also on the individuals working in the museums such as encouraging more self-care.

What do you think about death to museums? What would you want to see from museums moving forward?

Check out the links below on death to museums and related discussions.

Links:

https://deathtomuseums.com/

https://leadershipmatters1213.wordpress.com/2020/08/03/is-calling-for-their-death-the-path-to-fixing-museums-a-leadership-agenda-2021/

https://news.artnet.com/opinion/limits-of-care-and-knowledge-yesomi-umolu-op-ed-1889739?

What’s Going on in the Museum Field

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

Museums: What Will Happen When We All Re-Open?

June 25, 2020

While many museums are figuring out whether or not to re-open their doors, there are some museums that have decided to re-open their doors with limited capacity. Not all museums plan to re-open their physical sites due to varying reasons relating to but not limited to state regulations put in place. The most important consideration museums should keep in mind is the needs of the community, and find ways to continue to engage within the community especially through virtual programs. Museums work on figuring out how to implement Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regulations to keep its visitors and community members safe as we are still trying to flatten the curb in the United States. Many professional development programs I have participated in were focused on what should be done when considering re-opening the museum.

Plenty of resources have been released through the American Association for State and Local History on re-opening museums and historic sites. Last month I attended the webinar AASLH Conversations: Planning for Reopening in which speakers Martha Akins (Deputy Director for Facilities at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami, Florida) and Trina Nelson Thomas (Director, Stark Art & History Venues for the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation in Orange, Texas) shared lessons learned during the reopening of their own sites after major natural disasters. By sharing these lessons, they believed that it could hopefully uncover solutions organizations can bring to the cautious reopening on the other side of the pandemic. I also attended AASLH Conversations: You Are Not Alone: Reopening Small to Mid-Sized Institutions which was similar to the previous one except it was focused more on small to mid-sized arts, culture, and history organizations contemplating questions about the eventual re-opening to the public. Then the next webinar I attended was AASLH Conversations: Guidelines and Procedures for Reopening Your Historic Site in which the speakers discussed questions that many historic sites have been considering when re-opening: Where do you turn for Federal and State laws and regulations? What do you need to do to protect your visitors, volunteers, and staff? Will you phase your opening, limit visitation etc.? All of the previously listed webinars pointed out that these are conversations that are ongoing since we are facing unprecedented times and are using what we do know to figure out the best course of action.

The American Alliance of Museums also released resources that would help museums figure out their plans for re-opening. An example of a resource they shared was the Considerations for Museum Reopenings document that encourages museums to create flexible plans that are regularly reviewed based on updated information on the coronavirus. Both AASLH and AAM release resources to make sure that museum professionals take every consideration into account when considering re-opening their organizations. Some museums have made announcements to re-open their doors over the summer months.

The New York Historical Society announced on Twitter that they plan to re-open in stages beginning on August 14th with a free special exhibit located outside “Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” which documents the experiences of New Yorkers during the height of the pandemic. Access to the outside exhibit, according to a post from Gothamist, will be limited and face coverings will be required for entry, with social distancing enforced through timed-entry tickets and on-site safety measures. Also, the Met is planning to reopen on August 29th with new social distancing guidelines in place that will be revealed as it gets closer to the reopen date. In the Gothamist post, the writer stated that The Met plans to re-open with shorter hours and fewer days per week, and decided that all tours, talks, concerts, and events will be canceled through the rest of 2020.

One example of museums that have re-opened to the public was the Buffalo Bill Center of the West which is a massive AAM-accredited facility located in rural Wyoming in Cody, the Yellowstone National Park gateway community. As of May 7th, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West was officially reopened to its visitors. In pre-COVID times, there is usually an increase of visitors during the three months of summer season; approximately 80 percent of the 170,000 annual guests that typically visit the site. Peter Seibert, the Executive Director and CEO of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, wrote about the experience of re-opening the doors to the public on the American Alliance of Museums website in the post “Diary of a Museum Reopening”.

Seibert shared the timeline of closing its doors, deliberating on how to engage with its audience during this time, and ultimately making the decision to re-open their doors within the post. He shared the framework they worked with to help with their survival which were: focus on donors using bi-weekly emails to boards as well as advisors and phone calls to the rest,  focus on the virtual presence, get ready to reopen with what they were able to take care of now and what needs to be done overtime due to limited resources, and start the process of figuring out what to financially cut. According to Seibert’s post, he shared what he learned through the whole process:

For us, being back open to the public is central to our mission and existence. We don’t have the luxury of staying closed for protracted periods. Right now, our draft budget (July 1–June 30) has scenarios that all include lots of fundraising, and a few that contain staff reductions. I fear the latter more than anything. Having seen the effects of wanton cuts in a prior job, I know the destructive force of death by a thousand cuts. Being back open, I can at least fight to keep us intact.

