Institute of Archaeology


Cooperative learning

The main focus of research conducted in museums looks at families from an institutional perspective. Yet, the family as an institution and the ways in which it interacts with, adapts to, shapes and chooses to use other institutions have not been fully acknowledged, nor have the cultural patterns and practices of families that come from non-dominant communities, which shape families and provide an important recourse for learning across settings.

Using an ecological perspective, this study aims to examine family learning through the participation of its members in family programs at Smithsonian Museums. It will examine how participation can offer the common language that can bring together all those involved in the development, delivery and use of family programs. It will explore the extent to which museums recognize the family as a social institution playing an educational role, and treat them as partners in exploring what learning can be about and how it develops across contexts.

More specifically, it will examine:

  • How families are conceptualized by staff (are they recognized as an institution?)
  • How does family provision fit in the Institutional and national priorities and agendas?
  • What is the extent of family participation (depth, breadth and quality) and knowledge exchange in the development of family programming?
  • What types of programs do families have access to/participate in and why?
  • What are the benefits from different levels of participation and what type of activities/recourses/digital media can best facilitate the participation of diverse families?

The methodology takes into account the cultural repertoire of practice embedded in both the museum and the family using participatory approaches. The study comprises four components:

  1. a scoping exercise to determine the details of family learning programs offered by the Smithsonian
  2. face-to-face interviews with a number of education staff regarding the programs identified in the scoping exercise
  3. a small-scale study looking at family culture, the types of programs they participate in and why, and matching levels of participation with type of activities/recourses/digital media, and
  4. a series of dissemination activities

Related outputs

  • This study will contribute to the writing of a book on families and museums in 2011-12.


  • Smithsonian Fellowship in Education and Museum Studies 2011-12