Visiting a museum and not understanding anything around you

by Lior Diklshpan

As the child of a father who worked for an airline company, I was lucky to travel to many different countries around the world—we did not pay for our flights or our hotels (don’t hate the player, hate the game.) My mother always believed in learning by going to museums and much more. The problem was that I was never able to relate to the many amazing things I saw, since I could not understand most of it. I could not read the labels, I could not understand the tour guides, and as much as my parents try to translate everything, they could not really keep up. I was left only understanding half of the things I saw.


Some museums were perfect for a child like myself—children’s museums, or any exhibition where I was able to touch, walk around, explore, move things around, meet museum professionals who played games with me—and other kids—in short, everything that was different from just walking around.

I remember one case where my sister and I took part in a show about electricity. I was six years old and my sister was fourteen, and so both of us did not really have the skills to understand or speak English. I can honestly say I had no clue what the guy who brought us to the stage was saying, but nevertheless I understood everything related to static electricity. The museum professional did not give up on either my sister or me, and used every possible means to make sure we understood, including acting, moving us around physically, and repeating the different experiments.

That was fun, and someplace hidden in my parents’ house 10,000 miles away from here there is a picture of my sister and I with our hair up in the air (yes, once upon a time I had long hair on my head.)

Today when I can actually understand, read, and engage with the people around me, I find museums a great place to visit, learn, and spend time with friends (especially in the wintertime.) I think that language is a problem museums will always have, BUT, with upcoming technology I don’t think it will be long till we will walk around museums with our cell phones, which will translate everything for us on the move with different apps.

In conclusion, we see museums working to deepen relationships with recent immigrants, English Language learners and international visitors in several ways.

How is the museum community interacting with this group?

Museums are attempting to be accessible, by providing brochures in several languages. Several museums are providing exhibit labels in other languages. While the effectiveness of both brochures and multi-language labels deserve further evaluation and research, there are some language options presented to visitors.

While examples of advertised programming towards new immigrants and English Language Learners are scarce, the J. Paul Getty Museum has a school-based curriculum for both beginning and advanced ESL students. We feel that many existing programs can be adjusted for ELL/ESOL students with input from teachers and other professionals. As our local communities continue to grow, it might be in the museum’s best interest to look in this direction.

What is the most effective way to encourage growth and comfort in their new setting?


What can museums do to foster a sense of community for recent immigrants?

Based on our research, we feel that museums and cultural institutions need to acknowledge both the prior experience and heritage of the visitor. Museums should recognize the diversity of backgrounds in their visitor populations. So far, exhibits focusing on immigration or other cultures seem to be the most common effort by museum professionals.

In terms of museum education, establishing common ground and a sense of inclusion would be crucial in programming. By looking at community partnerships, museums could look into pairing up with adult literacy organizations and plan events. Museums can also work to incorporate new programming and materials into existing exhibits that deal with multiculturalism, immigration, and other related topics. Resources like CALTA21 and Australia’s Museum Victoria’s People Like Me initiative can provide a wealth of background knowledge that can be adapted to museums across the country! Museums can provide a safe space to promote understanding, foster a sense of community and encourage self-expression with this diverse audience.




Bridging the gap between content and language

by Elyse Warren

In a world that is becoming ever more globalized, museums are grappling with how to bridge the gap between language and accessibility of their content. Whether it be labels or brochures about the objects, museums as a general collective are trying to adapt their approach to producing content to better meet the needs of new immigrants and English language learners.

Based on this, the J Paul Getty Museum produced a study on the role and effectiveness of their brochures for Spanish speaking audiences in 2008. In their evaluation, they found that the audience took only 10,350 brochures in Spanish compared to that of 30,712 in English. The researchers discovered that the Spanish speaking audience preferred to utilize the labels of the objects for information rather than the brochure. Interviews conducted in this study revealed as well that the Spanish speaking audiences would like to see the museum embrace the use of bilingual content throughout the exhibits in addition to the brochures. In response, the museum adopted a new policy on second-language didactics that would allow for the translation of the most integral details on labels and would note which languages need to be incorporated for each individual exhibit.

The study reveals the need for not only translations of content in one format, but in multiple forms and individualized for the audiences of each exhibit. The Bilingual Exhibits Research Initiative sponsored by the NSF Pathways project also sheds light on the need to increase accessibility for ESL and new immigrants. This specific project looked at accessibility for Latinos in science museums. In their evaluation, they found that museums that had bilingual content on labels or brochures for Spanish speaking audiences did not know how they interacted with the material or how to measure the effectiveness of their outcomes.

