I joined Johns Hopkins undergraduate Program in Museums and Society in 2011, at the start of a significant expansion. I initiated and led a review of existing course offerings to identify gaps and redundancies, articulate program-wide learning goals, and establish responsive course-level goals in collaboration with instructors. Based on that assessment I focused on building the curriculum in three previously un-served areas. Public History & the American City emphasized working with local archives, historic houses and heritage sites to uncover hidden stories of relevance to present social concerns. Digital Perspectives focused on working with collections using current and emerging technologies. Living Collections expanded the program's reach to encompass aquaria, zoos, and botanic gardens.
I work actively to develop productive collaborations with partners both inside and outside academia. My article "The Practicum Course Model: Embracing the Museum-University Culture Clash" (Journal of Museum Education, Winter 2016) shared lessons learned from years of developing such partnerships.
Diversity and Inclusion
My contributions to M&S have been manifold but I take the most pride in the results of my efforts to make the curriculum more inclusive. In 2011 M&S was composed predominantly of white, female art-history majors. Practicum classes emphasized curatorial projects and a Eurocentric focus dominated course offerings. Today:
25% of M&S courses emphasize aspects of diversity, equity and inclusion
Core classes integrate previously uncovered topics such as the black museum movement and Islam in the museum
Museum education and conservation is more robustely represented
We regularly bring in guest speakers from backgrounds under-represented in museums
Minors come from Anthropology, Sociology, Africana Studies, History of Art, Archeology, Classics, History, Writing Seminars (creative writing program), English, International Studies, Film and Media Studies, Neuroscience and Public Health
We have a growing number of students of color who declare the minor
My pedagogy allies the conceptual with the applied in the study of visual and material culture. This often requires conceptualizing new methods of teaching in the university classroom and experimenting with related museum interpretation. The template I created in the Omeka platform for the JHU Collections Web offers a method for building and interpreting collections online that builds understanding of collection catalogues and their associated data as socially embedded and historical in their own right.
I am working on a toolkit to support inclusive approaches to collections-based teaching in museum studies and allied cultural fields of art-history, visual and material culture studies, archeology and anthropology. The toolkit highlights current academic scholarship as well as experiments in museum practice that offer a frame for tackling complex interpretive scenarios with no clear-cut answers. What best practices and canonical narratives in art museums (and art-history) need challenging and rethinking? How might we create more equity in how we interpret and display art from around the world? How might an artwork be made truly accessible?
I am also involved in developing engaged models for community-based learning (CBL) and in studying their impact on students. An article in process tackles the involvement of public audiences in university-based practicum courses. It establishes the beginnings of a pedagogy informed by practical ethics to define a more complex position for faculty that accounts for and validates student and community histories and perspectives in a developmentally integral way.
Museum evaluation is an important part of my practice. I work alongside students on front-end or formative evaluation for every interpretive project in which I am involved e.g. focus group interviews for the wayside signage project A Sense of Place, prototyping for American Selfie, large-scale surveys in preparation for the oral history project Housing Our Story. I also assess the learning impact of the project on student creators and on audiences for the purposes of reporting. Collaborating with the Maryland Zoo brought an opportunity to work with an evaluation consultant, and I have conducted usability testing for my digital project the JHU Collections Web.
I am also trained in the protection of human research participants (most recent certification: 12/2/2017) and have successfully shepherded projects through university institutional review boards.
Evaluation is also a routine part of directing an academic program of study and of teaching. Beyond the standard university practice of student evaluations, I incorporate mid-semester evaluations in my courses, have crafted custom evaluation questions for practicum courses, and created an exit survey for graduating seniors. I am also responsible for assessing course evaluations as part of the process of appointing and renewing adjunct instructors.
Museums, archives, and historic sites hold tremendous creative power over cultural heritage, collective identity, and social memory. A principle goal of my university teaching is to help students develop the skills to be critical interpreters of these consequential institutions. I strive to help students realize that by looking carefully and thoughtfully at museums, broadly defined, they can begin to ask questions and explore ideas that will lead them to a richer understanding of their world.
At the end of the day, I want students to see that humanistic inquiry matters beyond the ivory tower, to develop the tools to engage effectively with difficult concepts, and to feel empowered to encounter, and effect change in, institutions of power and privilege from which many in our society still feel excluded.