Thursday, March 27, 2008

Use of puppets in museum education

This from Fay Tsitou, Museum Educator & PhD student, Drama and Theatre Department, Royal Holloway University of London (via my CECA contacts): Last September I managed to start a PhD on the way puppets could be used in museum education in Royal Holloway University of London, and this blog address can give you an idea of the whole project. I am interested in doing research internationally and I would like to welcome contact with puppeteers or museum educators working in this area of museum education.

Hi Fay, I don't know of any research specifically in this area – sounds absolutely fascinating and I really liked your blog. The one thing I was involved in some time ago was in the use of persona dolls to research very young childrens' responses to museums. The Centre for Equity and Innovation in Early Childhood at the University of Melbourne was involved at that stage. The research didn't go very far as we didn't get funded, as well we felt there were better ways to talk to children about their museum experiences (and we found the persona dolls themselves rather scary!).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Beginning audience research

This from my dear ex-Museum colleague Gary Morgan: Dear Lynda. I am at a small cultural centre and museum in Malawi as a volunteer. I have set a research project on audience evaluation for one of the staff who wants to do research but has no training. We are assessing impacts of the museum on audience learning. Can you send any reprints you may have spare? We have nothing much on audience evaluation or museum learning other than what I have been able to get off the web. Our address is KuNgoni Centre of Culture and Art, PO Box 41, Mtakataka, Malawi. We don't have email on site so I can't respond quickly over the web.

I think it's inspiring that a small, tucked-away place like that is doing audience research and on museum learning no less! Thought I'd blog my response so that others can add to my list (plus so I'd remember what I promised to send). I have also posted Gary's address so others can send things – I would imagine samples of surveys and questions would be the most help.

So, Gary I will send you:

  • My doctorate – I have a spare marking copy. The literature review on learning (Chapter 2) is helpful as is Chapter 3 (method) and the appendices that have my questionnaires. These are also on my audience research wiki. I also just uploaded my Stage 2 questionnaire which I used to look at learning in more detail (both Word and pdf formats)
  • Surveys from the MARVEL project that looked at a variety of ways to uncover learning outcomes
  • Families and Museums research project report
  • A copy of Paulette McManus's article: Towards Understanding the Needs of Museum Visitors (1991), which is a good resource about the types of questions that could be asked. It's also on my list of audience research readings which can be downloaded from my website here

Gary, there are a number of questions I have found work really well when looking at learning:

  • The dinner party question: Can you think of one thing that you found particularly interesting in the XXX exhibition that you would be likely to tell other people about, say at a dinner party?
  • The Project team question: This exhibition has been developed by a team of staff from across the Museum. What do you think were the main messages they were trying to get across to visitors?
  • The MARVEL list (they answer this by Yes/alot; Yes/somewhat; No/not really; Not at all; Don't know):
    • I discovered things I didn't know
    • I learned more about things I already knew
    • I remembered things I hadn't thought of for awhile
    • I shared some of my knowledge with other people
    • I got curious about finding out more about some things
    • I was reminded of the importance of some issues
    • I got a real buzz out of what I learned
    • It was pleasant to be reminded and to learn more
    • It was all very familiar to me
    • Some of the things I learned will be very useful to me

Best of luck and please keep us all informed of how you're going.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Researching museum learning

This from Karen Koch in Germany: I got to your homepage by searching for museums evaluations and think it is a fantastic way to communicate with other people in this field. I am an education student from Germany and am writing my diploma thesis about a study done in 12 childrens museums (total 1350 kids). The topic is "Learning in children`s museums". We asked the children "what do you remember from your visit? What did you like best? What didn`t you like? What did you learn?" My work now is to investigate quality criterions about what children want in museums and how learning will be better working. (a basic example: a lot of the kids love to do something, so we need hands-on exhibits) In Germany there was no evaluation like this before even though we of course now about the theory in the children`s museums field. I am looking now for evaluations in this field to compare them. Unfortunately I haven`t found anything like that yet. Do you know if there was an evaluation like this in Australia, the USA England or somewhere else? It would really help me out a lot!

Hi Karen, I don't know where you've been looking but there is an enormous amount of material on learning in museums and quite a lot in children's museums. The best place to start is to read Chapter 2 of my thesis which can be found on my audience research wiki. The bibliography is very comprehensive (even if I say so myself J). Other good references to start with are the following:

  • Leinhardt, G., Crowley, K., & Knutson, K. (Eds.). (2002). Learning Conversations in Museums. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Paris, S. (Ed.). (2002). Perspectives on Object-Centered Learning in Museums. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Hooper-Greenhill, E. (2004). Measuring Learning Outcomes in Museums, Archives and Libraries: The Learning Impact Research Project (LIRP). International Journal of Heritage Studies, 10(2), 151-174.
  • Griffin, J., Kelly, L., Hatherly, J., & Savage, G. (2005). Museums actively researching visitor experiences and learning (MARVEL): a methodological study. Open Museum Journal, 7
    (Note: I have added this link even though it doesn't work because it should work soon I hope…)

The Association of Children's Museums has online resources about learning and their Hand to Hand publication has good articles about learning in children's museums.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Effective communication in developing new audiences

This from Evangeline Reed:
I am currently a graduate student at the University of Southern California. I am getting my Master of Arts degree in Communication Management, and I am in the midst of deciding on a topic for a research paper. I have always been fascinated with the museum/nonprofit-audience relationship, and I have a general sense of what my paper may focus on. Here are the abstract questions that I used to brainstorm my topic (in no particular order):

  • What are the most effective forms and/or uses of communication for arts organizations to build and develop new audiences?
  • What is the role social media plays in arts marketing and communication and how large is this role?
  • How are arts organizations/non-profits communicating to America's youth in order to attempt to attract future loyal patrons and donors?

