Archive for March, 2008

Museum Site Visit/Evaluation 1: Monticello

March 2, 2008

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Monticello

A visit and evaluation

Feb. 29th, 2008

By Tim Perry

I decided to visit Monticello as one of my museums for EDLF 586 both because of its close proximity and my great interest and admiration of Thomas Jefferson. The web site had a wealth of information including schedules, teacher lessons, plans for visitors, research information and many other items of interest. Their Monticello classroom site has both a kids and teachers section detailing lesson plans and other kid-friendly information of note for visitors and school groups. They even have image galleries and online activities. Both an adult visitor guide and a young people’s visitor guide are available online as well as at the ticket counter upon arrival.

The education department and visitors center is in a building right off of US Interstate 64, but from there you take a winding Thomas Jefferson Highway (53) up the mountain to the entrance. The arch at the top of the hill between Montalto and Monticello is quite striking. Monticello is fairly easy to find, even though the gate sign does not explain that you are entering the “estate” part of the museum grounds.

visitorramp.jpgParking was abundant, but I was there on February 29th, 2008 at 2:30 p.m. so not many visitors were around. There were a couple of college and high school age groups there in the afternoon. The new visitors center is under construction, so I had to go to the “temporary” structure built next to the garden center to get a ticket–UVA students get in for only $10 instead of the usual adult admission price of $15. The parking lot area houses not only the garden center, but also the Little Mountain Luncheonette for dining during mid-day as well as a variety of vending machines and a restroom. There is also a slave graveyard in the parking area on exhibit. The parking area is not very well marked and has multiple “levels” so it can be a bit confusing to figure out where to go to get information and tickets. I assume that this is due to the construction and that many of the obviously temporary signs will be replaced with better ones in the near future.

bus1.jpgFrom the visitor center, you take a Monticello bus out of the groundsĀ and back across the bridge into the house area. There is a walkway that requires a 3/10 mile climb up the hill, but I opted for the leisurely route. Once you purchase your ticket, you are assigned a time to see the house on a guided tour. The time is clearly printed on your ticket. The bus drops off visitors at the front walkway of Monticello where a friendly and helpful attendant directs visitors to tour the grounds and be back a few minutes prior to their scheduled house visit time.

I walked around the grounds for about 30 minutes while waiting for my time to go inside Monticello. There are many items of interest in the groundsmuseumshop.jpg including the museum shop, gardens, mulberry row, and the Jefferson family graveyard jeffersongate.jpg

where Thomas Jefferson is buried along with many of his descendants.jeffersongrave.jpg

Our house tour group was then directed up to the steps of Monticello where we were met by our docent and tour guide who explained the rules and reasoning for the house tour. This short orientation was done in front of the house on the steps, but I felt that it might have been supplemented by more information prior to reaching that point. docentintro.jpg

For those with cameras and other technologies are required to turn them off, which is not entirely a detriment. However, it may be a good idea to forewarn visitors that they will be stepping “back” in time and not able to take photographs mostly due to the interference this causes with the quality of the visit from other members of your tour group. Also, some people may need to know that they will be “out of touch” during the hour or so of the tour in case of emergencies.

sign1.jpgThe docent explains that all visitors must respect the artifacts and reproductions in the house and not to touch any of them. Monticello offers guided tours only and there are many officials around to insure that both visitors and artifacts are well looked-after. All personnel took great pride and care to work with both the visitors and the house. This level of respect and love for their mission enriched the experience for all.

threearches.jpgThe house is around 98% original due to efforts of the Levy family who bought and preserved the house prior to its purchase by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. It is preserved as it would have looked somewhere between 1809 and 1820 with a few interpretations along the way in terms of furniture and family items. The artifacts inside ranged from the sublime to the extreme as Thomas Jefferson was quite a collector of oddities. sundial.jpgHis genius shines through all, however, as does his deep sense of love for his newly created American republic. Monticello, in many ways, seems to emulate the man himself and it is quite enlightening to venture through its hallowed halls and imagine life back in Jeffersonian America.

ironwork1.jpgThe docent provided a very thorough and interesting account of the rooms and their artifacts and answered all questions with aplomb and sensitivity. She was very well informed and offered various insights and specific details about parts of the house that are not found in most literature. It was quite an enjoyable experience to be led around and shown this house by someone who obviously has such a love for both the structure and the man behind it. The only major issue is that with a group of 20 or so visitors, there just is not enough time to see everything in all of the rooms. I found myself wanting to linger around in the library and see what books had been collected to return to Jefferson’s collection. I wanted to have a closer look at his instruments and ponder on some of his paintings, but I will have to settle for the brief experience of being there for but a few minutes.

