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What Might Museums Look Like in the Future? NMC Virtual Symposium

Submitted by Alex Freeman, Director of Special Projects, New Media Consortium

The New Media Consortium’s upcoming Future of Museums Symposium will bring together a collaborative global conversation around issues of technology, museums, and the future. This free, online Virtual Symposium will be held on Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014, and will feature keynote speakers and crowdsourced presentations by your peers.

unnamedAs its name suggests, the Symposium looks toward the future: what might the museum world look like in five years? Ten? Further out? Technologies and practices that are just beginning to show promise in an educational or social context may well be commonplace in that time frame. In this day-long event, we are bringing the research and work behind the NMC Horizon Report 2013 Museum Edition to the greater museum community. The Horizon Report’s advisory board participates in thoughtful discussions about an array of museum technology topics, trends, and challenges in the museum wiki that informs the writing of the report — this virtual event will give participants an opportunity to engage in similar discussions with museum thought leaders in real-time.

The Symposium grows from the NMC’s Emerging Technologies Initiative, which seeks to answer the question of how to keep abreast of emerging technologies that may be important to our collective work as educators. At the core of this initiative is a focus on emerging technologies and the ways they can be applied in the service of teaching, learning, research, and creative inquiry. A major goal is to stimulate systematic thinking and discussion of the real challenges that face our world and our society, and in particular, how emerging technologies might be applied to solve them.

The program will run from 11am to 6pm ET and is going to consist of an opening keynote by Jasper Visser, a lunch Keynote by Nik Honeysett, and a closing keynote by Nancy Proctor with a variety of small group discussions based around topics in the latest NMC Horizon Report > Museum Edition  (BYOD, crowdsourcing, location-based services, and makerspaces).

In the past we have utilized platforms such as Second Life to bring our international community of practice together, but for this special museum edition we are exploring the online communication tool Business Hangouts which shares similar functionality to Google Hangouts On Air. A virtual symposium offers many of the affordances of a face to face conference without the need for travel.

To register for this event please visit: http://go.nmc.org/SympReg

Keynotes and Panelists include:

Jonathan Carfagno, Director of Learning and Audience Engagement, Grand Rapids Art Museum (USA)

Lath Carlson, Vice President of Exhibits, The Tech Museum of Innovation (USA)

Marc Check, Associate Vice President, Information and Interactive Technology, Museum of Science, Boston (USA)

Jennifer Corriero, Executive Director, Taking It Global (Canada)

Alex Freeman, Director of Special Projects, New Media Consortium (USA)

Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning, American Museum of Natural History (USA)

Jeffrey Inscho, Web + Digital Manager, Carnegie Museum of Art (USA)

Vivian Kung, Former Director and CEO, Balboa Park Online Collaborative (Japan)

Elizabeth Merritt, Founding Director of the Center for the Future of Museums, American Alliance of Museums (USA)

Nancy Proctor, Deputy Director for Digital Experience at the Baltimore Museum of Art and Co-chair of the Museums and the Web annual conference (USA)

Ed Rodley, Associate Director of Integrated Media, Peabody Essex Museum (USA)

Sarah Stierch, Susan B. Miller Fellow,  Berkeley Center for New Media (USA)

Mariano Ulibari, Founder and Director, Parachute Factory Makerspace (USA)

Jasper Visser, Author of Digital Engagement Framework and blogger at “The Museum of the Future” (The Netherlands)

Elycia Wallis, Manager, Online Collections, Museum Victoria (Australia)

Holly Witchey, Director, the Wade Project, Western Reserve Historical Society and Faculty of Museum Studies at Johns Hopkins University. (USA)

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Photo by Brian Koprowski. Creative Commons Attribution -NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic.

Have You Ever Had a Transformative Experience With Art?

Have you ever had a transformative experience with a work of art?

I’m collecting as many stories as possible about the experiences people have had with artworks. Please share your story (anonymously if you like) at this Google Form.

Want to know more about this project?

Photo by Brian Koprowski. Creative Commons Attribution -NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic.
Photo by Brian Koprowski. Creative Commons Attribution -NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic.

Over the past year, I’ve started to think more and more about what the relationship is between objects, contextual/historical interpretation, and our human experiences with them. This interest began after I myself had a transformative experience with a work of art that greatly changed how I think: Agnes Martin’s Untitled #10 at the Milwaukee Art Museum. In a teen program discussion, one of my students helped me see the connections between Martin’s work and meditation practice. As I continued to look at the piece on my own and reflect on our group comments, I began to recognize that being with Martin’s painting was when I started to become more comfortable living in ambiguity — a transformative personal and professional turning point.

More broadly, from my teaching practice, I have noticed that our collective understanding of art objects is greatly enriched when we consider both art historical/contextual information and our own personal reactions and interactions with objects. We bring our own background when we look at and interpret art objects (whether we’re alone or in groups)–and I’m interested in how those experiences help us better understand the objects themselves, as well as how these objects can help us create meaning within our own lives.

Although I could not attend the NAEA Gallery Teaching Marathon this spring, I had hoped to explore the topic of transformative experiences with art objects with the Marathon group. The survey above and this very blog post is my digital attempt at exploring this topic with a wider group. I hope you will share your stories with me, and as I collect them, I hope to better understand and share what it means to bring objects, people, and information together. I’m not yet sure what we’ll find — perhaps there will be patterns, perhaps not — but I am sure that looking at these stories as a whole will get us started on considering these questions.

So, I hope you will join in this experiment with me and share your own story!  Please feel free to share the survey with as many folks as you like — the more stories, backgrounds, and people, the better.

Thank you for contributing!

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Remembering Maxine Greene

Written by Jessica Baker Kee, Ph.D. Candidate in Art Education, Penn State University, and Pincus Family Foundation Intern, Palmer Museum of Art

Greene-featuredIn the process of living and working as museum educators, we make space to honor Maxine Greene, the educational philosopher, author, and teacher whose writings and teachings have greatly impacted the field of aesthetic education. Dr. Greene, who passed away last week at the age of 96, conducted lectures and taught classes at Teachers College, Columbia University (where she had been professor emerita since 1965) until her passing. She is renowned worldwide for bringing a remarkable sense of empathy, creativity, and imagination into teaching and learning in the arts. Maxine Greene posited “wide-awakeness” as the bedrock of her educational philosophy: a heightened awareness of one’s own sensory, emotional, and spiritual existence, as well as a greater empathic connection to the human community. She believed direct, immediate encounters with works of art were central to the development of this enhanced awareness; in her 1977 essay Imagination and Aesthetic Literacy, she argued that:

“those who can attend to and absorb themselves in particular works of art are more likely to affect connections in their own experience than those who cannot.”

Throughout her career, she was a staunch advocate for “aesthetic literacy” through education in the arts, and argued against overly standardized teaching methods in favor of dialogue, learning from students, and building empathic learning communities in both schools and museums. When we use the work of Dr. Greene to inform our discussion and praxis as museum educators, we place ourselves within a rich tradition of intellectual and creative thought arising from the philosophy of John Dewey and others. Although she had an extensive background in existential philosophy, she remained grounded in everyday teaching praxis, which makes her writing uniquely accessible to a diverse range of students, teachers, artists and educators. I first encountered Dr. Greene’s work as a master’s student of art education, and it was a breath of fresh air in what often felt like a dense and theoretical field of study. Reading her work is an aesthetic experience of its own; her sparkling, lucid writing style draws the reader in as she invokes her own encounters with works of art, literature, poetry and the beauty of nature. Below is a list of her major works that may be of interest to museum teachers:

Feel free to leave your own thoughts, musings, and remembrances of Maxine Greene in the comments, or submit your memories with the Maxine Greene Center’s “Remembering Maxine” webpage (which already has a powerful and growing series of people’s memories and experience with Dr. Greene).  

