Teaching with style and learning in communityFeb 28, 2022
Nicole Markland reflects on her career in museum education and how her experiences with different teaching styles have helped her discover what it means to be an educator.
Many years ago, I had an epiphany that pushed me to pursue work in education. As a volunteer at the Museum of Inuit Art, I became conscious of meaning-making and co-learning for the first time. I was playing a card game about Inuit folklore with a group of strangers. One of the cards reminded someone of an urban legend from their childhood, and that story reminded someone else of a game they used to play with their family. We talked about our backgrounds and discussed our childhood games and stories, dissecting the lessons those games imparted. We rethought our experiences with gameplay and storytelling as we interpreted the imagery, and we learned about the cultural meanings in the folklore of the game.
After our visit, I felt that I had gained new understandings about the human experience, about my own family and culture, and about Inuit history and culture. I had never learned like this before. Everyone in the group had the chance to take on a teaching role when they told their own stories and learning role when their stories inspired someone else to share their ideas.
In the past, I had thought that learning could only happen in a school, not a museum. Up until that moment, my conceptualizations of knowledge and learning were based on my experiences in formal education, where knowledge was transferred from the teacher, the neutral holder of knowledge, to the student, the empty vessel.
I had thought that there needed to be tests, assignments, and textbooks for one to learn, but in playing this game, I learned in a way that felt organic. It was constructive and relational and personal – nothing like how I had imagined a learning experience could be.
Learning was a process where the lived experiences, prior knowledge, worldviews, and interests of every person in that group created our own customized learning experience.
This moment pushed me to pursue work in museum education.
As a museum educator, I co-create environments of sharing and learning with visitors. Art and artifacts are jumping-off points for discovery. I try to foster learning environments where new information engages with the interests, knowledge, and lived experiences of visitors. I started my graduate degree in museum education in order to learn the secret formula for creating the type of learning experience that is shaped by the learner. I wanted to become the ultimate pedagogue who knows how to best facilitate collaborative, unstructured, and experiential learning.
From knitting to gummy worms - reflecting on teaching styles
I am continuously reimagining my role as an educator. When I started my Master of Museum Education at UBC, I was introduced to a tool that has helped me reflect on my pedagogy and teaching experiences. The Teaching Perspectives Index (TPI) is a self-assessment tool that is meant to help you clarify your beliefs about good teaching. Early in my career, I was unclear about what my professional practices were. And if I didn’t know what kind of teacher I was, how could I become the impactful museum educator I wanted to be?
The TPI has provided me with a framework to explore the dimensions of my teaching across contexts. As an ESL teacher in Korea, I discovered that the children I was teaching knew a startling amount of food words in English. We built on what they already knew, one lesson combined their love of food with locative prepositions: “the gummy worm is between the books!” I later learned through the TPI that this is a “developmental” teaching approach.
When, as an art teacher, I told children that their art was beautiful, I noticed that they became more driven, confident and less anxious about making mistakes. This is an example of a “nurturing” teaching approach. These terms don’t limit my approach, but they help me understand what I value most across learning spaces.
Learning in Context
After studying museum education for a year, I gained an even deeper appreciation for how contextual learning is – knowledge from one discipline or culture can transform when applied to a new context. Everyday objects and tools become ‘art’ and ‘artifacts’ once they enter into the museum, and the possibilities for learning about these objects become endless. I joined Hikma so that I could experiment with my knowledge and practices as an educator by applying my skills from the museum world to an unfamiliar context.
As Hikma’s Virtual Community Specialist, I have met creative entrepreneurs, academics, students, and innovators who found their niches between knowledge areas, interests, and professions. Engaging with this community has shifted my viewpoints on how and why knowledge is shaped and transformed. This experience has brought my identity as an educator into focus: rather than the expert educator, I am the co-educator. I enjoy sharing the load of labour in both teaching and learning with others. I feel more confident in my abilities to foster an engaging learning environment, even if I don’t know it all.
Learning in Community
I’ve come to realize that learning truly is a communal and social process. My experience at the Museum of Inuit Art was transformative for me because the learning process felt so natural. The museum experience we created was our own invention. All the things we spoke about and learned from each other were built on the things we’d already experienced and knowledge we already had. That humanness of learning together has been the highlight for me in Hikma Office Hours, where we invite guest speakers to talk about the unique ways they apply their knowledge into new settings. Through these organic conversations, guest speakers and participants often redirect the flow of conversation so that it extends far beyond its original topic and completely blurs the lines between scholarship, practice, and process.
I am reminded of the wise words of guest speaker Camille Callison, who, in our conversation about how to nurture relationships with Indigenous communities, said to “build relationships like you do with a friend or a lover.”
Use the skills and knowledge you already have to create something new. It is that constructive experience in knowledge-building that lends itself so naturally to collaboration.
It is what first inspired me to pursue museum education and what I enjoy most at Hikma.
As the Virtual Community Specialist at the Hikma Collective, I facilitate our growing learning community and co-create spaces that bring people across contexts together to explore ideas with joy and curiosity. If this sounds like something you might be interested in, consider attending our next event.
Nicole Markland is the Hikma Virtual Community Specialist and a student at the University of British Columbia Master of Museum Education program.
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