Seibert’s conclusion illustrates a point that other museums are facing during this crisis: Museums are facing tough choices to figure out ways to survive past the pandemic.

Ultimately, it is up to each individual museum, historic site, and historical society to decide on when to re-open their physical spaces. They need to figure out what makes sense to them financially and how to serve the community’s needs where coronavirus cases vary in each state. It is important to communicate with other museums, pay attention to what actions they take, and see what fits best with their institutions.

If you are a museum professional, what are your thoughts on re-opening the museums? If you have previously visited museums before the lockdown, what would make you feel safe about returning to museums?

Links:

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/06/22/diary-of-a-museum-reopening/

https://learn.aaslh.org/covid19response

https://www.aam-us.org/programs/about-museums/preparing-to-reopen/

https://www.pem.org/blog/holding-down-the-fort?fbclid=IwAR0XM8rZ7B26-9MBj_m08fpL68EBgs_i-Kyn7Oyng-20Vn7jtr9Yfdxdw9I

http://midatlanticmuseums.org/resources/?mc_cid=929ec60e67&mc_eid=c18efcdabc

https://gothamist.com/arts-entertainment/met-new-york-historical-society-are-both-planning-reopen-august

Virtual Conferences: New Format in Professional Development in Museums

June 11, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

CommPartners’ Elevate LMS

Hopin

Hopin Demo

AAM Virtual Conference 2020 Experience

NYCMER 2020: A Virtual Conference Experience

NEMA 2020

AASLH Annual Meeting 2020

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

AAM Virtual Conference 2020 Experience

June 4, 2020

This past week I was able to attend the American Alliance of Museums’ (AAM) conference. Like the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable, AAM decided to hold the conference online to present content that will help move the museum field forward. The AAM virtual conference took place on May 18th, and June 1st through June 4th. Its’ theme this year was: Radical Reimagining. Since this is the first-time museum associations in the United States are holding conferences on the internet, there are bugs they would go through as multiple museum professionals interact with one another from the comfort and safety of their homes. I liked that in response to the murders, protests, and police brutality, AAM responded not only with a statement but made sure the sessions we attended continued the discussion of racism in this country. One of the sessions I attended today was the PSA of the Future with speakers from Poster House (the first museum about the history of posters) and Isometric Studio (a visual identity and graphic design consultancy based in New York City).

The PSA of the Future session, including a brief history of posters and PSAs, had an interactive workshop in which participants were encouraged to design our own posters. We were introduced to elements of poster design, have the opportunity to exchange ideas about the subject matter, and design our own posters in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. I shared the design I worked on in the social media platforms Twitter and Instagram after the session concluded:

When registration first opened for the conference, there have been concerns expressed across social media by museum professionals because of the fees AAM charged while many museum professionals are facing furloughs, layoffs, job hunting halts, et. cetera. They also made arguments that charging high fees contradicts not only the theme of the conference but also contradicts its efforts for a more diverse, inclusive, equitable, and accessible museum field.  According to AAM’s website: Registration for the virtual conference is $235 for all AAM members and $345 for non-members. In addition to releasing a statement for their losing revenue reasoning, they also encouraged registrants to make donations in addition to the registration fees and sponsors were able to provide for a number of deeply discounted ($25) registrations. Even though I was one of the lucky individuals who was able to register for $25, I wonder how many people were actually able to receive it or were able to even pay that much.

Since I have not been to the AAM conference before this year, I was curious as to not only what the conference was like but how they would be able to handle operating a virtual conference. I enjoyed the sessions I was able to attend live while connecting with other conference participants was limited to sending messages during sessions, an open chat, and a few virtual networking events. A networking section was later added by the last day of the conference.

Because I did not receive an email that I was able to register for the conference at $25 until the Friday before the full conference began on June 1st, I missed the General Session due to previous engagements but attended the sessions for the rest of the day. Instead of attending the last few minutes of the General Session, I went to the MuseumExpo, as well as throughout the day, which includes various links to conference sponsors, booths with external links to services they have, tech talks, and virtual poster sessions. The virtual poster sessions were about twelve downloads of PowerPoint presentations on relevant topics in the museum field. I attended the following sessions on June 1st: Rethinking Experience Design for a New Reality — With Early Glimpses from National Audience Research, Moderated Open Chat, Choose Your Own Adventure: Providing Engaging Experiences at a Distance, and Planning for Success: Fundraising Management in a Changing Museum World.

