Archive for March, 2008
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.
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
*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.
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.
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 Visit
February 21st, 2008
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 Class Visit
Thursday, January 31st.
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.