ABOUT AUTHOR

JESSICA BAKER KEE is a second-year PhD candidate in the Art Education program at Pennsylvania State University. She completed her BA in Art History at Duke University and her MAEd in Art Education at East Carolina University. She has also worked as a museum education intern, a public and private school art teacher, a federal disaster relief agent, and an educational research consultant. Her research is rooted in phenomenology and explores constructions of identity and trauma within pedagogical environments, examining the impacts of race, class, and institutional policy on the lived experiences of art educators and their students. In her free time she enjoys running, yoga, art making and exploring the beautiful trails of Central Pennsylvania. Jessica’s postings on this site are her own and do not necessarily represent Pennsylvania State University’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

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The Art Museum Education Consortium and You

Written by Dana Carlisle Kletchka, Co-Editor of ArtMuseumTeaching and Curator of Education, Palmer Museum of Art. 

“Too Much of a Good Thing can be Wonderful.” -Hunter S. Thompson

I’m back from participating in the third meeting of the Art Museum Education Consortium (AMECO) in Seattle, WA, where a group of representatives from various organizations discussed, deliberated, and strategized the current state and future directions of our field in the tranquil setting of the Frye Art Museum. The participants were thoughtful and forthright as they shared insights, resources, and professional opinions about where we have been and, more importantly, where we could and should be going. Although the group was not unanimous in their thoughts on nearly any one topic, a clear exception is the opportunity that technology and social media offer for professional development, communication, and praxis for art museum educators. (see graphic representation of the AMECO proceedings near the bottom of this post)

Museum-Ed Museum Education Summit 2012
Museum-Ed Museum Education Summit 2012

Throughout the meeting, I kept returning in my own mind to two things:

  1. The number of resources that currently exist for art museum educators. When I began my graduate work in the field in 1995, I struggled to find excellent sources for inspiration and professional development. The situation is far, far different now—there is so much exciting work being done.
  2. The ways in which ArtMuseumTeaching.com, as a digital community of practice, can support and encourage the progress and evolution of our field in ways that are both powerful and palatable. We are all incredibly busy, but somehow we make time for a source of information that is powerful, well-curated, social, and welcoming.

To that end, I would like to share the myriad professional resources offered by the groups represented at the meeting. Take a few moments over your lunch break (yes, I know . . . what lunch break?) and click the following links to see the good work being done in and on behalf of the field of museum education:

American Association of Museums’ Education Professional Network (EdCOM) advances the purpose of museums as places of lifelong learning, serves as an advocate for diverse audiences and educators, and promotes professional standards and excellence in the practice of museum education.

ArtMuseumTeaching.com is a digital community and collaborative online forum for reflecting on issues of teaching, learning, and experimental practice in the field of art museum education. It is the goal of this site to connect educators, ideas, and resources around a dialogue about what we do in our practice of teaching and learning.

Bank Street College Museum Education: Childhood, Museum Education (Non-certification), and Leadership in Museum Education programs. The programs emphasize the educational role and mission of museums in a pluralistic society by providing a sound foundation in human development, learning theories, developing learner-centered classroom curricula, and museum policy and practice. Faculty are drawn from both teaching and museum backgrounds and include working museum professionals. The programs combine course and field experiences in both schools and museums.

Canadian Art Gallery Educators (CAGE) is a non-profit association of educators and museums across Canada. Formed in 1989, CAGE has a long history of providing support for gallery and museum educators.

Committee for Education and Cultural Action (CECA) is one of the oldest international committees of ICOM, and as such it achieves the major objectives of ICOM: the exchange of scientific information at an international level, the development of professional standards, the adoption of rules and recommendations, and the realization of collaborative projects.

Engage.org engage is a membership organization representing gallery, art, and education professionals in the United Kingdom and over 20 countries worldwide. engage promotes access to, enjoyment, and understanding of the visual arts through gallery education.

George Washington University Museum Education: Master of Arts in Teaching. The George Washington University developed its master of arts in teaching in museum education in consultation with the museum community. The interdisciplinary curriculum balances academic study with carefully supervised fieldwork, preparing practitioners with the range of knowledge and competencies requisite to leading the profession

Group for Education in Museums (GEM) is a European organization that champions excellence in heritage learning to improve the education health, and well-being of the general public.

Samuel H. Kress Foundation supports the work of individuals and institutions engaged with the appreciation, interpretation, preservation, study, and teaching of the history of European art and architecture from antiquity to the dawn of the modern era.  Among their broad support for art museums, the Kress Interpretive Fellowship provides a new kind of mentored professional development opportunity intended to encourage students to explore interpretive careers in art museums, whether as future museum educators or curators; to strengthen the profession of museum educator within the art museum community; to strengthen ties between museum educators and curators in the shared task of interpretive programming in art museums; and to expand the range of promising career options available to students of art history and related fields.

LEM: The Learning Museum Network Project is a permanent network of museums and cultural heritage organizations to ensure that that can play an active role with regard to lifelong learning and to raise awareness among decision makers at a European level.

Marcus Institute for Digital Education in the Arts (MIDEA), a project of the New Media Consortium provides timely, succinct, and practical knowledge about emerging technologies that museums can use to advance their missions.

Museum Education Monitor tracks and records research and resources in museum education worldwide. The aim of MEM is to help create a “road map” to new and current learning in museum education. Its goal is to enhance the development of theory and practice in the field by both academics and museum workers.

Museum Education Roundtable fosters professionalism among museum educators by encouraging leadership, scholarship, and research in museum-based learning. MER also publishes the Journal of Museum Education, the only journal printed in the United States devoted to the theory and practice of museum education.

Museum-Ed strives to meet the needs of museum educators by providing tools and resources by and for the museum education community. Museum-Ed is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing museum educators opportunities to ask questions, to exchange ideas, to explore current issues, to share resources, to reflect on experiences, and to inspire new directions in museum education. Museum-Ed is not a membership organization. All of the resources on the Museum-Ed Web site are free and available to educators in any type of museum, and anyone interested in the field of museum education.

National Art Education Association’s Museum Education Division advances the mission and vision of NAEA, advocating for the value of art museum education in lifelong learning, as well as promoting the needs of educators and the diverse audiences museums engage. The division builds community and develops leadership, advances research and knowledge, and fosters a culture of learning in the field.

University of Texas Master of Arts (MA) in Art Education with a Museum Focus. The purpose of the Master’s Degree Program in Art Education is to provide students with the opportunity, environment, and resources to explore issues in art education, conduct research on a significant aspect of art education, and enhance their knowledge of art and art education.

*     *     *     *     *

Many thanks to Kris Wetterlund and Scott Sayre of Museum-Ed for endeavoring to bring this meeting to fruition while being the most gracious of hosts; to the Kress Foundation for supporting and and participating in this significant event; and to Maketa Wilborn for his ability to summarize, understand, and represent complex issues and ideas.

Maketa Wilborn’s graphic interpretation of the AMECO meeting. Click on image to see a larger view.
Maketa Wilborn’s graphic interpretation of the AMECO meeting. Click on image to see a larger view.

AMECO hosts: Museum-Ed and Frye Art Museum; sponsored by the Kress Foundation

Participating Organizations: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Art Museum Teaching, Marcus Institute for Digital Education in the Arts (MIDEA), Bank Street College, George Washington University, Museum Education Roundtable, Kress Foundation, University of Texas at Austin, Canadian Art Gallery Educators (CAGE), EdCOM/American Alliance of Museums, The Learning Project, Engage.org, Group in Education (GEM), Museum Education Division/National Art Education Association, and International Council on Museums/Committee for Education and Cultural Action (CECA).

