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Monday, May 25th, 2009

OWL’S HOOTS NO. 7 – May 25th, 2009 *

Early childhood education, the importance of teacher quality and training to students’ gains from schooling. Museums and schools and the impact of the digital revolution: those organisations which have failed to take advantage of the revolution have “withered where they stood! And do directors of Art Museums know what they are talking about? *

More on education, learning and schooling: (I have been reading extensively about this topic. The literature is extensive, the research of the highest quality and the notice taken by many politicians and the media of the findings has been less than impressive.)

Here are excerpts from some of the papers.

Early childhood: Early experiences have uniquely powerful influence on the development of cognitive and social skills and on brain architecture and neurochemistry; both skill development and brain maturation are hierarchical processes in which higher level functions depend on, and build on, lower level functions and the capacity for change in the foundations of human skill development and neural circuitry is highest earlier in life and decreases over time. These findings lead to the conclusion that the most efficient strategy for strengthening the future workforce, both economically and neurobiologically, and improving its quality of life is to invest in the environments of disadvantaged children during the early childhood years.

“Economic, neurobiological, and behavioral perspectives on building America’s future workforce”, Eric I. Knudsen, James J. Heckman et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences vol. 103 no. 27, p10155″“10162 (July 5, 2006)

This is an incredibly important paper bringing together neurobiological, behavioural and economic perspectives from studies of humans and other animals which make it absolutely clear that failure to invest significantly in early childhood development makes cognitive development in later life more difficult and more expensive. It also makes clear that health of the mother during pregnancy and involvement of the mother in early years of the child’s life is critical!

A wealth of research makes clear that these issues are particularly significant for families at the lower socio-economic levels of society. Early childhood intervention is not child minding but must involve qualified early childhood educators. Think of parental leave and the costs of good support in early life, the experiences of urban settings of high rise apartments and the lives of “minority” families which are portrayed time and again in TV police dramas.

What matters is the quality of the teacher: Whereas students’ literacy skills, general academic achievements, attitudes, behaviours and experiences of schooling are influenced by their background and intake characteristics ““ the magnitude of these effects pale into insignificance compared with class/teacher effects. That is, the quality of teaching and learning provision are by far the most salient influences on students’ cognitive, affective, and behavioural outcomes of schooling ““ regardless of their gender or backgrounds. Indeed, findings from the related local and international evidence-based research indicate that “˜what matters most’ is quality teachers and teaching, supported by strategic teacher professional development!

“The Importance of Teacher Quality as Key Determinant of Students’ Experiences and Outcomes of Schooling”, Kenneth J. Rowe (Australian Council for Educational Research), discussion paper prepared on behalf of the Interim Committee for NSW Institute of Teachers (available on the NSW Institute of Teachers web site).


Teacher training and teacher effectiveness: Measures of teacher preparation and certification are by far the strongest correlates of student achievement in reading and mathematics, both before and after controlling for student poverty and language status.

“Teacher Quality and Student Achievement: Review of State Policy Evidence”, Lind Darling-Hammond, Education Policy Analysis Archives vol 8 no. 1, 2000

And again:

Teachers’ effectiveness appears strongly related to the preparation they have received for teaching.

“Does Teacher Preparation Matter? Evidence about Teacher Certification, Teach for America, and Teacher Effectiveness”, Lind Darling-Hammond et al, available here.

(This paper refutes the proposition that teachers don’t really need training in how to teach, what they need is strong background knowledge of content. Young people with degrees in various subjects were recruited as part of the “Teach for America” program in the US and given few weeks of training and then sent to schools where the majority of students were from “minority” backgrounds.)

Museums and Schools: the digital revolution and its consequences. This was one of the papers delivered at the Museums and the Web conference in Indianapolis earlier this year. link to the site for that conference takes you to the video of talk by Maxwell Anderson, now director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

The past fifteen years of the digital revolution have seen transformation of cultural content and experiences through the use of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as the Web. These technologies have radically changed the types of content that are created and how it is distributed and used. The chains of connection from originating source to end user have been remade so as to be completely different from those of less than generation ago.

