Leaving the lecture model behind : docent education at the Columbus Museum of Art



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For many institutions, docents are both an integral and exasperating element of museum education (Burnham & Kai-Kee, 2011; Karp & Crow, 2014). Integral because, as volunteers, docents provide cultural institutions with the manpower to expand the reach of their educational missions, and exasperating, because, as volunteers, it is often difficult to hold them to the same institutional standards of public engagement as paid staff. Through a qualitative case study that describes the policies and practices of the docent training program at the Columbus Museum of Art (CMA), this study explores how the CMA effectively changed docent teaching from a lecture to an inquiry model, and how it now equips its docents with the ability to facilitate an art experience that actively involves its visitors. Through an exploration of what constitutes effective practice, the author seeks to uncover the cultural and institutional forces that prohibit museum docents from progressing from the lecture-based model to a more visitor-centered, inquiry-based teaching practice. Data suggests that the CMA’s success is due, in large part, to consistent modeling of teaching practice in docent education, as well as to the institution’s commitment to creating and supporting opportunities for life-long, transformative learning.