Visitors engaging with a sea of all images that were posted on Flickr during a 24-hour period and dumped into the exhibition space in the "What's Next" exhibition at the Future of the Photography Museum in Amsterdam. Photo by foamamsterdam

Meeting the Future Head On: Future Reports, Trends, & Next Practices

“The purpose of strategic foresight is to prime your imagination to envision different futures — some of the many ways that the world could evolve into more than an amped-up version of today.” – Elizabeth Merritt

What does the future hold for museums?  What are museums (or, more accurately, the people working in museums) doing right now that deserves to be shared, examined, and reflected upon?  How can museums think more critically about their role in the transforming landscape of education — now and in the years ahead?  We all have these questions floating through our minds, but may not often have the time and space to chew on them or hear others’ thoughts.  I, myself, have a pile of printed reports, trend watches, and ‘future of museums’ readings sitting on my desk, and every once in a while I glare at it and wish that I could absorb it all in a few minutes like Neo in the film The Matrix.  Without superhuman powers, though, I decided to dive into that pile this week.

In an exceptional Museum-iD post gathering perspectives from global museum innovators in response to the question “What will museums be like in the future?,” Adam Rozan from the Oakland Museum of California remarked:

“… museums will thrive, using challenges as opportunities to test new business and engagement models, and, in doing so, meeting the future head on.”

So it’s in that spirit that I wanted to bring together and share a group of resources from the past 6 months that present and analyze trends, future thinking, and ‘next’ practices in museums and education that help us meet the future head on.  I hope that you find this list useful, and please add additional resources, links, and ideas to the Comments section below — allowing this to become a more organic resource.  Let’s dive in, shall we…

Visitors engaging with a sea of all images that were posted on Flickr during a 24-hour period and dumped into the exhibition space in the "What's Next" exhibition at the Future of the Photography Museum in Amsterdam. Photo by foamamsterdam
Visitors engaging with a sea of all images that were posted on Flickr during a 24-hour period and dumped into the exhibition space in the “What’s Next” exhibition at the Future of the Photography Museum in Amsterdam. Photo by foamamsterdam

Next Practices in Art Museum Education

NextPracticesIntended to take us beyond “best practices,” Next Practices in Art Museum Education is a new compilation of information from the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) member museums and their innovative approaches to engaging the public with the arts through diverse learning opportunities. Next Practices incorporates 100 case studies of the recent and ongoing educational programming that its member museums have designed and implemented.

The resource underscores the many forms art museum education can take, and provides practical and inspiring ideas for future programming at institutions worldwide.  The resource represents a much-needed survey of the exceptional educational practices happening in art museums across the country, and ranges across ages and types of engagement & learning.

NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Museum Edition

HorizonReport2013Released in November 2013, the NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Museum Edition examines key trends and technologies in the museum sector, as well as significant challenges that museums are faced with in adopting these technologies.  The report hones in on six emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in education and interpretation within the museum environment:

  • BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): given the increasing number of people who take their smartphones and other devices with them everywhere they go, the BYOD movement is an effort to move away from a top-down system of providing devices toward a practice that instead provides the networks and frameworks through which museum visitors interact with a range of content on their own devices.
  • Crowdsourcing: A method of gathering ideas, information, or content from a wider public community around a shared goal — capitalizing on the power of collective intelligence and public knowledge, as in the case of Wikipedia. Crowdsourcing strategies are being used by museums to curate exhibitions, gathering metadata around artworks or artifacts, promoting community engagement, and crowdfunding new projects.
  • Electronic publishing: Near and dear to my heart, electronic and digital media are continuing to redefine the publishing avenues of museums, tapping into modern digital workflows and social media activities to develop new forms of content and significantly extend the reach of that content beyond the limits of traditional print.  Beyond making these electronic platforms available to anyone, the report identifies the next phase of electronic publishing as linking these platforms together to produce new types of content.
  • Location-based services: Enabled by WiFi access points, GPS, RFID tags, and crowdsourced positioning technologies, location-based services are now available to deliver up-to-the-moment information that is related to a particular spot — guiding visitors through spaces, directing them to exhibits and objects that match their preferences, and triggering information and content specific to the visitor’s exact location in the museum.
  • Natural user interfaces: While we are already familiar with technologies and devices that respond to the natural movements of gestures of the human body (taps, swipes, arm motions, and natural language), there are prototype technologies being developed that extend these capabilities and combine facial expression and gesture-sensing technology with voice recognition that could allow museum visitors to interact in an increasingly natural fashion.
  • Preservation and conservation technologies: While museums have always addressed issues of preserving and conserving cultural heritage, these practices are being challenged by questions around how to preserve and conserve via digital materials as well as working with digital and time-based media — requiring new approaches and new skills that bring in electronic and multi-disciplinary perspectives to digital preservation efforts.

I was fortunate to be part of the 44-member Advisory Board and the process that helped identify these technology trends currently affecting the practice of museum education, interpretation, and visitor experience, and I look forward to the next annual report in this NMC series.

TrendsWatch 2014

TrendsWatchCenter for the Future of Museum’s annual forecasting report, TrendsWatch 2014, summarizes six emerging trends identified through CFM’s research and the Dispatches from the Future of Museums, CFM’s free e-newsletter. The report explores how each trend is playing out in the world, investigates what this means for society and for museums, shares examples of how museums are engaging with this trend, and suggests how museums might respond.  Here are the six trends/topics that this report identifies:

  • “For Profit for Good: The rise of the social entrepreneurs”
  • “Synesthesia: Multisensory experiences for a multisensory world”
  • “A Geyser of Information: Tapping the big data oil boom”
  • “Privacy in a Watchful World: What have you got to hide?”
  • “What’s Mine Is Yours: The economy of collaborative consumption”
  • “Robots! Are Rosie, Volton, Bender and their kin finally coming into their own?”

The report’s author, Elizabeth Merritt, writes in her introduction:

“As you read about these six trends, think about how they will shape the world, what it would be like to live in the world they may create, and how you and your organization might respond…. Personally I think the most important and challenging question question is raised in ‘For Profit for Good': How big an impact do museums want to have on the world, and how can we ensure that the good we do is good enough?”

A great read, and certainly a report to look forward to each year from CFM.  And speaking of CFM, here are a few more resources and future thinking items from their realm.

Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem

BuildingFutureComing out of a convening organized in September 2013 by the American Alliance of Museums (AAMC) and The Henry Ford, the “Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem” report includes essays by educators, students, researchers and reformers that summarize and explore how leaders from the worlds of education and museums can work together to integrate the nation’s assets into what they call a ‘Vibrant Learning Grid.’  The convening and report asks the big question: How can museums and schools collaborate to create a new future for education?

The report pulls together leading thinkers and related case studies that focus on this and other core, burning questions, addressing a range of issues that include:

  • investing in greater capacities to support and manage partnerships
  • strengthening family engagement and envisioning parents as co-learners
  • building open learning networks across community institutions
  • leveraging digital learning and collaborative technologies

The report ends with a powerful “Call to Action” that came out of the second day of the convening, with some practical suggestions for moving the conversation forward and enacting change. They share several ideas, including increasing awareness, sharing information, disrupting conventional thinking about the educational landscape, and implementing radical experiments that increase the role of museums in an expanded view of education.

Guide to the Future at the 2014 Annual Meeting

CFMFor those of you heading to Seattle this weekend for the 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), there are lots of great sessions, panels, and events to attend that bring together leading thinkers to discuss the future of museums as well as existing trends.  The CFM’s Elizabeth Merritt shared her insights recently via the CFM blog, and I encourage you to take a look (even if, like me, you are not attending the AAM conference this year).  You’ll find sessions discussing almost all of the reports I list above.  If I were attending AAM this year, one of my top picks would be “Crowdsourcing to Community Sourcing: Engaging Visitor Input” with Jeff Inscho, Lori Phillips, Daniel Davis, and Petra Pankow.

Share Your Thoughts

What are some of your ideas about the future of museums, and the ‘next’ practices that will help museums thrive?  And what are your thoughts about these types of reports and publications that spotlight ‘innovation’ and ‘future thinking’ — are they limited in their scope, or helpful as we all reflect on our own practice?  What sources do you look toward when thinking about new ideas, experiments, and projects?

