Independent Evaluation

The independent evaluator for this project was an active participant through most of the project. Taking the role of critical friend, she attended project meetings, observed students, university and museum staff as they prepared exhibitions, interviewed students, university and museum staff and analysed the survey data prepared by the project administrator. Because of her active engagement in these ways and the detailed report she prepared, drawing on her teaching and exhibition experience, we have chosen to present the report here as a full chapter to supplement the four earlier chapters prepared by the project leader and project manager. This chapter commences with an introduction to the independent evaluator and proceeds to a summary of key themes identified in the evaluation.

Summary

“As an external evaluator of this project I have been observing the project since August 2012 and have been able to gain some understanding of its objectives and its progress, through attending meetings and events, reading and viewing documents and conversing with participants. I have attended some of the group meetings with university and museum staff, with the reference group and with the project management team. I have also been able to attend the opening events for two of the projects and view three of the exhibitions. I have spoken with some of the teaching staff over the phone and have conversed with the students who have studied the Learning and Teaching in Public Spaces (LTPS) unit. I have brought to this evaluation process my 20 years of experience as a teacher of humanities and visual arts and my practice as an artist who works with communities to produce art projects which are displayed or installed in public spaces. It is important to acknowledge that I have had a limited involvement with this project in comparison with the teachers, students and project team. The following are my observations of and about the project from one external observer’s point of view”

(Debbie Qadri, 2014).

Value of the project – Student experiential learning

The most significant component of the project is the ability of the LTPS unit to take the students through an authentic learning process of how history and meaning in our culture are interpreted and developed by museums. The students undertake the role of the museum in researching, editing and presenting narratives to represent the past. Its close analogy to the process of teaching cannot be ignored. The teacher researches information, selects parts and then produces it for the class.

Working with a museum or Library (both public spaces) involves a real task that is presented to a real audience in the community. The student is given a task that carries with it a heavy responsibility. Students have to take self-ownership of the process of learning and because the exhibition is public, they have a personal investment in the outcome. As they learn about how sharing narratives contributes to history, they realize that as they write their own narrative, they are making history and being part of a community. The process of showing the project as a display in a real museum is an incredibly powerful learning vehicle that gives responsibility and also an authentic purpose to the students’ work.

Feedback from students suggests that the process of collaborating with each other and with the Museum is very challenging, but at the same time it creates an authentic learning environment that is empowering. The students are placed in a situation where they must think more critically about what they are presenting because it is being placed in a public space. They also enter the unfamiliar territory of negotiating a display in a three dimensional space which often has its own particular rules and style regulations. They encounter (and must negotiate), the anxiety of the Museum staff about what their role is, in managing the representation of history within a public space.

This unit of study provides a multi-dimensional learning environment, which will challenge and extend the students’ experiences and learning as well as their ideas of community and ‘citizenship’.

Ironically, the museum - the caretaker and presenter of knowledge - extends an opportunity to the students to research their own version of history and present it to the public. The museum or library releases its control and trusts the students to present something worthy. An anxiety naturally develops between the institution, the teacher and the student about the outcome, the display, and this is what creates such a resonant learning environment. The reality of examination, not only by the teacher, but also by the expert (the museum or library staff) and the civic audience.

As one of the QUT students said in their interview,

‘I think even if you can’t see the direct benefit and the immediate benefit at the time, how it relates to academia, the character building and things that you get out of it can sometimes happen later through that experience, so yeah, I can see how it would assist students with working in a group, organising your time, delegating and planning and what was the other one, oh confidence building you know’.

Potently, the pre-service teachers, those who will eventually be teaching history take part in an experience of how historical narratives are made. They have to make decisions about what is to presented and how. In presenting to the public, they themselves produce history. Helen Sheedy, of Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum suggested that one of the most enjoyable aspects of the project was not seeing the exhibition itself being put together, but seeing how the students grow and develop within themselves. The project helps the students develop so many skills other than telling a story and putting together an exhibition that will be useful for them in so many other aspects of their lives.

Teaching staff have expressed that for them the most poignant parts of the project are:

  • Getting students to work outside their comfort zones
  • Learning to negotiate
  • Understanding what citizenship is
  • Stepping away from themselves and contributing to the community
  • Seeing themselves: as part of a community, as part of the story told in museums and history, relating the stories to themselves

The survey data expresses the reality that not many pre-service and humanities students visit museums or libraries regularly. But through this project their relationship with museums/libraries has the capacity to change dramatically.

