Monica Zimmerman

Summary of Best Practices in Facilitating Learning:

In the Japanese American National Museum

Present a variety of photographs to students as soon as they arrive and converse about them by scaffolding questions into the discussion to help them figure out what to look at, who to look for, and how to engage with the images. It helps orient them and gives them a line of thought to follow as they explore the exhibition on their own time.

In the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Museum

Step 1) Break down the boundary of authority that many visitors bring with them into a museum setting – to challenge their assumptions that works of art have “meanings” they should understand. I often feature a work of art in the beginning of a visit that I have an unanswered question about, using “I’ve always wondered….” to show them that even inside the museum walls, “Meaning” can be elusive.

Step 2) Second, I show them a work of art and hide the label information and ask them to tell me what piece of music the work reminds them of. People are much more comfortable having preferences about music than visual art. Then we can move on to what feeling is behind both the music and the painting for them, and then move into discussions of what is creating that feeling – color, size, shapes and lines, etc, before getting to the historical and biographical context out of which the work comes.

In a Public University Classroom

Westerners Stereotypes of Africa and Africans: Uses a photo-ethnography (a photographic collage exhibition) made of images representing South Africa’s diversity of experiences, people, cuisines, ecosystems, religions, clothing, and social classes. The outcome is to get students to move away from talking about “Africa” and “Africans” as a homogenous place and group, to thinking and talking about the complexity and sophistication of the continent and its peoples.

In a Public University Classroom

Begin class with music to set a discrete environment for learning. Begin teaching from a place where we have no assumptions about what students know, so that learning can be a journey we embark on together. Acknowledge that language influences thought; word choice matters. We have been entrained in certain by our previous reading experiences (example: all forms of Buddhism discussed in the same chapter, whereas they are the product of inter-reactions with other traditions and cultures over a long time; makes more sense to divide and teach over a long period). Especially when teaching religion, try to get students to look at the beginnings and the endings of the “grand narrative” from day one, so that they can see how they are a part of it and how it is all connected. Embedded activity: Ask students to observe how people move in a space and how they use the space, instead of focusing on the specific objects and what they mean.

Summary of Questions and Issues in Creation/Use of Audio Tours:

From a museum perspective, the resources needed to create these tours are very important – is it a cell phone? Ipod? Itouch, which has visuals? Big clunky old machine?
• Can we expect our visitors to have these technologies or do we provide it as a museum resource and how does that affect the medium that we would choose to create it?
• How advanced is our ability to record and edit and upload, especially in terms of the fact that our collections change regularly?
• We have concerns about what we already know about what museum visitors do and do not listen to in terms of audio tours – they don’t listen as long as we’d like, for instance.
• We also discussed how audio tour experiences can infringe on interaction and conversation between visitors who are looking at objects and how important it is to us to create spaces for visitors to share with each other what they are thinking or feeling about an experience with an object.
• The embedded activities are extremely attractive to us, especially because they create an automatic takeaway experience that is also more personal than, say, a brochure

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