Museums and schools – Mutualism in the cultural realm: Sally Gissing

Sally Gissing discusses how the Museum of the Riverina’s Education and Public Programs strategy works to develop partnerships with schools in Wagga Wagga. The multi-platform approach supplements school excursions to the Museum with educational material designed for the Web. Evaluation is also central to the Museum’s strategy to ensure long-term success.

In biological terms mutualism describes the close and often long-term relationships between two different species where both species derive benefit. There is great scope for cultural venues such as museums to establish such relationships with schools. It is promising to see that more teachers in and around Wagga Wagga are realising the educational value of our museum. This year we have seen a significant increase in school group visitation at both our museum sites.

There are numerous advantages for the museum and surrounding schools in developing this relationship. For the museum the advantages have included fostering a new generation of museum stakeholders – supporting sustainable growth, an increase in visitor numbers and breaking that stereotypical mould that the museum is just full of “old stuff” that has little to no relevance to our younger audiences. I see a significant opportunity for museums to support teachers in their role through the provision of curriculum linked educations resources and excursion opportunities. For students entering the world of museums can create a valuable learning experience. Providing students with the chance to explore, investigate and discover museum content and stories can facilitate a variety of key developmental outcomes e.g. the development of social capital, lifelong learning skills, sense of identity and place, and an appreciation of cultural diversity.

For museums the purpose of education programs is to provide an access point for audiences to engage with museum content. It’s important when designing this access point to provide students with opportunities to complete activities that they wouldn’t be able to complete in a classroom environment. That means avoiding the old worksheet and finding alternative solutions such as museum theatre and practical workshops. Whilst hosting the National Archives of Australia – travelling exhibition Max Dupain: On Assignment we used featured images as stimulus material for drama games that required students to imagine what the subjects of these photographs were thinking and feeling as well as why Max Dupain decided to include them in his work.

Find ways to make organising an excursion to your museum easier for teachers. Provide clear links to the curriculum and venue and safety information for your museum site. A lot of schools plan excursions in term 3 or 4. Ideally it’s best to get your promotional material out to schools at this time or as early as possible. Try to minimise admission costs (remember just getting the students to your museum can be a costly exercise) and consult with teachers prior to the excursion whether or not they have specific requirements such as students with special learning needs.

Continual evaluation both informal and formal is vital for maintaining the quality and effectiveness of education programs and services. A good philosophy to follow when measuring the success of education programs is to focus on what the students learnt rather than what you have taught.
Informal evaluation strategies may include summation questions at the end of the program e.g. what was an interesting story that you learnt today? Formal evaluation strategies can include evaluation surveys for teachers and students. You can do this using hard copy evaluation sheets or online using websites such as SurveyMonkey.

One major goal we have in terms of education is cracking the secondary students market which can be challenging given teenager’s strict criteria as to what constitutes being entertaining and ‘cool’ (what ever the in vogue term may be). In developing our social media strategies and online content we hope to more readily connect with this audience. Using social media websites such as Slideshare, Flickr and Vimeo we plan to upload curriculum relevant education resources such as podcasts and video as well create opportunities for students to develop and display their own multimedia content.

In using the above strategies we hope to continue fostering a positive and mutually beneficial relationship with local schools and students in Wagga Wagga and surrounding regions. If you would like any more information go to our website.

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