Value of the project - Collaboration

The ongoing nature of these projects over several years at the Immigration Museum, The National Wool Museum and the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum are evidence that the Learning and Teaching in Public Spaces approach is highly valued by the university and by the museum staff. Despite the extra time and energy it may involve, the museum and university staff are still very excited about the project and the outcomes it offers to all involved. This is a very important validation of the worth of the project.

Pedagogical resources

It is important to note that although the project has a clear objective, each of the participants express different ideas about what their objectives are and about the value of the project. All teachers and museum and library staff members have their own ethos, understanding of their own role and interests that they bring to the project. In the five instances/sites of the project, each offered variation of the central ideas. Variations of the unit in this way also provide ownership of the project. These variations are useful because they demonstrate how the project can be adapted to a wide range of curriculum subjects and illustrate several ways of guiding students through the learning and exhibition processes.

For example the public space outcomes of this project included historical narratives, object exhibits, an art exhibition, films and displays about personal journeys of learning and immigration. The website has been developed so that this variety can be clearly seen. The outcomes of the display process are documented, so that future teaching staff and students can visualize and imagine themselves undertaking the unit.

It is very important that the resources for the website provide detailed support materials and clear information about the Unit content. This will support teaching staff in utilising the Learning and Teaching in Public Spaces (LTPS) unit without the assistance of the project manager. The variety of outcomes demonstrated in both curriculum and exhibition, need to be anchored back to the original and important components of the project. The objectives and context for the unit need to be spelt out very clearly so that future teaching staff can gain an understanding of the essence of the approach.

Importance of Support Material for the teaching staff and students

The students involved in the VU/Immigration Museum Partnership said that they found the task difficult but extremely rewarding. The task being real and including a deadline adds to the pressure but also makes the learning experience fruitful. The provision of support material will make the project seem less daunting and provide a variety of ‘handles’ for different types of learners to find out what the project is all about. For example some teachers will find that the curriculum documents are self-explanatory but others will need to see photographic documentation of the exhibitions. If students and new teaching staff can watch video footage about past students’ experiences with the LTPS unit it will assist in their understanding and enthusiasm.

The Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum guide to working with the museum is an excellent example of information that the museum and university can put together to make the process less daunting for the student. Likewise, advice for students and higher education teachers about successfully planning and managing such projects is also very valuable.

Recommendations for the website:

  • That the original ideas of the Project are very clearly explained and an example of an ideal course/subject description is offered in a prominent place on the website.
  • Anecdotes by students about their experience of the project (text, video or audio) are an important resource for enabling teaching staff to understand the capacity of this Unit of Study for experiential learning.
  • Eventually, the true value of the project may be demonstrated by interviewing student participants in this project who are by then teachers, and asking them to reflect on how this unit changed the way they approach their teaching and learning.

The museum/library

Museums are under increasing pressure to have a more active role in the community and to involve community participation, and this project has provided a model for the involvement of post-secondary education students. The individual tailoring of the project to suit the curriculum needs of the university units, the students’ needs and the museums’ and libraries’ agendas is an integral part of the process that leads finally to the display. There will be differences in vision, practice, identity and philosophy that need to be navigated. Through this process students learn about how the museum works and the relationship between the giver of knowledge and the student as the receiver of knowledge is broken down and rebuilt into a collaborative relationship. This is the process through which students are given roles as active citizens and history makers. The Learning and Teaching in Public Spaces unit of study has enabled these changes in relationships between the institution and the student. This is really important, as it establishes a relationship between the student and the museum, which will affect how later as teachers, teacher education graduates will involve their own students with museums and libraries.

I was able to observe the public outcomes of the LTPS Unit at the Immigration Museum, the National Wool Museum and Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum. These observations and discussions with museum staff, students and teachers enabled me to understand how the needs of the stakeholders involved, the higher education curriculum, the expectations and needs of the museums and the interests of the staff involved, made each project individual and significant in its own right.

