How to challenge students to apply classroom learning and theories from course readings in practical ways off campus? How to bring what’s learned elsewhere back into the classroom? This perennial dilemma can be addressed by constantly moving back and forth between praxis and practice. This can be further intensified by asking students to learn from those who went before them and to help teach those who will come after. One student called this “reciprocity.” That’s the theory behind a unit on museums in the Sophomore Research Seminar on Cases and History of Equality (SRS299). With the help of WordPress and guidance from Instructional Technologists, the Seminar asks students to apply theories to three museums.
This past fall, the Seminar’s Unit II asked students to view case studies of movements for educational access and self-determination in the U.S. and Mexico. Then, students undertook a decolonized museum assignment, an assignment suggested by colleagues in Anthropology. Students began by reading theoretical articles by U.S. scholars defining a decolonized museum. They then split into groups of four or five and learned how to use WordPress in a class session run by Jessica McCullough, Instructional Design Librarian. In addition, they consulted recommended websites and YouTube videos that offered pointers on how best to take photos, make audio recordings, and gather other kinds of documentary evidence at the museum for later analysis. Before we left campus, they also gleaned all the information that they could from the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center’s website and floor plan.
After spending a half-day at the Museum, students met to create a “rough draft” of their WordPress sites and discuss it with class. The assignment ended there. The goals were to 1) give students a lower-stakes way of organizing their analysis and the evidence backing it up and 2) put this in a format that the current students could leave for future students to consult and expand. Students did a fine job making an argument based on criteria found in the readings and backing it up with evidence from the Museum. They also endowed the Seminar with three very informative WordPress sites.
Two other faculty and two students who took the Seminar in the fall are helping redesign it to accommodate up to thirty students and a separate community-based learning segment. The Decolonized Museum assignment will begin with initial historical background on First Nations in Southern New England presented in lectures and videos. Each group will be assigned one of the past WordPress sites from fall, 2015 to begin its work. The introductory background and an opportunity to prepare a research plan within each group will be followed by a series of three museum visits. The first will again take students to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, the second is the Tantaquidgeon Museum, a small, private museum in Uncasville, and the third is a virtual tour of the Museo Jtatik Samuel, in Chiapas Mexico. Spaced a week apart, each visit will require students to make a plan to gather materials, analyze them, integrate them into a WordPress site, and discuss findings. This will create a more thorough educational experience for the students going back and forth between theory and practice, reconciling these and discussing them at each step of the way.
This approach should leave an extensive set of WordPress sites for the seminar participants in 2018. It will also prepare a handful of students for summer internships at some of these museums in CT and Chiapas. Between now and spring, 2017, arrangements for the museum visits and Skype conversations need to be made. And the “virtual tour” of the Museo will be created next fall. The faculty and staff involved in this Seminar are also continually learning and working as well!