The readings for this week are focused on museum education and included The Museum Educator’s Manual by Anna Johnson, “Museum-goers: Life-styles and Learning Characteristics” by Charles Gunther, the introduction to Teaching History with Museums: Strategies for K-12 Social Studies, and “Write and Design with the Family in Mind” by Judy Rand.
The Museum Educator’s Manual is a collection of essays by many different museum education professionals, but primarily by Anna Johnson. It is similar to some of the other manuals we have read for this class, which, as I began reading, made me wonder why this form of expert-written manual is so pervasive in the museum field. I concluded it was probably because the traditional format of academic classes is not very helpful for practical application in museum work, and professionals then must self-teach by reading these guides. Deciding this, I proceed onto page 2, and right there the book mentions its use and existence as a counter to the academic focus on theory over application.
The book talks at length about docents, especially how to properly train them so they can lead unique tours tailored to specific audiences, while still staying focused, on time, and engaging, without becoming bored themselves (which is especially important for volunteer docents).
In “Museum-goers,” Gunther begins with lots of theory about learners and learning styles. His focus, however, is on art museums, which may actually be harder to educate visitors in. The most useful part of this article is near the end, where he gives advice to museum professionals, including to consider the role even parking attendants play, using design and signage that helps decode the museum environment, and avoiding canned presentations in favor of visitor-tailored ones.
He also highlights the role of municipal governments, which we can’t always control. In 2008, the America on Wheels Museum in Allentown was founded with the understanding that Allentown’s waterfront building project would occur nearby, bringing visitors to the area. It’s 2016, and the project has yet to begin, as city resources were used downtown instead. Without the visitors, the museum has been struggling financially.
Teaching History in Museums discusses ways for museums to be effective in complementing primary and secondary education. It highlights many of the problems involved (such as standardized testing) but suggests these can be at least partially overcome. It also discusses why educators should choose museum visits, and how educators and museum professionals can collaborate to make museum visits very effective tools for teaching history—not just content, but the critical thinking and analysis skills too.
In “Write and Design,” Judy Rand deals with label writing and design for family-oriented exhibits. She describes family behavior in museums (hunter-gatherer packs seeking facts to bring to the group) and suggests strategies to engage these behaviors. She proposes a method of label writing designed to create labels that can be read aloud by parents to children, without sounding forced and without parents having to translate. As persuasive as she is on properly engaging families, I wonder about other visitors. Do we neglect them when we focus on families? What is the proper balance between content for family visitors and regular visitors?