The second issue with the tour is that some of the house is not open to the public. Several of the bedrooms are currently used as offices and I wonder why or if there is a plan to change this. redsign.jpgThe docent indicated that Monticello offers “architectural” tours a few times during the year to see the rest of the house, but these sell out very quickly. I think it would be fascinating to go upstairs and see more of Jefferson’s wonderful structure from a different perspective.

One interesting aspect of the tour is that the dining room, which is currently a blue color, is being researched for repainting. A cross-section of the paint layers is shown in this room to indicate that the original color was a bright yellow! I asked the docent, and she said that sometime soon Monticello planned to repaint this room in a reproduction color similar to the original. I was also struck by how ingenious the conservators are in using the fireplace areas as modern “vents” for the heating/air conditioning system so as to provide virtually no impact on the historic nature of the structure.

Most of the artifacts in the house were not labeled and while this is how it would have been “originally”, it does make for a large number of potential questions for the docent to answer during the tour. I think that there were audio guides available, but none was offered to me when I purchased my ticket, so again, this overlooked aspect of the tour may be addressed to coincide with the opening of the new visitor center this fall.

underground.jpgI also enjoyed visiting the dependencies and “necessaries” on the lower level of Monticello. beercellar.jpgSuch areas as the cellars, warehouses, stables, and kitchen kitchenartifacts.jpghelp to provide an excellent overall picture of life in a early 1800’s farm estate. The long underground tunnel that runs the length of the house was recently renovated and provides for some interesting speculation on the daily operations of such a place.

monticello2.jpgThe sundial and pavilions, landscaping and overall impression of the house in relation to the grounds is exceptional.

Overall impressions are quite positive as that the structure is well maintained and loved. The docent staff is careful and caring and the experience can be quite moving for many visitors. The security personnel and bus drivers were also quite well informed and friendly, happily answering questions in great detail. giftshop.jpgI even witnessed one gift shop attendant run out in the cold to be sure that a particular family got their Monticello brochure back! This was quite above the call of duty and illustrated just how much some of the staff care about the visitors and their experience at Monticello.

sign2.jpgI look forward to the opening of the new visitor center and hope that there will be more educational offerings there for visitors. Many teachers may not realize that the educational portion of Monticello is at the “old” visitor center and thus not have access to materials or personnel for lesson planning. I also look forward to the future development of the grounds and other areas such as Mulberry row as re-creations continue in the Jeffersonian image. Overall, it was a very enjoyable experience that I would recommend to anyone interested in Jefferson and his marvelous estate.gazebo.jpg

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Museum Project Preliminary Plan

March 2, 2008

Museum Project

Preliminary Description

By Tim Perry

For my museum project, I plan on preparing two programs for the Virginia Discovery Museum. The first will be to create an exhibit table for the KidVention event on March 29th where I will do an Earth Science related topic, most likely Severe Weather/Tornadoes. I have met and talked with Vicky Carter, the VDM outreach coordinator and we think this will be a good addition to the program offerings for that day. I have several ideas of exhibits and topics that will fit well into their theme of “Discover our Planet”. It should be a whirlwind of a good time.

For my second part to this project, I will be working with Vicky to lead a three-hour program during the Spring Break mini-camp, April 7th-9th. My topic will be land transportation and we will create a set of lessons for 6-9 year olds that entail the various modes of land transportation and how they benefit people. As a former elementary science teacher, I have an abundance of lessons, activities, and demonstrations from which to draw when compiling this camp experience. We will create and produce it as part of the three day mini-camp program: “How Things work: Transportation.” I will evaluate the program afterward and the museum will most likely keep the plans to implement again later.

Exhibit Design reflections–Schlenk and Schrock

March 2, 2008

Reflection Notes from Schlenk and Schrock

The principles of proximity and inclusion as well as the principles of perception of unity seem to be a unifying theme in the evaluation of this art exhibit. It is perhaps most important to perceive the relationship between the artifact and the contextual material, with the goal in mind to promote a greater understanding of the artifact.

The textual elements discussed were of great interest. They are typically used on placards in museum, and recommendations included using large typeface of solid black on a white background. It was especially interesting in that the evaluators noted that the change in size/font could draw attention away from the rest of the text and should have a MEANING to it, not just be for decoration.

