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The aim of this interpretative, qualitative research study is to investigate affordances and constraints of dialogic pedagogy in the museums, as well as its broader contribution to society today. The background is my involvement in a Danish development project called ‘Museums and Cultural Institutions as Spaces for Citizenship,’ initiated by seven art museum educators in Copenhagen and supported by the Ministry of Culture. Denmark has a strong dialogic tradition dating back to Grundtvig’s belief in the power of ´the oral word’ to foster democratic ‘Bildung.’ Museum education, on the other hand, has a long tradition of monologic transmission. Still, a more participatory pedagogy has been gaining ground over many years.
This study is based on the observations of three-hour-long teaching sessions in seven museums and has a Bakhtinian framework. While the overall analysis builds on the whole project, two cases are discussed in more detail. The overarching research question is how central aspects of dialogic pedagogy played out in an art museum context and its opportunities and challenges. The subquestions focus on three central Bakhtinian concepts: How did the educators facilitate multivoicedness during the short museum visits? What role did difference and disagreement play? What opportunities emerged for students to develop internally persuasive discourse? I have chosen these concepts because they are central in dialogism and combined them because they are closely connected in Bakhtin’s work. The final reflections open a wider perspective of how dialogic museum education may contribute to overarching functions of education: qualification, socialization, and subjectification.
Key findings were that the museum educators’ transition from traditional to dialogic pedagogy was enhanced by their genuine interest in hearing students’ voices. They succeeded in engaging students in multivoiced dialogues but with a tendency towards harmonization rather than the exploration of diversity and difference. The practical aesthetic workshops offered unique opportunities for students to develop their internally persuasive word, i.e., by replacing authoritative interpretations of artworks with their own. Challenges experienced by the educators were, e.g., the dilemmas between preplanning and student choice and between disseminating their professional art knowledge and facilitating students’ meaning making and creativity. In contrast, students found the lack of workshop follow-up problematic.
The article provides deeper insight into museums as an alternative pedagogical arena. Museum educators and non-museum classroom teachers may find it useful for cultivating greater dialogic interactions in respective learning contexts.
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