Exploring Alternative Pedagogical Terrain: Teaching and Learning in Art Museums

By Matthewson-Mitchell, Donna | International Journal of Pedagogies and Learning, December 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Exploring Alternative Pedagogical Terrain: Teaching and Learning in Art Museums


Matthewson-Mitchell, Donna, International Journal of Pedagogies and Learning


Introduction: Museums as problematic pedagogical sites

Pedagogy is a term that references the varying and divergent elements that underpin teaching practice (Hayes, Mills, Christie and Lingard, 2006). Recent interest in pedagogy has led to the development of models such as Authentic Pedagogy (Newmann et al, 1996), Productive Pedagogies (Education Queensland, 2001; Hayes et al, 2006) and the Quality Teaching Framework (NSW DET, 2003), which have effectively attempted to identify general classroom teaching practices that will improve and enhance student learning. However, little focus has been placed on how conceptualizations of pedagogy, in relation to school-based learning, can be applied outside of the classroom environment.

This is significant given that school-based excursions are an accepted and valued part of most school curriculums. In the relative absence of research that addresses alternative pedagogical sites, this paper will present a model for teaching and learning in art museum settings. The aim of the model is to provide a schema within which intentional pedagogical action that integrates art museum experiences with classroom-based learning, can be facilitated.

As venues for school excursions, museums have traditionally been used as pedagogical sites. This is supported by widespread agreement that relationships between museums and schools are educationally valuable (Anderson, 1997; Bennett, 1994; Fredette, 1982; Gardner 1990; Hooper-Greenhill, 1991; Marsh, 2004; Millar, 1989; Mitchell, 1996; Moffat, 1989; Newsom and Silver, 1978; Stone, 1993; Vallance, 2007; Zeller, 1987). As cultural and educational institutions, museums offer distinctive learning environments and learning opportunities that differ from those available in schools. Focused on objects, their interpretation and their preservation, museums offer open, visually-oriented physical spaces that vary in structure, formality, comfort and welcome (Vallance, 2007) and are moved through by participants (Harrison and Naef, 1985). The characteristic qualities of museum learning have been observed as being: focused on subject matter connected to collections (Vallance, 2007); self paced and self directed (Heumann Gurian, 1991; Hughes, Jackson and Kidd, 2007), based on participative, exploratory, activity based encounters (Xanthoudaki, 1998; Beer, 1992); and characterized by social interaction (Griffin, 1998, 1999b; McManus, 1987, 1988; Silverman, 1995; Xanthoudaki, 1998; Zeller, 1985). Griffin (1999b, p. 8) identifies the unique learning opportunities offered by museums as: opportunities to closely examine objects or specimens; opportunities for comparison that allow trends and patterns to be deciphered; natural learning processes that incorporate the sharing and communication of ideas and the raising of questions; and opportunities to develop perceptual skills that teach how to gather information from objects and experiences.

In terms of the school-based use of museums as venues for accessing these identified learning opportunities, the active role of teachers in enhancing learning in museums is viewed as crucial (Griffin, 1999b; Housen and Duke, 1998; Newsom and Silver, 1978; Pitman-Gelles, 1982; Stone, 1986). However, studies indicate that teachers have experienced difficulties in exploiting those learning opportunities in optimal ways. The problematic nature of engagement is evident in research that demonstrates that museum utilization by teachers is characterized by:

* a minimal investment of effort (Mathewson, 1994; Stone, 1992a,1993)

* general use that is not specifically tailored to curricular needs (Griffin, 1998; Stone, 1992a, 1993)

* an inability to integrate museum experiences into classroom learning (Griffin, 1998, 1999b; Hooper-Greenhill, 1991; Stone, 1992a, 1993)

* a focus on the acquisition of information rather than the development of processes of learning (Griffin, 1998, 1999b; Hooper-Greenhill, 1991)

* ill-defined educational objectives (Griffin, 1998, 1999b; Hooper-Greenhill, 1991)

* a concentration on enrichment and social interaction (Brigham and Robinson, 1992; Gottfried, 1980; Laetsch, Diamond, Gottfried and Rosenfeld, 1980)

* a passive, 'consumer like' stance (Eisner and Dobbs, 1986; Griffin, 1998; Liu, 2000; Stone, 1992b)

* lack of mutuality and an absence of dialogue (Commission on Museums for New Century, 1984; Eisner and Dobbs, 1986; Grinder and McCoy, 1985; Mathewson, 1994; National Research Center for the Arts, 1975; Newsom and Silver, 1978; Stone, 1992b)

* a lack of self-recognition (Griffin, 1998; Stone, 1992a, 1993; Mathewson, 1994)

These observed characteristics indicate an absence of intentional pedagogical intervention in the museum setting that has been attributed to: a lack of knowledge about how to incorporate the use of museums into classroom activities (Mathewson, 1994; Stone, 1992b); a lack of confidence and experience in the museum environment (Griffin, 1999b; Newsom and Silver, 1978; Walsh Piper, 1989; Zeller, 1983); and, the absence of appropriate education (Griffin, 1999b; Stone, 1993; Zeller, 1983). …

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Exploring Alternative Pedagogical Terrain: Teaching and Learning in Art Museums
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