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Expectations & Satisfaction in Gallery Experiences

Written by Jenn DePrizio, Director of Visitor Learning, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Since participating in the 2014 Gallery Teaching Marathon held at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego during the NAEA conference, two questions have been swimming around in my mind:

  • Where do our expectations for behavior in gallery experiences come from?
  • What does satisfaction look and feel like in an art museum experience?

Issues of expectations and satisfaction are part of the work we do each day.  We plan gallery talks, tours, and programs with intention and hope that we meet the needs and expectations of our visitors.  During the Marathon, I participated as both a learner and facilitator in the varied gallery experiences that ranged from using thinking routines to creating poetry to using movement as a way to express personal interpretation of a work of art.  Since that day I have been thinking deeply about expectations and satisfaction from both points of view as learner and teacher.  The reflection that follows begins to dig into the questions posed above.

Where do our expectations for behavior in gallery experiences come from?

Yasumasa Morimura, An Inner Dialogue with Frida Kahlo (Collar of Thorns), Color photograph, 2001 Museum purchase, International and Contemporary Collectors Fund 2002.9. Image from http://carearts.org/
Yasumasa Morimura, An Inner Dialogue with Frida Kahlo (Collar of Thorns), Color photograph, 2001 Museum purchase, International and Contemporary Collectors Fund 2002.9. Image from http://carearts.org/

As a teacher I approach each learning opportunity with my own set of expectations.  For the Marathon, I paired up with my Gardner Museum colleague Michelle Grohe (Director of School and Teacher Programs) to offer an experience we called “VTSing VTS.”  We wanted to move beyond the heated debates that sometimes surrounds Visual Thinking Strategies. We simply wanted to engage in conversation about a work of art with our colleagues using the method, and then talk about what the experience was like — hence our title “VTSing VTS.”  One of the misconceptions about VTS is that it can only be used successfully with young children or those unfamiliar with art, i.e. beginner viewers. So, Michelle and I were curious to see what a VTS discussion would be like with a group of non-beginner viewers, specifically our art museum education colleagues. We wondered, “What would museum educators do with the open-ended question ‘What’s going on in this picture?’” with this work of art: An Inner Dialogue with Frida Kahlo (Collar of Thorns) [2001], by artist Yasumasa Morimura.

We anticipated that some members of our group may have prior knowledge to contribute to the conversation—maybe someone would be familiar with this artist’s work, maybe someone would think it looked like an image by Frida Kahlo they’d seen before, maybe someone would have first-hand knowledge of photographic processes.  We hoped that through our group dialogue we could dispel the myth that these kinds of comments should not be shared.  Often in VTS discussions with non-beginners, participants hold back and do not share background knowledge they may have about the work being discussed. Is this because they think they can’t or shouldn’t? If so, where does that restrictive idea come from? Because we wanted everyone to authentically participate in the discussion, before turning it over to Michelle to lead the VTS discussion, I encouraged everyone to share whatever they wanted to express —observations, questions, prior knowledge, etc. The resulting discussion was one in which many ideas were contributed and numerous questions were posed.

VTSing VTS group shot

What does satisfaction look and feel like in a museum experience?

Prior to the VTS discussion, we wanted to take the pulse of the group in terms of knowledge and experience with VTS, so I asked a simple question about what was on their minds about VTS.  There were many thoughtful responses, but one that stuck with me is “I am wondering if this experience will be satisfying.”  It’s a natural feeling to wonder if what you are about to engage in will be enjoyable and fulfilling.  But in this case I wonder if some of this skepticism may have been based on the fact that the discussion would be entirely generated by the group with no art historical content added by the facilitator.  The content of our 20 minutes together talking about a work of art would come entirely from the participants with the skilled facilitator (Michelle) paraphrasing and linking comments.

 

VTSing VTS close upSo, I’m curious, do we need art historical information to be satisfied in an art museum experience?  Throughout the Marathon, we had participated in a number of gallery experiences that did not include any art historical information, discussion of artist intention or biography, etc.  In those instances, the facilitator encouraged us to experience the works of art through poetry, movement, creating sound effects, and sometimes even silence.  Is it because VTS is based on words that participants expect the facilitator to contribute certain words, i.e. information?  How much of our criteria for satisfaction is dependent on the type of experience we are having?  If our experience is word-based, do we expect the facilitator to provide art historical content? And if our experience is movement-based or poetry-based, do we have the same expectations?

For me, VTS discussions are always satisfying—even when they are not (more on that in a moment)—for many reasons.  At the Gallery Teaching Marathon, what was most satisfying for me was getting to know my colleagues better.  By listening to the way people talk about a work of art, I caught a glimpse of the way they think.  I learned how comfortable they felt (or did not feel) when offering a divergent opinion.  I discovered that even seasoned museum professionals can feel self-conscious about taking the conversation in a different direction. I was given a privileged peek into who they are.  It’s not every day that we see others in an authentic, vulnerable way like that. The final comment of our VTS discussion offered a different interpretation of the work of art.  As a teacher I appreciated greatly that someone was brave enough to offer an idea so different than the rest of the group.  This is what I cherish about open-ended gallery experiences—the opportunity for every visitor’s voice to be heard and valued equally.

Can we be satisfied by not being satisfied?

All of this thinking about satisfaction has led me to another question: When is not fully being satisfied a good thing? A desire for more from an experience does not have to be a negative thing.  It is the curiosity that is sparked, the debate that is started, the challenge to one’s way of thinking that is necessary for a transformative experience.  It is precisely that hunger for more discussion, deeper understanding, and expanded knowledge that propels our thinking and understanding of art and ourselves.  So, can we be satisfied by not being satisfied?

Weeks after the Gallery Teaching Marathon, I am appreciative for colleagues who were willing to experiment and discuss our teaching practice.  There are many, many ways that we can encourage our visitors to have meaningful experiences with our collections. No one technique can accomplish all that is possible with a work of art.  What happened in the galleries at MCASD during the Marathon reinforced my belief that our teaching practice can and should be diverse and far-reaching.  I hope we can continue to be open-minded and supportive of the work that we each do. For me that would be so satisfying.

vts-boston

OpenThink: Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) & Museums

VTS-bostonFor the past two decades, the overall discourse regarding Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) has been the subject of rather thorny debate.  The often-cited conversation between Philip Yenawine and Danielle Rice at the 1999 National Docent Symposium (published in 2002) productively drew out many of the disagreements about the role of information in museum teaching, especially with beginning viewers and first-time museum visitors.  In their recent book Teaching in the Art Museum, Rika Burnham and Elliot Kai-Kee frame VTS as a restrictive teaching method, wondering about participants’ experience in the galleries: “Have they not perhaps been cheated out of an authentic encounter with the painting?”  These debates continue to today, and, at times, it seems like one needs to draw a line in the sand and decide which side they stand on.

So what is VTS?

For those of you unfamiliar with Visual Thinking Strategies, it is an inquiry-based teaching method developed by Abigail Housen and Philip Yenawine more than twenty years ago and used in museums and school classrooms across the country.  Here is how Philip Yenawine describes it in his latest book Visual Thinking Strategies: Using Art to Deepen Learning Across School Disciplines (2013):

“VTS uses art to teach visual literacy, thinking, and communication skills—listening and expressing oneself. Growth is stimulated by several things: looking at art of increasing complexity, answering developmentally based questions, and participating in peer group discussions carefully facilitated by teachers.” (19)

Even those who do not practice VTS may be familiar with the sequence of open-ended questions that form one of the main aspects of VTS teaching practice:

  1. What’s going on in this picture?
  2. What do you see what makes you say that?
  3. What more can we find?

If you are interested in learning more about VTS, the foundational research behind it, and ongoing research in museums and classrooms today, here are some excellent resources:

Pushing Beyond the Protocol

My own approach toward VTS has been to set aside any controversy and more fully explore the research as well as the practical implementation of these teaching strategies ‘on the ground’ in museums.  Back in 2009, I led a panel at the American Association of Museums conference that called attention to the many questions, challenges, and apprehensions that exist regarding this method.  After interviews with more than 30 museum educators from across the country, I was able to gain a more complete and complex view of how VTS (and the research behind it) is being implemented in art museums—including adaptations of the original protocol, metacognitive dimenions as part of the VTS experience, pushing the boundaries of artwork selection, and alternative applications for docent and teacher training.  I have even found institutions that use Abigail Housen’s “stages of aesthetic development” (the core foundation of VTS) as part of their curatorial practice, the writing of labels and wall texts, and working with teaching artists to examine ways of creating art that addresses developmental stages of the viewers.  In addition to being one of the most commonly used teaching methods in art museums today, it is interesting to see how many other ways that VTS and its research has entered into museum practice.

