Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Museums and Rural Schools

Today’s post comes to you from Andrea Woodberry, current Tufts Museum Education M.A. candidate.

What happens when common hurdles to K-12 museum visits, such as budget and time constraints, are combined with the significant physical barrier of hundreds of miles? How can schools located in rural areas provide meaningful educational experiences at museums for their students when facing this issue of physical distance?

The two ways for any school to access museum resources are through local museums or by traveling to such resources outside the area, both of which have their own set of problems for rural schools. Many rural areas do not have local museum resources due to a lack of trained staff, distrust of outsiders, and poverty-stricken environments. While some areas, such as that of the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery, may be able to work around these barriers and support a large museum, they are the exceptions. However, for over 100 years, educators such as Edmund Conaway have argued that local items can provide the benefits of object-based learning outside of professional museums. While this may not seem to be of equal value as the standard large museum in a more urban setting, museums and rural educators should not underestimate the potential of local resources, whether in a formal museum or not.

Nevertheless, access to larger professional organizations does have great value for students who can travel outside their region. Unfortunately, budget cuts and standardized testing require administrators to make decisions that often leave field trips low on priority lists. Even with adequate funds, time can be an issue for many rural schools. Being hours away from museum resources makes it difficult to have an impactful experience within constraints of the length of school days, the stamina of younger children on long bus rides, and the availability of bus drivers.

So, what methods have museums tried to help rural schools overcome these hurdles? Common approaches include traveling trunks, distance learning through technology, and traveling exhibitions. Traveling trunks, such as those at the Kansas Historical Society, provide students with the value of object-based learning while costing the school less time and money. Technology may not include this hands-on interaction with objects; however, Skype sessions and pre-recorded lessons do provide interaction with museum staff members. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has been experimenting with using technology to connect with more classrooms in new ways since the mid-1990s and currently uses videoconferencing technology for two-way communication and quality graphics. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) and the Smithsonian Institution have tried to bring object-based learning and museum staff to rural areas through traveling exhibitions hosted by local sites such as libraries. However, while these did engage students to some extent, the host site often needed more training to effectively interpret the materials. While each of these examples demonstrates some museums’ awareness of the needs and challenges of rural schools, each method has room for improvement. How can museums continue to deepen their work with rural students?

First and foremost, deeper collaboration between museum staff and rural educators would provide greater trust, more effective programming, and long-term relationships. For this reason, a museum that wants to work with rural students must carefully assess the long-term commitment they can provide, either on their own or in partnership with other museums. In addition to regular communication, training workshops could cover how to incorporate object-based learning techniques, including VTS, into the classroom, how to utilize local resources for projects such as nature explorations and oral history collections, or how to get the most out of available digital resources of the museum. Space for communication and partnership would lead to more innovative ideas and increased access to museum resources.

Intentional and relevant use of technology is another way for museums to consistently innovate ways to deepen their engagement with rural school audiences. One possibility would be to have the museum educator on a split screen with chosen objects in front of the class. On personal tablets, students would have an image of the same object and could make digital markings on the object that would then be shown on the large screen. This would enable the class to go through a VTS process similar to what would happen if they were physically at the museum. A second option would be for the museum, ideally an outdoor sculpture garden or historic site, to use a drone to take images and videos of their site. Then, the aerial footage would be turned into an interactive map that would be the basis for students’ exploration of the site with a museum educator. This would add  the value of seeing the physical site as well as the individual objects.

These are just a couple of examples. Whether through workshops to equip and connect teachers and local resources, traveling trunks, or innovative technology-based programs, the potential for engaging and beneficial partnerships is only expanding. With deeper collaboration across museums and between museum staff and leaders in rural areas the possibilities are endless. What are your thoughts? How best can museums engage rural audiences?

Call for Posters: 2017 Visitor Studies Association Conference

Call for Posters
2017 Visitor Studies Association Conference
New Pathways in Visitor Studies
July 18-22, 2016
Westin Columbus
310 S. High Street, Columbus, OH 43215

What is the Poster Session?

The poster session is an interactive and collegial format for displaying and discussing project‐based work in a visual format. It offers an alternative for presenters eager to share their work through one-on-one discussion, and may be a particularly appropriate format for presentations where visual or material evidence represents a central component of the project. Posters are often a way to present the findings of an individual project or present preliminary data and gather advice. We expect that most posters for this conference will represent work that is complete, or present initial findings for multi‐year or ongoing projects.