I will be focusing on young professionals between the ages of 22-34. As of now I am planning on conducting various surveys and research methods to find out how this demographic uses social media, what social media they use, and for what
purposes. These questions will hopefully lead me to find out if social media is a main channel for cause-related information. After conducting my research my goal is to have a fully developed resource of the most efficient forms of media in order to reach my target demographic.

Wow! What an important set of questions. Evangeline, there is quite a lot of work going on in this area. I'm giving a paper (with my colleague Angelina Russo) at Museums and the Web 2008 on this very topic (well kind of). The paper, From ladders of participation to networks of participation: museums and social media, discusses a variety of evaluations I have conducted. One specifically targeted adults aged 18-30, what they were doing online and how museums might want to engage them via social media. Due to (umm) "technical difficulties" the paper isn't on the M&W website yet but can be downloaded from my audience research wiki. In that paper we also report data on how Australian use the Internet and compares usage to the US, drawing on information from a Forrester Research study that Seb Chan blogged about on fresh+new(er).

My initial reaction to your methodology is to actually use the tools of social media to conduct your research. There are some very interesting things happening on Facebook with a range of museums and galleries trying it out as ways to both engage and promote themselves with current and new audiences. I'd encourage you to join up, become a fan/join some groups and see where it takes you. I also found quite an interesting group on another social networking site called ning. The Dallas Museum of Art Junior Associates Circle is "... an exciting, under-40 group that hosts an exclusive set of social events and educational programs throughout the year."

Also, just as I was about to upload this post, my colleague Janet sent me a link to what looks to be a very interesting review – Tools for Culture: The Resonance & Use of Online Tools in the Cultural Sector – which may be relevant to your study? I haven't looked through it in any detail yet.

And another article from the New York Times I was just sent (gosh I'm glad I didn't upload this post earlier) – Museums Refine the Art of Listening which talks about the new tools art museums in particular are using to listen to their visitors.

Evaluation, Research and Communities of Practice: Program Evaluation in Museums

This from Rama Lakshmi in India: Let me introduce myself. I am a journalist who writes about India for The Washington Post. My other big professional path is museums. I was a student of Dr Jay Rounds in St Louis, Missouri. And have worked at the science and history museums in St Louis and at the Smithsonian's Museum of American Indian. I am going to begin teaching the MA museum studies class at the New Delhi-based National Museum Institute (which is a deemed university). And I am going to teach visitor studies. Dr Jay Rounds adviced me to write to you. Could you kindly send me your article "Evaluation, Research and Communities of Practice: Program Evaluation in Museums"? I would like to read it and also have my students read it. Do you have it electronically? I am also interested in your web discussion forum. How and where can I access it?

I get so many requests for this paper that I decided to post it to my audience research wiki (you need to go down the page a bit). Basically, this paper "... outlines the development of audience research in museums, the context within which it operates, and describes the processes of audience research through a series of case studies drawn from the work of the Australian Museum Audience Research Centre. It is argued that the shift in museums from mission-led program development to balancing content and audience needs through a transaction approach requires a broader research-focussed agenda. While traditional ways of conducting evaluations are necessary and useful, to remain viable audience research needs to be more strategic, working across the sector in new ways and utilising new methods. How programs impact on users and facilitate learning about a wide range of key issues that museums are concerned with is a leadership role that audience research can take across both the cultural sector and other free-choice learning contexts."

Rama, to access other resources there is this blog (naturally!), my audience research wiki mentioned above, and a new social networking group I have started called Museum 3.0 where all kinds of people can discuss all kinds of things. I'll be teaching audience research for Museum Studies at Sydney University this year also and have set up a discussion group specifically for that – it would be awesome if you and your students joined us. Please feel welcome to join up – I'll send you an invite (or click on the Museum 3.0 link at the top of my blog).

Photographic research

This query from Elena Miles, Master's student studying at Nottingham Trent Uni in England: For my undergraduate dissertation I explored literacy in children's everyday lives by distributing disposable cameras to a group of 8 year old children and asking them to photograph what they deemed significant. I am keen to develop with this method of research for my museum studies thesis. I am thinking of something along the lines of providing 15 children with disposable cameras during a museum trip and asking them to document the highlights of their visit. Aside from the obvious issues of multiple gate-keepers and other sensitivities I was wondering if you knew of any previous research along similar lines. I am aware of the flickr application and of visitor response cards, but it is the photographic research which I would particularly wish to focus on.

Hi Elena. This is a fertile field for study I believe. We did a study in 2003 called the Museum I'd like. In that young people from a number of the schools across Sydney were introduced to concepts of learning beyond the classroom and subsequently photographed aspects of, and experiences in, the Museum that "helped" or "got in the way" of their learning. Photographs were assembled in annotated posters that were subsequently analysed across the sample in order to unpack the major themes. I don't have that report to hand but will add a summary here when I get to it. I can send you the paper given at the British Educational Research Association Conference about the project. Subsequent to this I uploaded photos of the posters to my Flickr site to see if that way of sharing would work. I have blogged about Flickr as an evaluation tool which is the third most read post on this blog and the one with the most comments. This is one area I intend to be looking at in more detail this year as I think it has great potential.

I had a look around all my research reference books this morning and couldn't find any that specifically related to using photographs. I did a quick Google and found some things:

Elena, if you have anything to share, especially a literature review, I'm sure readers of this blog would be really grateful (well, I would be anyway!).