Reflections on 101 Blog Posts

My buddy Buddy and me relaxing pool side after a hard ride.

This is blog post number 101 to Archaeology, Museums and Outreach.  My initial intent for the blog, as reflected in my first post in December of 2009, was to offer a platform for discussing innovations and experiences in public outreach around cultural heritage.  That intent came after attending a session on community outreach at the Southeastern Archaeological Conference in November of 2009.  Many of the session participants expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of professional support given to the subject.  I viewed this blog as a response to that concern for like-minded individuals to exchange ideas.

Here is some stuff I learned over the two-year period this blog has been up:

  • For better or worse, Archaeology, Museums and Outreach seems to fill a niche.  There are lots of websites that promote an individual institution’s archaeological outreach projects.  However, there are few others, if any, focused on outreach in general.
  • I have not put much effort into growing this blog, and maybe I really should.  On analytics in general, between followers, searches and direct referrals, I generally run 500 to 700 hits per post, with a consistent increase over the two year period.  You can easily increase hits with blog tags.  I posted one entry  with the title of Measuring Program Success and soon realized that I unintentionally hit on a key search engine phrase.  That single post accounts for 20% of all of this blog’s hits ever!  So it is not difficult to drive traffic to your blog, but what does the reader find once they get there?  To tag every post with “Measuring Program Success” would dramatically up the blog hits but also seems the equivalent of spamming.  What is more important than growing the number of hits is staying on topic.
  • At first, I was surprised by the limited number of comments made to my blog posts.  For most posts there are no comments.  The 120 or so comments received over a two-year period are from about 50 of the posts.  But . . .
  • a rather pleasant surprise from the past two years is the amount of interaction/networking I have done with others in my field I have met through the blog, none of whom commented on a post.  For example, I routinely run into or receive email from colleagues and friends who in-person comment on specific posts, or note that they enjoy the blog.  Excerpts from three of my book reviews are cited on the publisher’s website. The websites of professional organizations and individuals link to this blog.
  • Of particular interest to me has been the role of blogs in academics.  One might expect a tenure and promotion committee to dismiss the energy I expended in the 70,000 or so words I have written for this blog to date – noting that amount of words would constitute at least 3 peer-reviewed articles in top line journals.  Peer review publication is supposed to be the primary indication that the colleagues in one’s given field acknowledge the suitability and worth of your scholarship for publication.  However, as Mr. Dylan noted The Times They Are a Changing.  The change in academia is reflected  in a recent article on the importance of academic blogging in general and for the dissemination of research.  My blog posts to date resulted in invites and publication of two peer-reviewed articles and appointments in the professional organizations to which I belong.  In this new reality, blogs also become an indicator of scholarly research.
  • Finally, I really enjoy writing this blog – the dialogue and ideas that result.  That dialogue is also the reason that I enjoy the classroom setting – the opportunity to engage with students and get their good ideas.  So on the assumption that blogging does not go the way of My Space, Geocities, and Friendster, I look forward to putting together another 101 posts.

Grow where you are planted

There is a lot of doom and gloom about the fate of museums.  This week American Association of Museums President Ford Bell sent out an email to the membership about pending national legislation that will adversely impact museums.  News articles abound that deal with the financial shortfalls and shifting museum demographics, along with reduced visitation.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation offers a survival kit to cultural heritage institutions for getting through the current tough economic times.

Into this climate comes the Spike TV American Diggers and National Geographic programming that I posted about last week. I believe our response, in large part, should be to make our cultural heritage institutions more relevant to the public we serve.  In every museum related course I teach these days, on the first class meeting we watch the 2009 video interview with Robert Janes on this very issue.  When the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, argued that anthropology programs were a poor use of higher education funds, students at the University of South Florida issued a response that spoke to the issue of relevancy.

At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, despite national trends, for the past year, we saw a dramatic increase in our school group visits.  We attribute the increase to our revamping of all programs, now tied directly to curriculum standards, to become more relevant to the public we serve.  An experience this past November illustrates this point.  The lead teacher for a visiting school group of nearly 200 was particularly enthusiastic in her praise for the student experience during their three-hour visit.  She confessed that she was somewhat reluctant to schedule the visit as other teachers in her suburban school cautioned her that Chucalissa’s meagre offerings did not justify the transportation cost for the students.  After her school’s visit, she strongly disagreed and intends to correct the misperception in her district.  In essence, we were able to show our relevance to her students educational needs.

