Education in Museums – Reflections from Museums Australia Conference
Last week at the Museums Australia conference in Adelaide there were a number of presenters that spoke about Museum Education (broadly referring to museums, galleries, libraries, zoos, historic sites etc.) – about engaging school audiences. Despite being an Museum Educator myself, I intentionally did not go to all education-related presentations, with the aim of looking more a the big picture of what is happening in Museums. However I did go to a number of Education streams, particularly on the first day of the conference. From these presentations I came to some general thoughts and conclusions about what is happening in our sector…
Museums Australia Conference Presentation by Stephanie Rosestone
On Thursday 27th September I delivered a presentation called Learners, Digital Resources and Museums. The presentation was a culmination of both research and practical experience over the past year as part of my work at Sovereign Hill. My presentation discussed why cultural organisations should engage with teachers and students using digital resources, explored some digital resources developed by museums, and presented some practical ideas for getting started.
Mobile devices have great potential to transform the excursion experience of students, making it more relevant, personalised and richly informative. Traditional museums are sometimes limited to panels and labels for providing information and context to their collections, while outdoor museums, like Sovereign Hill, are sometimes limited by the absence of explicit information on panels and labels. While museums are engaging in innovative and enriching interpretation techniques on top of this, mobile devices offer a broader, and simultaneously more explicit, interpretation experience.
Working in history education is great fun, especially at a place like Sovereign Hill. I ended up working in this field, I believe, largely because of my love of reading and watching historical fiction. I have not trained as a historian or a conservator, but I like to think of myself as having a little bit of both inside. But I’m not a purist. I love history for the fun, fascinating stories about the past. I find the most pleasure in the creative imagination that comes from thinking about history’s people and their deeds.
Sure, evidence is important (and archaelogy is cool, especially when it involves Tony Robinson!) and teaching kids to read and understand sources is a necessary part of history teaching. But it’s the stories that make it amazing and joyful.
The last day at the MA and IA conference began with another contrasting mix of keynote speakers. First was Professor Ross Gibson who talked about the power of art to transform a person and the importance of considering emotions and aesthetics when planning exhibition to encourage this transformation. I understood the ideas he expressed and I have seen the power an aesthetically thoughtful space can provide, but I thought the ideas were possibly over-analytical for a good portion of the audience and that some practical suggestions could have made the information more useful.
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.
Last month the Asia Pacific branch of the International Museum Theatre Alliance (IMTAL) hosted the international conference – Access All Areas. The conference was held a various institutions in Melbourne and included a day with us here at Sovereign Hill. It was a fabulous conference, for the two days I attended at any rate.
One of my key areas of interest during the visits I made to museums overseas was the use of mobile applications for interpretation and engagement. This is an emerging field with many varying levels of involvement from museums and organisations (*I use the term ‘museum’ in this article to broadly cover a wide range of cultural experiences and sites). As I work in an outdoor museum it is something I am particularly interested in exploring as an interpretation tool in the absence of traditional labels and panels. Therefore, while I was travelling I looked at a number of different mobile applications and considered their strengths and weaknesses from a visitor’s perspective, perhaps with a slant towards learning experiences.