Experiential Learning from Classroom to Exhibition: Faculty and Students in the Hood Museum of Art

Posted on March 01, 2014  by Kristin Swan

Hood Quarterly, spring 2014
Katherine Hart, Senior Curator of Collections and Barbara C. and Harvey P. Hood Curator of Academic Programming

"The Hood is an amazing resource that moves students from the traditional classroom into a new, open, and challenging space for creative thinking. It stands out as a "place" that defines the best of Dartmouth's approach to liberal education, reaching from the sciences to the arts."
—Ross Virginia, Myers Family Professor of Environmental Science, Director, Institute of Arctic Studies

"Dartmouth is the first place I have ever encountered where faculty members have this resource and where it is administered so well. It has fundamentally changed my teaching. It has allowed me to develop a more experimental and hands-on approach to teaching and has allowed me to teach students by having them "do" rather than merely "listen.
—Mary Coffey, Professor of Art History

Walking through the Hood Museum of Art's galleries, you may come across a Dartmouth professor talking about a work of art to a class. Yet the depth of faculty engagement when teaching at the museum goes far beyond what is visible in the galleries, with many classes taking place behind the scenes in our Bernstein Study-Storage Center.

The Hood's goal for faculty engagement is to offer professors opportunities to integrate experiential learning into their practice. The objects they share with their classes are presented in collaboration and discussion with the museum's academic curators, curators, and educators. The resulting engagement with groups of related art objects is often transformative and deeply enriches students' imaginations and critical thinking while honing their skills in visual analysis.

We recently asked professors to comment on how visiting the Hood impacts their teaching. Following are some of their responses, which demonstrate a variety of approaches to integrating the study of works of art into the curriculum.

Religion 1, Patterns of Religious Experience

"It is this type of hands-on assistance and involvement that makes the Hood an ideal resource for professors such as myself, whose visions for educational sessions require grounding in the details of the actual museum holdings and familiarity with the best techniques to encourage student engagement."
—Elizabeth Perez, Assistant Professor of Religion

Elizabeth Perez is a historian of religions who specializes in African-influenced traditions of the Caribbean and Latin America, such as Haitian Vodou and Brazilian Candomblé. For her students' visit to the Hood, Perez primarily chose objects related to devotional practice that represented a broad range of cultures and societies. When her students arrived in Bernstein Study-Storage, they were confronted with twenty of these objects, about which they were given no information, including a Native American mask used in hunting ceremonies, a Russian icon used for individual worship, and a Haitian ritual jar or govi.

The students were each given three cards, representing "favorite," "most questions," and "most challenging," and asked to place the cards in front of the objects that evoked those reactions, which led to a discussion about each object and its cultural contexts. Students were able to critically reflect on their knowledge and assumptions, and to relate the objects to themes and readings from class. For example, they could see patterns of wear on a bronze Renaissance plaquette decorated with a Christian scene, indicating it to be a handheld object used during the practice of religious observance.

Anthropology 50, College Course 2, HIV/AIDS through a Biosocial Lens: 30 Years of a Modern Plague

"In my course on the anthropology of health and illness, students are asked to consider the affective meaning of illness by considering a range of objects spanning vast time periods, media, and cultural geographies. The Hood has been a space in which my role as a scholar-teacher and my commitment to service to the institution and the greater Upper Valley community have most seamlessly come together."
—Sienna Craig, Associate Professor and Chair of Anthropology

Sienna Craig brought four classes to the Hood in 2013, including Anthropology of Health and Illness (described above) and HIV/AIDS through a Biosocial Lens, co-taught with Timothy Lahey. Professor Craig planned her Hood visits during her Mellon residency, a two-week period in which she explored the collection in relation to her teaching needs and interests. Regarding HIV/AIDS and its metaphors, she chose twenty-seven works of art that not only dealt explicitly with HIV but also touched on other themes, including images of the invalid, relationships between the living and the dead, meditations on mortality, the role of family in illness experience and caring for the sick, marks of illness and stigma, medicine, miracles, and ideas of hope between religion and science, and self and identity during illness.

Since the class of forty was too large to be accommodated in the Bernstein Study-Storage Center, they were split into two groups that each attended a 50-minute session. The session began with a close-looking exercise, after which students were divided into groups that responded to written questions about several objects. Each group then reported back to the class on what they had observed and learned.

Geography 11, Qualitative Methods and the Research Process in Geography

"Although my courses are largely in the social sciences, I have found this connection [with the Hood's collection] a valuable one, which helps students to make cross-curricular connections in the classroom and beyond."
—Jennifer Fluri, Associate Professor of Geography, Chair of Women and Gender Studies

Fluri's teaching session in the Bernstein Study-Storage Center focused on environmental photography, which has been one of the museum's collecting priorities over the last five years. Students were presented with eighteen photographs, and each student had a unique question to answer, such as which work shows the greatest human impact? Which place seems most familiar to you? Students then discussed the meanings and messages inherent in various photographs, including a view of Quito, Ecuador, by Sze Tsung Leong, a family in front of their flooded home from Gideon Mendel's Drowning World portfolio, and an arctic landscape by Subhankar Banerjee.

Native American Studies 8, Introduction to Native American Studies

"There is no pedagogical moment more personal and indelible than when a student discovers an abstract idea, an emotion, or an historical narrative made palpable in the unique work of an artist's creative vision. This is why the Hood is one of my most valued teaching tools."
—Vera Palmer, Senior Lecturer in Native American Studies

This spring, visitors can see for themselves how the museum works with faculty through an installation of Native American art in the Albright Gallery that was selected by Vera Palmer for students enrolled in Introduction to Native American Studies. By exhibiting the museum's collection for teaching, she offers a tangible and primary source for Native American cultures and histories as well as a glimpse into the museum's teaching practice.

Over the 2012–13 academic year, twenty-seven academic departments at Dartmouth held classes in the museum. That includes 91 courses that made 124 visits to the Bernstein Study-Storage Center, totaling 5,160 Dartmouth student visits. The Hood is committed to making the museum's collections accessible and relevant to teaching and scholarship for all faculty members at Dartmouth. Read more about our education programs.


Written March 01, 2014 by Kristin Swan