Mineral Museums as Alliance Partners in Teaching Mineral Sciences

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Mineral museums are gradually replacing their traditional, passive displays with more interactive, attractive, and informative forms of education. Museums are usually considered to provide informal learning opportunities, but projects can be designed to cover the whole range of formal, specialized, or even hidden curricula. To be effective, education in museums must be underpinned by curriculum developments; a sound collaboration with partners from the formal system being essential. Educational projects are also aimed at increasing and diversifying the role of the museum, increasing access and maximizing inclusivity for audiences of all learning levels, from pre-school to post-graduate, and for varied target-groups: families, individuals, schools & college groups, and adults. As a consequence, the role and the public exposure of the curator in modern mineral museums is broadening. The most common forms of educational activities in mineral museums include: traditional exhibitions/displays, "hands-on" galleries, behind-the-scenes tours, formal lecturing, working with "enthusiasts", field-trips and sampling campaigns, outreach collections, articles in popular journals, editing of educational materials. We hope that examples of specific projects implemented by our museums will demonstrate how sensibility, mystery, and fun are also essential.

INTRODUCTION

Museums, in general, are institutions created for housing and preserving objects for posterity. The axiological perspectives they serve primarily are: the (scientific) truth, enlightenment and aestheticism; values underpinning education, in both an informative and formative sense.

Mineral museums are a traditional component of the geological educational institutions, especially those in the higher education sector. Most of the university departments offering mineralogical, geological or Earth science courses have their own collections. Included within these are collections that can be fully or partly accessed by the public and those that are solely for internal use.

Active educational programs are also developed for informal learning groups by larger museums, not associated with university institutions. In many cases this may be delivered through specialized educational departments and is driven by specific policies. Such projects are frequently aimed at increasing and diversifying the role of the museum, increasing access and maximizing inclusivity for audiences of all learning levels, from pre-school to post-graduate, and for varied target-groups: families, individuals, schools and college groups, and adults.

Mineral collections around the world show great diversity in terms of: ownership (institutional, public funded, or private), status/affiliation (i.e. associated with a university or research institution, national or regional administrative body, "independent"/self-supporting, registered or non-registered - UK), collection size, collection composition (global, regional collections or material of local significance), and the number of professionally qualified staff.

In addition to this, the way in which the collections are used also differs, the most significant variations being the presence or absence of public exhibits and the overall scientific or educational profile. Almost all of these factors are underpinned by the financial strength, security of the collection, and its custodial body.

Data from The World Directory of Mineral Collections, 3rd edition (Petersen ed., 1994) indicates that of 446 collections recorded from 32 countries, the great majority (92 %) of the independent museums is open to the public (Figure 1). Almost half of the total number of institutional mineral collections (47 %) are components of higher education institutions (academic collections); among them, more than a half (57 %) are fully or partly open to the public. Most of the collections affiliated to research institutes (including geological surveys) are open to the public. …