The Rethinking Experience Design for a New Reality — With Early Glimpses from National Audience Research session had the following speakers: Elizabeth Kunz Kollmann, Museum of Science, Boston; Jen Benoit-Bryan, Slover Linett; Madeline Smith, Slover Linett; Peter Linett, Slover Linett; and Tim Hallman, Asian Art Museum. Slover Linett uses tools of research, evaluation, community dialogue, and experience design to help cultural organizations become more inclusive, innovative, and relevant. The speakers discussed the 6 Ps of Experience Design, which is a framework for the cultural sector from Slover Linett. The 6 Ps of Experience Design are: Programming, People, Place, Policies, Promises, Personality, and a Bonus “P”: Purpose. I have included a link to the framework in the resource section below for more details about the 6 Ps of Experience Design.

The Choose Your Own Adventure: Providing Engaging Experiences at a Distance session had Camille Tewell, North Carolina Museum of Art; Jacqueline Benitez, California Academy of Sciences; Matt Schullek, Ohio History Connection; and Tami Moehring, CILC – Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration as its speakers. In the session, participants discovered how distance learning can help museums increase their reach. Also, we joined small group discussions led by the speakers to talk about developing content, infrastructure requirements, marketing, and making museums more accessible. In the Planning for Success: Fundraising Management in a Changing Museum World session, we heard Kate Brueggemann (Adler Planetarium) and Donna McGinnis (Naples Botanical Garden) share information about building a fundraising management plan that can leverage our institutions as we are preparing for re-opening our institutions.

I also attended a part of the Virtual Reception which was led by Songdivision, in which we were all in the Zoom calls (much like the ones we were in for the sessions) watching the group as they engaged us with live performances and a rock-and-roll game show. Because I have not experienced a reception on the virtual platform for a conference before, I decided to check it out and enjoyed the music they played.

The rest of the conference was a similar experience I had on the first day with some changes including a new moving and significant session that was added to take part in the discussion on racism, unrest, and the role of the museum field led by Lonnie Bunch (14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution), Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole (National Council of Negro Women, Inc. and Baltimore Museum of Art), and Lori Fogarty (Oakland Museum of California). I have included the link to where I logged in for the conference for an overview and specific details of the sessions that were offered throughout the four days.

Next week I am continuing the discussion about AAM and virtual conferences since there was a lot of detail to put into one blog post.

If you have attended virtual conferences, please share your experiences and impressions. Also, if you have any questions about the conferences I have attended please visit the contact page where my contact information is located.

Resources:

AAM Virtual Conference

Annual Meeting Information

The 6 Ps of Experience Design

See also: NYCMER 2020 conference blog post

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

Virtual Museum Impressions: Mount Vernon

April 9, 2020

While I was sharing previous blog posts about my impressions of museums I visited, I thought about the museums I have not visited in the past and decided to make a virtual trip to one of them. I remember as a child I visited Monticello, the home of the third president of the United States Thomas Jefferson. My family and I were not able to visit Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington the first president of the United States, while we were in Virginia. Therefore, I decided to virtually visit Mount Vernon and its grounds for today’s blog post. My whole visit was overwhelmingly impressive, and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association’s efforts have proven its significance in our nation’s history will never be overlooked.

I visited every part of George Washington’s house and property including but not limited to his farms, gardens, hired and enslaved living quarters, and a gristmill. Even though I aimed to see everything in one visit, there is a ton of information to soak in so as if I was visiting Mount Vernon in person I would need to plan to make more than one visit to potentially see everything and learn all I could about the mansion. Within the tour, there are videos from both Mount Vernon staff and characters of George Washington, Martha Washington, and the enslaved servants discussing what it was like to live and work on the Mount Vernon property. At each point of the virtual tour, there are cursors that once clicked on it will share more information about an item in the collections and about the historic preservation process.

