Ruth’s comments on Brenda’s paper. Brenda’s focus in this paper is on museums as a site of teaching and learning about history. As she notes, museums have tremendous potential to teach history in different ways than those easily available in the classroom; but: “ I am often at a loss to understand how the use of the public history museum as an educational site reverts back to a didactic transmission of knowledge even when the institution itself is utilizing various technologies and with the students being engaged with social media beyond the museum.” She hypothesizes that museums fail to engage with different methods of teaching because 1) museums want to be recognized for their broad educational mission, and using conservative but well known methods is the best way of ensuring that and 2) the objects of the museum, instead of opening up playful methods of interpretation and analysis, tends to fall back on a view that is history is a fixed commodity or thing that is a fixed site of knowledge; somewhat ironically then, the objects in the museum become symbols of the authoritarian reification of history rather than complex sites at which playful interpretive acts can be performed. Brenda draws on research that she did with a group of grade 8 students engaged in an exhibition at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC The Price of Freedom: Americans at War – to explore and question the ways in which museums use technology and educates school children. This was a research project wherein history students were asked to create a video ‘mash up’ and provide some reflection on their experience. Their experience was well scaffolded by the teacher beforehand, which Brenda also observed, where they used “google and google maps, digital collections from museums and archives, youtube videos, flickr, for example – to gain information that would inform their mash-up videos of the role of museums in constructing a particular identity. “When questioned by the museum personnel about their lack of engagement with the various technologies incorporated into the exhibit itself, the students cogently argued that the digital media within the exhibit may reflect the wider developments occurring within the museum in order to bring in the youth audience (which it is assumed such technologies would be a draw for the particular exhibit), yet did not specifically contribute to furthering their knowledge….the museum exhibit did not provided opportunity for students to utilize technology on their own terms within the exhibit space. The technologies used were as didactic and directed as any of the objects, text panels, and labels. …. Their shared understanding of interacting with various technologies worked by their use of information to build an interpretation of their knowing about the relationship between history and identity.” Like others, Brenda finds that the creation of a historical thinking activity– mash up here, games elsewhere – is more useful than simply consuming technologies created by professionals. Interactivity does not equal playfulness or historical understanding or learning or even interest – a point that has been made repeatedly here at this symposium. Ruth’s suggestions as she goes about expanding the short draft prepared here: - include more details about how you carried out the research; - be more specific about what you were using to evaluate their reflections on their experience – what do you think, or what are you assuming they should be getting out of it? - How would you measure the success of ‘good’ museum-based learning? Or was it enough that they learned that you could ‘go elsewhere’ to find more information, and that ‘didactic’ techniques were not very effective? Is the mash up and individual character the best way to go? Would you recommend other changes to the assignment and to museum-based learning on the basis of what you found from this research? - I would also like to see your reflections on the differences between history in the classroom and history at museums – are they the same? If not, what kinds of learning, or what genres of history or historical thinking, distinguish them from each other?
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