The effects of these “˜disruptive technologies’ has arguably been most profoundly felt in the cultural and informational industries: news, entertainment and education. In the publishing, broadcasting and recorded music industries, the landscape has been completely reworked by the new digital supply chains and the business models that they enable. Those content producers and providers that have not embraced new models for distribution on-line have been usurped or have withered where they stood.

“Building Digital Distribution Systems For School-Based Users Of Museum Content: New initiatives in Australia and Canada”, Darren Peacock, University of South Australia, Australia; Stuart Tait, The Learning Federation, Australia; Corey Timpson, Canadian Heritage Information Network, Canada, In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2009: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2009.

Museums and Audiences: challenge: Thomas Campbell, the new director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, says that engaging visitors who don’t feel comfortable is one of his primary challenges. “There is an enormous potential audience that simply isn’t coming here,” he says. “They come for school trips, but it wouldn’t occur to them to come again. Without sacrificing standards, we need to remind people that coming to the museum is not big deal. You’re not taking test. You don’t have to prove you know about the artists. It’s just fun.” Extract from “Reshaping the Art Museum” by Robin Cembalest in Art News June 2009


Friday, May 15th, 2009

Owl’s Hoots No. 6, 15 May 2009: Education and schooling, teaching and assessment: what is the unique value of museums in education? And European Space Agency launches not one but two giant telescopes into space. Another astounding recording from Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela! And museums in Chicago: new buildings and miserliness. *

Education and learning, early childhood intervention and performance assessment: I was fortunate in April to attend the recent conference of the American Education Research Association in San Diego, California – 18,000 or so delegates, up to 90 concurrent sessions over five days from 7:30am to 6:00pm! Leading researchers dealt extensively with standards of education, assessment of students and teachers, the development of brain function and cognition and many other important issues.

In asserting that the high stakes testing regime, so common in the USA and some other countries in the last decades, has narrowed the mind, Professor David Berliner of the University of Arizona quoted a letter from John Adams (1735-1826; second President of the United States) to Abigail Adams in 1780, “I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”  Berliner asserted that students were learning what Adams’ sons and not what his grandsons were to learn.

Intervention in early childhood education is amongst the most important issues but is not receiving the attention it ought to. Orla Doyle of University College Dublin and others including Nobel prizewinner in economics James J Heckman of the University of Chicago (“Investing in early human development: Timing and economic efficiency”, Economics and Human Biology 7 (2009), 1-6) point out that research has shown that “intervening in the zero-to-three period, when children are at their most receptive stage of development, has the potential to permanently alter their development trajectories and protect them against risk factors present in their early environment.

“Children from poorer households also have lower verbal and cognitive ability and more emotional and behavioural problems on average. Parental education, particularly that of the mother plays a major role in the child’s development as educated parents are, in general, better equipped to provide stimulating home environments. ..Early investment in preventive programmes aimed at disadvantaged children is often more cost effective than later remediation.”

Linda Darling-Hammond (who was on President Barack Obama’s transition team) and Elle Rustique-Forrester of Stanford University in reviewing the consequences of student testing for teaching and teacher quality (in chapter 12 of the Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education vol 104/2, p 289-319, June 2005) note that the centerpiece of state educational reforms over the last decade has been the development of educational standards to guide school practices and investments. “The central assumption is that by holding students, teachers, schools, and districts responsible for results on standardized achievement tests, expectations for students will rise, teaching will improve, and learning will increase. [However] while tests might be levers for greater equity, they have long been used to keep students separate and to exclude students from educational curricula, programs, and opportunities.”

The important conclusions are that “… assessment systems in which teachers look at student work with other teachers and discuss standards in explicit ways appear to help schools develop shared definitions of quality. Evaluating work collaboratively rather than grading students in isolation helps teachers make their standards explicit, gain multiple perspectives on learning, and think about how they can teach to produce the kinds of student work they want to see.”

Our understanding of learning and what advances it, has changed radically in the last several decades but the appropriate strategies for education authorities is far from agreed. Similarly, many museums are approaching their education function as if the responsibility is only to schoolchildren in class excursions (or field trips)and giving them lectures and handing out worksheets for completion by each child individually. In doing so they are ignoring their unique ability to provide free choice learning opportunities.