The Mansion has approximately fourteen rooms that were set up and preserved as if the Washingtons were still living in their home. On the first floor, it contains the more formal parts of the Mansion, including the dining rooms, parlors, central hall, and Washington’s study. Inside the Mansion, there is an entryway called the Central Passage which is the place where visitors who came by carriage through the west front drive (the front of the house) were greeted. The Mansion also has a two-story piazza located on the east front (facing the Potomac River); it was treated as an outdoor room, serving afternoon tea to visitors and family members seated in simple Windsor chairs. Not only there is a view of the Potomac River, there is also a view of the wooded area that was originally an 18-acre deer park. On the second floor, there are six bedrooms and one of them is the Washingtons’ bedroom. On the third floor, includes a number of rooms that were used for storage and living space, and provides access to the cupola. The cupola was added to the Mansion to help cool the house, as it draws hot air out through open windows; by providing a strong vertical axis, the cupola also helps disguise the asymmetry of the west facade, facing the bowling green (the grounds in front of the Mansion). Washington’s home is not the only building on the property.

Washington’s estate also includes more than a dozen outbuildings where more than fifty enslaved men and women learned trades to make tools and textiles, care for livestock, process food, and construct and repair many of Mount Vernon’s buildings, including the Mansion itself. Some of the buildings include the blacksmith shop, smokehouse, stable, spinning house, and many more. There were also four gardens: the upper garden, lower garden, botanical garden, and a flower garden and nursery. Each garden served different purposes including providing food for the Mansion and experimenting with new plants. Washington also had a farm called the Pioneer Farm where enslaved workers put Washington’s innovative farming and fishing practices, hoe fields, cook over a fire, sheer sheep, and harvest crops into practice. Also, on the estate there was a distillery and a gristmill; today, the property has fully functioning reconstructions of the distillery and gristmill where George Washington’s whiskey, flour, and cornmeal were made.

The estate is also the location of the tombs and memorial where the Washingtons and enslaved individuals were buried and are remembered. There are two tombs: the old tomb where the Washington family were originally buried and the new tomb that was constructed under George Washington’s request; then the whole family located in the tomb were relocated to the new one. Also, there is a slave cemetery where the Mount Vernon staff is conducting an ongoing archaeological survey of the Slave Cemetery on the estate. According to their website, they stated about the slave cemetery:

From an archaeological standpoint, the best way to commemorate the lives of those free and enslaved individuals who lived and died at Mount Vernon is to thoroughly document the locations of individual burials on the landscape.

Mount Vernon also has a memorial dedicated to the enslaved individuals which is located about 50 yards southwest of George and Martha Washington’s tomb, on a bluff above the Potomac River.

The previous information I learned about Mount Vernon is only some of what I have learned in virtual tour. I recommend learning more about George Washington and Mount Vernon through not only the virtual tour but also through the education resources available on the official website. What I learned from this tour is the staff at Mount Vernon are continuously dedicating their efforts to preserve its history as well as investigate the untold stories the estate holds.

Links:

https://virtualtour.mountvernon.org/

https://www.mountvernon.org/

Upper Garden Livestream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqQi93Ao65Q

Museums Offering Virtual Experiences during the Pandemic

March 26, 2020

We are all in this together, and museum communities around the world are sharing virtual experiences they have created before the pandemic or because of the pandemic. This past week I shared previous blog posts about the significance of virtual experiences in the museum field. Current events prove that virtual learning and experiences are vital more than ever. I have been researching virtual experiences that are currently being offered since I am currently working with the Education Committee at the Three Village Historical Society to create virtual learning experience, and this project was one of the reasons why I was inspired to see what museums are offering.

I came across Scholastic’s resources which provide online classroom resources and lesson plans from museums across the United States. One of the Scholastic’s resources includes a virtual field trip to the Museum of the American Revolution with Lauren Tarshis, author of the best-selling “I Survived” book series including “I Survived the American Revolution, 1776”. Including an introduction and a behind the scenes tour, the site also includes a vocabulary list, discussion questions, a frequently asked questions sheet, and Lauren Tarshis’s narrative nonfiction article “Blood, Smoke and Freedom,” about the experiences of one of the young soldiers featured in the virtual field trip for each grade level between grade 2 and grade 8. The Museum of the American Revolution itself provides resources from their own website available. In addition to the virtual field trip, the Museum of the American Revolution also other digital resources including but not limited to a virtual tour of the museum, an archive of Read the Revolution book excerpts, a digitized collection of the Museum’s art and artifacts, the Museum’s comprehensive lesson plans, and a free coloring book.

