Museum Education Practicum Prepares Art History Students for Museum Work
The new course collaboration between the Division of Art History and the Meadows Museum provides real-world work experience and career-building opportunities for students interested in becoming museum educators.
In the new Museum Education practicum course, art history students get a unique opportunity to learn the ins and outs of museum education life, before ever working in the field. The practicum, which is new for the Fall 2023 semester, provides a career-building opportunity and real-world work experience for students interested in museum work.
The idea for the course initially derived from a desire for collaboration between the Division of Art History and the Meadows Museum. It would be a win-win for both institutions: art history undergraduate students needed more opportunities for work experience in museums in order to be successful in getting museum jobs post-graduation, while the Meadows Museum wanted to engage more SMU students in the galleries. And thus, the Museum Education practicum was created.
“The class will help students acquire concrete, transferrable skills in Museum Education that they can use in future museum internships and when they go on to work in a museum after graduation,” explains Dr. Stephanie Langin-Hooper, associate professor in art history and one of the creators of the course. “The skills and knowledge to teach visual literacy, to have the confidence to lead a tour in a museum environment, to talk about art authoritatively, and to develop their own plan and script for facilitating aesthetic experiences has broad applications across all fields that work with art, as well as in teaching-related disciplines.”
The Museum Education course first focuses on how art museums relate to the field of art history, guiding students through discussions and scholarly readings about the theory of the art museum and the history of museum education as a discipline. In these discussions, students also learn about the delicate balance between imparting art historical information to a visitor and facilitating a visitor’s personal aesthetic experience.
Throughout the semester students visit galleries and observe how professional art educators lead an audience through looking at a work of art. They are then given the opportunity to practice these skills themselves, with the key goal of developing the audience’s observation and visual literacy. As they’ve fine-tuned their skills as art educators during the practicum, the students have also learned specific museum education techniques like “Visual Thinking Strategies” and “Artful Thinking,” and used these concepts to begin building their own art museum tours.
“The class focuses on teaching visual learning in both a museum and school environment and how we can guide students as educators,” says Sophie Kim, a studio art major and art history minor who is enrolled in the course. “We've also gotten to learn a lot about the start of education in the museum, museum history, and where museum education might be headed in the future.”
As part of the hands-on learning this course provides, Kim, along with her classmates, had the opportunity to give tours of the Meadows Museum to local elementary school students this week. Building upon their observations and experiences earlier in the semester, each student was tasked with developing tour with various stops around the museum including activities, historical context, and observation of the artworks. After weeks of preparation and rehearsal, everything they had learned about museum education was put into action as they guided groups of fourth-grade students from Richardson ISD around the Meadows Museum on November 14.
The real-world application of this course offers a unique advantage to students interested in art education careers. It’s highly unusual for art history students to even have the opportunity to participate in classes that focus specifically on teaching and learning in an actual museum setting before graduate degree work.
“By offering this course to undergraduates interested in museum careers, SMU is giving their students a real leg up,” says Anne Kindseth, Director of Education at the Meadows Museum, who collaborated with her colleague at the museum, Laura Mancini, and Dr. Langin-Hooper to build the program.
The partnership between the Division of Art History and the Meadows Museum makes for a truly one-of-a-kind course experience. Both the Meadows school and the Museum itself are thrilled to contribute to the intellectual life on campus in this way and aid students in their post-graduation decisions and plans.