Burning Questions about VTS: Ask Philip Yenawine

PhilipNeroVTSWhile I have never been trained in VTS myself, I have adopted it as part of my own teaching toolbox — often using its open-ended questions as a way to spark looking, talking, and listening with a work of art.  I respect the research and practice involved with VTS, which is why I jumped at the chance to partner with the national VTS organization to bring Philip Yenawine here to the Portland Art Museum.  Philip has been traveling around the country since his latest book was released last year, and his speaking engagement here at the Portland Art Museum (this Saturday, May 3rd, 2:00pm) will be part of that series of talks.

When we were first offered to host Philip’s talk here in Portland, I invited Philip to also join me for a conversation on stage as part of this Saturday’s program (which he gladly accepted).  I wanted to have the opportunity to discuss the applications of VTS with art museum teaching, and discuss some of the ‘burning questions’ that many museum educators have about VTS research and practice.

So, I am using this blog post (and the ArtMuseumTeaching community) to gather some juicy, burning questions that we all might have about VTS in museum teaching.  To seed this “open think” process of gathering your questions, I asked Jennifer DePrizio and Michelle Grohe at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston (a leading museum in VTS research & practice) to send me some of their questions.  Here is some of what they sent me:

  • We know a lot about what VTS looks like (both in terms of facilitation and types of learning to expect) in elementary students, primarily in grades 3-5.  What does that learning and teaching look like with older students, particularly high school? 
  • Listening is the cornerstone of paraphrasing and ensuring that students know that you not only listened to their ideas, but they were heard as well.  That can be a difficult skill to encourage teachers to develop. Can you really train someone to be a good listener?  How can we design effective professional development experiences that help teachers become aware of how they listen, and how to listen better? What activities and practice can we put into place to help our gallery educators hone their listening skills?
  • Since professional development programs at the Gardner invest a lot of time, over time, with teachers, what does their growth look like in terms of: aesthetic development, comfort with visual art, use of student-centered teaching practices, use of VTS questions with non-visual art, overall attitudes and understandings of teaching and learning and role of visual art in the classroom/school?  
  • What is the long-term effect or stickiness for VTS?
  • What does the use of VTS look like with non-beginners, or with viewers who are moving from beginner viewers (Housen stages I and II), into different aesthetic stages such as Housen’s stage II/III, II/IV and III?  How could we best support their growth while also challenging the students effectively?  What would that facilitation look like?  How would we know that we were addressing the students’ actual questions, not just sharing information that we think would help them?  
  • How do we responsibly respond to the many misrepresentations of VTS that exist?  How do we help colleagues in the field of art museum education understand the nuances that are available within VTS?

ADD YOUR QUESTIONS:

Please help me crowd-source some more ‘burning questions’ about VTS, and use the Comments area below to add your own questions.  If you add your thoughts here between now and Saturday, I’ll bring many of these questions to my conversation with Philip Yenawine here at the Portland Art Museum (and I should be able to post the video of this conversation here next week).

Thanks for helping me think about VTS in this open space for exchange, questions, and ideas!  And I’m looking forward to my conversation with Philip on Saturday (join us if you’re in Portland — the event is FREE and starts at the Portland Art Museum at 2pm).

#PhilipYenawineSelfie #VTSselfie
#PhilipYenawineSelfie #VTSselfie
Students reflecting at the Met - small

Building Bridges to Museums: How Classroom Teachers Can Help Reach Marginalized Youth

By Clare HaganDeWitt Clinton High School

Students reflecting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Students reflecting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

During most days here in New York (and especially the recent spring break), art museums are thronged with families. Parents, grandparents and their children of all ages orient themselves with maps, cruise galleries and favor an exhibit or two leaning in to read labels, manipulate interactives, ask questions and make observations together. They’ve come to be entertained, spend time together and invest in the value of informal education.

As most of us know, families build a foundation for behavior and learning strategies and research indicates that family museum visits lead to adults who find value and comfort in museums. So what happens when children are marginalized because they don’t visit museums with their families? How might they feel comfortable and find value in a museum? While museums turn to more inclusive programs, policies, and exhibits in order to reach more families, what can the individual classroom teacher do to help create lifelong museum visitors?

I am an English teacher at DeWitt Clinton High School, a large public high school in the Bronx. My school currently serves 2,745 students of which 76% receive free lunch and 21% are English Language Learners. Our total population is comprised of 62% Hispanic, 29% Black, 7% Asian, and 3% other.  With the average museum visitor being white, college educated, and affluent, my students are certainly in the minority.  On top of that, due to budget cuts and the growing focus on test scores, schools like ours are taking fewer and fewer field trips.

At the beginning of the year, 83% of my students claim to have never visited an art museum. Nevertheless, after their second field trip, 96% say they are “likely” or “very likely” to return to one. As I look at these results, I try to understand what makes this class work.

Exploring Museums as Cultural and Community Resources

During their senior year, students can elect to take my year-long Humanities class for English credit. As in most humanities classes, my students learn about a long line of classical texts and objects but in my class they also learn about critical issues related to the people and institutions that preserve, shape, and disseminate cultural knowledge. They analyze intentional learning communities from ancient libraries to contemporary museums to the internet through texts ranging from historical records to reviews of current exhibits. They ask:

  • Whose culture is being preserved and how is it represented?
  • Where are the silences and why might they persist?
  • What are the criteria for a good collection or exhibit?
  • How are informal learning spaces different from formal education? How are they the same?
Students embody their interpretations
Students embody their interpretations in the classroom.

In response, their mid-year project is to propose a museum exhibit on a subject of their choice and their year-end assignment is to design a public humanities project for their own community.  Even if all my students don’t become museum curators and cultural events planners, at the very least they know that they can critically engage in public dialogue about cultural heritage, encounter deep experiences with works of art, and participate in self-directed learning in museums.

From day one, my students are engaged in object-based lessons. They read curatorial essays and look at several objects on a weekly basis, mostly from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By focusing on the Met as a primary resource, my students come to understand it deeply as a public institution.  At the same time, they focus on works of art in depth. Based on my studies with educational philosopher Maxine Greene and through professional development at the Lincoln Center Institute, I have learned to infuse my classroom with aesthetic education practices.

A typical lesson in my classroom involves students in a combination of deep noticing, embodied experiences, play, analysis, discussion, art making, questioning, researching, making connections, and meta-cognitive reflection. Together we wonder about why art matters, why history matters, how both get made, and how both get preserved. In addition, my students learn how to approach an object. In the classroom, groups lean in to an image on an iPad or stand back and discuss an image projected on the wall. They look at the object first and annotate the label second. They learn to look together as well as individually, to listen for their curiosities, find comfort with ambiguity, and to follow through with informal research.

By late fall we are ready for our first self-guided tour and we visit the Met’s Greek Art galleries. It didn’t take long for me to learn that students need preparation for male nudity in theses galleries, so in the days prior to our visit we look closely at nudity and consider its role in ancient Greek culture.  This way their field of vision goes beyond the nudity and they can see these objects from multiple perspectives. At the museum, students look at a few pre-selected objects making connections to our study of Homer’s The Odyssey. Next, they explore the galleries in pairs looking for patterns in order to draw conclusions about motifs.  Finally, students are encouraged to explore independently and gravitate toward one object which they will eventually research and write about. After our trip, we reflect on our visit and share our research.

