The Research Behind Our Project: Need & Methodology

You’ll find this post to be one of the most academically technical on our blog, but we wanted to provide a summary of the literature behind our desire to create an accessible evaluation tool for professional development programs at historic sites. This should provide some crucial information as to the “why” of this project, with an emphasis on the state of research into how and what teachers learn as part of professional development. The basic idea is this: we are using Q-Sort methodology because it allows for the kind of multiplicity of experience that teachers (and all visitors) bring to historic sites. If you’d like to know more than what’s provided in the summary below, please feel free to contact us through our website.

Professional development for teachers has been a significant part of the educational programming of museums and historic sites since the 1990s[1] as a way to contribute to the content knowledge and enthusiasm of teachers.[2] However, little evidence-based research exists on the effectiveness of historic sites’ role in teacher education.[3] Existing research is too limited by specificity and the use of qualitative data to understand how these programs relate to classroom practice. Q Methodology offers the opportunity to quantitatively study why people believe what they do.[4] This will allow researchers to identify patterns in how and why teachers construct meaning about historic sites and their importance. This analysis of reasoning is significant because each visitor’s learning and processing at a historic site is shaped by their incoming perspectives and previous experiences, no matter the complexity of the presented narrative,[5] For instance, even if a nuanced interpretation is offered by the staff and exhibits, a visitor to a historic house museum may only comprehend the story of the benevolent, white family.[6]  Analyzing the patterns that emerge from a Q methodology evaluation will provide insight into these varying perspectives,[7] which can then be generalized across similar populations.[8]

With this new research, multiple needs within the field of museum education will be met. A clear understanding of what teachers gain from professional development programs at historic sites is needed in order to distinguish these programs from the general guest experience.[9] Furthermore, without a clear measure of outcomes, funding for educational initiatives is blindly allocated. In addition to providing insight as to the value of the professional development programming itself, this project seeks to fill a void in the research on museum education. As far back as 1995, Falk & Dierking raised concerns about the lack of systemic, generalizable research about what people learn in museums.[10] Even the most recent literature is dominated by the same issues. Studies on both learning outcomes[11] and instructional methodologies[12] have come primarily from science and art museums,[13] the outcomes of which are not directly transferable to history museums and historic sites. This lack of understanding has been noticed by the larger education community as well. In 2014, the American Education Research Association, the largest education research organization in North America, sponsored a conference to ask the question, “What are History Teachers Learning at Historic Sites?” We seek to answer one of the conference’s primary recommendations: to develop a set of assessment tools and evaluation protocols that build evidence-based[14] generalizable understandings about teaching and learning at historic sites.

This post has been adapted from the grant application narrative, written by Christine Baron, Columbia University Teachers College, and Gary Sandling and Linnea Grim of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Edited by Lora Cooper.

[1] Boyer, J., Fortney, K., & Watts, S. (2010). The changing landscape of museum-provided professional development for teachers. In K. Fortney & B. Sheppard (Eds.), An Alliance of Spirit: Museum and School Partnerships (pp. 57-64). Washington, D.C.: The AAM Press, American Association of Museums.

[2] Fritzer, P., & Kumar, D. (2002). What do prospective elementary teachers know about American history? Journal of Social Studies Research, 26(1), 51-59; Ravitch, D. (2000). The educational background of history teachers. In P. N. Stearns, P. Sexias & S. S. Wineburg (Eds.), Knowing, teaching, and learning history: National and international perspectives (pp. 143–155). ). New York: New York University Press.

[3] Baron, C. (2013). Using Inquiry-Based Instruction to Encourage Teachers’ Historical Thinking at Historic Sites Teaching and Teacher Education, 35, 157-169

[4] McKeown, B. F., & Thomas, D. B. (1988). Q methodology (Quantitative applications in the social sciences series, vol. 66).