I originally wrote the sentence –  we are a very visitor focused institution – but changed that to user focused.  As a University based facility, we host many internships, student research projects, class visits, and more – again, demonstrating relevancy to our governing authority.

Relevancy can be demonstrated in many simple ways:

  • We have over 800 followers on our Facebook page and 1700 subscribers to our e-newsletter with whom we regularly communicate.  These two outlets can be platforms to present an alternative to the American Diggers mentality.
  • For our weekly staff meetings, each fall we begin with Chapter 1 of Stephanie Weaver’s Creating Great Visitor Experiences and get as far as we can by the end of April.  We have yet to get through the book in the academic year.  This has been a fantastic opportunity to place ourselves in the shoes of our visitors so that me might better live into our mission of supporting them.
  • Our Volunteer Days where visitors are able to work with cultural materials curated in our repository can be promoted as a counter to sitting on the couch and watching American Diggers, by actually engaging in archaeological research.
In the above examples, we live into our Mission statement to “protect and interpret the Chucalissa archaeological site’s cultural and natural environments, and to provide the University Community and the public with exceptional educational, participatory, and research opportunities . . .”
Let me close this rather self-congratulatory post by noting that as a small institution we have the luxury to focus on the nuance without the concern of generating funds for multi-million dollar payroll and other operating expenses.  In so doing, we do not attempt to reinvent the wheel or come up with a new gimmick to attract visitors.  Rather, we strive to grow where we are planted in seeking relevance with the public that we serve.  Such an orientation seems our best response to not just economic woes, but the destructive methods and mentality of American Diggers.
How do you demonstrate your relevance to the public that you serve?

Celebrate Museum Advocacy Day

Below is an op-ed written by Mallory Bader, graduate assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum for the February 28, 2012 edition of the MemphisCommercial Appeal.  The piece is based on the American Association of Museum’s Advocacy Day activities for 2012.

Guest column: Museums have mission to serve, educate

Today is National Museum Advocacy Day and it’s an excellent time to express support for your local institutions.

  • By Mallory Bader, Special to The Commercial Appeal

In tough economic times, government officials trying to balance their budgets often consider cutting funds for cultural institutions such as museums. Some view museums as luxuries we cannot afford. However, museums are much more than warehouses filled with objects. They are places where change occurs and lives are transformed.

I believe the museums that continue to flourish despite tough times are those that embrace their communities and address the challenges of our times. Instead of simply being repositories for “stuff,” public museums have a mission to serve, educate and empower our citizens.

Museums serve the public by providing fun and engaging educational opportunities. According to the American Association of Museums, museums spend $2.2 billion a year on education alone. At least 22 percent of our nation’s museums are located in rural areas and act as a primary educational voice for a community’s cultural heritage. Many are surprised to learn there are more than 75 museums in West Tennessee alone, most located outside of Memphis.

Museums can engage with communities to tackle a variety of issues that are debated in the political forum and affect our everyday lives. Nationally, discussions through the AAM’s Center for the Future of Museums take up issues such as local food movements, sustainability and human rights, to name a few. The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is at the forefront of local and national discussions on human rights and social inequalities not just of the past, but of the present and into the future.

One way that museums can be centers for social change is through education. More than ever before, museums work in collaboration with schools to meet students’ educational needs. The idea of a “participatory museum” means more than just hands-on activities; it means a museum where the students and other visitors help to create the experience. Students now have an active role in their museum experiences and develop critical thinking skills while engaging interactively with the subject matter.

At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, we provide K-12 students with engaging educational opportunities that are tied to a school’s curriculum standards. For example, students and other visitors have participated in the creation of our new outdoor exhibits such as the Traditional Medicinal Plant Sanctuary. When completed the exhibit will serve as an educational tool for visitors to discuss the role of traditional plants in the lives of the prehistoric Native Americans who lived at Chucalissa. The exhibit will also serve as a model for preserving and conserving medicinal plants for future generations of Memphians.

