Museum Education Final paper
December 3, 2011
Understanding Museum Education and it’s Affects on People
Ever since I was in grade school, museums have always captured my interest. I can remember enjoying museums so much I would ask my teacher in elementary school if we were going to visit a museum this year, if not I would convince her to plan a trip. I believe the whole atmosphere of a Museum represents a place where I can easily learn. When I walk into a Museum, I am prepared to be amazed, challenged to discover and appreciate. I am one of those people who are instantly attracted to an exhibit and I don't mind spending the whole day there wondering and trying to understand and absorb the information the exhibit is offering. A year and a half ago, I was in France on a school trip. Never in my life had I visited more Museums in such a short time then I did in France. Our first stop was Normandy where we toured the Utah Beach D-Day Museum. This Museum was unique because it was built around the original bunkers of World War II. I stood on both Omaha and Utah beach, the very beaches where our troops landed on D-Day. I saw the famous cemetery where the soldiers that lost their lives on that day are buried and I felt so sad. I gathered more information for relating stories about World War II from this visit than from all my history classes. Shortly after departing from Normandy, while our tour guide was explaining some French history and we arrived in Paris. In Paris, there appeared to be a museum on every corner, it is a virtual city of knowledge. We went to the Louvre but were only able to view a few works of art before our time ran out. Later, I went to Claude Monet’s house and walked in the gardens that he had planted and used as the setting for many of his Impressionist paintings. Today, the garden remains just as it was during his life time, for me it was like I was walking back in time to the early 1900’s when he was still alive. What a thrill!
My school trip to France was particularly enlightening because of my interest in both French culture and global history. The others in my group joined in the same types of Museum tours, but I feel I gathered more information and memories than anyone in my group. Furthermore, I fully enjoyed my trip because I felt the trip was designed with my personal interests in mind. I am very familiar with Impressionist Art and it is one of my favorite types of art in the world. I am a huge fan of Claude Monet and when I visited his house, it felt surreal to me. At Claude Monet’s residence, I took hundreds of pictures of his house, his gardens and the lily pond he had built. I stood in the garden facing his house; the view was still just as beautiful as he depicted in The Artists Garden at Giverny in 1900. When compared to any other student in my group, I feel my interests prompted me to be more motivated to acquire information and to profit educationally from this trip. This experience can be closely associated to a study conducted by The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (Falk). During this research effort, the Smithsonian tested the traditional beliefs of Museum based learning. They began by observing two female visitors. Both women were textbook editors and in their late twenties. They walked around the Museum for a total of ninety minutes. After their visit both women were asked about the exhibits and what they learned. One woman responded with fascination and detailed information about the exhibits. The other woman said she learned very little. Five months later, both women were asked again about recollecting any information they could remember or learned during their visit. The same woman that responded with interest in the exhibits gave an enthusiastic and more detailed description of what she learned during her visit. Her friend said she enjoyed her time spent at the museum but she also happily reported that they had visited the National Gallery of Art too. She had more to say about the Gallery than her visit at the Museum of Natural History. Museum researchers can determine important roles like “prior knowledge, interest, and the museum experience itself, as well as the unpredictable but important role of the subsequent experience…” (Falk) Based on surveys and data from this museum observation, museum experts have refined the traditional methods of thinking about Museum education and developed the model that is used today. This model focuses on personal interests and experiences as the motivation for learning. Experts are now including the individual’s personal, social-cultural and physical experiences into the Contextual Model of museum education. This model acknowledges that learning is a process and is continually redeveloping in different stages.
Till this day, I still fondly remember some interesting facts about World War II, Paris Museums and Claude Monet’s house. It amazes me how much I learned in those eleven days. When I read Learning From Museums by John H. Falk and Lynn D. Dierking, I was not surprised to see that many individuals had experienced the same sense of amazement that I did. I found it astonishing that people had the same keen interest in Museum exhibits but never really understood the interest until they observed an exhibit and later reviewed their experience. Chapter two of Falk and Dierking’s book begins with a story written by a man explaining his wife’s encounter at a museum (Falk). He describes how his wife is interested in language and the development of reading in children. While she was driving to work one day, she was stopped as the drawbridge was raised while a boat was passing under the bridge. “ While waiting she had watched the mechanism of the bridge, and proceeded to tell me that she understood the way that the counterweights and gears were making the huge mass of iron, steel and roadways go so easily up and down.” (Falk). She said she had learned this terminology from a children's museum she had visited over a year ago. Monica’s personal experience can be used as evidence to prove learning is derived from motivation and emotions. Learning, emerging from opportunity, interest and new knowledge, is formed by combining older information from past situations with new learning conveyed during the right time. Monica did in fact learn new language the day she went to the children's museum and the knowledge she acquired was stored until there was a time when she needed it.
I was astonished by the atmosphere in the Utah Beach D-Day Museum, not only was the Museum about World War II, one of my favorite times in world history, but the Museum was established in an original German Bunker. I knew that I was actually walking down hallways and in rooms, formally used by soldiers of the Nazi régime and later by the Allied forces and felt a bond with history. This museum offers its visitors a very moving connection to the historical experiences on the actual battle grounds that these brave warriors occupied. Instantly, even the most anti-history person in my group was involved in discussions about the museum. In the museum, you could actually sit in a tank from World War II, walk through trenches and stand on a beach scattered with the cointet-element or Belgian gate; the metal “x” beams that were scattered everywhere. I saw firsthand the dangers our troops faced.
This is an actual picture from the Utah Beach D-Day Museum. In this picture you can see how visitors can connect to history by sitting in the seats of this tank. I find this Museum impressive because you can touch some of the exhibits and items on display to create a positive learning situation. ("SITE UTAH BEACH.")
From this encounter, I realized that this environment of learning was successful and actually contributed to enhancing the learning of participating individuals. After leaving the museum everyone expressed their enthusiasm for visiting this Museum and asked the teacher if we could schedule more museums visits like this. I agree with the statement of Hiss in chapter seven, “We can experience any place because we’ve received, as part of the structure of our attention, a mechanism that drinks whatever it can from our surroundings… For this perception to emerge, we need a place that seems safe, where the information presented to each sense is complex but not overpowering” by Tony Hiss, The Experience of Place (Falk). I can attest to this Museum exemplifying the environment Mr. Hiss speaks of. The Bunker was designed to allow visitors to use the surroundings in a productive manner, one, because of its impressive but subtle setting and two, this type of Museum education encourages learning to be easily assimilated in a non-threatening and entertaining manner.
The current model of museum education takes into consideration the expanded context of learning. Curators no longer expect the exhibit to tell the whole story or look for the same responses from the observers. Their new goal is to let the visitors create their own vision of the work and expresses their emotions whether they enjoy the art or not. There is a general agreement to construct a setting for the exhibit that will act to motivate the viewer and permit them to reflect, ponder and digest the experience in the context of his or her personal interest. They further develop their experience through social cultural, physical knowledge and the experience will continue to impact the viewer over time. Each observer will carry with him a learning experience that will constantly influence, enhance and expand his understanding of his environment and existence. Museums do contribute to and reinforce learning because they are an integral part of the educational experience of anyone who has the opportunity to visit.
Falk, John H., and Lynn D. Dierking. Learning from museums: visitor experiences and
the making of meaning. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2000. Print.
"SITE UTAH BEACH." SITE UTAH BEACH. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2011.