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Published: March 15, 2001.


Beyond museum walls -- A critical analysis of emerging approaches to museum web-based education
Kevin Sumption , Powerhouse Museum, Australia

Session: Seeing Differently

"An effective educational museum might be described as a collection of labels bearing instructions, each of them illustrated by a carefully selected specimen." George Brown Goode, Assistant Secretary at the Smithsonian, 1896 (Alexander, 1979).

Although Goodeís assertion may look naive by contemporary pedagogical and museological standards, Iím sure many of us wish that the process of museum education were indeed that easy. However, we know that such assertions are anathema, as both the primacy of the object and our understanding of learning have advanced considerably in the last 100 years. Since the arrival of photography in the mid nineteenth century, the interpretive pre-eminence of artefacts has been steadily eroded by a succession of media. More recently, interactive multimedia (IMM) have penetrated homes as well as museums, transforming visitor expectations as well as the way modern museums approach education.

The most ubiquitous of contemporary IMM, the Internet, is making steady progress as an interpretive tool within museums. However, its major impact is being felt beyond museum walls. As an outreach agent, the Internet has captivated many museums and particularly their educators. As a communication medium, the Internet allows museum educators to enter the homes and schools of students without their ever needing to visit the museum. So itís not surprising that some museum education products try to simulate the spatial and social experience of visiting a museum. However, this approach is just one of many resource "types" educators have deployed as they grapple with the promise and reality of on-line education.

As part of the research team developing Australian Museums On Lineís new Education Gateway, I have spent considerable time examining why and how museums are using the Internet for education outreach. In this paper I will explore these, as well as the diversity of emerging on-line education expressions. I will also review current research into the unique interface, navigation and content preferences of various learners and, just as important, discuss best practice teaching and learning strategies to help museum educators develop more effective on-line educational resources.

Alexander, E.(1979) Museums in Motion, An Introduction to The History and Functions of Museums. American Association for State and Local History, Nashville.