Online Course: Museum Education and Outreach

Museum Education and Outreach

An AASLH Small Museum Pro! Online Course

Course Description

At their heart, regardless of type or size, museums are engaging, dynamic places of education. This AASLH online course, Museum Education and Outreach, is about how we can facilitate visitors’ meaningful and memorable experiences in the informal environments of museums.

This course requires regular check-ins, sharing and commenting on peer work, and participation in scheduled live chats. Participants will help shape the flow of the course in addition to providing resources and insights on each other’s work. Assignments are made weekly to allow for regular feedback and dialogue. While work can be done at your own pace, meeting deadlines is encouraged to maximize the experience. Throughout the course you will develop a toolkit of strategies, policies, and documents ready for immediate implementation.

Participant Outcomes

At the end of this course you will be able to:

  • describe the characteristics and learning needs of various museum audiences;
  • summarize what we know about learning in museums;
  • assess the strengths and weaknesses of interpretive techniques and program approaches;
  • utilize a system for planning, operating, and evaluating museum educational programs;
  • access resources to assist you in future development of effective learning experiences

Sample Curriculum

  • Week 1: Defining the Museum / Museums and Memory
  • Week 2: Interpretation Strengths, Weaknesses, and Best Practices
  • Week 3: Audiences and Identifying Your Key Ones
  • Week 4: Education Program Planning, Management, and Evaluation
  • Week 5: Organizing of Museum Education and Outreach
  • Week 6: Community Partners and Funding
  • Week 7: Leading Staff and Volunteers
  • Week 8: Action Plan for Future Programming at your Museum

Texts Used


Anna Johnson, Kimberly A. Huber, Nancy Cutler, Melissa Bingmann and Tim Grove. The Museum Educator’s Manual: Educators Share Successful Techniques (2nd ed). The text is NOT INCLUDED with your registration. You must order the book separately from the book seller of your choice.

Course Logistics

FORMAT: Online, weekly-paced course

LENGTH: 8 weeks

PARTICIPATION STYLE: Bi-weekly (every-other-week) real-time online chats; weekly assignments; final course assignment

MATERIALS: One required text (see below)

CREDIT: Successful completion of this course will earn one credit toward the Small Museum Pro! certificate from AASLH.

COURSE DATES: September 9 - November 1, 2019

COST: $195 AASLH Members / $295 Nonmembers

OPEN REGISTRATION: July 1 - September 5, 2019; 30 Participant limit



Who Should Take This Course

This course is a beginning level course designed for professional staff and volunteers of historical organizations and libraries with historical collections who have little to no experience with developing education programs and goals for museums. Successful participants should be ready to look past traditional methods and challenge themselves to work around site-specific hurdles.


Tanya Brock is one who tends to take leaps and jumps rather than the straight path. Her career has spanned museum education, visitor services, exhibit planning, historical research, educational program consultant, and community partner liaison. Whether teaching food preservation classes or designing and running the nation’s first functioning historical brewery or running a brewpub co-op, her passion has always been centered on food—its power to unite and act as a storyteller for communities.

Her education is a patchwork of cultural anthropology, food preservation, heritage interpretation, and museum administration. This background has built a foundation of various perspectives from which she draws from when designing programs. Over a 20-year period she has worked with audiences of all sizes, ages, and backgrounds yet believes at the end of the day, it is the guest who drives the conversation and the experience.

Join the Museum Education Roundtable Board of Directors

The Museum Education Roundtable (MER) is seeking nominations of qualified, committed and diverse professionals for election to the MER Board of Directors!

About the Museum Education Roundtable (MER)

The mission of the Museum Education Roundtable is to inspire innovative thinking for the field through engagement with scholarly and practice-based content explored in the Journal of Museum Education. The JME is the only peer-reviewed journal for the field. Through the JME and related projects and activities, MER advances the museum field by promoting scholarship, dialogue, and community related to critical issues in museum education.

About the Board of Directors and Opportunities to Contribute

The MER Board of Directors is a working board amounting to a time commitment of a few hours per week on average. Board members participate in scheduled quarterly board meetings and monthly action team meetings via conference call. Board members attend an in-person annual retreat in August.

Each board member serves on an action team. Current action teams are Communications and Editorial. The Communications team coordinates messaging about the JME, MER membership and related activities, works to raise brand awareness, and contributes to the ongoing conversation about museum education. The Editorial team works with the Editor in Chief of the JME to ensure the seamless publication of the quarterly journal, to cultivate and secure guest editors and authors, and to develop themes for upcoming issues. Some board members also serve in officer roles, or on special project task forces.