Some recommendations about text used in museums included that it should be: organized, accurate, and convey the information needed to understand the exhibit. The text elements should lead the visitor through in a logical order to understand the story of the artifact or exhibit without assuming too much pre-requisite knowledge. The use of icons was interesting and the recommendations that icons should only be used to enhance understanding and not be used for “fun” or graphic design needs was especially relevant. Ultimately the icons used should be congruent with the passage used in the text and work as a whole to enhance the visitor experience.

I thought it very interesting that they mentioned that the effect of humor in an instructional message is inherently unpredictable. Humor can be useful, but by the nature in which in engages the visitor away from the focus of the exhibit, it may not be a good choice for inclusion in instructional exhibitions.

I was particularly struck by how they defined “framing”, in that the pre-concepts most people have seem to influence their views about an exhibit, presentation, or artifact. Similarly, the use of “games” must match the cognitive processes and objectives with game goals as well as assess the prerequisite knowledge set of a typical visitor to determine how successful the visitor may be when playing the game. Too much esoteric frivolity detracts from the experience?

Finally, the idea of learner analysis and understanding the learner prior to design seemed to be crucial in museum planning. I especially like how the authors explained the concept of “task analysis” as having a thorough understanding of the task prior to attempting it. The recognition of “perceptual capacity” to insure that information is spaced so that the visitor is not overwhelmed by too much information at once is also quite relevant in many of my previous museum experiences. This article really piqued my interest in both instructional design principles and instructional development processes.

New Exhibits: guidelines as given in the reading: (Great stuff!)

1. Broad general goals guide development

2. Specific detailed, precise behavioral objectives

3. Formative evaluation utilized in development process

4. Mock-up stage for evaluation first

5. Evaluation/problems corrected in mock-up stage

6. After exhibit is setup–evaluate again

7. Gather information on the EDUCATIONAL success of the exhibit

8. Compare information to research-based instructional design scheme

Also:

*Insure that artifacts are selected to convey the objectives of the exhibit

*Instructional message design used to facilitate communication

*Strategies should be employed to insure that exhibits are accessible to every visitor regardless of age/height/disability/language, etc.

*Instructional message design should be mastered by all exhibit designers

*Instructional design principles should be part of ALL facets of museum education, including materials, workshops, programs, etc.

Alexander Ch. 7 and Children’s Museums Responses

March 2, 2008

Museums Response 2: Alexander Ch. 7 and Children’s Museums

Children’s museums are not necessarily a new idea, however in the last few decades they have increased in number exponentially. They differ from the more “mainstream” museums in that they are primarily learner-centered environments that encourage interactivity between the visitor and the exhibits. They often seek to incorporate a wide variety of learning styles and strategies into their exhibits and programs including those of Howard Gardner and multiple intelligences. Due to this, many have created extremely innovative exhibits that provide unique and deep fascination for many children.

Many of the children’s museums have focused on areas that will excite children and provide a spark that will encourage learning. Science activities and unusual interactive exhibits have revolutionized the way museums are viewed by many children today. This new type of “edutainment” for children has transformed the museum from a preservative environment to more of a true educational institution focused on the needs of its visitors. Many seem to have goals that include making a museum a friendly place in order to encourage children to come back and visit again. In this way, children’s museums may not only be educating, but also seeking to create a new generation of museum attendees.

The context of exhibits in children’s museums is necessarily adjusted towards both the physical as well as developmental level of their most abundant visitors. Within this context, there have been recent strides towards inclusion of cultural and globally diverse perspectives as well as sensitivity in exhibit design in these same areas. In addition, the increasingly pervasive role of technology in our modern lives is being reflected much more in exhibits and programs in children’s museums. Often the “hook” for a new exhibit or program may involve technology to entice young minds to come visit and have a first unique experience in this area. Similarly, recent concerns over the environment and human impacts have also affected the themes of many children’s museums and their programs. Sensitivity to global environmental issues has moved to center stage in many museum programs to encourage stewardship and careful use of our precious resources.

However, the most recent reductionist trend towards accountability and educational standards may be causing a decline in some children’s museum visitation. It may perhaps be ironic that the very group that first encourage the creation of children’s museums, the school teachers, may now be the largest group contributing to their decline. With increasing pressure on serving a set of educational standards, the teachers may have more difficulty justifying visits to children’s museums. Research may be needed to properly assess the proper role of children’s museums not only within the museum profession, but also in serving the needs of the formal educational system as well.

