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'Flipped Museum' Pilot Upends Traditional Field Trip Model

By guest blogger Sara Gilgore

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The "flipped learning" movement is spreading—and not just in classrooms.

The North Carolina Museum of Art has developed a pilot program modeled after a flipped classroom, in which the traditional instructional approach is reversed.

In flipped classrooms, students prepare for class instruction at home with extensive online work, often through reading or videos, so that they can engage in more analytical, in-depth, project-based work during class time. The North Carolina museum is trying to order students' experiences in a similar way.

The result is "Artists in Process," an effort to create a "flipped museum" that will engage students more effectively than a typical field trip would, according to Emily Kotecki, Distance Learning Educator at NCMA.

"Just like a classroom is not a one-size-fits-all experience, the museum should not be a one-size-fits-all experience," Kotecki said. "We wanted to give a lot more choice to the students to deepen the connection that they have to art, [and] personalize the learning for themselves."

The North Carolina museum's "flipped" model works this way: Students study and investigate art in their schools—sharing ideas online with students from other parts of the state—before coming together to stage a virtual exhibition at the museum. When they return to their classes, they create their own individual art projects, informed by the works they have seen.

During the spring 2015 semester, 16 art classes from throughout the state participated in the program. Each was paired with a partner class to research and discuss art, before ever setting foot inside the museum. They would later meet in person, upon visiting the museum together.

The museum provided students with access to videos, articles, and artist interviews as background material, and gave them the freedom to pursue individual areas of interest. They chose from three concepts: identity, storytelling or place, then identified artists they wanted to examine more closely, and conceived initial ideas for the art they would create after visiting the museum. 

During this time, the students shared their ideas and progress with each other through a Web platform NCMA created with a North Carolina-based technology company, Odigia. This online space was designed to facilitate their conversation in a collaborative community environment, Kotecki said.

"It is something that we're very proud of," Kotecki said. "We have this online learning platform that is also in continual development to help us better reach those goals of choice in social learning."

This flipped museum was NCMA's second pilot program that aimed to deliver content directly to students, as well as to deepen the connection they make with art and customize their experience, according to Kotecki.

"Artists in Process" was designed to allow for more flexibility for teachers and students than the earlier effort.

"In terms of sustainability and scalability," Kotecki said, "we were experimenting with a more self-directed type of museum experience that gave the students choices that we hope they felt comfortable making."

When the students visit the museum, they meet their peers from their partner class and work in small groups to curate a virtual exhibition on a chosen social media platform. According to Kotecki, the prior preparation and "flipped" model allow the students to make relevant connections, discover new artwork, and feel confident exploring the gallery.

"Students are preloaded before they come to the museum, with some experience, some familiarity, and build upon that through active learning approaches once they're here," said Michelle Harrell, Acting Director of Education at NCMA.

"Experimentation and risk-taking" happen when the students return to the classroom, Kotecki said, and create their own art inspired by the artists they chose to study. They are not limited to any medium or style; in the spring, teachers told the museum their students' works were all different, and included photographs, collages, mixed media, paintings, drawings, and clay.

NCMA plans to continue using the flipped museum model, while thinking about how it might be tried with other audiences, like teachers and museum volunteers who lead guided tours. The museum is also looking to explore other learning strategies that would put the control "back in the hands of the learners," Kotecki said. 

"By flipping it, we give them so much more opportunity to customize what they learned and how they learned it," Harrell said. "We believe this is a model that can really flip all of our museum experiences." 

Photo: Two students from Fairmont High School pose in March in front of Mickalene Thomas's "Three Graces: Les Trois Femmes Noires," in the North Carolina Museum of Art. Students curated a virtual exhibition of art from the museum based on the concept they were exploring in their projects, and also posted "selfies" on social media in front of works of art, as seen here. (Courtesy of NCMA)


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