Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

The Role of Museum Exhibits in Teaching Textile Science

Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

The Role of Museum Exhibits in Teaching Textile Science

Article excerpt

A constant challenge for family and consumer sciences (FCS) educators, particularly those in more scientific-based courses, is keeping students interested in course material and ensuring active participation (Ramey-Gassert, Walberg, & Walberg, 1994). The concept of learning outside of the traditional, formal classroom setting is an important component of FCS educational pedagogy. Methods of learning beyond the FCS classroom include visiting museums, accessing archives-both in person and virtually-and participating in field studies (Roehl, 2013). Finding ways to spark and retain interest in course material is vital for student engagement as well as for fostering critical thinking skills and stimulating class discussion. Although many universities maintain textiles and clothing museums, they often are utilized as a resource for students interested in design and history (Reading, 2009). Less is known about the role of museum exhibits as a pedagogical tool, specifically in textile science courses. Thus, the purpose of this teaching strategy was to engage FCS students with textile science concepts through museum exhibits.

Textile and clothing museums preserve cultural and historical heritage and provide opportunities for research, teaching, and aesthetic enjoyment (Marcketti, Fitzpatrick, Keist, & Kadolph, 2011). Museum collections serve as important educational resources for understanding theoretical knowledge through practical applications (Bloom & Mintz, 1990). Previous research shows that teaching in informal settings such as museums, as well as using physical objects to explain concepts, are methods that will help students incorporate creativity into their thought processes and tackle complex topics (Tran, 2007). In addition, educator-led museum exhibit tours have increased students' interests and their ability to remember course material (Griffin & Symington, 1997).

In this study, the authors incorporated museum exhibits as a way to educate FCS students enrolled in an introductory textile science course. This course is a required four-credit course for all undergraduate students enrolled in the apparel program. The class consists of a twice-per-week laboratory, class meetings, and the completion of quizzes posted to BlackBoard, a web-based, university-supported organizational format.


Over the course of three semesters, the 220 FCS students toured the Mary Alice Gallery, a 500square foot exhibition space devoted to the Textiles and Clothing Museum (TCM) at Iowa State University. The exhibits included: (a) Tana-Bana, which featured clothing from India, (b) Style Tribes, exhibiting 1960s women's wear, and (c) Treasures of the Textiles and Clothing Museum, encompassing clothing from various periods and cultures. Figure 1 includes a garment from the Treasures exhibit and its accompanying information.

Students toured the exhibits during one of their regularly scheduled class periods. The students spent approximately 25 minutes in the gallery space with the exhibit curators (the coauthors of this study) discussing the textile techniques on display. Students were encouraged to spend 5 to 15 minutes reading the didactic panels and asking questions.

A questionnaire, developed from a previously funded Humanities Iowa project, was created to assess students' engagement with the exhibits. It included eight questions on a scale of one to five (1 = strongly agree, 5 = strongly disagree) related to the museum visit and their knowledge, interest, and understanding of textile science. Two openended questions were included: (a) What new information did you learn from the museum exhibit and tour? (b) How did the exhibit help in your understanding of the subject? The study received Institutional Review Board exemptions status.


Following the exhibit viewing, all 220 students completed the questionnaire. The quantitative results were analyzed using SPSS. The results indicated that the museum tour helped students gain interest in textile science course content (M = 3. …

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