USF's Museum Blog

Hacking Museum Education


Ryan Pinter (MA, ’14), Alexa Beaman (MA, ’14), Lydia Webster (MA, ’17), Marjorie Schwarzer (faculty), Shabnam Shermatova (MA, ’16) and SarahMackey  (MA, ’16) at the Education Hackathon

On October 17, 2016, USF Museum Studies students, alumni and faculty participated in a day-long Museum Education Hackathon at the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center.  What is a hackathon?  Marjorie Schwarzer welcomed the group by defining it as a deep solutions-oriented conversation focused on institutional transformation.  What made this hackathon especially fruitful was the wide array of voices that came together to engage in that conversation.  In addition to nine representatives from USF, participating were 66 museum educators and directors from the Tech Museum of Innovation, Lawrence Hall of Science, California Academy of Sciences, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Hayward Area History Museum, Oakland Museum of California, Museum of the African Diaspora Museum of the African Diaspora, Museum of Craft and Design and others.


Museum hack instigators: Johanna Jones (Oakland Museum), Marjorie Schwarzer (USF), Brad King (Lord), Demitri Braxton (MoAD), Carol Tang (CCM) and Kelly McKinley (Oakland Museum)

To start the day, Brad King, co-editor of the Manual of Museum Learning (2016), distilled seven ways that organizations can transform their practices.  Briefly, they are:

  1. Revisit the Mission;
  2. Transform Ways of Working;
  3. Support Learning;
  4. All Staff are Educators;
  5. Approach Space Holistically;
  6. Measure What Matters; and
  7. Make Change A Way of Doing Business.

As Brad explained, everyone needs to be involved, from the top of the organization and all the way through the organization.  Thoughtful planning and continual evaluation are essential, he explained, as well as a dogged commitment to mission, an understanding of and commitment to improving the way we work together, and using space holistically. Museums, King emphasized, can help people cope with a changing world.  But to do so, we need to stay connected our communities and be able to pivot when needs change.

Four speakers looked at four of Brad’s seven steps.

Transform Ways of Working:  Kelly McKinley, Director of the Center for Experience Development and Collections at the Oakland Museum of California, described how an organization can pivot internally while acknowledging the reality that there are still significant power struggles within institutions.  Even though understanding, serving and motivating visitors is OMCA’s priority, she said, “the museum field is still trying to figure out how to make public service core to our work.” Kelly presented a few tools that OMCA uses to transforms ways of working by clarifying roles and responsibilities. One is DARCI which stands for Decider (who gets to decide); Accountable (who is ultimately accountable); Responsible (who is responsible for the details); Consulted (who needs to be consulted) and Informed (who within the organization needs to be informed of which decisions).


Hacker Fernanda Ochoa (and robots)

Support Learning:  Next up was Demetri Broxton, Senior Director of Education, Museum of the African Diaspora.  MoAD is in the process of redefining itself as well as strengthening how it supports learning in the community through its work with teachers.  Demetri identified innovative techniques such as integrating movement into its docent tours, bringing its programs outside onto city streets, and even hosting a chef-in-resident who helps to educate the public about mission-related cuisine.  Demetri and Marjorie later co-facilitated a discussion on how to create an internal culture where this kind of innovation and learning is valued throughout the institution.

Measure What Matters:  Evaluation and data-gathering are pillars of transformation.  Funders want to see evidence of our work and, as educators, we too want to know what is successful and what is not.  Johanna Jones, Associate Director of Evaluation and Visitor Insights at the Oakland Museum of California reinforced these points in her presentation titled “Measuring What Matters.”  She reminded us that it is important to use our resources to ask the right questions and to use past evaluations to inform future ones.  Johanna shared a story about how, after one museum had conducted evaluations about a temporary exhibition in one of its galleries, the staff were disappointed because visitors spent a short amount of time in the space.  Looking at past evaluations of other exhibits in the same gallery revealed that the problem wasn’t the exhibition; it was the gallery space.  A final point that Johanna made was that evaluation doesn’t only help museums.  Surveys help visitors interpret and reflect on their experience.

Approach Space Holistically:  Finally, our host, Carol Tang, executive director of the Children’s Creativity Museum, discussed the challenges of working with an inherited building that was not designed for current programmatic needs.


Carol Tang, Executive Director of the Children’s Creativity Museum in the museum’s Animation Lab.

After lunch, we split into four teams and dissected the issues raised in the morning talks.  We concluded that all museum staff need to work across departments and continually try (and evaluate) new ideas and approaches.  Specific ideas for how to work within the architectural constraints that Carol Tang described were wide-ranging, creative and out-of-the-box — trampolines, very sticky glue, and little blue eyed robots were all evoked — evidence that when seventy-five museum professionals get together there is nothing we can’t imagine.

To learn more about University of San Francisco’s graduate museum studies program, click here.


Hacker Kristin Wight (MA, ’17) in the Robotics room at CCM.

For more information on University of San Francisco’s Museum Studies program, click here.


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