Students looking together at the Met
Students looking together at the Met

In the spring, we return to the Met for a second visit, this time to experience the Islamic Art galleries. My students are noticeably more comfortable during this visit and are able to take on an additional assignment. This assignment asks students to use photography to develop intimate engagement as well as critical distance. Each student is asked to submit four distinct shots: an architectural detail, a fleeting moment, a close up of an object (one they will also research), and a selfie. Upon returning to the classroom we view our collection of photographs, share our research, and reflect on the visit as seen through our own eyes.

Creating Deep Connections with Museums

When students visit museums, they gain experiences and build knowledge. As teachers and museum educators, we often activate schema before, during, or after experiencing a particular object or exhibit in order to make meaning. We do this to help students make connections. But the schema that experienced museum visitors activate is not only related to the content of objects and exhibits. It’s about what to expect from a museum visit and how to make the most of it. How to lean in and look deeply, how to explore independently and together, how to listen to and follow our curiosities. Even how to play or to take a critical stance.

When students don’t visit museums with their families they need classroom teachers to introduce them to the inroads of experiencing one. Otherwise they might never feel welcome or even inclined to try a visit. From my experience, curriculum and lessons based on aesthetic education practices that also familiarize students with museums as a resource need to happen through repetition over an extended period of time, spiraling throughout the course of a semester or a year. This is possible when teachers choose one museum to focus on using objects and text related to their collections. I also believe that teachers need to layer their curriculum with a range of critical questions and projects related to the sources of our cultural heritage.  By becoming aware of the ways our cultural heritage is shaped and disseminated, students are empowered and see themselves as active participants in cultural dialogue.

Where else can we find success in reaching marginalized youth and what other roles can classroom teachers play? And finally, how can more teachers be persuaded to create deep connections with museums?

Students leaning in at the Met

About the Author

Clare Hagan head shotCLARE HAGAN: Humanities teacher at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, NY. At DeWitt Clinton, Clare has developed and implemented curriculum based on museums as a resource, museums as an object of study, aesthetic education and object-based lessons. She has presented her Humanities curriculum at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and has conducted professional development workshops on object-based lessons. In addition to her MA in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, she has studied critical issues in museum education at Teachers College and aesthetic education at Lincoln Center Institute. Currently, through generous funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, she is studying Islamic verse and will be publishing her museum infused curriculum online this summer. Clare’s postings on this site are her own and don’t necessarily represent DeWitt Clinton High School’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

 

Nothing signifies 'play' like this installation by Martin Creed. Photo by Nicolas Mirguet.

Long Live the Spirit of Play: Tracking a Theme through NAEA 2014

By Rachel Ropeik, Brooklyn Museum

Nothing signifies 'play' like this installation by Martin Creed. Photo by Nicolas Mirguet.
Nothing signifies ‘play’ like this installation by Martin Creed. Photo by Nicolas Mirguet.

What do maker spaces, bodily collisions with strangers, and sculptures made of Turkish delight have in common?  They were all part of sessions at the recent 2014 National Art Education Association Convention in San Diego.  To be more specific, they were all part of sessions that focused on a theme threading through the four days of sun and arts teaching: the spirit of play.

That’s how I’m referring to it, at least.  The same idea was talked about as “being OK with failure”, “going in without predetermined outcomes”, and “iterative approaches”, but it was all shades of the same thing, and it was popping up everywhere.  (Side note: The importance of play in our work lives has been a topic beyond the museum sphere for a while.  Here’s a nice, clear Psychology Today article from 2008 that talks about what play means for our brains.)  People are interested in testing new ideas without knowing how they’ll end up, and I love it.  Like my theme tracking after the last AAM Annual Meeting, I want to follow this one through the NAEA Convention, highlighting some (though by no means all) of the conversations, actions, and tweets that made it one of my top conference takeaways.

Talking about play started out at the Museum Education Division Preconference, which was hosted at Balboa Park, home to some inspirational collaborations between cultural institutions.  Collaboration was the theme of the Preconference, and the very first session of the day, a keynote panel of experienced museum collaboration facilitators, included advice like:

and

Conference attendees were excited about this theme, too, and talked/tweeted about it throughout the day.

Seema Rao of the Cleveland Museum of Art reminded us about taking chances.

David Bowles from the Metropolitan Museum of Art talked about what motivated him to take part in the Noguchi Museum’s Teacher Think Tank (a program that started with the open-ended goal of getting museum educators and K-12 teachers together to think about museums and schools working together).

On Saturday morning, a session called Museum Maker Spaces: Creating and Play for Adults (not to be confused with “adult play”) took up the playfulness banner.  I’m sorry to have missed that session, but thanks to colleagues like Emily Holtrop (from the Cincinnati Art Museum) and Cate Bayles (from the John Michael Kohler Arts Center), I heard about some of its key themes on Twitter.

No pressure for an end product?  What do we get out of play?  As the larger debate continues about how to make museums relevant, I’m glad these are some of the issues being posed.  I’m a firm believer that the museum can be a space for more than an in-depth, object-centered experience.  As a museum educator, yes, that’s at the heart of what I do in many ways, but is it the only thing I do?  No.  The only—or, dare I say best—thing visitors can experience when they come to a museum?  Heck, no!

Museums can be many things to many people.  For those of us dedicated to making museums meaningful, setting up experiments and pushing the boundaries of what makes a “good museum visit” is a great way to find out what some of those many things might be.

That was exactly the spirit of the Gallery Teaching Marathon, organized by this site’s Mike Murawski and hosted at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego on Sunday of the NAEA Convention.  As any regular reader of ArtMuseumTeaching.com knows, Mike is a voice for pushing our museum education practice, and he invited us to do just that through in-gallery sessions throughout the day.  In his original email looking for educators interested in leading a session, here’s how he put it:

“I would encourage people to think of this as an opportunity to try something new, take risks, and know that you will be among supportive colleagues, peers, and educators.”

And for those who ventured into one or two or all of the Gallery Teaching Marathon sessions, risks and newness were there for them to find.  Without speaking for my talented fellow educators who offered a wide range of experiences in the galleries that day, I will say the session I facilitated was exciting and invigorating to lead, and I hope fun to take part in.

photoWe used Richard Serra’s site-specific work, Santa Fe Depot to inspire us to write found poems, to focus on the environment around the work (up to and including the tourists dancing on top of Serra’s forged steel blocks, the commuter trains arriving and departing immediately next to us, and the pile of “organic sculpture” a dog had left behind next to the artwork), and finally, to create our own interpretive movements based on the words we’d generated.

Throughout the day, the Marathon sessions were full of eager, interested attendees, gung-ho for all the weirdness that might come their way and then ready to reflect on it. For my part, I found it incredibly liberating to be trying something with no idea how it would go over.  I liked explaining to the experimental adventurers at my session that I’d never done this before and talking about which elements of what we did made them uncomfortable and why.  It felt like an exciting deviation from what I expect from my own teaching, which led directly to me thinking about how to make it less of a deviation.

How can I take that spirit of fun, unexpected experiences in the museum and layer it into my job?  How can I give the teachers I work with—especially now, when so many are stressed over standards and evaluation—the same kind of joyful, playful invigoration that I felt from all these NAEA sessions and colleagues?  How can I spread my own belief that sometimes the most fun you can have in a museum comes from doing something within its walls that you would never have expected to do?

That’s what I’ve come home thinking about, and I’d love to hear if this idea affected any of you, too.  Any anecdotes to share about how the spirit of play has impacted your museum work?  Any advice for spreading the enjoyably surprising?  Any other NAEA sessions you attended that connected to this idea?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

If you want to read more about some of the things I’ve mentioned, check the Twitter hashtags #naea14, #naeamused14 (for museum-related content), and #galleryteachingmarathon.  There’s also my complete Storify account of the Convention, which has plenty more tweeting about the spirit of play, and Olga Hubard’s recent reflection on the Gallery Teaching Marathon itself (touching upon some of these same ideas).

