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Museumifying a student project


Summer is a great time to take on new challenges both physical and intellectual. The weather is great, and the longer daylight hours provide opportunities for sports and fitness activities. The summer break also provides educators with time to develop new skills and interests.

If you don’t wish to actively attend university classes and lectures, have you thought about an online course? This summer I participated in a FutureLearn MOOC to learn about ‘Museums as a Site and Source for Learning’. This course, organized through the University of Glasgow, explored the purpose of museums today and how they facilitate learning. The suggested commitment: 4 hours per week for 3 weeks.

I learned a great deal from this course. Here are my three main take-home lessons:
  • I learned at a preliminary level about curating an exhibit.
  • I developed an appreciation for how museum curators, like educators, address the diversity of learning preferences and styles.
  • I wondered if students might enjoy and learn from presenting a project in the form of a museum exhibit.
Let’s look in more detail at each of these lessons.

Preliminary level curation of an exhibition.
The crucial thing is to have a very enticing introductory panel with just enough reading to invite the learner into the exhibit and briefly describe why it is worthwhile and important. Then if there is to be a description of the individual objects, it should be a very short read. Humans learn a lot by touching and if possible some way to connect by touch should be included. Thoughts also should be given to stimulate the other senses if possible.

How museum curators address the diversity of learning preferences and styles.
Prior to this course, my ‘entry level’ knowledge was that there are three types of visitors: runners, walkers and strollers. Runners spend little time and just look quickly at some or all of the objects. Walkers might also read some of the big print on the panels. Finally, strollers may spend hours on their visit reading every word written anywhere about the exhibit. In this course, I learned that additionally, visitors can be classified by their preferred experience. Some like to move around alone, thinking and reflecting. Others prefer to move in small groups and keep up an active chatter about what they are viewing. Still others like to use the museum as a venue to visit with friends where they discuss topics not necessarily related to the exhibit at all. Smaller children like museum displays that have a lot of tactile (touch and feel) opportunities. Considering the reported damage done to some museum displays, many adults probably also fit this category.

In this course, I was encouraged to read the work of Dr. John H. Falk, who is internationally renowned for his expertise on free-choice learning: the learning that occurs in settings like museums and parks and on the Internet. He goes into much more detail describing museum visitors’ motivations and learning.

Some ideas for a student project through curation of an exhibit.
In the past I would ask students to prepare large posters on topics such as photosynthesis or DNA/RNA/protein. Now to museumify this learning activity, I would discuss with the students how to curate an exhibit on the curricular topic. Our brainstorming list might include the following elements for their storyboard:
  • A title for the their ‘exhibit’.
  • An introductory panel consisting of three paragraphs to summarize the topic and entice ‘visiting’ the rest of the exhibit.
  • An appropriate number of images - simple photographs, graphics or flow-charts.
  • Short text labels for each of the images. A bonus might be to include an audio guide of backgrounder information.
Good luck with your summer learning. Let me know if you come up with some new project for the fall.

Links of interest:
      MOOCs - lifelong learning made easy
      Dr. John H. Falk readings on museum visitors

You can also find me on

Museumifying a student project

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