Support and investment in children’s museums may also be an important future challenge. Many seem to rely on a combination of both local patrons as well as larger external grants that are targeted at improving the condition or opportunities of children. Due to an increasing need to land these resources, some museums have taken to a continual “re-invention” of themselves. Through pursuit of novel and innovative educational experiences these museums are not only responding to the financial picture, but also serving the shorter attention spans of some of their most numerous clients. By wearing as many hats as possible, they may also be more successful at attracting standard-laden school groups back to their hallowed halls in greater numbers.

Children’s museums are exciting places to learn and grow, both for the visitor and the museum educators. The pervasive youthful exuberance seems to drive both the programs and the staff to pursue ever more innovative programs and exhibitions. This spirit and enthusiasm may soon be the driving force behind a shift in museum roles as these children grow up and demand more and different exhibits and programs from their museums. The museum professionals need to be prepared for the future.

Alexander Chapters 1-6 Response

March 2, 2008

Museums Response 1: Alexander Chapters 1-6

Museums as an entity encompass a wide variety of institutions ranging from the traditional observation and appreciation of collections, to interactive areas for informal learning. There are many different types of museums that specialize based on content, subject, collections, type of visitors, or just eclectic informal public interactivity areas. Some museums seem to be curative and preservative as well as to be exhibitory, while others focus on the interactivity between the visitor and the museum collection or exhibits. Some maintain collections or aspire to serve as places for serious academic research or discourse, while others exist primarily to serve local community needs or to encourage society to enrich itself in a particular area of specialization.

The advent of “edutainment” and need for interactivity along with the entrance of the information age and the internet have profoundly affected the manner in which many types of museums organize and maintain their focus for the public. The role of the museum seems to be shifting towards not only preservation and exhibition, but also as a springboard cheerleader for focusing public attention on topics related to their unique mission.

The historical context presented for each of the major types of museums shows the similarities and differences in style, development, mission and public interest in creating and maintaining these types of museums.

Born out of a seemingly innate human need to organize our own world in order to comprehend it more detail, the early history of most museums involved wealthy patrons with the resources to collect and preserve items of value to human society. Often these would offer glimpses into our history through natural, artistic, or anthropological perspectives. Others may have shown the history of our world in terms of nature, science, or interaction and development of various types of organisms. These varied museum collections evolved into public trust institutions in order to garner more support and to disseminate their message and goals. Thus, by necessity, many became essentially educational institutions. This seems to have elicited a need for experts who not only collected and cataloged items, but who also could provide modern methods and techniques of interpretation for the average visitor. From this group of interpreters, a shift seems to have occurred in which museums aspired to be more “user friendly” and then capable of attracting more visitors and ultimately more financial support.

Thus, the concept of a museum was widened to encompass areas for public informal learning and exploration including such institutions as interactive science “centers” and living-history re-enactment areas. These “immersive” environments were offered to public patrons to enhance their experience ultimately leading to more educational value and greater understanding of the underlying principles and focus of the particular museum. The Franklin Institute and the Exploratorium were some of the first U.S. pioneers of scientific interactivity, and such places as Colonial Williamsburg provide entire park-like settings allowing visitors to experience and take part in all aspects of the era of history being portrayed.

Similarly, a shift in natural history museums has provided more concern about living specimens and a need to view organisms as part of an entire ecosystem rather than oddities pulled out for human study and amusement. Botanical gardens, natural history museums, zoos, and other museums that depict living relationships now strive to show the connectivity and elicit greater understanding through interpretive displays.

In short, the museum field is both wide and deep, today encompassing a large variety of institutions serving the public with a full plate of choices. Although the focus of some may have shifted, these museums continue to serve the needs of a population hungry for novel and educational

Kluge Ruhe Aboriginal Art Museum Reflections

March 2, 2008

Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Museum Visit

February 21st, 2008

Impressions/Reflections

By Tim Perry

My initial impressions about the Kluge-Ruhe Museum are mixed. At first, I thought that I would not really like the Aboriginal art because I usually don’t like that genre, but I was pleasantly surprised by my visit. The Worrell house that has been adapted as an art museum was a bit of a surprise. It was a great house, but obviously not a proper place to exhibit aboriginal art. Neither the genre, nor the functional characteristics match for these two passing ships. It seems as if the University of Virginia could find a better way to serve both the collection and the house with some re-consideration and re-allocation of resources.

