MSc Science and Health Communication

Year of entry: 2022

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Course unit details:
Museums, Science Centres and Public Events

Unit code HSTM60582
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (L5)
Available as a free choice unit? No

Overview

Each one-day school will be organised around a theme: possible themes could be institutions (for example 1. Museums; 2. Science Centres; 3. Science festivals and events), or practices (for example, 1. Collection and curation; 2. Visitors and Meanings; 3. Events and Participation).

Like the other Semester 2 modules, this one will include elements of the public affairs strand, and well as generic museum skills and personal skills. The course will range across broadly across STEMM subjects and contexts, so that it could embrace, for example, designing an exhibition about the spread of Ebola; writing a performance for an actor at an industrial heritage site; or pitching for gallery space to display a unique object. Some sessions will be delivered at MOSI. Guest lecturers from the professional world will explain their work.

Topics:

  • Public affairs strand: heritage and ownership; equality and accessibility; the public purse
  • Collection and curation theme: the history of museums; decisions about what to keep; challenges of storage and conservation; mass produced vs real objects?; collecting the contemporary; the politics and economics of museums
  • Visitors and meanings theme; who visits museums? How do visitors encounter and interpret what they experience in a museum? Education and life-long learning in museums. Interactivity: who benefits from this, and what does it achieve?
  • Sci-Art collaborations in science museums
  • Evaluation
  • Events theme: In the museum: what does the site bring to an event? On-site events, demonstrations, performances, participations, exhibition-related debates; Citizen science; Adjusting the demographic: events for hard to reach’ participants; Participating in the broader public culture of science: the Manchester Science Festival
  • Generic skills: writing to genre; writing to deadline; interviewing Personal skills: independence; teamwork, scheduling and budgeting, writing fit for purpose

Pre/co-requisites

Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Major Themes in HSTM HSTM60511 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Introduction to Science Communication HSTM60561 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Communicating ideas in STM HSTM60571 Pre-Requisite Compulsory

Co-requisites:

Students will in parallel be registered for credit on one of the Science, Media and Journalism (HSTM60602), Science Communication Research (HSTM06012), and Science, Government and Policy (HSTM60592) modules, and will be attending the day-schools for all.

Aims

The aim of this unit overall is to prepare students for an entry level position in a science museum or science centre, or in public events management and delivery, or to give insights into these areas that would be part of the professional toolkit of an outreach officer, school teacher or scientist.

To achieve this, the unit aims to:

  • Develop students’ understanding of the history of STEMM museums and Centres, and their public events
  • Enhance students’ critical engagement with contemporary science museums
  • Identify and illuminate particular roles, professions, modes of collection and display and visitor experiences in museums and science centres
  • Enhance students’ judgement of the potential for science museum exhibitions and galleries
  • Develop students’ skills at producing exhibitions and other media for science museums
  • Enhance students’ understanding of museums and science centres as institutions
  • Establish students’ competence in areas of regulation and good conduct in public institutions, including health & safety, risk assessment, equality and diversity, and social responsibility

Syllabus

Each one-day school will be organised around a theme: possible themes could be institutions (for example 1. Museums; 2. Science Centres; 3. Science festivals and events), or practices (for example, 1. Collection and curation; 2. Visitors and Meanings; 3. Events and Participation).

Like the other Semester 2 modules, this one will include elements of the public affairs strand, and well as generic museum skills and personal skills. The course will range across broadly across STEMM subjects and contexts, so that it could embrace, for example, designing an exhibition about the spread of Ebola; writing a performance for an actor at an industrial heritage site; or pitching for gallery space to display a unique object. Some sessions will be delivered at MOSI. Guest lecturers from the professional world will explain their work.

