Museums Australia Conference – Reflections from Day 1

This week I’m fortunate enough to be attending the Museums Australia and Interpretation Australia Conference – At The Frontier – in Perth.  I am enjoying taking the time-out to think broadly, be inspired, meet new people and collect new ideas and understandings.

The day started with a very moving Welcome to Country by two local indigenous men Richard and Trevor.  It was presented bilingually and made the delegates feel truly welcome.  I found it very uplifting and a great way to start the conference.

Following the official welcomes came a Keynote from Professor John Holden (UK) about the future of culture.  John talked about how culture had changed over the past two decades and gave examples on how the previously engrained hierarchy of culture had been breaking down for some time.  Now users of culture will critically judge their cultural experiences themselves, no longer waiting for experts to offer a critique.

Of course the biggest change in recent years, as John outlined, is the development a technology.  As he put it: technology has put the tools of cultural production in the hands of everyone and the internet has allowed people to communicate their ideas with everyone. There has been a huge explosion in the amount of ‘homemade’ culture, we are all curators of our own cultural experiences.

I found John’s talk to be inspiring and it offered a clarity of direction for where we are heading as cultural providers.  We need to step away from the notion of being the keepers of cultural knowledge and experiences.  We need to move towards hubs and supporters of cultural engagement.  To be relevant in the future cultural area John suggests we need to:

  • Work with the grain of what people now want from their cultural lives
  • Use the model (coined by Leadbeater)  enjoy, talk and do – the three things people want from their cultural experiences. Although all three will continue to exist, but there is definitely a shift towards to DO.
  • Co-programming with audience.
  • Providing free online resources

This can be an exciting future for cultural sites.  As John said, it does not downgrade the professionals in this field, but rather adjusts their role on how they interact with their public.  We can grow and become more relevant with user engagement and user generate cultural content.  We can become as big as the number of people who want to join us!

John Holden’s talk provided a great platform to engage with the talks in the conference.

For the afternoon’s parallel session I attended to Australian Curriculum (AC) stream.  There was a general feeling that the AC was an opportunity to engage with our education audiences and become more broadly relevant across the country.  Sarah Stockwin (Port Arthur) discussed the need to share our secrets for good history teaching with teachers, particularly the primary school teachers that may not have taught history as a stand-alone subject before.

Alison Frappell and Louise Zamarti talking about The Big Dig, a YHA and archaeological site at The Rocks in the Harbour Precinct of Sydney.  Louise talked specifically about what made their education programs successful: physically engage with primary sources, authentic artefacts (value of real), unusual (which makes it memorable), affective sensory experiences, develop critical thinking.  Their education programs are based around a deep inquiry question, varied slightly for the level of the students.

David Milne discussed how Queensland Museum are addressing the new curriculum, particularly in terms of resources for schools.  David mentioned that their Science Loan Kits have been very successful and they are focussing on developing new kits to fit the AC.  David also talked about their education web presence using web 2, this includes a blog, a Delicious stack and Wikimedia entries.  They are using these as a complimentary tool to increase their reach, find new audiences and meet the accessible needs of teachers.

For the second parallel session Dr. Carmel Desmarchelier talked about her concerns about the AC, how ethics will be taught and the presence of standardised testing.  However her statement, that students using technology outside the classroom was pointless because they will just go back to the classroom and recall their experience using pencil and paper, I heartily disagree with.  There are so many teachers out there who are using technology in innovative ways for students to respond to their learning experiences.  In fact I would suggest that many museums and galleries are falling behind schools and students in the effective use of technology.

Finally, Joy Lefroy and Maree Whiteley, gave a presentation each about their joint project between a school and the National Trust, and an introduction to the Australian Curriculum History.  The main take-home points for me from these sessions were: that partnership programs between museums and schools can be very successful when there is a person or persons who are a driving force, and for me a reminder than primary teachers will be likely to look at the new History curriculum as narratives and link it strongly to their literacy/English program.

Overall it was an invigorating day and I went away with my mind packed for of ideas.  I am particularly interested in following up the connection between schools and education services in museums, and the potential of user-driven online content.

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One response to “Museums Australia Conference – Reflections from Day 1

  1. Pingback: Interactivate » Blog Archive » At the Frontier: Conference Wrap Part 2 - Museums, culture, science and society

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