Specific areas of expertise we are currently seeking for the board include: finance, social media, and editorial and publication.

2016 Board if Directors

Terms, Requirements and Benefits of Board Service

Board members serve a three-year term (October 2018 - September 2021). An additional one to three more years is possible for a second term.

All incoming and current board members are required to attend the annual Board Retreat each August, which alternates between Washington, D.C. and another city each year. The 2018 retreat will take place in Washington, D.C. on August 5 and 6. While not required, board members are also encouraged to stay for the annual MER Forum on August 7.

Board members (or their institutions) must bear the cost of board participation (specifically attendance at the annual retreat) – MER does not reimburse personal expenses incurred by board members. Board members are also expected to maintain MER membership and contribute financially at a level meaningful to them (any amount).

Benefits of board service include leadership development, professional networking, and learning about non-profit management, marketing and communications, and academic publishing.

Application and Nomination Process

You may nominate yourself or a colleague for board service. Both nomination types are equally encouraged. All nominations must include a nomination letter (from the nominee or a colleague) that includes the name, title, and contact information of the nominee and a describes the nominee’s interest and qualifications. The nominee must also fill out an application, indicating the desire and time to actively serve. Applications are available on the MER website or by emailing the MER Nominations Task Force Chair.

Nominees must be current members of MER before they are selected as a candidate.

Nomination applications must be received via email by March 31, 2018.

For more information, contact:

Samantha Norton
MER Nominations Task Force Co-Chair
Sr. Director of Learning Programs
John G. Shedd Aquarium
[email protected]

Trying New Ways to Reach Classrooms

Every summer we organize social studies based professional development opportunities for teachers.  These events are always very well attended, and we try to provide fun, engaging, and useful learning opportunities for teachers.  Usually this involves not only showing what we offer as an institution for teachers, but we often feature scholars to provide in-depth background on a particular topic and people involved in the education field to give practicle application advice for the teachers.   This gives us the opportunity to serve teachers directly in addition to serving their students with field trips.


Rachel McCreery, a staffer at the TSM, helps visitors make a Day of the Dead mask.
Rachel McCreery, a staffer at the TSM, helps visitors make a Day of the Dead mask.


Every year we ask those teachers, "What are other ways that we can help and support you in the classrooms?"  Generally the answers are the same.  "Provide primary source materials online." "Have a way to get these artifacts in the classroom." "Come to our school."  Quickly we realized that all of their suffestions had nothing to do with what we were doing on-site.  They weren't asking for new educational programming for field trips.  They weren't making suggestions for changing out our perminate exhibits to better reflect the educational standards.  They weren't even suggesting more kid friendly interactives at the museum.  Everything they wanted from us was to somehow bring the museum to the classroom.  Teachers need day to day support for their lessons.  They don't have time between lesson planning, grading, assessment designing, parent meetings, and, oh yeah, teaching to dig around in archives for primary sources.  Becoming an expert in every aspect of history that they are teaching isn't an option.  They needed us to be available to them in more ways than that one or two field trips a year.


So we got to work.  We developed a fairly comprehensive website that covers topics in our state's history in depth with scholarly articles that still atempt to be kid friendly.  We put images of many of our artifacts on the website as well.  Ideally, teachers that need to teach about early settlement of our state or how the Civil War affected locals will be able to jump online and get all of the background knowlegde they will need to teach their lessons.  They will even be able to pull off a few images to provide visuals for their class.


A 2013 Teacher Workshop at the Tennessee State Museum
A 2013 Teacher Workshop at the Tennessee State Museum


We even brushed off that old traveling trunk program idea and modernized it for today's classrooms.  With help from a huge grant we were able to create multiple trunks that cover multiple topics across our state's history that we can send out to classrooms.  These trunks contain lesson plans, images, primary sources, replicas, and, sometimes, even actual artifacts to bring history to life for students.  That program by itself serves about 35,000 students annually across the state and has become one of the most popular things that we offer.  We are currently looking at expanding the trunk program to try and meet the demand.


