Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: Colleen Sutherland (Page 1 of 18)

What We’re Reading: Gamified Learning

Today’s  post comes to you from Colleen Sutherland, recent Tufts Museum Studies graduate and previous co-editor of the Tufts Museum Studies Blog. To read some of her previous work, click here.

Recently, I stumbled across this article called “8 Principles of Gamified Learning.” It not only explains what gamified learning is (and how it’s different from just playing games), but it also raises some interesting thoughts for museums. How can we provide interpretation in exhibitions or programs in a different manner? Can we take the fascination that people have with games, whether virtual or otherwise, and use them to help connect to visitors’ lives? Should we? Taking this article farther, is there a way to evaluate gamified learning to see if museums can use it effectively to help people learn, or to bring in new audiences?

I think this article is a great piece to start (or continue) thinking about how museums use their collections.

You can also see last year’s NMC Horizon Report for more examples on how museums are using gamification in exhibitions or on websites (check out the article on pages 38 and 39).

If you have any examples that you have seen and you think work, let us know in the comments!

Staying Updated on Museum-Related Social Media

Today’s  post comes to you from Colleen Sutherland, recent Tufts Museum Studies graduate and previous co-editor of the Tufts Museum Studies Blog. To read some of her previous work, click here.

Hi there!

I’ve recently been doing some social media culling, trying to stay relevant and on top of interesting things in the museum field. I may have only graduated in May, but it’s remarkable how fast you start to panic that you’re not as on top of it as you were when you had professors and other students to guide you. Or maybe that’s just me. Either way, you may feel that way at some point in your career, which is why I’ve compiled this list of other pages and blogs I’ve started following in the past few months. (Obviously this blog is fantastic, but as any museum professional knows, multiple perspectives are important!)

Some, like EMP (Emerging Museum Professionals), are pretty big and you may already know about them. Hopefully there are some new ones on here for you. It bears repeating that my interest lies in education, so some of these are more education-focused. However, I think that all of them can be relevant in different ways, whether it concerns interpretation, creating inclusive spaces, or museum trends in general. I’d encourage you to at least check them out and decide for yourself.

What else is on your list? I’d love to broaden my reading, especially with non-education-specific sites, so let us know in the comments!


  • AASLH – Interesting perspectives from history organizations of all sizes, but most topics are relevant to museums that focus on other disciplines. I especially love their post about the presentation of the role of women in museums
  • Bank Street Leadership in Museum Education – Again, not all about education. A lot about creating safe spaces, introducing inclusive practices, and helping visitors feel welcome while still staying innovative.
  • Emerging Museum Professionals – I find it helpful to follow the different regional EMP groups. Part of that is to see how museums in different regions are responding to their communities, and part of it is because I know I’ll want to move in the next few years, and it’s helpful to know what museums in different regions are focusing on (plus they post local job postings!)
  • NEMA YEPs (Young & Emerging Museum Professionals)
  • Museum Hack
  • Teaching Tolerance – While it may seem on the surface like this site is only about classroom teaching, it actually does a great job keeping plugged in on national events. It has great resources for creating inclusive, welcoming, safe spaces, as well as great ideas for activities and books.


I’m also enjoying the Museum People podcast – check it out if you haven’t already!

And if these aren’t enough, here’s a whole list of 100 best blogs: http://museummedia.nl/links/100-best-curator-and-museum-blogs/

P.S. Looking for more ways to stay on top of the field? Check out the What We’re Reading section!

How Do Museums Join the National Conversation on Social Justice?

Today’s  post comes to you from Colleen Sutherland, recent Tufts Museum Studies graduate and previous co-editor of the Tufts Museum Studies Blog. To read some of her previous work, click here.

Where have museums been during the recent incidents of police-related violence, protests, and the discussion around race? As community spaces, museums are in the unique position to engage with their communities around contemporary events, particularly ones that are traumatic and require unprecedented action that no one seems to know how to take. Museums should have their fingers on the pulse of their communities, and should be able to both respond with their constituents and help create proactive solutions.

One of the major goals of museums is to inspire critical thinking, and a big part of critical thinking is understanding other perspectives, whether or not you agree with them.  Yet no matter your point of view, it seems like no one is really talking to each other – it’s more like at each other. There is a lot of confusion, anger, and pain felt by all parties involved. Museums can and should be helping people understand what is happening right now, especially when you consider how much the nation is already talking about the state of race relations, violence, gun rights, and injustice. If we want museums to be safe spaces where their communities can turn to for discussion and learning, we need to put our money where our mouths are, so to speak. If we’re not helping to further the conversation, does that make us inauthentic or disingenuous?