Topics:

  • Public affairs strand: heritage and ownership; equality and accessibility; the public purse
  • Collection and curation theme: the history of museums; decisions about what to keep; challenges of storage and conservation; mass produced vs real objects?; collecting the contemporary; the politics and economics of museums
  • Visitors and meanings theme; who visits museums? How do visitors encounter and interpret what they experience in a museum? Education and life-long learning in museums. Interactivity: who benefits from this, and what does it achieve?
  • Sci-Art collaborations in science museums
  • Evaluation
  • Events theme: In the museum: what does the site bring to an event? On-site events, demonstrations, performances, participations, exhibition-related debates; Citizen science; Adjusting the demographic: events for hard to reach’ participants; Participating in the broader public culture of science: the Manchester Science Festival
  • Generic skills: writing to genre; writing to deadline; interviewing Personal skills: independence; teamwork, scheduling and budgeting, writing fit for purpose

Teaching and learning methods

Studies of science museums, science centres and events are multidisciplinary and evolving. They embrace history, anthropology, education, communication and design, among other disciplines. These institutions offer a multi-media experience to their publics, so that understanding of text, perception, semiotics and visitor behaviour, among other parameters are valuable in understanding them. This complex of factors demands a multi-dimensional approach to teaching and learning, History and theory fit well with conventional teaching including lectures and seminars, and can be assessed by essay. Our access to MOSI will be invaluable in the development of in-situ exercises, providing not only real examples but also insights into institutional constraints. Good practice will be developed through guided practical exercises and iterative feedback, from tutors and from peers. Students are expected to undertake substantial directed reading, as well as to be familiar with the museums and events that are around them. The students will contribute the results of that critical reading and experience to the collective deliberations in class. With staff who are research-active and world-leading in the field, and expert professional contributors, we will offer direct teaching in the form of lectures, workshops and guided discussions. Students will hone their critical skills by responding to this teaching in discussion. They will also learn directly from the experience of museum and science-festival professionals in workshops and small group discussion.

Blackboard will be the standard course management system, though we anticipate that some flexibility will be required in for assessment in this area, since its materials are not always readily digitised. An interactive or a flash-mob, for example, could be submitted as photographs but would be marked in the real world. Students’ use of e-Learning on this module will reflect the significant use of this technology in museums, for extending services off-site. Students and mentors will respond critically, and decide for themselves about the right form of communication for the task in hand, case-by-case. Our field site is the public sphere where we learn continuously from online systems. Where the virtual environment is under study, e-Learning may be relevant and useful. Students may also use online systems to undertake their coursework and, of course, for the usual purposes of remote and/or fast communication and for storage of digital resources.

Contact hours: Three one-day schools on the same day each week spread across semester 2 (total 21 contact hours). Each day will be organised as appropriate to its topic but could reasonably be expected to include an introductory lecture and a specialist guest lecture or workshop from a practitioner (in this case a museums professional); a workshop on a case study of a gallery or exhibition and a discussion on this; a practical workshop in object interpretation, explainer skills or other practical task as directed group-work; a student-led review of a museum or gallery; and a collective reflection on learning points.

Other scheduled teaching and learning activities: Students undertake a mentored project which draws on their learning in the day schools and which is credited separately; they will also have meetings with their academic advisor.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understand what makes topics and objects suitable for museum display, science centre interactives or public events
  • Recognise the differing forms and media of display, and understand their use, strengths and weaknesses
  • Demonstrate competence in proposing and developing ideas for exhibitions, interactives and events
  • Show a grasp of current trends in the museums sector and of significant events and products, and have the skills to keep up-to-date
  • Appreciate the value of planning and scheduling, and be able to implement these
  • Identify appropriate opportunities for exhibitions, and know how to engage with them professionally
  • Acknowledge the laws, conventions, ethics and etiquettes relevant to science museums, science centres and public events

Intellectual skills

  • Recognise and deploy as appropriate the theories, disciplines and principles that inform museum practices
  • Identify and frame potentially fruitful topics for display, and select appropriate styles, genres and outlets for communicating them
  • Explain the rationale for and potential outcomes of your proposals
  • Research potential topics responsibly, and with due regard for schedules
  • Engage critically with museums, science centres and public events
  • Develop an appreciation of the prospects for science communication in this sector
  • See the ‘big’ picture of STEMM museums and events in the contemporary context as well as in historical perspective.