Now we are looking for where to go next.  Technology is offering us the ability to be more responsive and flexible than we have in the past.  We recently purchased some very basic camera equipment.  The goal is to create educational videos for teachers to use in the classroom.  Soon we hope to use the equipment to set up Skype in the Classroom to interact with classes that can't make it us.  But to do any of this we have to dedicate time, money, and staff (all scarce resources) to make it happen.  We may have to let something else go in order to make these things happen.  If we pull a staff person for a week to write a script, shoot a video, edit the video, and post it online, that is one person that can't be on the floor working with students.  We may have to turn a school away.  In an ideal world every time we wanted to do something new we could just hire more staff to speciallize in that new thing.  The question becomes, in our attempt to reach into the classrooms what is too far?  Is there a point that we are becoming detramental to the brick and morter museum and the actual artifacts?  Where do we draw that line?

As we are moving forward, I would love to hear the ways that you reach people that can't make it into your museum.


Remote Classroom!
Remote Classroom!


The TAH Hangover

If you worked at a moderately sized history museum between 2001 and 2011 you are probably familiar with the Teaching American History (TAH) grant program through the United States Department of Education.  The point of the program was to raise student achievement by raising teacher knowledge in traditional American history. In 2004, I began working on TAH grants at the Ohio History Connection (formerly the Ohio Historical Society) and ultimately worked on five different projects. During the course of the TAH program OHC partnered on 22 grants total (24 if you count the two which brought us on to assist after they were awarded the grant.) That's a lot of grants and a lot of money. Many of us at history museums and departments of history (at both universities and school districts) were like Scrooge McDuck, sliding around giant piles of sweet USDE money that was especially designated for American history.  How Amazing! The problem is, like many good things, it came to an end.

We had been on a decade long bender and now we are all left with a massive hangover, the likes of which can't be helped with three Advil and a bunch of Gatorade.  Overall I'm a pretty positive person, but the TAH hangover seems to follow me wherever I go: conferences like AASLH, meetings at my state humanities council, state and national history and social studies conferences—someone always brings up TAH and laments its demise.  It's a common question amongst those of us who were in the TAH game for a long time. Is there anything else like TAH coming up? What are you doing now that TAH is over?  Have you had to downsize with the end of TAH?  I can't believe TAH is gone.  I get it. We got lots of money to do what we loved and to help spread that love to teachers on the front line of history education. But it's gone and continuing to ask these same questions almost five years after the last grant was funded is no cure for a raging TAH hangover.

However there's another side to this. There's a whole bunch of people (me included) who got their professional public history start in TAH. And there's another group of museum educators who had weathered the storm and were able to see the day when American history was bringing in some money.  But we don't look back on it fondly, we look back and feel slighted, or depressed, another example of history getting the short end of the educational stick.  This attitude doesn't honor the legacy of Senator Robert Byrd (who championed the program) or all those museum educators, history professors, district personnel, and teachers who rallied for history education. I think that we've mourned the loss and it's time to move on. I look back on a decade's worth of TAH and I don't feel slighted, I feel honored that I was able to be a part of it. Honored that teachers trusted me enough to listen and engage during my presentations and felt safe enough in the environment we developed to do some of the ridiculous things I asked of them like singing, dancing, and acting— all in the name of history.

So my call to action is this: think about all the great moments in your TAH career and everything you learned. Being a good museum educator, I will model the activity.

  1. I learned about the importance of evaluation and how to actually do it. It wasn't easy, I hadn't heard of "quasi-experimental design" until I started, but I slowly learned to love the feedback, and enjoyed making the best experience possible for our participants. And also our evaluators are pretty awesome and we still work with them on other projects.
  2. I learned so much about history and the historical process from my colleagues, our teachers, and all the amazing professors.  What's not to love about that?
  3. I came into my own as a professional. Nothing is more terrifying than the first time getting up in front of thirty-five 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers and leading them in an activity. I had no education background, and I hoped they couldn't smell the fear. But it was fine. Sure, like everyone I had my missteps but you bounce back and learn and you do better the next time. I gained my confidence as a professional one Saturday at a time in those workshops.
  4. I learned how to write and use a logic model and how to write lots of grants. This is a skill I continue to use.
  5. I learned that good food will take care of any number of issues that occur in a workshop.  I also learned no matter how healthy people say they want to be you must always have dessert.
  6. I got to hang out with amazing people in the Ohio K-20 educational world.
  7.  I was able to visit historic sites and museums all across Ohio, many of which I had no idea existed. Some of my fondest TAH memories come from amazingly random field trip experiences, like eating pizza from a gas station in a Quaker Meeting house.

See, isn't that better? Do you sense the fog lifting from your TAH hangover? If so open up the curtains let the sun come in and let’s reminisce about all the fun we had during those ten years.