The art itself was very interesting in style, size, and artistic impression. I especially liked the work of Samantha Hobson. If I had a large fortune to invest in art, she would be definitely be one of my favorites. Several of the other artists also invoked some interesting reactions with their work. It was quite helpful to have Margo give us a tour of the artwork. Her knowledge and insight provided a deep contextual element to our experience. I was also struck by how this was a small one or two-person operation that was both unique and also somewhat “under-resourced”. Charlottesville is so fortunate to have one of the few museums of aboriginal art, yet it seems to be a bit of a poor “red-headed stepchild” in comparison to many of the museums that house much of our western variety of art.

The video was helpful in that we got to see the artists, but I would like to have seen more of them “at work” in their art and discussing the meaning of their work in some deeper manner. The video did not do justice to all of the artists, and the lackluster production value and style detracted from the potential creative insights that many of the artists may have been able to impress upon the audience. In addition, the lack of space does not allow for viewing of any type of permanent exhibits or artifacts. I would like to see some of the “best” of the art of each style or type from the Kluge Ruhe collection. The labeling of the art was well done and simple as it most likely should be. However, as a “scientific” minded person, I would like to see a bit of a scheme of either style or type applied to some of the art if possible. Some was more impressionistic, while other art was more of the dot-structure painting. Margo did a good job explaining some of this, but I am still unclear on the exact meaning, function, or relationship between these different styles or genres.

The anthropological perspectives were also a bit intriguing in how age and wisdom seem to denote wider allowances for artistic expressionism within their culture. I also wonder just how much of the current art is still considered truly “aboriginal” in nature since there really are not any true aboriginal peoples living in the wilds of Australia today. The study room and other information may provide some answers to this and I presume that much of the art produced is not only expressionistic, but also somehow a way to preserve aspects of their previous culture. However, these types of relationships were not clearly defined and perhaps should not be for the sake of the visitor’s artistic experience. Overall, I had a good time and wish I could afford to purchase one of Samatha Hobson’s paintings.

Virginia Discovery Museum Reflections

March 2, 2008

Virginia Discovery Museum Class Visit

Thursday, January 31st.

Impressions/Reflections

By Tim Perry

What strikes me first about the Virginia Discovery Museum is that it is obviously aimed at young children ages four to seven. The entire museum seems to be set up for “little people” in scale and imaginative style from color choices to carpeting. It has smaller areas of play “stuff” in various places for kids to wander into and try out. There are a wide variety of topics, subjects, activities, and places to visit and learn. The museum has areas for structured and unstructured exploration and learning as well as places for students to have small classes or do projects to express their newly learned ideas. There were contraptions, building activities, live animals, dramatic dress-up, and a myriad of other activities to do and see.

The museum seems to work well for this age group in its scope and focus, although it might benefit from a larger and better-designed space. There are obviously some renovations happening as well as some plans for future developments. The director is passionate about the museum and its mission and eager to share her thoughts about what works best in this type of museum and setting. The museum houses a collection of permanent exhibits for their primary audience as well as a back room of traveling or changing exhibits. Some of the permanent exhibits seem to be well designed and planned such as the small cabin and its assorted props to teach about frontier life. Other exhibits, however, may need some further consideration. For example, the duck-under kaleidoscope is interesting, but probably too tall for many of the younger visitors. Perhaps something that moves up and down over the top of the visitor may work better in this case. Also, the Wentzscope is a bit of a fossil and could be replaced with a digital video microscope where kids could view their small items on a more modern video screen. The exhibit on Thomas Jefferson was interesting, but again, needs to be scaled more for younger visitors and be more kinesthetically appropriately interactive. Perhaps a miniature “walk through” of Monticello could be included and incorporated into the idea of the pioneer house. I would also like to see either a short video or other type of interactive display on Thomas Jefferson as part of this exhibit for kids. This could be done from the perspective of a child living at Monticello or in the frontier cabin. What a project!

The native peoples exhibit in the back room was “borrowed” and “enhanced” by the museum staff, but apparently not very popular for the young audience at the museum. Many of the signs were either placed too high or not very appropriate and the exhibit lacked enough “hands on” activities or interactive experiences for younger visitors. This exhibit could definitely use some more work.

Peppy Linden, the director was very knowledgeable and helpful in directing our class to understand how a “Children’s museum” functions. It is an active place with quite a variety of continuous learning occurring all around you. However, it seems to serve mostly a local clientele with a few visitors from the region or other areas. It could most likely do more with greater resources and perhaps attract a larger and broader audience of visitors.