Huge telescopes launched into space: On May 14 the European Space Agency (ESA) launched two powerful new flagship telescope observatories, Herschel (containing the largest mirror ever carried into space) and Planck. An Ariane 5 rocket carrying the two observatories blasted off from the ESA’s launch centre in French Guiana in South America. On the BBC Jonathon Amos reports (in several items with videos) that the observatories will study space and time in more detail than in the past and give scientists a better and clearer window on the universe. The rocket will take the observatories out to a position some 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, an ideal station from which to view the universe. The launch comes during the International Year of Astronomy. The event is covered by other media including Deutsches-Welle World on line.

Another magnificant Simon Bolivar Orchestra performance: I have previously written, talking about “quality”, of Venezuela’s youth orchestra movement and the conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Their recording of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and Francesca da Rimini has just been released. The Times of London’s review of the live performance of the symphony at the 2008 Salzburg Festival read, “In Tchaikovsky’s allegros you imagine steam rising from the fiddlers’ flying fingers. The gorgeously played horn solo in the slow movement was as melancholic as anything in Dostoevsky..”

In the liner notes interviewer David Nice asks Dudamel if his [horn] soloist (in the symphony’s second movement) is the same horn player heard “executing the obligato in the scherzo of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony so brilliantly”. Dudamel replies, “No it’s the other principal horn player. Of course we have quite a choice, because there are 16 horns in the orchestra”. Remember that when Dudamel was auditioned for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the orchestra’s president reported the remarkable reaction of the players, “We had combustion”. The performances on this album are truly outstanding! It is more than youthful enthusiasm.

Miserly Museums in Chicago: In the Chicago Tribune for May 14 (“City culture scourges“), Mara Tapp, organiser for “Cool Classics!”, a book-based art-and-culture after-school program,  writes, “When the Chicago Public School year ends June 12, elementary students will not be able to visit for free the Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium, the Museum of Science and Industry — because none offer free days until September. Let’s call them the Truly Miserly Museum Corps.”

The New Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago designed by Renzo Piano is written up in the Art Newspaper and the New York Times May 13 (with pictures).

Next week: More on education and schooling, learning and cognition and another quote from John Adams. Perhaps some comments on advances in museums in Australia after the Museums Australia conference in Newcastle this coming week.

Tom Flynn and the Parthenon Sculptures and other outrages

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008 *

is the website of Tom Flynn Art Advisory Services. There are a large number of very interesting essays on a number of differnet issues facing museums including return of cultural property, the Churchill Museum at the War Cabinet Offices and so on. The blog and the website both have lots of interesting commentary, including (April 2008) commentary on the Parthenon sculptures and the UNESCO conference in Athens in March 2008 on the Return of Cultural Objects to their Countries of Origin. Tom has a post “Parthenon Marbles Case Overshadowed by Iraq Looting” on the museum security network about the Sculptures also.

This is a copy of the updated entry in the Links page of this site.

Declaration of the Universal Museum – an Update

Friday, August 10th, 2007

Note: This update includes references to some of the items concerning the Declaration from 2004 through mid 2007. The previous references can be found here. *

In early December 2002, nineteen of the world’s top art museums issued a statement firmly opposing the repatriation of cultural material. Attention was drawn to the continuing claims by various countries and peoples for return of collections held in the major museums of the world.

Debate on this issue has continued in conferences, on websites and in journals.

Although at the time, it was claimed that return of Aboriginal human remains from museums in Britain to Australia would be hampered by the Declaration, it would seem from recent events concerning material of human remains from Tasmania in The Natural History Museum in London that no reliance was placed in the Declaration. Rather the issue concerns objects created by people.

Nor has the Declaration been the basis for any aspect of the negotiations between art museums in the USA and the Italian Government over classical archaeological items alleged to have been stolen. There are notes about this later.

We can recall that the British Museum asserts that it “is a universal museum holding an encyclopaedic collection of material from across the world and all periods of human culture and history. For the benefit of its audience now and in the future, the Museum is committed to sustaining and improving its collection”.

The British Museum was significantly involved in the adoption of this Declaration and its director, Neil MacGregor, has vigorously defended it.

Continue to article.