GEM – Supporting learning and sharing for professionals under pressure

 

In this post Holly Bee, Education Officer at GEM, gives us insight into the Learning and Sharing Centre (LSC) project, and how the work being delivered will provide resilience for museums and the sector’s educators.

 Museum educators are on the frontline of heritage. When a museum reaches out, makes a collection come alive or turns a visit into an adventure, the chances are that a museum educator was behind it. But over the last few years, museum learning has had to adapt to a multitude of changes. In response, the Group for Education in Museums (GEM) has launched its ACE-funded project, the Learning and Sharing Centre (LSC). In December of last year, I was taken on by GEM to help deliver the LSC project as education officer. As a fresh-faced recent graduate, this has been an incredible opportunity for me to explore the museum learning sector. I have learned so much about how we can move forward together.

The LSC is providing new training, resources and events to develop and demonstrate the skills of those involved with museum learning, promote sharing in the sector, and make GEM and the sector more resilient. This will be done in partnership with five key organisations: AHI, SWFed, engage, TWAM and NAMHW, also collaborating with AIM. Up until March 2018, we will be presenting a number of exciting continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities, so look out for:

  • Nine networking and skill-sharing events across the country;
  • Foundation course in heritage education for staff newly taking on learning duties;
  • Five intermediate courses for museum educators: Working with artists, Health and wellbeing, Interpretive planning, Project management, and Essentials of leadership;
  • Advanced workshop on managing heritage educators and their activities;
  • Redevelopment of the GEM website with a digital signpost to training opportunities and a series of online resources introducing different audiences to museum learning;
  • A final sharing conference and special edition of Case Studies.

These activities, among others, aim to meet ACE’s Goals 3 and 4: “Museums and libraries are sustainable, resilient and innovative” and “The leadership and workforce in museums and libraries are diverse and highly skilled”. As a new professional, I have been interested to reflect on the challenges of meeting these goals. A survey of GEM members revealed that 39% have experienced a reduction in education spending and staff, while 14% have no education budget at all. 79% said they were expected to deliver more for the same or less money. These figures will likely not surprise anyone who has been working in museums under austerity. But, regardless of the pressures of funding cuts, museums have adapted and continued to produce exciting and worthwhile projects. I never cease to be impressed by the staff and volunteers I meet through GEM, who work so hard and so creatively with so few resources. I am pleased to be working on the LSC, which GEM has set up to respond to the strain on learning teams. We are working not only to make museum learning as high quality as possible, but to make a museum learning career as fulfilling as possible.

Though the LSC is a temporary project, its outcomes are not. Once the new courses and digital content are developed, they will become part of GEM’s permanent annual programme and online presence. This is very promising for the implementation of GEM’s plan to be the Centre of Excellence for Museum Learning; a three-fold approach to providing excellent CPD comprising our annual CPD programme, framework of core competencies (by which users can track their professional development), and professional membership scheme (through which professionals can gain a peer-reviewed accreditation confirming their skills and knowledge). Through this, GEM aims to become the central base for museum learning CPD and advocacy; sharing, supporting and inspiring best practice. This all feeds into our mission to “champion excellence in heritage learning to improve the education, health and well-being of the general public”.

Mapping workshops

Our main focus over the last two months has been the LSC’s first events; five area-based “mapping workshops”. These workshops took place in five central locations across England with the purpose to “map” different areas’ current training provision, identifying any duplication and key needs. We aimed to refine our understanding of training needs and stimulate more sharing within the sector.

Each area gave unique responses, but key priorities expressed nationwide were: mentoring, advocacy, pursuing leadership, partnerships outside of the sector, developing a strong network, supporting and developing volunteers, and establishing clarity of goals and levels in CPD. This information will be of great value to GEM and other providers of sector support as we go forward with our aim to create a more connected and effective museum learning sector.

It was a real pleasure to be a part of running these events with so many brilliant, passionate people. The workshops were a great success, with participants almost universally saying it improved their understanding of GEM’s work and the LSC.   31 of 38 respondents to the feedback form agreed that the workshop was informative and 33 of 38 agreed it was stimulating.   Participants said they were “inspired”, “found it very illuminating” and had “captured helpful ideas”. It was also said that it was “Good to see this funding in place to help GEM advocate for learning in the sector”. There was a great deal of positivity about the LSC; many participants offered further contributions and contact. This has led to the appointment of a new GEM Mentor Champion to facilitate mentoring for GEM courses.

As the LSC progresses, I have high hopes for what it will achieve. Over the following twelve months, we will be working to make GEM more visible, sustainable and active, providing more support to the museum learning workforce. We have a strong start, thanks to our excellent workshop participants, and I look forward to the coming developments.

For more information:

To find out more about GEM and the LSC, visit: www.gem.org.uk

Or follow us on social media: @gem_heritage, facebook.com/GEM.heritage, linkedin.com/company/gem-group-for-education-in-museums.

To find out more about our upcoming training, conferences and the core competencies, visit: http://www.gem.org.uk/cpd/cpd_index.php

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