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.

Unique User Groups and Heritage Organizations

The users groups of heritage organizations vary greatly from organization to organization.  People who frequent a university archive, a children’s museum, and a local history corner at a public library typically have very different needs.  Providing quality programming depends on heritage institutions knowing their users and gearing specific programming to different types of users. 

One of the unique user groups I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is visitors from outside of Canada.  This group of patrons contains a variety of users but in my case the group is made up of academics from foreign universities, tourists, and international students.

Visiting academics from afar are often undertaking directed research and may require assistance in making the most of their time in the area. Conversely, tourists and international students often know little about the institution or local history.  Tours and basic public programming should be expanded to explain the significance of the heritage held by your institution.  You may also need to incorporate some broader Canadian or regional history into your tour for the information to make sense.

For example, a group of international students receiving a historic site tour of a former residential school may have little understanding of colonialism in Canada.  It would make sense for the tour introduction to include an explanation of the residential school system, the factors that contributed to the creation of such a system, and a general overview of Settler-First Nation relations.  It is also crucial that staff are using language appropriate to the group – using Canadian-ism and jargon isn’t going to be helpful to most international visitors.

Thoughtful planning and tailoring tours to specific groups help enhance visitor experiences.  Feedback from visitors and experimenting with different formats can help you decide what outreach methods work best.

What types of targeted user group programming does your institution offer?

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon