Viewfinder: Reflecting on Museum Education

An experimental Holmes stereoscope. Photo by Davepipe via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Welcome to Viewfinder, an experimental publication about museum education from the National Art Education Association’s Museum Education Division.

Viewfinder aims to engage colleagues in ongoing dialogues about museum education today, by combining the speed and timeliness of a blog with the rigor of a peer-reviewed journal. Featuring experiments, inviting critiques, and inspiring cross-generational dialogue, Viewfinder will be a resource that is not dedicated solely to best practices, but rather documents the value of rigorous reflection.

Viewfinder is an experimental publishing project from the National Art Education Association (NAEA)’s Museum Education Division.

How did this project come about?

So much of what we do as museum educators takes place in person. Because our work is not showcased in exhibition catalogues or regularly archived online, our impact can often feel ephemeral. We believe, therefore, that museum educators must document our work and processes more often. While the field of museum education boasts a number of stellar blogs and printed, peer-reviewed publications — the former providing an immediate forum and the latter a vetted literature archive — there is ample room in between the two for a hybrid publication that is timely, responsive, and dialogue-based, while also carefully selected and reviewed by peers.

We were directly inspired by our colleagues in museum technology, who have harnessed the power that comes from publishing their work and work-in-progress. In particular, the online publishing structure of the Museums and the Web conference papers and the theory-driven agility of CODE | WORDS directly influenced the launch and design of this pilot project. The visibility (and share-ability) of these online, peer-reviewed publications motivates not only colleagues, but senior staff in all areas, as well as field leaders and thinkers, to recognize the significance of technology-based projects — driving support towards innovative ideas and initiatives.

It is time for museum educators to publish in a similar fashion: transparently, openly, and collaboratively.

What we do deserves to be documented, not only to create a resource for colleagues, but to bring our innovative work in pedagogy, visitor engagement, theory, and research to the forefront of the museum field as a whole.

Viewfinder is a space for us to push boundaries, share experiments, and grapple with major issues in order to share new theories and frameworks for our field. Each article is peer-reviewed, aiming for rigorous reflection rather than simply showcasing “best practice” programs. Simultaneously, because Viewfinder is housed on Medium, an online platform built for dialogue, we hope it will become a forum to learn from each other. As museum educators intimately familiar with interpretation and facilitation, we expect that the questions we raise in each issue will invite not only a multiplicity of answers, but also more questions.

How will Viewfinder work?

While we’ve planned the first few issues, this post is a “soft launch” of Viewfinder to ensure that new voices from all generations of museum educators can get involved from the start.

In this, its pilot year, Viewfinder will publish four issues quarterly, each on a single theme and featuring three contributors. Our fall issue will focus on leadership in museum education, inspired in part by the “Leading the Future of Museum Education: Challenges and Opportunities” convening in Denver, CO, this past spring. The winter issue’s theme is transparency, the topic of the upcoming Museum Education Division Preconference at the 2016 NAEA Convention.

Articles will be solicited via the NAEA listserv and social media outlets. Colleagues will be invited to submit a summary/abstract and indicate the number of years they have worked in the field. Peer editors will also be found through the listserv, and the publication’s organizers will pair each accepted submission with an editor who is in a different “generation” than the article writer.

If you’d like to be involved, whether as an author or peer reviewer, or if you have ideas or comments on topics or themes, we would love to hear from you! Please read this article for more information.

From all of us at the NAEA Museum Education Division, we are thrilled to launch this pilot publishing project, and look forward to a year of featuring new voices, exploring innovative ideas, and experimenting with you.

Viewfinder Editorial Board

Sara Egan, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Emily Jennings, Fine Art Museums of San Francisco and NAEA Museum Education Division Regional Director-Elect, Western Division
Chelsea Emelie Kelly, Park Avenue Armory

Emily Holtrop, Cincinnati Art Museum and NAEA Museum Education Division Director
Michelle Grohe, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and NAEA Museum Education Division Director-Elect

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