Sunday, April 29, 2012

Canadian Museums Association Conference 2012 - Part 4

Keynote Address - Olivia Chow, MP
Chow started off by saying that she loved the conference theme - the idea of being on the edge and shaking things up, to get outside the box and refresh our thinking. Now is the time to grow together and strengthen eachother through cooperative efforts. Chow has a degree in art history and is very familiar with museum work. She offered suggestions on building up the heritage community, such as the use of museum passes that allow visitors into multiple sites (like this). She talked about the need for one-stop shopping for online visitors, for websites that connect all the museums and allow the visitor to easily find what they are looking for.
Her message was one of looking ahead and staying relevant. So in 10 years time we will have 2.65 million 'new' Canadians. That's a huge audience to connect with and an interesting challenge for Canadian museums. Time to invite some new friends over for tea and a talk about what they would like out of their new country's museums.
Chow finished her talk early and then offered to stick around so people could ask her questions or give her messages to bring up during question period and/or share with her fellow politicians. The issues raised by conference attendees ranged from core operational funding to an updated national museum policy to cupcakes (I kid you not).

Closing Keynote Address - Chantel Hébert, Political Commentator & Columnist
The last time Chantel Hébert spoke at a CMA conference she reminded us how important it is to foster relationships with politicians of all stripes, regardless of who is in power. This time she gave us a no-nonsense evaluation of the new political realities on the fiscal front and government approach. So just to clarify, the following are my notes from her talk - her opinions.
This government is not in the business of seeking new missions or roles but are content to let the provinces run things however they want with the federal government operating as a silent partner. This approach to culture is very different from past governments. She talked a lot about the Harper government's tactics regarding Ontario and Québec, and suggested that the role of the Heritage Minister is to keep the peace with French Canadians. Since culture is so intrinsically linked with Québec politics and life in general, it is very difficult for the government to cut programs or services without getting severe backlash from the electorate.
Chantel Hébert talking about museums & politics

The Virtual Historian
Over the past few years we have moved from limited resources stored at local repositories to everything being online. While teachers are looking for information to enhance curriculum, the sheer volume of data is difficult to navigate. Teachers are looking for info that they can reuse, mix & match, and mould to fit their work. They want students to be doing inquiry-based work instead of research (as in, search again via google). The goal is to get kids thinking critically, to formulate questions and provide supporting information based on evidence. If we provide museum content as a finished product, this doesn't support inquiry-based learning. We should instead be using a backward model: identify the desired outcome - determine acceptable evidence of learning - design the virtual history lesson online. The new teaching model asks complex questions, such as "was Trudeau right to invoke the war measures act?
So in looking at online content, how do people react to websites? The University of Ottawa conducted eye tracking studies and found the following:
1. headlines draw attention first
2. people scan the headline for a few words and then move down the page in an F-shape pattern - the further you go down, the less you look to the right
3. visuals and faces draw attention
4. people are going in with preconceived notions and plans so we have to design with a purpose in mind
The Virtual Historian website lets teachers set up different accounts and levels for their classes, create lesson plans (they can share or keep these private). Through their work with teachers, they have heard the clear message that teachers really want content (and should be able to request specific themes or subjects) but need to be able to repurpose this content. So once again we are hearing the importance of crowd-sourcing and opening up the museum's doors to the public.

Christine & Bill with the Maritime
Museum of the Atlantic's CMA Award
 for Museum & Schools Partnership
I haven't mentioned the awards banquet or 65th anniversary dinner. Well, let's just say we ate some really good food, and a number of very deserving individuals won awards. Nova Scotia was well-represented, and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic took home a CMA award for their Real Museum Reel History - Titanic 100 project.
Bill Greenlaw, Executive Director of the Provincial Archives, NS Museum, and Provincial Library for the Department of Communities, Culture & Heritage and also President of the CMA, was also awarded a Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Phew! That's it folks. I hope you learned a little something. I look forward to blogging about next year's conference in the Yukon!!

In case you missed them:
CMA Conference Part 1
CMA Conference Part 2
CMA Conference Part 3

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