Technology and Learning at the Hirshhorn Museum

In our first class I spoke briefly about the ArtLab at the Hirshhorn Museum, so I thought that I would delve a little farther into that topic for my first blog post.

I first became acquainted with the ArtLab through Ryan Hill, the Director of Digital Learning Programs at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, when he came to speak at a Member’s Meeting for the organization that I’ve been working at for the past 6 months, the DC Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative [as a side note, I will be doing my fall internship at this non-profit, so expect to hear more about it in the future]. One of the main themes of the meeting was the connection between science and the arts, and turning the focus in the education system that is squarely on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) into STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math).

Mr. Hill used examples from his museum to illustrate how technology and the arts are already being combined.  He spoke specifically about the Mobile Learning Institute at the Smithsonian, part of the Hirshhorn’s ArtLab, and some of the summer workshops that were being held there. He showed the video that I have linked below, which highlights the main points of his talk at the meeting (it’s a 7 minute video, but definitely worth watching):

What is interesting here is that the Hirshhorn has taken the student experience at their museum and turned it on its head.  Gone are they days of tours led by teachers or docents: the students themselves have become the instructors. The museum understood that the exchange of information needed to be more active, and that the museum had a chance to become a real center of the student’s life if it could more effectively connect with that student and share the information that it had to offer.

The most interesting point that I think Mr. Hill hit on during his talk (which is also discussed on the video) is the idea of the collective expertise.  The kids in the video are designing a game that future students and museum patrons might play, and in effect, they have taken on the role of the teacher. By having to figure out how to teach the subject matter (the objects in the museum), the students are in fact learning more and having more fun.

By using technology, social media, and tools that kids encounter on a daily basis, the professionals at the Hirshhorn are creating a completely new framework for viewing and understanding the objects in the museum.

I think that when students have an experience like this at a museum, they learn to see the museum as an entity that they can understand and even enjoy.  These types of experiences help to foster an appreciation for the institution – in layman’s terms, these experiences help create repeat customers, something all museums are hoping to generate.


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