“If museums lost power would that affect the learning experience?” This week’s blog will explore this question posed by Mike Murawski and discuss how interactivity, digital and not, affects our experience in the museum’s physical space and also with the museums screens. To start off there is a huge difference in learning when you have more than one experience or mode of learning. Statistically we learn more if we see, hear and do things than if we are just reacting to one out of the three. That being said, as Leah put it, we don’t want to “just be observing but to actually interact.”
One thing many people brought up about our adventure to the Pratt Exhibit was that without being told that they were allowed to, no one entered into the open “kids room.” As John put it “sometimes you have to be forced to touch.” Thus, once people started going in and interacting there were more people seeing it as a way of learning and became a place of interaction. When I was in Yad Va’Shem, the Israeli National Holocaust Museum, the tour guide told us a story about an exhibit that no one really understood. The exhibit was of 500 pairs of children’s shoes that lay underneath a glass floor, and it was only ever glanced upon. That was until the museum put up a sign telling people that the purpose was to show people how the children shoes are just like ours, to help us better connect to these murdered children. Once people started walking over and connecting to the exhibit you could see that it had a longer affect on the visitors. This, however, while it might not fall under the traditional definition of “interactive” (since there is no input by the visitor) the argument can definitely be made that there is indeed an input of walking over the shoes and the output of viewing the exhibit from the intended perspective. In an exhibit like this, whether the power is on or off the exhibit still has the same exact effect.
While speaking about perspective it is very important to whom, is the museum trying to “market their merchandise.”? In our break out group, we discussed what a museum does to bring in the local population and how with the advent of technology it tries to connect with people outside its sphere. What we came up with is that a museum is first and foremost to those in its immediate vicinity – an Oakland museum dealing with issues that its community faces. However, at that same time, there are other areas in the country that also need addressing. Thus the exhibit also speaks to those globally. For most cases, in order to know if a museum can extend further out one needs to look no further than its budget. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a huge budget for technology, and can thus afford to hire tech experts to create interactive designs, like Met Kids. (The second the power goes out everything that the Met staff worked for will be gone and have no lasting effect whatsoever). Many other exhibits just can’t afford the technology or the staff that it costs to create and maintain it. Thus, for many instances the budget controls the reach. But even if a museum has a small budget that only allows it to reach its own constituents who are the target audiences? What types of people are they trying to bring in? To return to the Oakland example, the museum is trying to bring in those affected by gentrification. However, most people who are affected by gentrification cannot pay the hefty $15.99 admissions fee.
Different people react to the same stimuli differently. It is a fact of learning. Not everyone can be taught the same way. Some people like to learn through repetition and passive absorption. Others use constructivism – ideas building upon other ideas and experiences, which all come together to constantly and continually grow in learning. Museums don’t care much for the behaviorism approach, and depending on which museum it will be some sort of mixture between cognitive constructivism and social constructivism. Museums don’t want people to walk in with a blank slate, come in and learn and then forget everything and walk out again with a blank slate. Rather, they try to give people as many varieties of “seeping in” as possible. So a museum will have texts that will need to be read, but at the same time it also has visual components: pictures, videos and even audio. Some museums even go as far as, to make it even more likely that the information will stick by, designing physical activities that connect with the objects around to further enhance the educational experience.
Most educational experts will agree that some sort of experience is necessary to cement what is learnt. That is why many schools will take young children to a science institute or museum to let the children build on what they learned. When asked in class if there is anything that was not thought of or left off the list it got me thinking. It seems very interesting that throughout the “intrinsic motivations” of a child’s learning there are all these ways to motivate a child to learn except for the experience itself. The creators do not take into account the fact that maybe some children want to go and experience just for the stimulus that occurs in their brain every time they learn something new. Its all good and well that they are challenged, curious and feel in control, but at the end of the day what’s most important is that they feel like they learned something new that day. But maybe that goes without saying. The important thing is that the child comes away after his/her visit with some new knowledge about the world. That as a patron they were able to interact with the exhibit and be stimulated and have a growth in knowledge, which we, as educators, hope will “stay on the slate” and not be wiped off.