GEM Conference 2019: Top Ten Takeaways

For the past three days I've been in attendance at #GEM2019, this year's conference for people working (and generally interested) in learning through museums and heritage. You can see my tweets during the conference in the embedded collection below the main post, but inspired by Sarah Cowie's Top Ten Quickfire Takeaways, I thought coming up with a list of my own might be a good way to reflect on what was an intensive, tiring and thoroughly enjoyable three days! The theme was Connection, Action, Innovation: Forging dynamic and lasting partnerships with communities.

The conference took place in Torquay this year. A long way away, but lovely!
Photograph © T. Briggs

1. Phew! It's not just us!

One of the things that made me want to come back to the GEM conference after last year's (my first!) was having the opportunity to speak to others working in museum education and realising that the barriers, frustrations, blockages and other difficulties that we face are experienced across the sector and everyone's at different stages on these various journeys. It's a confirmation that we're not necessarily doing anything wrong; and that we're not wrong for continuing to persue the ideals and values that guided us into the profession in the first place.

2. "Community" is a word with an enormous number of meanings, and it means something slightly different for everyone.

For the first couple of days the disparity in conceptions behind this word were clear, and it wasn't until the third that the question of what we actually mean by community (or, perhaps more appropriately "communities") was mooted. This led to a fascinating panel discussion!

3. It's (sometimes) easier to apologise than to ask for permission.

This theme came up a few times. Not entirely separate from #1, a lot of museum educators seem to feel that our job function is misunderstood by many, even within our own organisations. We know what we're doing, and sometimes the only way to prove that to ourselves and others is play the "oops, I didn't know I had to ask, but look how well it turned out" card.

4. Learning and education in museums is not just about children and schools.

I know this, but it's often not realised by folk working in roles outside of Learning teams. If  it was we'd call ourselves The Children and Schools Department, rather than Learning or Education. Learning is arguably the whole point of the existence of any museum, and everyone who walks through the door (either literally or figuratively) is a potential learner.

5. "Heritage learning is "with, not for".

A nice, succinct statement from Piotr Bienkowski during his thought-provoking and insightful keynote presentation. It included many more, including this:
And this:

6. Staff wellbeing is really, really important. That includes you.

A well and happy workforce is a resilient and productive workforce. Be kind to yourself and you'll be the best you can be. We were encouraged to make a pledge that will contribute to improving our own wellbeing. This is mine:
If you have a personal wellbeing pledge you'd like to make I'd love to read it - reply to that tweet and let me know what it is! Writing it down and telling someone else about it can help to turn it into a commitment.

7. Calling youth groups youth groups may imply that all members have to offer is their youth.

8. Successfully working with relevant communities needs buy-in from people in all departments - and working at all levels - within an organisation.

9. You must meet communities in their own environments before you can build a relationship which allows them to feel confident that they can become part of yours.

10. Museums have responsibilities. The only conversation to be had is about what they are.

David Anderson, Director General of Amgueddfa Cymru, gave what was in my opinion the stand-out talk of the conference: an inspiring discussion on cultural rights - and responsibilities.

And finalies...

Almost finally, GEM's Devon Turner* put together a more comprehensive recap of each day than I've managed with the above. Here they are:
Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Finally (well, penultimately, I suppose), a big thanks to Torquay Museum for hosting the conference. It was great to be immersed in a museum for the event, and we were very well looked after!

* Yes, her name's Devon and we were in Devon. This was covered extensively throughout the conference.

Digital Maths Resources: Invitation to Take Part in a Trial

A little while ago a few maths teachers* were kind enough to submit responses to a survey designed to discover what mathematics teachers in the UK want from digital resources offered by museums. This survey was used to influence part of the work towards my PostGraduate Certificate in Digital Leadership, and I went on to provide a brief analysis of the results in my Reflective ePortfolio, which also included discussion around some academic reading I've done on the subject.

The next step is to use the results of that survey to inform the creation of a digital resource and then test it with some students. As a full-time museum educator I don't have any captive students of my own so I would very much like to enlist the help of some of the many innovative and excitable maths teachers that abound in my Twitter network and beyond.

All I'm looking for is a few maths teachers who would like to try out a brand new digital resource with some of their students. Full details and terms are in the embedded registration form below, but some key information in short:
  • The resource isn't quite ready yet, but when it is I'll email a link out to any teachers who have registered below, in time for testing to take place during the fortnight between 7th and 25th October 2019.
  • It will require around 20 minutes or so for students to complete, followed by a quick survey, so they'll need about half an hour in total. This can take place whenever is convenient for you (and them) during that two-week period, but all trials must be complete before the end of the school day on 25th October.
  • Students will need access to an internet-connected computer, tablet or mobile phone to use the resource and respond to the survey.
Interested? Fill in the survey below, and I'll be in touch in the next few weeks. Please do pass this post along to anybody in your personal and professional networks who may also be interested in taking part.

*113 of them!

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