Deadline: April 7, 2017

When is the Poster Session?

The poster session will be held on the afternoon Friday, July 21, 2017 at the Westin Columbus, 310 S. High Street, Columbus, OH 43215.

How to Submit a Proposal

Email your proposal to with the subject line “2017 Poster” by April 7. You will receive a confirmation email byApril 10, 2017. If you do not receive a confirmation email, send a second email (without attachment) because your proposal may not have been received. You will receive notification of whether or not your poster has been accepted by the end of April 2017.

Proposals must be submitted electronically (in ONE PDF document) and include:

  1. Contact information, including participant(s’) name(s), affiliations(s), email(s), and phone number(s).
  2. Title of no more than 10 words
  3. Short description of no more than 50 words for the conference program
  4. An abstract of no more than 300 words that explains and promotes the project
  5. Include a simple one- or two-page visual mock-up of the display (e.g., created in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Photoshop, or Publisher, etc. and saved as a PDF). Please include a basic layout for your poster and a general sense of what topics will be addressed in each poster element. See examples of mock-ups here:

How Will Your Proposal Be Judged?

The review committee will consider the persuasiveness of your abstract, the persuasiveness/quality of your visual presentation, and your project’s relation to major issues and questions in the field of visitor studies and informal learning.

What are the dimensions of a poster?

Each presenter will be provided a trifold board and half of a round table on which to set up the trifold board and any supporting materials. The dimensions of the trifold board are 36” x 48”. The side panel dimensions are 36”x12”, and the middle panel dimensions are 36”x24”. Here is a link to an example of a standard trifold board: ( Your poster must fit on this board.

*Please note that presenters are not guaranteed access to power sources, so please plan accordingly if you will use a laptop or other electronic device. Internet access is not guaranteed, so, you may wish to demonstrate any websites or videos to your hard drive so that you are able to navigate the site without internet access. Due to limited space, projectors and speakers may not be used during the poster presentation.

Formatting and Content Advice

A good poster should introduce your topic, research questions or goals, methods, and/or best practices, and what was accomplished and what you learned. Be sure to include the following:

  • Give the poster a title.
  • Use images to illustrate your points.
  • Keep text brief. Edit carefully. The test of a good poster is if someone can read it in 60 seconds and understand your main points.


What to Expect During the Poster Session

During the exhibition, you should remain at your poster, prepared to give a brief oral introduction to your project and discuss your work. Individual attendees browse among the posters throughout the event and chat with those presenting work of interest to them. If you get caught up in conversation with someone, try to be aware of, and welcome, others who may approach your poster and have questions about your work.

Insider tip: Some people are more timid than others and may walk by and just pick up your handouts or card. A friendly “Welcome” or “Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions” on your part can serve as a great icebreaker. If you have business cards, this is a great opportunity to distribute them as well.

Printing and Shipping Advice

You have a few options for printing and shipping. If you are staying in Columbus, you may print the poster at home, roll it in a poster tube, and ship it to the Westin Columbus. (Include your name in the address line. The mailing address for the Westin Columbus is 310 S. High Street, Columbus, OH, 43215.) You may also print your poster at home and carry it on the plane/train/bus/car. If you do not wish to ship or transport the poster, you may email your poster file to a print shop in downtown Columbus and pick it up there. One option near the hotel is FedEx Office Print & Ship Center (180 N High St, Columbus, OH 43215; 614-621-1100).

The Decorative Arts Trust 2017 Summer Research Grants

The Decorative Arts Trust is accepting applications for our 2017 Summer Research Grants. This arm of the Trust’s Emerging Scholars Program provides support for graduate students working on a Master’s thesis or PhD dissertation in a field related to the decorative arts. More information, as well as descriptions of past grant projects, can be found on our website.

Applications can be submitted electronically through the Trust website, or downloaded as a PDF and sent by post to The Decorative Arts Trust, 20 South Olive Street, Suite 204, Media, PA 19063, or emailed to Applications must be received no later than April 30, 2017. Please contact Trust Programming & Communications Coordinator Christian Roden with any questions at or at 610-627-4970.

Founded in 1977, the Decorative Arts Trust is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion and fostering of the appreciation and study of the decorative arts through programming, collaborations and partnerships with museums and preservation organizations, and the underwriting of internships, scholarships, and research grants for graduate students and young professionals.

Weekly Jobs Roundup

Here’s our weekly roundup of new jobs. Happy hunting!

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