[5] cf. Handler, R., & Gable, E. (1997). The New History in an Old Museum: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg. Durham: Duke University Press.; Lewis, C. (2005). The Changing Face Of Public History: The Chicago Historical Society And The Transformation Of An American Museum DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press.; Tchen, J. K. (1992). Creating a Dialogic Museum: The Chinatown History Museum Experiment. In I. Karp, C. M. Kreamer & S. D. Lavine (Eds.), Museums and Communities: The Politics of Public Culture. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

[6] Doering, Zahava D., and Andrew J. Pekarik. “Questioning the Entrance Narrative ” Journal of Museum Education 21, no. 3 (1996): 20–25.

[7] cf. Watts, S., & Stenner, P. (2005). Doing Q methodology: theory, method and interpretation. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 2(1), 67-91.

[8] Steelman, T. A., & Maguire, L. A. (1999). Understanding participant perspectives: Q-methodology in national forest management. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 18(3), 361-388.

[9] Tal, T., Bamberger, Y.,& Morag,O. (2005 ). Guided school visits to natural history museums in Israel: Teachers’ roles. Science Education, 89, 920–935.

[10] Falk, J. H., & Dierking, L. D. (Eds.). (1995). Public Institutions for Personal Learning: Establishing a Research Agenda. Washington, D.C.: American Association of Museums Technical Information Services.

[11] Anderson, D., Storksdieck, M., & Spock, M. (2007). Understanding the long-term impacts of museum experiences. In J. H. Falk, L. D. Dierking & S. Foutz (Eds.), In principle, In practice: museums as learning institutions. Lanham, MD: Alta Mira.; DeWitt, J., & Storksdieck, M. (2008). A short review of school field trips: Key findings from the past and implications for the future. Visitor Studies, 11(2), 181-197; Dudzinska-Przesmitzki, D., & Grenier, R. S. (2008). Nonformal and Informal Adult Learning in Museums: A Literature Review. The Journal of Museum Education, 33(1), 9-22.; Falk, J. H., & Dierking, L. D. (Eds.). (1995). Public Institutions for Personal Learning: Establishing a Research Agenda. Washington, D.C.: American Association of Museums Technical Information Services.

[12] cf. Bell, P., & Linn, M. C. (2000). Scientific arguments as learning artifacts: designing for learning from the web with KIE. International Journal of Science Education, 22(8), 797-817.; Eberbach, C., & Crowley, K. (2009). From Everyday to Scientific Observation: How Children Learn to Observe the Biologist’s World. Review of Educational Research, 79(1), 39-68.; Housen, A. (2002). Aesthetic Thought, Critical Thinking and Transfer. Arts and Learning Journal, 18(1), 99-132.; Luke, J. J., Stein, J., Foutz, S., & Adams, M. (2007). Research to Practice: Testing a Tool for Assessing Critical Thinking in Art Museum Programs. The Journal of Museum Education, 32(2), 123-135.; Yenawine, P. (1998). Visual art and student-centered discussions. Theory Into Practice, 37(4), 314.

[13] Bowen, D. H., Greene, J. P., & Kisida, B. (2013). Learning to Think Critically: A Visual Art Experiment, Educational Researcher (Vol. 43, pp. 37-44);Bitgood, S. (1994). What do we know about school field trips? . In What research says about learning in science museums. Washington, D.C.: Association of Science-Technology Centers.; DeWitt, J., & Storksdieck, M. (2008). A short review of school field trips: Key findings from the past and implications for the future. Visitor Studies, 11(2), 181-197.; Tal, T., Bamberger, Y.,& Morag,O. (2005 ). Guided school visits to natural history museums in Israel: Teachers’ roles. Science Education, 89, 920–935.; Tal, T., & Steiner, L. (2006). Patterns of teacher–museum staff relationships: School visits to the educational center of a science museum. Canadian Journal of Science Mathematics and Technology Education, 6, 25–46.; Tal, T., & Morag., O. (2007). School visits to natural history museums: Teaching or enriching? Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(5), 747-769.

[14] cf. Watts, S., & Stenner, P. (2005). Doing Q methodology: theory, method and interpretation. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 2(1), 67-91.

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