Teaching staff and museum/library staff were eager to share their thoughts on the value that the Learning and Teaching in Public Spaces Project held for the students who participated in it, but also the positive impact it had on their own professional practice. The project was highly valued by the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum and was seen as a project that linked not only the university students but also the wider community with Flagstaff Hill Maritime l Museum. The relationship between the university and the museum is ongoing and has influenced the museum’s planning, in order to improve their accommodation of the project in the future, demonstrating that this type of collaborative engagement is highly valued and beneficial for the community.

The progress of the project

Stakeholders and project partners generally had a clear understanding of the project’s purpose and scope. Project teams met regularly and with a sense of purpose. Participants in the project expressed their enthusiasm for the project and seemed very satisfied with its progress. It was observed that whilst participating in this project is perhaps more demanding of teaching and museum staff energy and resources, the positive outcomes for the students, the teachers and the museum are manifold.

The project was very complicated in that it spanned four universities and four museums and a library. The project has relied on the five partnerships being able to successfully collaborate and work through the unit with students. Many difficulties existed such as financial constraints, a lack of time, staff availability and support mechanisms which affected each partnership differently. There were some setbacks with the difficulty of locating an appropriate museum in Queensland, which led to the collaboration with the Queensland State Library.

All partnerships are to be congratulated for achieving successful outcomes and for providing this experiential learning for their students. There was some difficulty with continuity of the video documentation of the project. It was not possible to find a videographer who could stay with the project over its length and travel to all states involved. The stakeholders and project partners met regularly and corresponded with each other, particularly those who had been involved with the early stages of the LTPS Project. This communication led to project partners attending each other’s openings and taking an interest in each other’s units, which enhanced the outcomes of the project.

Ongoing Evaluation Methods

Ongoing evaluation of the project’s progress was discussed regularly at meetings. These meetings included university staff, museum and library staff, the reference group and project managers. The managers of the project always asked project partners for their feedback and advice and at meetings stakeholders worked as a team to discuss aspects of the evaluation; documentation, data collection, surveys, interviews and the final presentation of the project on the website. This involvement of a wide range of the project partners indicated that those involved took ownership of the project and responsibility for the outcomes. The teams decided that the main methods to be used for the evaluation would be online surveys and interviews from students using audio and film. These methods seemed to be the best way to evaluate the student experience of the project, given that the desired outcome of the project is experiential learning. The survey data demonstrated that attitudes towards museums and libraries changed during the unit and students’ understanding of the role of these institutions was also challenged. The interviews have produced a mass of information about the process, what the students found difficult and what their achievements were. They also reflect through their experiential learning changes in their understanding of history and the role of museums. Data from the surveys are presented earlier in this report while audio interviews were transcribed, are accessible and have informed this evaluation. The interview footage has been incorporated into a short videotape, which will inform viewers about the project. These two things, the interview transcripts and the videotape will extend the understanding of students’ experiences of the project. The website will be used to disseminate the findings of the project to prospective teaching staff.

Future

Long terms goals of the project have been achieved in many areas. Ongoing relationships between museums and universities are continuing in a sustained and embedded way for most of the partnerships. For vocational education, higher education and museums, this project has provided an example of a very successful method of engagement, with not only the staff and students but also with the local communities that have been involved with many of the projects. At the Museum Partners meeting, Jan Molloy from the Immigration Museum spoke about the importance of the project globally as it is groundbreaking for museums to be working with tertiary students. The project is building relationships in the 18-30 year old demographic which has the potential to expand the museum’s audience.

Debbie Qadri identified many important aspects of the LTPS project and concluded with the following recommendations which we endorse.

Recommendations

  • There will be ongoing interest in the project, particularly after the website is launched. It would be useful if the project received further support to assist new museum-university partnerships in adapting the LTPS unit. There has been interest from other museums in the project, and it may be useful to launch a project from a museum looking for a partner university. It is my understanding that previously universities were the first point of contact for initiating new learning and teaching projects.
  • The Project would benefit from having the website updated yearly to encompass new instances of the LTPS unit and to maintain the website's relevance.
  • The real impact that the experiential learning in LTPS will have will be on the participating students and their careers as teachers. I have recommended that some students be followed up two or three years later to give anecdotal evidence of how this unit affects their teaching practice and the way that they view museums and libraries as places of learning.