Another museum that has a virtual presence is the Mill Museum-The Windham Textile History Museum. The staff last month opened their new exhibit called “Unlacing the Corset, Unleashing the Vote” celebrating the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Because the museum was closed due to the coronavirus, they created a virtual version of this exhibit. According to the exhibit’s introduction label, the exhibit uses stories, fashion, undergarments, and photographs to explore the collective of Connecticut women’s experiences in the century since the 19th Amendment. The exhibit focuses on fashion for political empowerment which is reflected in increasing choices about clothes, styles, and comfort. The virtual exhibit features a narrative about early 20th century women’s history focused on women from mill towns of the northeast and photographs of the collections featured in the exhibit.

There are virtual experiences offered in museums outside of the United States. Some of the examples I found were on the MCN website. MCN, a not-for-profit corporation that envisions a world in which all museums are empowered digitally to achieve their missions, posted a very well detailed list of virtual museum experiences around the world in their post “The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Museum Resources, E-Learning, and Online Collections”. The list is broken up into a number of sections including virtual tours/online exhibits, e-learning, online collections, and digital archives & libraries as well as subsections for art, science, and history museums. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum, for instance, offers an e-learning experience that has an interactive timeline on its website. The Canadian Museum of Nature has an e-learning experience for kids with coloring pages of Artic animals and plants, garden plants, and dinosaurs. The Musée du Louvre in Paris and the São Paolo Museum of Art in Brazil are offering a virtual tour of the museums. Also, Les Fruits de Mer, a non-profit French association based in Grand Case, Saint Martin, provided lists of resources of activities, books, films, et. cetera about Caribbean wildlife.

Museums have previously been offering museum experiences online to reach out to their audiences as our world is becoming more accessible through technology. This has been evident especially in previous blog posts I have re-shared on social media with lists of resources I found at the time I wrote those posts. With many museums closing their doors of their physical museums due to the pandemic, it is important for museums to connect to its audiences, reach out to new audiences, and its museum professionals with one another through the virtual world. Numerous resources from museums are available on the internet for individuals of all ages, and it would impossible to explain each one in full detail without making this blog post too overwhelming.

I have included a list of resources I have come across in my search for virtual experiences for all of you to explore in your own time. If there are any resources you would like to share, please continue to share them. Stay safe and be good to one another!

Resources:

https://classroommagazines.scholastic.com/support/learnathome/grades-3-5.html

http://www.scholastic.com/beyondthebattlefield/

http://www.scholastic.com/webcasts/

https://www.amrevmuseum.org/education/digital-resources?utm_source=welcome-mark-text&utm_medium=cc&utm_campaign=welcome-mark-text-cc-ongoing-general1

https://millmuseum.org/current-exhibit/

http://mcn.edu/a-guide-to-virtual-museum-resources/

https://springfieldmuseums.org/about/updates/

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/68-cultural-historical-and-scientific-collections-you-can-explore-online-180974475/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20200323-daily-responsive&spMailingID=42092612&spUserID=MTQ4MDg3NTIwNDQ0S0&spJobID=1722260882&spReportId=MTcyMjI2MDg4MgS2

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/weeks-best-livestream-learning-opportunities-180974465/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20200323-daily-responsive&spMailingID=42092612&spUserID=MTQ4MDg3NTIwNDQ0S0&spJobID=1722260882&spReportId=MTcyMjI2MDg4MgS2

https://www.cilc.org/community

https://www.docsteach.org/

https://www.civicsrenewalnetwork.org/featured/resources-for-learning-at-home/

https://www.archives.gov/legislative/resources

https://founders.archives.gov/

https://anamericaninrome.com/wp/2020/03/italy-museums-visit-for-free-online/

https://adventuresinfamilyhood.com/20-virtual-field-trips-to-take-with-your-kids.html

https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/museums-galleries/museums-with-virtual-tours

Previous Posts on Museums and the Virtual Experience:

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2017/05/13/museum-education-online-museums-position-in-the-virtual-world/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/08/01/virtual-museum-experiences-impressions-of-museum-education-roundtables-journal-of-museum-education/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2020/02/20/how-virtual-exhibits-can-be-accessible/

How Virtual Exhibits Can Be Accessible

February 20, 2020

This past week in the United States, we celebrated Presidents’ Day and in honor of the holiday Bunk designed a virtual exhibit called Presidents Precedents that explores the shifting ways Americans have viewed the U.S. presidency. Bunk, a non-profit and non-partisan launched in September 2017, captures the passion for history and reveals the ways that people of different backgrounds and purposes are connecting with the nation’s history by searching the internet for the most interesting articles, maps, videos, conversations, visualizations, and podcasts about history that they can find. Funded by supporters of the University of Richmond, they hope to create a fuller and more honest portrayal of our shared past, and reveal the extent to which every representation is part of a longer conversation. Presidents Precedents is an exhibit filled with a collection of articles from varying sources divided into three categories: The Mandate, The Pulpit, and The Legacy. After examining this exhibit, I thought about other virtual exhibits and the significance of virtual exhibits, and I decided to explore museum virtual exhibits.

