mw2010: b. harris, c. olsen and s. zucker, educators, curators and docents: creating interpretive...

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A presentation from Museums and the Web 2010. This paper explores the impact of a workshop held at the Portland Art Museum in May 2009, in which docents, curators, and educators together discussed and created twelve video-based “conversations" about works of art in the Museum, under the guidance of Smarthistory founders Steven Zucker and Beth Harris. Evaluation conducted of both the workshop and videos raises questions about the value of “expertise" for visitors, and the significant advantages of conversation over monologue as a pedagogical method.see


  • 1.

2. Smarthistory/PAM collaboration

  • To test the smarthistory model in a museum
  • To break down barriers between interpreters
  • To introduce less didactic, more open-ended methods of interpretation
  • To pilot a sustainable model for technology-based interpretation
  • To give visitors (and interpreters!) permission to talk, and look, and think out loud.

3. 4. 5. 6. Evaluation

  • 100 intercept questionnaires of visitors, 11-12/09
  • Goals:
  • Gather visitor impressions of the conversation format of the videos
  • Gather visitor impressions of the iphone application

7. Summary

  • 61 thought videos gave them deeper experience of artwork
  • 55 thought it helped them appreciate the artwork more
  • 14 thought it distracted from experience
  • 25 found videos too long
  • 4 found they had no effect

8. Conversation format

  • The Museum decided to make these videos as conversations rather than recording one expert talking about the work of art. Did you like or dislike the conversation format? Why?
  • Liked: 60
  • Liked some of them: 4
  • Ok/neutral: 11
  • Dislike: 13
  • Other: 6

9. Some (Positive) Visitor Comments

  • Liked it because it gave you a chance to agree or disagree.
  • The conversations are good for a variety of learning styles cool and current.
  • Makes you feel a part of the discussion.
  • It was funny. I liked that it was casual, enjoyable, and informative, but not preachy-teachy.
  • I loved it. It was so charming. So much more interesting, calming, and interactive.

10. Some (So-So)Visitor Comments

  • I disliked it because there was too much opinion about what the artist did and why.
  • I kind of disliked it. I wasnt so interested in them making jokes. I liked the informality, but I would prefer one person talking. The eavesdropping didnt work for me.
  • I prefer an expertknowing for sure that something is something.

11. Questions raised by evaluation

  • Do people conflate informality with an absence of expertise, and deep content?
  • Did we raise the expertise issue with our phrasing of the question?
  • The preexisting expectations of visitors regarding museum audio
  • Do the videos really encourage visitors own conversations in the galleries?