Both studies reveal the challenge that museums face in adapting their content and measuring the effectiveness of it for new immigrants or ESL audiences. The investment of time and money needs to be dedicated by museums to conduct more of these evaluations and see what solutions are best to implement. In doing so, museums can create a better space of inclusion and accessibility for these audiences to learn and enjoy the content.

Online Museum Exhibitions

What is an online exhibition?


A loose definition of an online exhibition would be: a collection of objects presented using an online platform. If you were to type “online exhibitions” into Google here is a selection of what you might be looking at when you click on the site

Tombstone information and pictures set into general categories, but not necessarily in exhibitions.

A designed exhibition presented online

Games for kids using museum objects- The British Museum: Museum Explorer

An online version of a book of objects

Objects related to a radio show

A museum exhibition that has been transferred as exactly as possible to an online platform.

The method of online exhibitions I was most interested where the museums that made a choice and arranged objects in an order rather than referring to their online catalog as an online exhibition.

Who is the Audience?

 The audience for online museum exhibitions  is anyone who stumbles onto the site. The only limitation is that most online exhibitions that I found were text heavy. The Audience for the British Museum website is anyone of the 6 million visitors to the museum, but may also include, researchers, students, and teachers from around the world.


kids exhibition

Images of the nine objects explored in the children section.


I chose to look at the children’s section of the British museum website. The museum decided to take the most iconic objects in the museum and turn it into an online exhibition to give children more information. First of all, I like that they did limit themselves to just nine objects, which took incredible discipline on their part given the number of amazing objects in their collection. This is also, a good counter to the sites who have all of the objects on the website but not much information or categorization.

Lewis Chessmen rooks

First page of the section of the Lewis Chessmen


I also took a closer look at one of the objects they placed in the exhibition to see how it was displayed. When looking at the Lewis Chessman display there where a few things I noticed at first glance. When I first looked at the page I though there was a little bit too much going on, but the information is well organized. There is a good size picture in the middle of the screen withe an arrow indicating more images. Below the image is a short description that one could read while still having one eye on the object. When I started analyzing the page I found that it is layered, so it can be used my many different audiences. There is the tombstone information, but also more detail that older children or adults could read that explains the History of the objects. It reminded me of the How Things Fly exhibition at Natural History with the layers of information. This website also has links for additional information if it is desired.

The greatest strength of this design for an online exhibition is there ability to explain small details that would not be visible if looking at he objects int he museum itself, not least because as a highlight it is hard to get a good look at the objects to start with. The museum also took this opportunity to make full use of the fact that they have more than one set of chessmen, so they made comparisons that would be harder to show in the museum when trying to display the collection of chessmen as a whole.

Lewis chessmen 1

Chess rooks from the collection


The last detail that I wanted to draw attention to, was the fat that the descriptions don’t talk down to the reader. They are clearly written so  kids can understand them easily , but they are not overly simplistic. I also took a look at the Lewis Chessmen in the non-kids section of the website and found, honestly that the information in this “kid” section was more interesting and informative than in other descriptions of the object.

I thought this was a great example of using the strengths platform, rather than having images and the same informations that one might get from the in museum explanations.


Links to Other Examples

VTS: An Entry Point for ELL

As museums continue to engage with immigration, language barriers and other cultural shifts, museums can look for inspiration from the Whitney Museum. The Whitney recently piloted a Youth Insights Introductions program in summer 2014. This program involved 15 New York City high school students, who are self-identified English Language Learners. According to the Whitney, this free resource ‘welcomes teens…to explore, discover and discuss American art, and to create original works of art and writing.’ Others museums have used other resources to create programs for these audiences.

This pilot program builds on the Whitney’s Youth Insights programs.

This blog post introduces the idea of incorporating Visual Thinking Strategies in art museums to engage new audiences, particularly those who are recent immigrants or current English Language Learners. A great resource for museums looking to broaden their programming is CALTA21, Cultures and Literacies Through Art for the 21st Century.


CALTA21 is a model initiative funded through a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The intent of this initiative, led by Queensborough Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY), is to build the capacity of museum-community college partnerships, to empower adult immigrant English language learners (ELL) while strengthening their literacy and critical thinking skills through visual literacy and simultaneously assisting them in enriching their social and cultural capital.

In fact, CALTA21 offered a free webinar in June 2014 to discuss these very ideas: Museums and Institutions of Higher Education Unite to Empower Adult English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)

While this webinar focuses primarily on advanced adult language learners, all museums and cultural sites can work to make their programs more accessible and welcoming to all English Language Learners. This can work to foster inclusion as well as lifelong engagement with museums and community.