At Chucalissa, we are working to better address the needs of our community. For example, in redesigning the museum’s exhibit hall, we are going well beyond simply updating our exhibit cases. We are involving the public by holding focus groups and interviews with teachers, community members, archaeologists and Native Americans to help determine the content of our museum exhibits.

Museums now tell stories and build exhibits that paint a larger and more inclusive picture of our society. These stories often deal with people who have been marginalized or issues that are politically charged. Museums must become socially responsible and connect to the communities they serve, or else they will become irrelevant.

Institutions such as the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa and the Pink Palace Family of Museums are publicly owned. Blockbuster exhibits and tax dollars alone will not keep these museum doors open. To be successful, the public must take an active role in defining what museums are to become. This crucial connection cannot happen without museum visitors being advocates and voicing their support of museums to our government officials.

Today is National Museum Advocacy Day — an excellent time to express that support. Remember, like libraries, schools and other public institutions, museums are meant to serve the public, but the public must also support and serve those institutions.

Mallory Bader is a graduate assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa and a graduate student in the Museum Studies Program at the University of Memphis.

Letting Go to Keep the Public Engaged

Without a doubt, my favorite book of 2011 is Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World edited by Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene, and Laura Koloski.  The book liner notes read that ” Letting Go? investigates path-breaking public history practices at a time when the traditional expertise of museums seems challenged at every turn – by the Web and digital media, by community based programming, by new trends in oral history, and by contemporary artists.”   The book is divided into sections or themes, each containing a diverse set of thought pieces (method and theory), case studies, and conversations (application dialogues).  The authors are leading authorities actively engaged in their subject area.  Letting Go? is a very applied presentation.

The first theme Virtually Breaking Down: Authority and the Web opens with an essay by Nina Simon that states the essence of her Participatory Museum model in a concise and convincing way, using several new examples to illustrate her points.  I found the brief essay fine-tuned some arguments in her published volume.  I suspect that for those new to Simon’s Participatory Museum, the essay will spur them on to read her book.  Simon’s thought piece is followed by Steve Zeitlin’s case study, City of Memory, based in New York City.  Next is a conversation with Bill Adair and Matthew Fisher that considers the problems and potentials with public engagement in online art museum projects and an oral history/video project in Philadelphia.  The final essay in the section by Matthew MacArthur takes up the role of objects in the digital contexts.  A strength of this section, and all the sections in the book is the reflective nature of the pieces.  In a most refreshing way, all the authors consider the shortcomings, problems, challenges, and opportunities of their own digital or participatory contexts in a user-generated world.

The second theme Throwing Open the Doors: Communities as Curators features a provocative essay by Kathleen McLean on the multiple expert and visitor voices.  She concludes her essay with “We need to find way to bring the museum’s expert knowledge into conversation with the people who attend our museums – people who bring with them their own expert knowledge” (p. 79).  The section is rounded out with a conversation on the diologic museum, a multi-generational family film project in Minnesota, and a conversation based on the Brooklyn Historical Society’s efforts to have community curated exhibits.

The third theme of the volume addresses popular oral history projects such as Story Corps.  A thoughtful essay by Tom Satwicz and Kim Morrisey assesses the challenges, limitations, and potentials of the reality of public curation from trend to practice.  Perhaps one-third of the volume considers essays dealing with  fine and performance arts not related to the focus of this blog.  However, the essays and conversations provide much that is simply good to think about regardless of the specific field of application.

I found the volume particularly refreshing in that all the contributors accept that there are lots of unanswered questions, false starts, and simply wrong turns in the “sharing authority” process of this “user-generated world” in which we now all operate.  The authors do not take on Messianic tones in their presentations, rather, provide thoughtful discussions of their experience in engaging the public’s user-generated voice. If you are grappling with how to incorporate the authority of the many voices that your institution serves, Letting Go? will give you plenty of directions to consider.

Community Service & Learning in Musuems

This past Saturday at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa 35 undergraduates from the University of Memphis participated in our monthly Volunteer Day.  The students were part of a Service on Saturday group project organized out of the University. Typical projects include activities like neighborhood clean-ups, urban garden projects, and assisting in the assembly and staffing of the Smithsonian Institution’s The Way We Worked exhibit at a local community center.  As participants in the University’s Emerging Leader Program, the students perform community service hours each semester.  Yesterday at Chucalissa, they worked on our repository reinventory, digital photography project, and helped transfer over two tons of stone ground cover to our in process Traditional Medicinal Plant Sanctuary.  The students supplemented the 20 volunteers who participated in our regular Volunteer Day activities.

