As we see it: improving learning in the museum

Education Line

What the resource is:
This resource is a conference paper presenting research conducted in Australia, describing and analysing pupil learning experiences in the Australian Museum in Sydney. The paper is jointly authored by a member of the Faculty of Education & Social Work, University of Sydney, and a member of the museum staff. The paper was presented at BERA 2003. 


The aims of the resource:
The paper reviews the effectiveness of the Australian Museum in providing an outside-the-classroom learning experience for school students. It effectively summarises key issues, although at first reading the repeated use of bullet points suggests a superficial listing of issues that needed deeper discussion. However, given the word length that would have been demanded by the conference organisers, the authors appear to have chosen to focus on those points that lead to a coherent discussion of significant issues.

Key findings or focus:
The findings are worthwhile, interesting and significant, and in some cases controversial. For instance, pupil feedback indicated that they felt that "interactive" displays were only what the authors called "passive interactive" in contrast to the more traditional displays that generated deeper discussion. The pupils' feedback indicated that they valued being able to examine real skeletons and animals far more than using computer simulations. These real exhibits elicited conversation and questioning, a depth of engagement that was missing from the pupils' use of interactive displays. The focus of the paper is on the pupil learning experience rather than that of the teachers and museum staff. However, the tensions within the roles of teachers and museum staff is an auxiliary finding that emerges as having relevance to ITE students. There appeared to have been a lack of interaction between school and museum staff, which led to a lack of appreciation of each other's views on the nature of learning and the different ways in which this might happen within the museum. For instance, one teacher had provided pupils with a work sheet, whereas the museum staff believed a more informal approach to the exhibits to be appropriate.


The quality, authority and credibility of the resource  in relation to ITE:
This report is of a major piece of research to which a depth of reflective analysis has been applied. Pupil perspectives have been sought through an interesting methodology, the "silent conversation" with poster presentations, which was based on the ideas of Anne Ratzki working in Cologne. In Phase 1, the adult participants constructed posters containing images rather than present oral or written reports. These photos showed "that which assists or inhibits visitor learning in the museum". In Phase 2, groups of children (age range 10 -13 years) created presentations on their impressions. Clear ethical guidelines have been adhered to and every effort has been made to elicit and value every participant's genuine viewpoint. The summaries of the findings and the conclusions drawn are substantial.


The implications for ITE tutors/mentors - when and how it could have best impact:
This resource would be valuable for informing ITE providers about the way in which museums can contribute to pupil learning, especially on courses that now include alternative placement experiences for students in non-traditional settings. It could be used as the basis for discussion of the interaction formal and informal learning and the different ways in which outside-the-classroom settings can contribute to children's overall understanding of the world.


The relevance to ITE students - how and why it has importance:
Students embarking on alternative placements in museum and heritage centre settings would be well-advised to read this paper, especially if they are required to conduct research into the effectiveness of learning in such settings. The depth of analysis and written style would suit students working at Masters level and final year BA rather than, say, Year 2 BA students.


The paper would provide an international perspective for students engaged in research into the effectiveness of pupil learning in museums. Many of the issues raised and findings reported have resonance with the UK experience. In recent years, learning outside the classroom has been promoted, and learning from research conducted in other countries is important, especially since this research was conducted some time ago (paper date 2003) - suggesting, perhaps, that the Australians are ahead of us here.


Reviewed by:

Gill Hope