VTS can serve as an effective method for ELL students and families by:

  • Encouraging a fluency of language
  • Validation of experience and past knowledge
  • Adopting an appreciation of multiple viewpoints
  • Being a cathartic experience for visitors
  • Combining visual literacy and literacy based activities

CALTA21’s website has a wealth of information, including a multi-week guided curriculum and a list of museums nationwide that provide free admission. They encourage any museum or cultural institution to look into their program. Check it out!


Find more information about CALTA21 here:

Non-Interactive Media

Method: Non-Interactive Media

Non-interactive media – or static media – engages audiences with the museum’s mission or collections through podcasts, video series, or other one-way media.  This method of distance learning is as opposed to interactive media like webinars or video field trips.  For non-interactive media today, we are going to focus on audio and video content, like a podcast or video.  Museums utilize these non-interactive media for two main reasons: to encourage in-person visits or to advance their institutional mission.


Who is the Audience?

This type of media can be tailored for any audience type and age group.  You can find lecture series for adults, family-friendly stories, how-to videos for all ages, and plenty of content for school groups.


Case Study 1: Story Time at the Met Podcast Series

The Metropolitan Museum of Art used to publish a family story time podcast series to encourage museum visits.  The series, Story Time at the Met, features a fairytale, fable, or legend told in an engaging, child-friendly way.  After the 5-minute story, the podcast ends by encouraging the listener to learn more by visiting a related exhibition at the Met.  For example, a story about Johnny Appleseed can be followed up with a visit to the Met to view “Cider Making” by William Sidney Mount.

"Cider Making" by William Sidney Mount at the Met

  “Cider Making” by William Sidney Mount at the Met  


Case Study 2: Voices on Antisemitism USHMM Podcast Series

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum publishes a monthly podcast series called Voices on Antisemitism, featuring scholars, authors, politicians, artists, and religious leaders, who reflect on the ways that antisemitism and hatred influence the world today.  Guests have included Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Rabbi Lord Jonahan Sacks, Sir Ben Kingsley, and Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna and they have spoken on such diverse topics as Jewish identity, anti-Zionism, interfaith relations, and the Holocaust on film.  The majority of the USHMM podcasts are designed to advance the museum’s mission “to advance and disseminate knowledge about this unprecedented tragedy; to preserve the memory of those who suffered; and to encourage its visitors to reflect upon the moral and spiritual questions raised by the events of the Holocaust as well as their own responsibilities as citizens of a democracy.”  Aside from naming the museum as the authors of the series, the podcast does not push listeners to visit the museum.  It is only on rare occasion that an episode relates to an exhibit, like their November 2013 podcast on The Power of Propaganda exhibit that is currently traveling.  I saw it last year at the Field Museum in Chicago and it was excellent.  You can see it at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood, Ohio until March 15 and then at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis from April to September.


Podcasts can serve as valuable marketing and educational tools for museums, connecting the museum to audiences around the world, advancing their missions, and giving them name recognition for potential tourists.


Check out other Non-Interactive Museum Media

Face-to-Face podcast series, National Portrait Gallery

The Brain Scoop Youtube channel, The Field Museum

Handi-Hour Crafting Youtube series, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Virtual Interactive Programs

This includes but is not limited too, virtual tours, Exhibit-based facilitations, Webinars, and online collections.

Methods of Virtual Interactive Programs

A Virtual Tour is one in which a participant can “tour” a museum through digital access without being present in the museum.

An Exhibit-based Facilitation is one that occurs entirely over digital media. Participants engage in exhibit interaction through over the internet and pre-planned, accessible activities are provided for the participant’s selective engagement.

A Webinar is a tool used, in this case, by educators, curators, or individuals otherwise responsible for spreading information, to help audiences utilize the museums. This is not necessarily distance learning for the purpose of learning about something in a museum, but rather learning about how to teach or learn what is in a museum.

An Online Collection is a museum’s way of making its collection accessible to audiences who cannot travel to the museum. Once again, online collections are accessed digitally.

In my opinion, I have rated these from least interactive to most interactive in the following order: Online collections, Virtual Tours, Exhibit-Based Facilitations, and Webinars. The latter two are similarly interactive, but their appropriateness dependent on the audience. My case study will be reviewing the Webinar.

A closer look at a Method: Webinar

Webinars are designed with specific audiences in mind. To clarify from the definition above, Webinars are virtual conferences or meetings that employ the use of audio, video, real-time polls, group text conversations, collaborative “blackboard”, slideshow availability, note-taking, and availability to record for later use. It is an educational tool that I researched in the context of museums, but not in museums. In preparation for this post, I signed up for a Webinar provided by the Jewish Women’s Archive.

