Earlier this week, I read a fascinating interview on Using Tehchnology in Museums to Support Learning Through Social Interaction. Dirk vom Lehn, a sociologist and lecturer at Kings College, was interviewed by Barry Joseph, the associate director for digital learning and youth iniatives at the American Museum of Natural History. Vom Lehn and Joseph discuss how people learn from museum exhibitions.
Vom Lehn has worked as a consultant for several museums to investigate whether people learn in and from exhibitions. His research team conducted observations of naturally occurring interactions in museums. He found that the most successful exhibition designs were those that included the opportunities for social interaction and discussion. Designs that force the viewer to experience the exhibit in isolation can discourage learning. Vom Lehn explained:
However, there is a fundamental problem with exhibits that are based on a design that principally favors an individual’s interaction with a system over social interaction and cooperation at a system. Museums are public places that people explore in interaction with others. Museum visiting is fundamentally a social activity. So, exhibits that are based on the same design principles as desktop computers that we use at home or in the office are not ideal for deployment in museums. In fact, as our research showed, the user’s interaction with the system often undermines the emergence of social interaction and can impoverish what would be possible to arise in museums, i.e. conversation, discussion and maybe arguments about original artifacts maybe augmented by less intrusive technologies.
- Encourage debates: Assign a reading and make time for discussion. Create a few key questions that will spark enthusiasm and passion. Fashion is so central to identity that the discussions will surely flow. When I taught in Los Angeles, I had a lesson on ideal beauty. A major question I posed to my students was about plastic surgery. Were they for it or against it? Why or why not? Did they think the plastic surgeon would surpass the couturier? (If your course is online, try creating a thread or blog post in which the students must respond.)
- Always make time for questions: I generally reserve the last 10-20 minutes of class for questions. Often times, many students are too timid to ask a question during a lecture. When the atmosphere is more relaxed, they feel less pressure. The first question is usually the hardest to encourage. After you’re finished answering, you’ll be likely to see some nods of approval and a few more raised hands.
- Plan group activities: Collaborative efforts are great ways for students to learn from one another. Plan at least one group activity a term. This can be something in class, like a formal debate, or a major assignment.
- Schedule a museum visit: Have your students go to a museum. Create an assignment that not only stimulates their creativity, but challenges them to observe and evaluate the exhibit space. Ask for their honest opinion on how engaging the materials were. What recommendations would they have to make it better? Incorporating these questions makes your students more observant and sharpens their critical thinking skills.