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In the Midst of Practice: Reflections on the Gallery Teaching Marathon

By Olga Hubard, Teachers College, Columbia University

Liz Diament leading part of a gallery teaching experience with Ai Weiwei's "Marble Chair."
Liz Diament leading part of a gallery teaching experience with Ai Weiwei’s “Marble Chair.”

We all know that one way we grow as museum education professionals is by sharing our practices and the thinking that surrounds them. In most cases we do this through traditional presentations: our ideas and experiences tidily packaged; challenges and difficulties presented as something that occurred (safely) in the past, and which we now frame as food for productive reflection. The experimentation and messiness that is so often part of our work — at least if we take the risks necessary to keep evolving — do not often occur in front of our colleagues. That is, unless we participate in a Gallery Teaching Marathon like the one that took place in the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego during the NAEA conference this spring.

I left the Gallery Teaching Marathon both inspired and hopeful. One important reason was the very nature of the marathon: a group of seasoned museum educators guiding each other in engagements with works of art. Some, by their own admission, did “something they had never tried before;” others shared approaches that had been tried and tested but with works that were new to them. The fact that these educators felt comfortable enough to make themselves vulnerable in front of their colleagues is indicative of extraordinary trust among this community. As well, it reflects the passion and indomitable spirit of a group of professionals who have helped shape our field from the ground up.

For those of us who have become accustomed to teaching in the galleries, it was a luxury to be on the audience end of things, with the primary responsibility of helping make meaning of a series of compelling artworks. It was also fascinating to witness a range of teaching approaches that overlapped as much as they were different. I know many of us left the marathon with new ideas — particular strategies that we plan to borrow from our peers, and which will likely be incorporated into our practice soon enough.

Participants engaging in movement and pantomime strategies led by Jen Oleniczak.
Participants engaging in movement and pantomime strategies led by Jen Oleniczak.

I am ready, for example, to invite viewers to think more explicitly of the layers of meaning that a work might yield (Niki Ciccotelli Stewart), or to encourage them to enact the movements they might make if they could go inside a picture (Jen Oleniczak). I am also keen to have visitors post written questions on the periphery of a work (Heidi Hinish and Liz Diament), or to ask them to do what a particular work “is asking them to do” (Elliott Kai-Kee). More than anything, I am curious to see what happens as other educators in the group borrow and adapt this or that approach, make it their own, and come up with yet other ideas. It is this sort of cross-fertilization that keeps things moving along.

Another gain for me was renewed empathy with audiences. Throughout the marathon, I was acutely aware of how I responded to the various conditions that shaped our gallery interactions. When did the pace of a conversation leave room for my comments and when did it seem too fast or too distant from my ideas? In the case of non-discursive activities, when did I feel too self-conscious to really be in the experience and when did I feel comfortable “going for it”? How did the educator’s demeanor influence my interaction with the work and with others in the group?

By taking the participant’s seat, I was also able to re-discover something I already knew — or thought I knew. Like all of you, I have known for years that partner talk is a valuable approach in the galleries (of course!). But at MCASD, when a group got too large, or when for whatever reason I did not feel prepared to share my thoughts in a group dialogue, how grateful I was to be able to share what had been in my mind all along with a partner! The next time I facilitate partner- or small-group work I will do so from a renewed level of empathy and awareness. Perhaps like me, some of you also left the marathon with your own “re-learnings,” which can only work to enhance visitors’ experiences in the museum.

Beyond specific strategies and empathy, the gallery teaching marathon animated some larger issues that underlie our work. Two that are particularly alive for me at this point:

  1. If the experiences that took place in MCASD are in any way representative of the field, it would seem that we have come to accept that the meanings that viewers shape through words and rational thought are no more worthy than those they shape through poetic and non-discursive modalities. In an educational milieu that values rational thinking and word-based forms of meaning making above all, this places us at the vanguard–but also in tension with the status quo. Given this, how might we work to deepen and strengthen a commitment to poetic/artistic and multimodal ways of knowing so that museum visitors can continue to benefit from rich, multidimensional experiences with museum objects? How might we articulate the educational worth of diverse modes of meaning making? And how might we avoid dichotomizing rational, word-based approaches vis-à-vis more poetic ones, which might put us at risk of throwing out the baby with the bath water — or from recognizing when the two intersect?
  1. A few times during the marathon, I heard participants note that certain activities had taken them away from, rather than closer to, the works that were the target of our exploration. In the same breadth, these people added something along the lines of, “I’m not sure that it matters, though; the activity was worthwhile anyway.” For us educators, this raises a question of intentionality: When are our activities meant to bring us into deeper interaction with an object? When are they meant to spark off creative activity beyond the work itself? When are they meant to do both–or to do something different altogether? Does it matter and, if so, in what way? (These questions remind me of my colleague Megan Laverty’s provocative idea that perhaps the main purpose of art is to generate more art.)
Elliott Kai-Kee leads group to openly explore the question "what is this particular artwork asking me to do?"
Elliott Kai-Kee leads group to openly explore the question “what is this particular artwork asking me to do?”

With these and other questions in mind, throughout the marathon, part of me kept wishing for more time to debrief and reflect on what we were all experiencing. The rest of me was content with the limited reflection time we had, however — there was something wonderful about spending an entire day in the midst of practice; a day of sharing our work in the making; our practices in all their messiness and all their (realized and yet-to-be realized) potential. Perhaps an idea for another occasion might be to have a one-day gallery teaching marathon followed by a half-day reflection session.

But back to the event at MCASD. Early in this post, I said that the Gallery Teaching Marathon left me hopeful. I meant it. As I think back to our day together, I am hopeful for what is to come for our field, full as it is of courageous and dedicated educators who continue to build from the ground up, and to push us all to think and play and interact in thoughtful, imaginative ways. This is significant work for us as educators, and I trust that in time it will lead to more meaning-full museum experiences for visitors.

UPDATE: Response from Elliott Kai-Kee, J. Paul Getty Museum

Olga Hubard’s reflection on the issue of non-discursive and ‘poetic’ approaches versus word-based and ‘rational’ approaches struck a responsive chord with me. I like the way she cautions us against putting the two in opposition rather than seeing them as ‘intersecting,’ or even better, complementary. Indeed, I think it’s crucially important to figure out ways to work them together. I commonly see docents separate their school-group lessons into ‘activity’ stops and ‘discussion’ stops. How is it that we have defined the two in ways that result in such a dichotomy? They must get this from us somehow. Is it a reflection of an argument pitting engagement against interpretation? Materiality against symbolism? The Gallery Teaching Marathon demonstrated a wonderful variety of approaches to the practice of gallery teaching. Is there a way of thinking about teaching that brings them together in a way that would make them more powerful in combination?”

About the Author:

hubardOLGA HUBARD: Associate professor of art education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Olga is interested in the humanizing power of art and in how educators can help promote meaningful art experiences for learners. She has published extensively about this issue, particularly in the context of museum education. Her scholarship has appeared in journals including Studies in Art EducationCurator: The Museum JournalInternational Journal of Art and Design EducationJournal of Aesthetic EducationJournal of Museum Education, and Art Education: The Journal of the National Art Education Association. Olga’s writing is informed by years of experience as a museum educator and art teacher, and by her ongoing studio art practice. She holds doctoral and master’s degrees in art education from Teachers College, an MFA from the School of Visual Arts, and a BA in Art History from the Universidad Iberoamericana (Mexico). Olga’s postings on this site are her own and do not necessarily represent Columbia University’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

Teens collaborate with design mentors to create Mobile Apps during the App Jam at Carnegie Science Center. Photo: Ben Filio

Openly Networked Learning In and Across Art Museums

How can museums begin to more closely connect with in-school and out-of-school digital literacy practices, tapping the tools of the digital age as well as the elements of making, connecting, and experimenting that create powerful possibilities for learning?  Can we, as museum educators, begin to see ourselves as designers, and reposition ourselves as active agents of change in today’s education environment?  In what ways can museums be more involved in re-envisioning what education looks like?

These questions, among others, have been sparked by my involvement over the past few years in the research and practice around a social and participatory model of learning called Connected Learning —  as well as my work with an inspiring group of educators within the National Writing Project.  And while art museums have been only tangentially related to this practice (which I blame more on us museum educators and less on NWP), I was fortunate enough to be invited to submit a case study for the latest ebook entitled Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom (published online in February through the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning initiative).  This volume highlights compelling firsthand counter-narratives from educators engaged in solving an array of challenges in today’s classrooms, drawing together a collaborative network of instructors who have been contributing to the NWP’s web community, “Digital Is.”

I wanted to take the opportunity of this volume’s publication to begin writing more about Connected Learning, sharing its principles and exploring more connections with the practice of teaching and learning in museums.  Below is the text of my case study entitled “Openly Networked Learning in and Across Art Museums,” published first in February 2014 as part of the Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom volume.  This short case study examines the aspects of “openly networked” reflective practice in my work as a museum educator and blogger, pushing forward the concept of museums as spaces where communities of learners can connect, intersect, make, collaborate, and share.  I encourage anyone unfamiliar with Connected Learning to learn more by visiting connectedlearning.tv or downloading the 2013 report Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design — and I plan to write more here at ArtMuseumTeaching.com in the near future.


Openly Networked Learning In and Across Art Museums

What happens when educators converge around shared interests and purposes in the spaces of museums?  How can museums more effectively build diverse networks of educators that support our teaching and learning practice?  Faced with the complex landscape of formal and informal education in the 21st century, museums across the globe have been rethinking their role as actors within their educational community. Not only are museum galleries increasingly becoming open spaces in which communities of learners can connect and intersect, but museum professionals are also developing online spaces of exchange and reflective practice.

As a practicing art museum educator as well as a museum blogger, I find myself constantly in the process of discovering how “openly networked” an art museum can be.

While the growth of online learning communities and Google Hangouts for museums certainly promotes this principle of connected learning, I want to begin by focusing on how museums can support openly networked experiences in the analog, physical space of their galleries.

Museums as physical, analog networks

In November 2011, I was invited to lead an in-gallery workshop for educators at the High Museum of Art as part of a conference hosted by Harvard University’s Project Zero. The experience centered around an extended engagement with Jackson Pollock’s “Number 1A,” 1948, which was on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of a special exhibition. Instead of an experience guided by information, we began an open, embodied exploration through a series of scaffolded exercises that included slow looking, sharing observations, quick sketches, free writing, and variety of ways to use sound and movement to create responses to the work of art.  Small groups of participants were then invited to pull together sounds, movements, and words to develop creative a public performance in response to the Pollock painting.

teachers explore layers of paint through dynamic movement
teachers explore layers of paint through dynamic movement

One memorable group of three teachers worked together to choreograph a short piece that used their bodies to perform their response to the complex layering of paint and brushstrokes. Freely responding to this single painting through multiple access points as well as public performance, we were able to have a collective learning experience outside of our comfort zone and then immediately “poke at it” and see into the experience as a group. In this case (and many others like it), the art museum becomes a safe, open, and public space in which professional educators from museums, schools, and universities can come together to make learning visible and then reflect upon our practice in a shared space.

Museums as participatory spaces

CoLab community of educators exploring learning at the Saint Louis Art Museum in 2012.
community of educators openly exploring learning processes at the Saint Louis Art Museum in 2012.

While an art museum gallery can be an amazing place to meet with a class or group of teachers, museums and museum educators must work to actively support openly networked learning experiences. First of all, museums need to see teachers and students as active participants in the learning experience, pushing beyond mere “spectating” or “learning at a glance” toward a more participatory and process-oriented experience.  Part of this involves museums letting go of their ‘authority’ over knowledge and meaning-making, and instead empowering educators to co-create learning experiences with museums — as opposed to passively receiving content from museums, whether that be text panels, audio guides, curators, or museum educators.

Part of achieving this “letting go” is simply valuing teachers’ voices and recognizing teachers as creators of content, knowledge, and meaning in relation to museums. Professional development workshops can be re-envisioned with more of an emphasis on developing communities of practice where we learn from each other no matter what our “home” educational setting might be (school classroom, university, museum, etc.). This sense of creating a community of practice then builds toward a shared, reflective process that leads to professional growth on the side of both teachers and museum educators.

Building online networks of museum educators

The openly networked reflective practice described here does not need to be confined within the walls of a single museum, though.  This is where my experience as a museum blogger has expanded the way that people can connect around issues of museum teaching and learning.  After facilitating the educator workshop at the High Museum of Art back in 2011, I decided to create a multi-author online forum to publicly reflect on my own teaching practice, spotlight the practice of other educators, and provide a space for conversation around larger issues of teaching and learning in museums. Since its launch in February 2012, ArtMuseumTeaching.com has brought together more than 30 authors actively contributing to a growing online community of practice that reaches out to thousands of educators each month.

ArtMuseumTeaching.com Google+ Hangout On Air
ArtMuseumTeaching.com Google+ Hangout

In addition to standard blog-style posts and comments, the site has hosted face-to-face Google+ Hangouts On Air with museum educators and teachers from across the world. The site creates a networked space across museums and teaching contexts, allowing readers and contributors to see into and reflect upon the practice of a wide community of educators.

In their 2012 book Networked: The New Social Operating System, Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman have argued that large online communities actually expand opportunities for learning, problem solving, decision making, and personal interaction.

“People’s relationships remain strong—but they are networked. Neighbors, and neighborhoods still exist, to be sure, but they occupy a smaller portion of people’s lives. It is hard to borrow a cup of sugar from a Facebook friend 1,000 miles away, but it has become easier to socialize, get advice, and exchange emotional support at whatever distance. Where commentators had been afraid that the internet would wither in-person ties, it is clear that they enhance and extend them.”

As ArtMuseumTeaching.com continues to expand as an online space for reflecting on museum practice, I have been exploring how we—as museum and education professionals—maneuver within a technology-mediated world in a way that allows us to cultivate productive, human-centered networks and communities.  Museums and schools have been widely engaged in how digital media and technology can connect them with their students and audiences. But what about the potential of these same technologies to build entirely new “communities of practice” among professionals—whether teachers, university faculty, or museum educators?

I am especially interested in the ways in which an online community like ArtMuseumTeaching.com can, in turn, bring people with shared interests together in physical spaces in new and meaningful ways.  Since 2012, the ArtMuseumTeaching community has hosted several in-person gatherings, including conference sessions, happy hours, and recently the first-ever Museum Teaching Throw Down as well as Gallery Teaching Marathon. As many as one hundred people have come together for these face-to-face social experiences — creating new professional connections and enriching existing collaborations that continue to grow through the online/digital forum.  After all, the relationships we develop online are complex, as a simple Twitter follower or blog reader can quickly become a close colleague, friend, and mentor.  One ArtMuseumTeaching.com Google Hangout in 2013 brought together educators from Australia to New York in real time, and these connections develop new peer networks, partnerships, and professional exchanges that help us all grow personally and professionally.

Through this work that I have been engaged with thus far — both online and in the physical spaces of museum galleries — I feel that the art museum has begun to make a shift in what it has the potential to become: a dynamic cultural landscape where authentic, learner-driven experiences are developed and enacted by teachers and their students. These experiences are opening up museums as places for educators to chart their own path in unpredictable ways, and to invite parallel exploration, risk-taking, and fresh discovery on the part of learners across a variety of contexts.


Originally published in: Garcia, Antero, ed., 2014. Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. This report series on connected learning was made possible by grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in connection with its grantmaking initiative on Digital Media and Learning. 

A Forum for Reflecting on Practice

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