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Museum Education in 21C (cross-blogged from http://thebelbird.blogspot.co.nz)

Long time no post and what exciting times these were! In January I was appointed as Education Manager at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds which is my first appointment into museum education. I am loving every minute of it, and the learning curve has been huge. 

Growing up in Europe I have visited plenty of traditional museums. They were places to (quietly) visit for the purpose of looking, listening and learning. In 21C with digital technology allowing us to look, listen and learn just about anything, how does our idea of a museum have to change to remain relevant?

At the Treaty Grounds we are in a situation where the museum is a recent addition to the existing historic buildings and exhibits. It not only adds space to exhibit additional items, it complements and extends the narrative beyond the early period of New Zealand's history. Technology is present throughout the museum in the form of videos, interactive screens to give additional details and touch screens to explore and search digital copies of the Treaty of Waitangi copies. The rest of the grounds have mainly traditional displays.

As Educational Manager my focus is on education for school aged children but some of my questions transcend into other age groups. Our days have been so busy that I am yet to meet with other NZ museum educators who no doubt have 'been there, done that', but for now my questions are:

What is the purpose of schools (people) visiting here? What do they get here that they can't search up on Google? Or to rephrase this question: What are we doing to ensure students leave here with more than just facts they could have 'googled'? (We have drafted our vision, and I will share it once we are happy with it.)

While it would be very convenient to simply stick with the transfer of knowledge, we know that this is not enough for learners in the 21st Century, so for now we have come up with three steps:

Collect information - Connect this information - Reflect on it.

Potential barriers to achieving our goals include:

  • Learning hinges on relationships, and there is little if any time to build a real relationship with the students or their teachers. Saying that, it is amazing how you can connect through chatting with them while walking from one venue to another.
  • Being time poor and having set ideas about what museum education could / should offer can affect what schools expect / request and what we offer.
  • The 3h duration of the visit limits how deeply we can delve into topics with our visiting students. Is it sufficient time to collect, connect & reflect during a visit?

In absence of reliable connectivity our visitors can tap into, our activities so far have been rather traditional: Worksheets encouraging students to reflect on what they see and hear, and practical activities to go with our korero. While feedback so far has been very positive, I don't want to get stuck in a rut, and I am sure we can do better. Therefore I am looking for more and innovative ways of engaging our learners so they connect and especially reflect.

What do you think Museum Education should look like in 21C?

Looking forward to reading your ideas!

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Comment by Paul Keown on March 13, 2017 at 21:24

Congratulations on you new job! Sounds interesting and challenging. I have a bit of experience with museum education and I think any 21 Century dealing with youth should have a drama/role play component to their programme. There is a bit to do in setting it up but in my experience well worth it. Very engaging for students. I have seen this working really well in the UK where university students are employed during the summer months to do this. In one project I was assisting we looked at creating surprise pop-out from the display actors in role for one of the people in the display. The actor and the students then interacted in to and fro spontaneous dialogue. It really brings a museum alive!

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