Two weeks before 25 members of the Memphis Archaeological and Geological Society (MAGS) spent four hours at the C.H. Nash Museum assisting with our  repository inventory project.  Six MAGS members returned this Saturday to participate again.  Mike and Sherri Baldwin lent their artistic skills to repainting the 40-year-old model trees in our diorama display.

In late January 45 visiting students from the Illinois State University spent the day at Chucalissa as part of a two-week Community Service Learning class traveling through the Southeast.  After a site tour and discussion of our Museum’s commitment to community engagement, the students spent the rest of the day on a variety of service projects at Chucalissa.

From mid-March to mid-April, we will host an 10 person AmeriCorps project.  The crew will start by working on trail maintenance at the T.O. Fuller State Park.  Then the AmeriCorps crew will work with archaeologists and community members on preliminary archaeological investigations of the 1930s era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp located near Chucalissa at T.O. Fuller State Park.  The CCC project is particularly significant.  The AmeriCorps of today are the legacy of the CCC, who in the 1930s “discovered” the prehistoric earthworks and artifacts that became known as the Chucalissa site.  The discovery came while the CCC worked to construct a Jim Crow era swimming pool for the African-American community of Memphis.

All of the above activities can be categorized as community service or community service learning projects.  The National Service Learning Clearing House notes a distinction between the two activities: “If school students collect trash out of an urban streambed, they are providing a valued service to the community as volunteers. If school students collect trash from an urban streambed, analyze their findings to determine the possible sources of pollution, and share the results with residents of the neighborhood, they are engaging in service-learning” (citation here).

There is a good bit of gray area between the two types of service activities.  One might argue that the students yesterday who were spreading stone ground cover for the Traditional Plant Sanctuary were only “providing a valued service to the community” as they did not “analyze their findings” etc.  In our museum settings today, we must provide the types of service opportunities that can bridge fully into learning projects.  This is a key ingredient to all of our volunteer/service opportunities at Chucalissa.  Using the parlance of Simon’s Participatory Museum, I have posted before on the distinctions of contributory, collaborative and co-creative visitor and volunteer experiences.  Seemingly, the more complex the level of engagement for the participant, ultimately, the more complete the stakeholder development.  I am not convinced that is true.  I don’t see the contributory, collaborative and co-creative experiences as hierarchical.  Rather the range is different.  The same is true for community service and community service learning experiences.  As we strive to be relevant institutions to the public that we serve, we must also be keenly aware and ready to nurture these relationships.  A key understanding is that as public institutions, museums must truly serve the public.  With incredible regularity I repeat “The only reason we exist as a museum is because of the visitor.  Without them, we would function only as a repository or research station.”  In the same way, as public institutions, the public has a responsibility to use, engage with, and advocate for museums.  A reciprocal relationship is the foundation for sustainable institutions into the future.

Helpful resources on this subject include:

What are your experiences with service and service learning activities?

Students as “Irregular” Museum Staff

The C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa is a small facility with a full-time staff of four, supplemented by three graduate assistants each semester and the occasional temporary employee.  Perhaps the theme I write about most in this blog is the role of the interns, volunteers and students who are crucial to our Museum Mission that mandates we offer “exceptional educational, participatory, and research opportunities” to both the University of Memphis community and the public.

For our annual Volunteer Appreciation Day dinner, I always do some quick computations to report the important role of volunteers in our operation.  For example, I noted that in 2010 the number of hours expended at the Museum by what I refer to as the “irregular” staff composed of graduate assistants, interns, and volunteers nearly equals that of the four regular staff members (6750, 7850 hours respectively).  When I walk through our Museum, I quickly fill a legal size page enumerating the projects completed by this irregular staff.

