Teacher Candidates and Museum Placements: Something Different (in a Good Way)

The following was written by Justin Ao, a Queen’s Education Program Placement Student, who was with the Museum of Health Care during March 2020.

Education as an institution has evolved through the years – not only what we teach, but how and why we teach is drastically different from mere decades ago. As a Queen’s Teacher Candidate, I have spent most of my life in the school, and will continue to as a schoolteacher in the future, so the lens in which I see how education and learning works is almost completely that of the public school. However, with this chance to work with the Museum for an alternative placement, my experience has really helped me to expand not only how I see education in practice, but also why education is so important – in all its forms.

Just a few of the materials used in the materials used in the Museum of Health Care's Education Programs.
Just a few of the materials used in the Museum of Health Care’s Education Programs.

Coming to the Museum of Health Care at Kingston for my practicum was a long time coming – not in the way I expected, mind you. Even though I had been to the museum a few times during my undergrad at Queens, it had not crossed my mind to seek it out for an alternative education experience, because I wasn’t aware of what programs they had. When the chance did eventually come, and I was able to learn what programs went on throughout the year, I was honestly surprised and excited that there was a lot of education going on at the museum, much more than I had imagined. I was tasked originally to work on preparing the March Break programming for the Museum, in developing crafts and a brief pitch for outreach purposes in the Kingston community as part of the March of the Museums. Through that, I became more aware of what place the Museum had in that greater sphere of education I had little knowledge of – how often schools actually are able to take their students outside of that standard environment and learn actively in an environment steeped in the history we teach. Even I had benefited from a guided tour and retained knowledge about the museum from an experience three years in the past. Furthermore, I think that without alternative modes of education like those that the Museum offers, such as in field trips or external resources, it’s much harder for solely school-based education to create application opportunities.

However, as an alternative method of education, I believe that what the Museum does is still not fully utilized and accessed, at least to where I think it would make the most difference. This is partially because the current education system rarely uses such alternative means as much more than a field trip, but also because the infrastructure is not quite there yet. A field trip may not be able to fully utilize the museum’s resources for something like a mini unit or anything beyond a one-day excursion, but it is difficult to be able to do anything more than that realistically. The Museum has numerous educational programs and lesson plans for these events yet is still hindered by logistical difficulties in making such programming widespread and accessible, as do all museums. Therefore, at this point it is still only an alternative means of education.

Justin Ao delivering the “Waterborne Diseases” StreamableLearning Education program, complete with green screen background!

Things are changing, however. Like many museums, the Museum of Health Care at Kingston is working on the development of Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality to view their exhibits and artifacts, making accessing the wealth of their resources something attainable for even far-off classrooms. While I was there, I also learned and even got to assist with a Streamable Learning lesson, where the Museum staff can teach lessons on different health care-related topics for students around the world, utilizing physical evidence and live question/answering to create an interactive experience. Teachers in classrooms in Canada, the U.S., and even further can tune in and participate in that alternative educational experience. With these leaps of technological advance, as well as the revitalization of the Museum’s existing programs means that the scope that I once perceived to be limited has been able to stretch far beyond my first thoughts. As a prospective teacher myself, getting to assist with that process was an enlightening experience, being able to not only apply but adapt the pedagogical techniques I’ve learned to a very different type of lesson. Although developing the programming for the March of the Museums was fun, I genuinely believe that the chance to work with Streamable Learning, which might soon become more and more common, was definitely something I would recommend to any future teacher candidates.

On that note of why this is such a rapidly developing field and why I see it as the ever closer reality, I wouldn’t be able to talk about my experience without mentioning COVID-19 – for posterity, the official shutdown of classes and closure of the Museum’s daily operations occurred in the middle of my alternative practicum. However, although the March of the Museums was cancelled, I was able to further assist with Streamable Learning and got to see firsthand exactly what would soon become the norm for students around the world. The so-called alternative educational experience had somehow become what everyone had to go through, teachers having to also adapt on the fly to something many had never worked with. While classes through Zoom will not replace traditional schooling, COVID-19 is shaking up the foundations of how education operates regardless – we take in-person classes for granted, but also are not yet utilizing these alternative education avenues which have crept closer and closer to the mainstream. As the Museum’s streaming lessons are also done through Zoom (a videoconferencing platform), I feel like I got to see that convergence between the traditional and the alternative from a first-hand perspective.

My experience at the Museum was cut short, but my experience with it lasted longer, as I was able to work with them remotely to develop these programs, and had a bigger impact than I could have imagined before my arrival. Where we had thought my time physically there would not be enough, with the COVID-19 crisis it seems like I had gotten to experience more than I expected. So, for those who are interested in visiting the museum, volunteering, or becoming part of their team, you can rest assured that the Museum of Health Care at Kingston is not just an old institution of alternative education. Rather, it is at the forefront of what is becoming the frontier of the “new normal” in education altogether, and as we will see in the coming months and years, is sure to reach new heights in the rapidly-changing world of education we will all be a part of very soon.

For more information on the Museum of Health Care’s expanding educational offerings (including live streamed education programs), check out our website.

About the Author – Justin Ao

Justin Ao is a Teacher Candidate in the Queen’s University Bachelor of Education Program and experienced his March 2020 Alternative Practicum Placement at the Museum of Health Care at Kingston. Justin has a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Queen’s University, and currently works as an Emergency Supply Teacher for the Ottawa Catholic School Board.

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