One great way to stimulate research (Narelle Lemon)

Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) entry
(Photo by Narelle Lemon)
This year, I had the opportunity to undertake a Visiting Research Fellowship with the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) in Sydney.

A research fellowship is an opportunity to develop as a researcher in a collaborative and supportive environment. It provides you with concentrated time to focus on a specific research project in partnership with site experts and access to particular materials.

In my case, accepting a Visiting Research Fellowship with MAAS enabled me to spend a period of time with museum education, curatorial, media and communication, and digital and media teams in order to carry out focused research collaboratively.

I have chosen to split my time between two concentrated visits: one I have just completed in March, then I'll be back there in May.

Each time, I have negotiated to spend two weeks on site - an amazing and inspiring two weeks! This will allow me to maximize thinking time and build sustainable, long-term partnerships.

Museum education program underway at MAAS
(Photo by Narelle Lemon)
My research looks at museums as sites for learning and how we can access cultural awareness off-site meaningfully and purposefully. I’m interested in investigating how social media can be integrated to build student and teacher engagement with museum sites, objects, and cultural knowledge.

The fellowship lets me focus on developing a profile in Australia for museum education and provides me with the opportunity for informal professional learning for teachers.

Specifically, I used my initial time at MAAS to work with a team to develop a social media profile on Twitter with the generation of the hashtag #museumedoz.

The hashtag development emerged from a need to provide a national forum for sharing and a dedicated discussion for museum educators and teachers. We built on the American presence of #musuemed, and this chance to build a community through social media supports the flexibility of 'anywhere, anytime' access, accommodation and engagement with multiple voices, and a shift away from professional isolation. It generated the sharing of ideas, resources, and best practice.

It also created possibilities for an open dialogue associated with museum education from the perspectives of curriculum integration across multiple discipline areas and professional learning opportunities.

We are planning to launch the hashtag in May with a dedicated week of tweets that discuss museum education, and begin the conversation about how it can build cultural awareness.

Each day, we will introduce a new topic and are envisaging that we'll be livetweeting school visits at MAAS, curatorial tours, and an online chat focused on specific questions. We will be hosting the rotation-curation Twitter account @EduTweetOz during this week, and will focus on museum education as a way to include national teacher voices.

The vision is to have the hashtag as part of both the education and museum education communities. Most importantly, we are aiming to break down barriers in accessing information and provide a chance for ongoing conversations and perspectives.

MAAS curatorial tour in the basement
where objects are stored when not on display
(Photo by Narelle Lemon)
So, what did I learn during the first part of my MAAS Fellowship?

This Fellowship has stimulated and progressed my research because of:

1. The space: I was right in the museum space with the MAAS team, and it was easy to have initial conversations and continue development through incidental dialogue and planned meetings across the various areas.

2. Time: I made time to have these conversations. This meant super-organisation of the other areas of my role at La Trobe University to support the time away. More importantly, it meant that I needed to spend time preparing myself for the fellowship so that I was across literature and key issues while being mindful of MAAS’ key priorities and strategic plan.

3. Open to perspectives: I have been privileged to enter a different space within industry to engage in research. This allowed varying and insightful perspectives to shape the research. My initial ideas have been transformed in exciting ways that I just didn't expect before my Fellowship started. My openness to these influences allowed a more purposeful project to be formed.

4. Partnership development: This element takes significant time and effort, and is something everyone always underestimates. My time in the Fellowship so far has confirmed the need for ongoing communication and mutual respect in these relationships. I have developed trust with the MAAS teams as I spent time there, contributed to their needs, and participated in everyday scheduling (curatorial tours, program launches, museum education programing, 'shut up and write' sessions, etc), while also sharing work-in-progress for ongoing holistic, relevant development. Having the time to concentrate on these aspects, once again, has been a very significant contributor to successful partnership development.

5. Outputs: I always plan to deliver on what I say I'm going to do, as this demonstrates that I'm a worthwhile investment. It's more likely that opportunities will come up again because of this. Be prepared to consider varying types of outputs, such as writing this blogpost!


Dr Narelle Lemon is a Senior Lecturer in Education at La Trobe University. She currently holds the position of Program Leader of Teacher Education (Primary). 

Her research agenda is focused on engagement and participation in the areas of teacher capacity-building in cultural organisations, such as galleries, museums, and other alternative education settings; social media for professional development (including Twitter and Instagram); and working in academia. 

Narelle blogs at Chat with Rellypops and tweets at @rellypops.