I recently reviewed the last three years of our student projects.  Without even including the considerable contribution of Graduate Assistants, we hosted:

  • 7 Graduate and 11 Undergraduate Internships
  • 13 Graduate Level Projects through the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program
  • 3 Masters Level Practica
  • University of Memphis students who routinely take part in Volunteer Day activities
  • Class visits & projects of the Governor’s School, Fresh Connections, and the Departments of Earth Sciences and Anthropology
  • Student researchers using collections curated at the C.H. Nash Museum curated

These types of interaction are crucial for developing organic links with our governing authority, The University of Memphis.  Developing and sustaining these links takes a substantial investment on the part of the regular staff .  However, I am convinced that these relationships are precisely how we can be most relevant to the University.  In so doing, we move beyond a bricks and mortar expenditure to engage with students as an integral part of  the University Mission.

The engagement is often simply a matter of taking advantage of opportunities in the University setting.  Here are two examples – this semester I am teaching an Applied Archaeology and Museums undergraduate/graduate level course.  Enrolled students will complete one major and two minor projects.  For the major project, students will collaborate with the Public Education Committee of the Society for American Archaeology to update and redesign the Society’s public education webpages.  The webpages were created several years ago and are in need of a thorough revision.  For one of the minor projects, students will create a proposal to promote the prehistoric and historic cultural heritage of Memphis’ DeSoto Park that contains Mississippian era mounds and Civil War era structures.  Currently this city owned facility does not offer any interpretation of the built environment other than a single National Historic Register marker.

I believe that such projects are critical to educate students in service learning.  As archaeology and museums continue to grapple with how to demonstrate their relevance and involve the public in meaningful participatory experiences, engaging students directly in those projects is an incredible opportunity to take the classroom beyond the campus walls to educate those who will be the policy makers of tomorrow.  And then there is the bottom line question – does it work?  Can we take students from classes or as interns and create quality products for museums and other professional settings?  The total of my experience over the past few years strongly suggests that, with a commitment to mentoring, yes we can.  Stop by the C.H. Nash Museum to see if you agree!

What opportunities do you see for engaging students in your work?

Blogging for the Monkeys

I started out this post wanting to consider blogs in the same way I discussed Wikipedia last week – as a source or direction for research and scholarship.   There is a good bit of discussion on this subject.  A year or so ago I came across an interesting post by Molly Keener at Wake Forest University that reviewed the range of responses to the research potential of blogs.  More recently, is an interesting post on the use of blogs in the Tenure and Promotion process at universities.

A significant difference between the two is that blogs are more creative, more opinionated, and less encyclopedic than Wikipedia, though both forms rely on the same user-generated content.  Not recognizing this distinction is another flaw in Keen’s basic thesis of the Cult of the Amateur referenced previously.

In addition to scholarship, I have found that blogs are an excellent means for disseminating and receiving information, creativity, and ways of thinking outside the box.  That is how I perceive the Archaeology, Museums and Outreach blog. In the first post I noted that my intent was to provide a platform for folks involved in archaeology and museum outreach to consider what works and what does not work.  I do not know of any other regular media resource that addresses this area.  This past week at the C.H. Nash Museum, we launched a new blog, Chucalissa e-Anumpoli.  We see the new blog as filling a need that is not addressed by any of our other forms of communication at the C.H. Nash Museum.

Beyond research, in reviewing offerings from the Museum and Archaeology fields, I have come up with a few categories of blogs:

Career Networking – Much like Linked-in, although on a less redundant and more user-friendly level, blogs such as the Emerging Museum Professionals act as a vehicle for collaboration.  The blog solicits input from others, irregularly issues posts of interest to folks new to the museum field on topics such as interviewing for career positions, skill development, and regional meet-ups of like-minded people.

Trends – The American Association of Museum’s  Center for the Future of Museums blog and the associated weekly Dispatches from the Center for the Future of Museums are phenomenal resources on trends in museums.  The Dispatches does for me what I hope my blog does for others – provides information and resources relevant to a field of interest but that are outside the regular box and expertise of operation.  For example, the Dispatches provides links to the latest trends in philanthropy, demographics, and tourism that are important for me to stay on top of, but are outside the scope of my normal range of reading.

Institutional Information –  I really like the Museum Bulletin the Alaska State Museum publishes as a regular blog.  The publication is very outreach oriented, and reports the activities, acquisitions, internships, and events at the Museum.  The Museum use to “blog” their newsletter.  Were this an e-newsletter type communication that requires buy-in registration, I likely would not have come across the publication.  The Brooklyn Museum’s blog is another institutional publication that is quite creative in their posts.  See for example the Brooklyn Museum’s split-second basis project for selecting pieces of art to display.

