In the last twelve months, I’ve interviewed for several jobs in museums and a few of them have required supplementary questions. These are usually a type of essay question, and are required either with the original application or as part of a second-round screening process. The most recent application asked just one supplementary question: What do you see as the role of educational programming in museums today?
To be frank, educational programs are like the salt in the bread (if you don’t know the reference, check out this folk tale): they’re pretty essential. I’ve copied my answer to the application for public consumption below.
The purpose of educational programming in museums is to effectively interpret collections of a museum. The production of educational programs may fulfill several requirements, such as at a museum which references educational goals in its mission statement, however the possession of a collection is the identifying component of a museum and educational programs should reflect this standard. Through their programs, museums become more than a repository and exhibit space. Implementing educational activities makes the museum and collection a community resource. Programs connect with the community and breathe life into the stories behind the artifacts, in addition to creating and fostering community networks.
A well-planned program should encourage awareness of multifaceted topics, such as ethnicity, manufacture, or economy, while complementing the museum’s collections and exhibits. Diverse structures in museum educational programs address needs of equally diverse learning types and learning objectives; museums provide a unique resource not typically found in schools, libraries, parks or other public agencies. Educational programs can supplement academic curriculum by providing tangible examples of obscure concepts. Guiding students through analytical techniques and exploration of a historical collection illustrates creative and scientific processes in a way that textbooks could rarely achieve. Even better, give students the opportunity to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with their family or the public, and watch their confidence grow.
Opportunities for creative place-making in museums are offered through youth outreach, professional development, and family bonding time. Allowing a multi-generational family unit the opportunity to participate in simple activities such as coloring pages can lead to the sharing of family stories and stronger connections. By providing a safe, accessible, economically friendly environment for families and youth, museum programs can fill a critical need in community resources.
Museums fulfill many roles in a community by preserving, researching, and cataloging information but more importantly, museum educational programs support community pride and investment. Programs play an enormous role in the interpretation and dissemination of information but it is their ability to spark a response in participants that is truly crucial. Visitors may be attending the museum to see items or learn something, but they will most likely remember the experience above all else.