Practical skills

  • Plan, schedule, cost and audit a museum project or public event
  • Write/design for genre and medium, and to time, seek out, organise and manage research materials, sites and subjects
  • Conduct interviews
  • Engage with regulatory and institutional constraints
  • Work independently when appropriate
  • Work effectively in a team, leading or following when appropriate, and contributing and listening.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Make multi-factorial decisions
  • Communicate with a range of professionals at all levels
  • Engage with different degrees of planning, from the immediate to the long-term
  • Act responsibly as a citizen, colleague, budget-holder, time-keeper
  • Recognise and plan for the needs of work-life balance
  • Ask for, and give, help as appropriate

Assessment methods

One essay on a historical or contemporary issue in museums or events, either from a professional perspective, or as a matter of public policy (2000 words). Weighting: 50%

One practical proposal, prototype or pilot for an exhibition, interactive or event (Length as appropriate to the medium). Weighting: 50%

Feedback methods

Formative assessment offered on a draft; summative assessment to consist of written comments on Blackboard and, if appropriate, discussion with the course tutor.

Recommended reading

  • Tony Bennett (1995), The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics (London, New York: Routledge).
  • Susan M. Pearce (ed.) (1996) Exploring Science in Museums. New Research in Museum Studies 6 (London: Athlone Press).
  • Stella Butler (1992) Science and Technology Museums (Leicester University Press).
  • Alan Leviton and Michele L. Aldrich (eds) (2004) Museums and Other Institutions of Natural History, Past, Present, and Future (San Francisco: California Academy of Sciences).
  • Graham Farmelo and Janet Carding (eds) (1997) Here and Now: Contemporary Science and Technology in Museums and Science Centres (London: Science Museum).
  • Eilean Hooper-Greenhill (1992) Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge (London: Routledge).
  • Janet C. Marstine (ed.) (2011) The Routledge Companion to Museum Ethics: Redefining Ethics for the Twenty-First Century Museum (Routledge Companions) (New York, London: Routledge).
  • Sharon Macdonald (ed.) (1996) The Politics of Display: Museums, Science, Culture (London: Routledge).
  • John H. Falk and Lynn D. Dierking (2002), Museum Experience Revisited (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press).
  • Eilean Hooper-Greenhill (2007), Museums and Education: Purpose, Pedagogy, Performance (Museum Meanings) (London: Routledge).
  • Eilean Hooper-Greenhill (2011) Museums and their Visitors (London: Routledge).
  • Peter Hodder (2010), Out of the laboratory and into the knowledge economy: A context for the evolution of New Zealand science centres. Public Understanding of Science, 19(3), 335-354.
  • John H. Falk, Scott Randol and Lynn D. Dierking (2012) Mapping the informal science education landscape: An exploratory study. Public Understanding of Science, 21(7), 865-874.
  • Benjamin K. Haywood and John C. Besley (2014) Education, outreach, and inclusive engagement: Towards integrated indicators of successful program outcomes in participatory science. Public Understanding of Science, 23(1), 92-106.
  • James M. Bradburne (1998), Dinosaurs and white elephants: the science center in the twenty-first century. Public Understanding of Science,7(3), 237-253.
  • Margaret Lindauer (2005), What to ask and how to answer: a comparative analysis of methodologies and philosophies of summative exhibit evaluation. Museum and Society,3(3), 137-152.
  • Eric Jensen and Nicola Buckley (2014), Why people attend science festivals: Interests, motivations and self-reported benefits of public engagement with research. Public Understanding of Science, 23(5), 557-573.
  • Teresa MacDonald and Alice Bean (2011), Adventures in the subatomic universe: An exploratory study of a scientist museum physics education project. Public Understanding of Science, 20(6), 846-862.
  • Albena Yaneva, Tania Mara Rabesandratana, and Birgit Greiner (2009), Staging scientific controversies: a gallery test on science museums and interactivity. Public Understanding of Science,18(1), 79-90.
  • Sandra Bicknell and Graham Farmelo (ed.) (1993) Museum Visitor Studies in the 90s (London: Science Museum).
  • A. Fahy (1994) New Technologies for museum communication, in Eilean Hooper- Greenhill (ed.), Museum, Media, Message (London: Routledge), pp.82-96.
  • Keene, Suzanne (1998), Digital Collections: Museums and the Information Age (Oxford: Butterworth and Heinemann).
  • Ross Parry (2005) Digital heritage and the rise of theory in museum computing. Museum Management and Curatorship,20, 333-348.
 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 21
Independent study hours
Independent study 129

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
James Sumner Unit coordinator
Harriet Palfreyman Unit coordinator

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