Teaching/Research Interest – This type of blog is like finding that interesting book on the library shelf that works as a bonus supplement or even points one down a new road in preparing for a lecture or research.  For example, today I got the latest post for Museum Beyond that reviewed the Tate Museum’s new Race Against Time app for the iPhone – not a terribly glowing review either.  Also, Jennifer Carey blogged this week from the Independent School Association of the Southwest’s Annual Meeting.  Her final post was on the presentation by Jane McGonigal author of Reality is Broken.  Jennifer provided quite a few related links from the presentation.  Between the two blogs and the Wikiversity entry I noted from last week, these will likely find their way into my syllabus next fall for the honors course I will teach on gaming for social good.

Just Plain Interesting Today, Katrina Urban’s  NewMuseumKat blog posted a review and link for a virtual visit to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam.  The website is a convincing example that counters the Luddite rant against the concept of virtual museums.  One should not need to travel to Amsterdam to experience the house, albeit remote.   Kris Hirst’s long running archaeology blog at has short nuggets of information about the latest goings on in archaeology.

Here is my punch line – all the above resources provide real and worthwhile information that is not readily (or at all) available in the traditional media. Contrary to Keen’s dire warning in the Cult of the Amateur of a future where “The monkeys takeover.  Say good-bye to today’s experts and cultural gatekeepers – our reporters, news anchors, editors, music companies, and Hollywood movie studios.  In today’s cult of the amateur, the monkeys are running the show.  With their infinite typewriters, they are authoring the future” (p. 9).

I can only respond – and what a fine job us primates are doing!!

Learning Through the Museum Assessment Program

In this week’s post, I want to highlight one of the most effective museum review processes around –  the American Association of Museum’s (AAM) Museum Assessment Program (MAP).  If you are not affiliated with a museum, the MAP model of mentoring is an ideal for other nonprofits to support their base constituencies.  The MAP process first guides an institution through an intensive period of self-study.  Next, the self-study documentation is assigned to an external peer reviewer, who then visits the institution for an onsite review.  Finally, the reviewer produces a report that is delivered to the institution with recommendations to help guide the museum through its short and long-term tasks for best practices.  Over the past two years at the C.H. Nash Museum, we completed two separate MAP reviews – one that considered our entire institutional operation and a second that focused on our collections.  As a reasonably small museum, we found this process extremely helpful.

Here are our major takeaways from the process:

  • During our weekly meetings for the self-study period, all staff, including our graduate assistants met and discussed specific questions in the MAP review.  The decision to engage the entire staff in the study allowed us to build a solid foundation for both the peer review and the final report.  Through the self-study,I learned a great deal about aspects of our operation that are not part of my day-to-day experience at the museum.  The self-study is structured such that it produces a truly holistic assessment of the museum operation.
  • Both of our MAP final reports produced superb analyses and recommendations for our museum operation.  The recommendations were organized as short, middle, and long-term goals and further ranked by cost to carry out.  The final report also included resources to guide the implementation of the recommendations.
  • Carry the prestige and authority of the AAM, our governing authority and board were very receptive to the final report recommendations.  As a  small institution with perhaps too many pokers in the fire, the MAP process formed a basis for us to strategically reassess our process for the coming years.
  • I also appreciate that the MAP program does not end with the final report.  Both of our AAM reviewers extended an open invitation to remain in dialogue as we work through the report recommendations.

As well, MAP now provides a resource for digital interaction with a newly launched on-line community for MAP participants.  Some of the on-line resources include:

  • a guide for using completed MAP reports to leverage funding for museum projects and needs
  • a set of links for museum best practices
  • a series of webinars on a range of museum practices
  • and a recently launched blog that will hopefully continue to grow

The MAP program is an excellent resource particularly for the small to mid-sized museums that need to step back and take a fresh look at their total operation in general or as a first step toward AAM accreditation.  The MAP process is a very useful tool as we move into the new realities of sustainable, engaged, and socially relevant museum operations.

Have you benefited from a MAP or similar type of experience?

Visit the MAP weblink for more information about applying for the program.

Technology and Student Engagement

This week’s post is an interview with Jennifer Carey whose blog Indiana Jen focuses on the interface of Education, History, and Technology.  As an educator, Jennifer’s style is engaging and innovative.  She has taught on the collegiate level and in the Johns Hopkins program, the Center for Talented Youth.  Currently she teaches at an independent secondary school is Fort Worth Texas.  In the interview below, Jennifer provides insights on several key issues relevant to outreach and education.

Will you tell us a bit about yourself?  How you developed and meshed your interests in archaeology, education, and technology?

I have always been a history buff. As a child, we took vacations to Gettysburg or Yosemite or other areas of historical significance. When I went to college, I did a double major in History and Anthropology. My freshmen year, I did my first dig in Belize and while I knew Jungle Archaeology wasn’t for me, fieldwork had me hooked. I then went off to UCLA to study archaeology. Technology has always been important in archaeology – think about Evans introducing the “new technology” of photography at the turn of the last century.

My technology love developed separately – we had a home computer when most people didn’t own calculators. I was writing DOS before I could compose a paragraph. I’ve always had a habit for ‘gadgets,’ computers, software, etc. It’s an expensive habit 😉

A couple of years ago you were podcasting your Classical Archaeology class lectures to college students.  How were the podcasts received?

I started my podcasting as an experiment and the University largely supported me as they saw it as a potentially great marketing tool. I was primarily nervous that students would stop coming to class. I told my students that if attendance dropped off, I would stop. To my surprise, attendance didn’t drop. In fact, what happened was that my students stopped writing down every word on my PowerPoints, stopped taking so many notes, and focused more on what I was saying and engaging in a discussion – they could always go back to hear what I said. My experience was that there was more *learning*. The really, really good students would often tell me that they put the podcasts on their iPods and listened during their commute or at the gym. I also had a number of students with learning differences that told me that the podcasts helped them to perform better in the classroom.

You are now posting a regular blog Indiana Jen: History, Education, and Technology (not to be confused with another blog called Indiana Jenn).  Besides the obvious difference of lecture based podcasts and briefer topical blog posts, in terms of communication, how are the two different?

Blogging takes more time and planning than Podcasting did. My podcasts were literally just recording my lectures. My blog takes more planning and research. However, it’s also more interactive – which can be great fun (and sometimes a little frustrating). However, if I have a thought or idea as an academic or a teacher I now have a venue for sharing ideas and engaging in communication.

Your work is primarily focused in the academic setting.  Have you done much educational work in bringing archaeology to the broader community?

As I am now out of Academia and firmly in education (teaching history at a private school) my goal has definitely become more expansive. I really like to bring interesting topics to the ‘main-stream,’ which is why I’ll write up stories that I think will interest most people – child sacrifice in the Andes, the destruction of Pompeii, cannibalism of the Donnor party, etc. You’ll notice I don’t write a lot about syncretism in Roman Britain or dialectical exchange of colonial cultures. Ultimately, my goal is to make history less intimidating (it’s not about dates and names and $5 words) and to open people up to broader experiences.

In a recent article Insistent Questions in Our Learning Age (Journal of Museum Education Vol. 35, No. 3) Beverly Sheppard writes about the under utilization of museums by public schools. In archaeology and history, what role do you see museums playing in the classroom setting?

You know, I would wholly agree with this, especially in non-urban settings where museums are far away. “Field Trips” are expensive, stressful, and a logistical nightmare. For example, I teach AP Art History with 11 kids. Sounds like loading them all on a bus and taking them to a museum would be easy. However, I have to find the funds for the bus, track down another chaperone, arrange lunch, make sure our insurance covers it, get them out of their other five class (which could be things like AP Calculus and English), and keep track of them while they’re wandering. Because of these issues, a lot of teachers and administrators “just say no.” This is just a shame – my students experience so much more at the museum – they *see* the objects they’ve been studying, they *apply* what they have learned, and they are exposed to a broader spectrum of information.

I’m hoping that the recent trend of Museums putting their collections online and things like the Google Museum Project can help to bring the experience to the classroom. Still, there is no substitute to the ‘real experience.’

As an advocate for technology in the classroom, what are the new trends that you find exciting?

Here are a few examples that are of interest to me – Cell Phones in the Classroom (my current talk topic), 1:1 initiatives, 3D Tours of Museums and sites, Preservation of Archaeological sites (e.g. the 3D Rome Project with Google).

In Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirkey notes that technology does not create the behavior, rather technology enables a better implementation of an existing behavior.  How do you see that playing out in your classroom and beyond?

You can’t simply throw technology at people and say ‘go’ – you have to teach them to use it properly as well as a digital citizenship aspect.

I teach students from 9-12 grade. I lay down ground rules for behavior online and in the classroom with our tools. I believe that this is an evolutionary process – my younger students are much better at following the rules and listening to input. However, my older students (who have been using these tools for years) live by their own rules and are more resistant to what they see as restrictions.

I believe that educators should not only be saying “Use PowerPoint” or “Make a Video” or “Social Network,” but explain things like digital footprints, Learning Networks, and Digital Citizenship (cyber bullying is pervasive). It will be interesting to see where we are in five years in terms of our online behavior.

You have students create blogs in the classroom.  Has that process been successful in your teaching?

Right now, my student blogs are all set to private, so they do not get a ‘broader’ perspective. However, I have noticed that it gives them opportunities to write, write, write, and write some more – a skill that we all need to develop. They are writing for a public forum, which tends to make them more aware of their words. They also share this information with one another. In some of my classes, this plays out better than others. For example, in my AP Art History Class, my students blog a weekly report on a piece of art. At exam time, they all went back and reviewed one another’s work – so the collaborative aspect is immensely powerful.

What advice do you have to offer anyone interested meshing archaeology, education, and technology as you have done?

It’s all about experimentation – you won’t know if it will work until you try it. Things I thought would be an epic fail – like podcasting – turned out to be an amazing success. Other things that I thought would be amazing – Mind Mapping during lectures – turned out to be an epic fail. However, experiment, experiment, experiment. Also collaborate with your peers – few of my ideas are my own. I learn a lot from others and then implement them as I see fit (perhaps with some modification). Then share your ideas.

You can reach Jennifer via email or subscribe to her blog.

Engagement and Sustainability in Museums

Engagement and sustainability are the two words that come to mind when thinking of the challenges facing museums in 2012.  As a small institution, at the C. H. Nash Museum in 2011 we had the luxury to step back a bit, think through those two concepts, without the burden of a huge infrastructure and payroll to preoccupy our every action.

We started off the year by completing a program restructuring to assure we met the expressed needs of our visiting school groups.  We also surveyed our e-newsletter readers to get their input on program priorities for our museum.  We made certain that these discussions were firmly situated within our mission statement.

In April, we led a 12 paper session called “Re-imagining the Engaged Museum” at the Society for Applied Anthropology meetings in Seattle.  This was a fantastic opportunity to hear from other museum professionals on efforts to make their institutions socially relevant.

This year we completed our second Museum Assessment Program (MAP) study.  A key part of both our 2010 Institutional MAP study and the Collections based study this year focused on sustainability.

This fall, visitation by school groups dramatically increased at our museum compared to the past few years.  We attribute the increase to our revised programs. word of mouth advertising, and an aggressive and consistent social media presence.  We have also developed a reputation for having a staff that is very focused on visitor service.  As we remind each other regularly, the only reason we are a museum is because of our visitors.  Without visitors, our function would be that of a repository or research center.

This fall, in staff discussion of our programs for 2012, a common theme was that all of our museum offerings need to be driven by the community that we serve.  I have posted before that our anticipated upgrades and redesign of the main hall exhibits will first solicit the input of key stakeholders and users, along with the casual visitors to our museum.  As well, all of our substantive projects for 2012 including the medicinal plant sanctuary, reconstruction of prehistoric houses, and excavations of the 1930s era Civilian Conservation Corps Camp will only occur with the active participation of our key stakeholders and users – the very same people who will inform our exhibit redesign.

In 2012 and beyond, sustainability of our institution will only be accomplished as a result of community engagement.  We will heed the advice posed by Nina Simon and others that the Participatory Museum should not simply be a hands-on experience for the sake of being a hands-on experience.  Rather, the Participatory Museum’s goal is to fully engage the visitor in the public institutions of which they ultimately have responsibility.   I remain convinced that the long-term sustainability of our cultural institutions will occur when the public for whom we perform the function of stewards for their collections are effectively engaged in the entire museum process.

What challenges do you see for 2012?