Who is the Audience?

The audience for this Webinar was Jewish Educators of all denominations, of all ages and experience levels, and from all over the United States. We had 14 individuals present, including the facilitator, from Boston, MA; San Diego, CA; New York City, NY; Silver Spring, MD; Seattle, WA; and Los Angeles, CA.

Case Study and Review

“Teaching Oral History”, Webinar given by Etta King, Educational Programs Director of the Jewish Women’s Archive. This was a 1-hour long session, with two time slot options. The mission of the Jewish Women’s Archive is to “The Jewish Women’s Archive documents Jewish women’s stories, elevates their voices, and inspires them to be agents of change.” Additionally, the goal of the Education Department of the JWA is to “enhance [educators’] work through high-quality curricular resources and professional development.”

The topic of the session, “Teaching Oral History”, was one that is relevant to collecting information in a way that is relevant and interesting to young learner’s (and learners of all ages!), and was a forum during which the facilitator switched between informative presentation and interactive creation and compilation of group ideas. This Webinar hit on both of the organization’s overarching goals while engaging with its participants and providing tools for them to use in their own educational environments. Additionally, this forum was a living conversation about how to sustain the type of information we have in museums. Below is screen shot from the Webinar, including some of the sources given.

screenshot for blog

I think the use of Webinars is an engaging virtual interactive. Its limitations are that it applies to specific audiences, you need to sign up to gain access, and I could only find examples of Webinar use that were once removed from museums. (I.E..- The JWA used this Webinar to reach out to educators, below there is an example of a Webinar from AAM, but it is not meant to reach out to museum visitors, but rather to individuals looking to expand digital access to museums, etc.)

On the other hand, there are so many strengths to this type of program! It has multimedia interaction (audio, video, group chat, group “blackboard” where everyone can draw on a graph at the same time, instantaneous polling, slideshow viewing.. the list goes on!) It is highly interactive and (even though I included this in my limitations of the program) it can be specified to your audience! For example: our thoughts and creation of ideas were added to the slideshow, the entire experience was recorded and sent out to the participants, there was a tech assistant on hand to handle any glitches as they arose, and each portion of the facilitation was built upon our experiences and input.

While I do believe there is nothing like visiting a museum and experiencing it with as many of your senses as possible, there is something to be said for Virtual Interactive Programs. In the pursuit expanding accessibility, it is notable that all of these programs have the ability to bring museums to the learner regardless of their ability (or inability) to get to a museum.

Links to Examples*

Virtual Tours
National Postal Museum:

Museum of Natural History:

Jewish Women’s Archive:
-Upcoming Webinar(s):

American Alliance of Museums
-Upcoming Webinar(s):
*Note: AAM is using this Webinar as a teaching tool for educating about Digital Learning in Museums. Meta!

Exhibit-based Facilitation
National Museum of Natural History, Dinosaur Tour:

British Science Museum:

Online Collections
Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Brooklyn Museum:

The Guggenheim:

The British Museum:

*None of these lists is anywhere near a complete list! Just a fun group to peruse if you wish 🙂

In-Person Programs

Method: In-Person Programs

In-Person Programs include any program in which an individual from a museum brings museum education outside of the traditional museum setting. These types of programs most commonly happen in schools, libraries, or other cultural institutions. The goal of in-person programming is to bring the museum’s collections and resources out into the community, stimulating experiences that involve personal discovery and critical thinking. In-person programs physically bring the museum to you.

Who is the Audience?

The intended audiences of in-person programs include teachers, facilitators, and students of formal and informal educational environments of any age. In-person programs are typically marketed to schools, but they can often be adapted for almost any age group or setting.

Case Study: At Your School, Denver Museum of Nature & Science

The At Your School program at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is an in-person program opportunity that can reach schools in three different ways, through assemblies, classes, or labs, with program content covering a choice of six subjects: earth science, health science, human culture, life science, physical science and space science.

Assemblies allow large groups of students, grades K – 8, to engage in the same topic at the same time by interacting with presenters in fun-filled educational activities. Classes are designed for grades PreK – 8, and include a 45-minute classes led by professional museum educators that engage students with a specific science topic using hands-on, inquiry-based approaches. Labs are a more in-depth experience for grades 3- 8, which includes an inquiry-based program that allows hands-on experiences for small groups of students.

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science does an excellent job providing schools with several options and opportunities to bring the museum into the school. While I would personally like to see in-person programs for high school students as well, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is on the right track by offering distance learning programs that include the human element, instead of just a technological connection. For more information, click on the link below:

Museums that offer In-Person Programs: