Museum Teaching Strategies and Inquiry Based Learning

I’m currently participating in a MOOC offered by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on art based instruction, museum teaching strategies and inquiry teaching.  Information on the course, “Art and Inquiry: Museum Teaching Strategies For Your Classroom,” is available here.

The course material combines readings, video lectures, and discussion groups.  The focus is on teaching techniques/resources and is based on MoMA’s successful education program.  I signed up for this free course based on a desire to gain another perspective on educational programming.  In 2013 over 1300 people participated in educational programming at my work and a large number of those participants were elementary and secondary school students.  I’m always looking for different ways to engage students in the history of residential schools, visiting art exhibitions, and history more broadly.

The first week’s content focused on the basics of inquiry learning and the use of objects/artwork as instructional tools.  The first week’s readings reinforced the flexibility of artwork and objects in instructional settings — objects can be used to spark conversation with all age groups and engagement with works of art/artifacts can teach critical thinking, observation, and presentation skills. 

I found the video example of the MoMA staff interacting with student groups particularly inspiring.  The staff encourage the students to observe an art work closely, discuss with each other their observations, and compare/contrast what they are observing.  The content helped inspire a couple of ideas about how to facilitate student interaction with artifacts currently on display at my work.

Digital Exhibits: Display and Format Challenges

As part of a work project, I recently spent some time scrolling through a variety of digital exhibits created by heritage organizations.  My goal while looking at these online exhibits was to compile a list of functions and visual characteristics which comprise a ‘good’ online exhibit.   I’m not sure my efforts resulted in an ultimate list, but I did come a few digital exhibit techniques I liked and a lot I that found verging on horrible.

Common Online Exhibit Problems:

  • Poor flow of information and the user is left unsure of how to navigate information.
  • Way too much text.  Most curators often refrain from including an overload of text in a physical exhibit, but it seems like this practice is often ignored in digital exhibits. 
  • Overuse of flash or other elements which take a long time to load (even on highspeed).

Digital Exhibit Elements That Work:

  • Combining mediums and using the digital space to display video, audio, and photographic material from a collection. 
  • Facilitating hyperlinking to the online collection descriptions so users can learn more about an item. 
  • User choice is integrated into the design.  For example, the user is able to decide which part or items of the exhibit they wish to look at and in which order. 
  • Exhibit theme (colours, images, etc) allows the image to stand apart from the rest of the institution’s website.

What makes a good digital exhibit? What is your favourite virtual exhibit? 

December Reading

As the month of December approaches so does long hours spent driving to visit family.  Luckily, more often than not I am passenger on these trips and I tend to use the time to get some reading done. Books on my current reading list include:

Unsettling the Settler Within by Paulette Regan.  This book has been on my reading list since April when Laura Moadokoro discussed the work in “History in Turbulent” times in an ActiveHistory.ca post. 

Collections and Objections: Aboriginal Material Culture in Southern Ontario by Michelle Hamilton.

Manufacturing National Park Nature by J. Keri Cronin.  This works looks at the contrived nature of Canada’s national parks.