Museums can play a huge role in helping people understand and discuss, and eventually to help produce solutions and begin to heal. Some museums are responding to this need, and I’ll talk about that later. Still, some museums might be hesitant because they don’t want to get mired down in political discussions, or that they don’t believe that the topics fit their missions. But if the mission of a museum is to engage with its audience, to serve the needs of its community, then I would argue that programming around social justice is all the more imperative. Some museums might not know how to proceed and so are putting it off or are stuck in discussion with how to begin. And that’s understandable. These are huge, systemic issues that can be very difficult to facilitate. But that’s why it’s even more important that we lead the discussion and the action. Museums have experience talking about hard topics, or at least facilitating discussion, so they have a natural place encouraging people to sort through complex emotions and thoughts. And that’s what we as a nation need right now, when we’re having trouble communicating with each other.

For museums to be effective at this, we need to be more flexible and responsive to the needs of our communities. It takes a long time for an exhibition to go from concept to opening night, and many museums already have their public programming set through the fall. That doesn’t mean that extra pop-up exhibitions or programs can’t be added, however. It’s relatively easy to add in town hall type discussions, talks lead by staff members, or even conversations surrounding relevant books, poems, or films. Perhaps museums can encourage these types of extra programs by changing some of the ways that programs are presented to the public, to allow for events that are timely and relevant without a long marketing push.

Here are some museums that are joining in on the discussions, with exhibitions and programming – past, present, or future – to give you ideas if you’re feeling stuck:

  • Museums Discuss Black Lives Matter: This YouTube video is almost two hours long, but it’s completely worth it. As many of you know from previous posts I’ve written, my focus is on education, and this video is from the NYC Museum Educators Roundtable. However, the discussion they held at the Whitney Museum is applicable to more than just educators. The discussion centers around “how museum workers, from front-line staff to departments and institutions, have addressed the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and continue to advocate for change.” Even if you don’t agree with everything that’s being said, it’s a very helpful resource and that dialogue is important.
  • The African American Museum in Philadelphia
    • Arresting Patterns I recently had an opportunity to visit this exhibition in May, and it is phenomenal. Through a mixture of contemporary art, news clippings, and some extremely striking video vignettes of young men talking about their encounters with police, the exhibition helps you start an internal dialogue and gives you ways to carry that dialogue over externally.
    • Community-focused Open House and Town Hall discussion around the systemic disparity inherent in the US justice system, and its impact on communities of color.” There are live performances and a panel discussion by community leaders.
  • The Underground Museum (a collaboration between LACMA and MOCA):
    • Nonfiction exhibition “pulls together works of art that investigate, either explicitly or implicitly, the culture of violence perpetrated on black citizens.”
    • Holding Court, “a new series of conversations and performances connecting artists, writers, political thinkers and audiences on the social issues and creative endeavors that matter most.”
  • The African American History Museum (scheduled to open this fall in Washington, DC) has an exhibition focusing on Black Lives Matter

It is important to note, though, that most of the museums discussed above already have mechanisms in place to talk about social justice. So how do museums who don’t have that join the discussion? Is your museum addressing these issues, and if so, how are you doing it?

What We’re Reading: Telling Difficult Stories at the Abbe Museum

Today’s “What We’re Reading” post comes to you from Colleen Sutherland, recent Tufts Museum Studies graduate and previous co-editor of the Tufts Museum Studies Blog.

http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/abbe-museums- new-exhibition- tells-many- difficult-stories/

Although this article is a news article, and not a strictly academic article, I still think it’s important to read. While we often talk about the importance of discussing difficult topics or involving community members in exhibitions or collections committees, sometimes it can be hard to figure out how to reach out (or who to reach out to). I think this article does a thorough job of examining how the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine, not only involves the voices of the Native communities around Maine, but also touches on the importance of providing frontline staff with the tools to answer sometimes intrusive questions.

Do you have any thoughts or ideas on this subject? Have you had experience telling difficult stories in your museum? What worked and what didn’t? Let us know in the comments below.

Farewell, and an Introduction to Our New Editor

Last weekend, Tufts held commencement ceremonies for a variety of museum studies programs. Students graduated with the Art History Department, the History Department, the Education Department, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. We were two of those graduates: Jess with the Art History department and Colleen with the Education department. As previous graduates know, it’s a bittersweet feeling. Being a student is a unique time that expands your knowledge and your skills. Hopefully we, along with all those who have graduated, are able to harness the curiosity that brought us to Tufts in the first place and channel it to create new and exciting endeavors in museums.

Colleen will be continuing on at her job with the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, teaching school programs and creating new children and family programming.

Jess will be continuing her jobs with the Harvard Botany Libraries and the Chinese Historical Society of New England (CHSNE).

We are excited to take our experiences here at the blog and at Tufts into our future ventures. We have enjoyed editing the blog this past year. Hearing your thoughts and ideas through comments and guest posts has been truly rewarding. However, with our graduation comes our departure from the editor-ship.

We are pleased to announce that your new blog editor will be Christina Errico. Christina is entering her second year in the Museum Education program. She has written several posts for the blog already – you can check them out here. While we will be sad to leave the blog, we know it will be in wonderful hands with Christina.


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