In my previous blog post “Virtual Museum Experiences: Impressions of Museum Education Roundtable’s Journal of Museum Education”, I shared experiences I have had with virtual reality and how museums have taken advantage of virtual experiences. Towards the end of that post, I pointed out that

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.

This is especially true when museums are making their exhibits available online for individuals interested in visiting them. In the blog post, I pointed out the benefits of providing virtual experiences of museum exhibits online: 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. Not many individuals are able to financially travel to museums in other countries and when museums provide virtual exhibits, they will at least be able to get a closer look at objects, exhibit labels, and additional information they can learn in each space. Also, there are individuals who are not able to physically access spaces in museums and by providing virtual exhibits to them they will be able to have an engaging experience within the space once inaccessible.

These are examples of virtual exhibits and tours I have come across from around the world:

The British Museum has a virtual exhibit called The Museum of the World which is navigated using the arrow keys or scrolling to explore back and forth through time. Also, it is set up as a timeline divided into five color-coded sections: Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. When one clicks on a color circle, an object appears with a short description and the option to learn more about it; for instance, I clicked on Ceramic Bowl from the Path of Roses in Tunisia, Africa, and it includes an audio of a speaker providing more information, a Google map showing the location, a description of the object and its history, and pictures of related objects. Also, there are themes that visitors can explore the exhibit by in addition to the timeline: Art and design, Living and dying, Power and identity, Religion and belief, and Trade and conflict.

The Louvre offers virtual tours that allow individuals to visit the museum’s exhibition rooms and galleries. Inside the virtual space, visitors can tour three different sections of the museum, read an introduction to and descriptions of where they are located within the Louvre: Egyptian Antiquities, Remains of the Louvre’s Moat, and Galerie d’Apollon. The Egyptian Antiquities has collections from the Pharaonic period that are displayed on the east side of the Sully wing, on the ground floor and 1st floor. In the Remains of the Louvre’s Moat tour, it describes that originally the Louvre was a fortress built by the French king, Philippe Auguste; it was intended to reinforce the defenses that the king had ordered to be built in 1190 to protect Paris from attack via the Seine, and today visitors can walk around the original perimeter moat and view the piers that supported the drawbridge. The Galerie d’Apollon, which is a decorative art situated above the Petite Galerie, was destroyed by fire in 1661 and rebuilt. Also, the Louvre’s website includes descriptions of 55 rooms inside the museum and what is located in these rooms.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History offers varying museum virtual tours that allow individuals to take self-guided room-by-room tours of select rooms or areas within the museum on the computer and/or on cellphones. Also, there is an opportunity to access select research and collections areas with satellite support, research stations, and past exhibits that no longer on display. The museum’s website also includes other tours of the Smithsonian including the Smithsonian Castle and the Hirshhorn (a sculpture museum). Their virtual tours provide arrow links on the floor and the ability to use the navigation map to travel through rooms in the tours, and a camera icon give a close-up view of a particular object or exhibit panel.

Each example I explored has a different way of presenting virtual experiences. If museums have the capability, they should take advantage of making their exhibits and tours more accessible for all visitors. To learn more about virtual tours that are available, I included a list of links I found to virtual tours and exhibits that explore museums around the world.

Have you experienced virtual exhibits or tours? What are your impressions? Do you feel like you are as just engaged with the virtual experience as you would be in person? Why or why not?

Links:

https://www.bunkhistory.org/exhibits/30

https://www.bunkhistory.org/

https://britishmuseum.withgoogle.com/

https://naturalhistory.si.edu/visit/virtual-tour

https://www.si.edu/exhibitions/online

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/75809/12-world-class-museums-you-can-visit-online

https://www.top10.com/virtual-museum-tours

http://www.virtualfreesites.com/museums.museums.html

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/08/01/virtual-museum-experiences-impressions-of-museum-education-roundtables-journal-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/