The Specialization in Museum Evaluation prepares a new generation of evaluators and museum practitioners through an innovative apprentice-styled laboratory that integrates the strengths of mentoring, fieldwork, academics, and client-centered experiences. Led by University of Washington’s Museology Program and joined by key advisors from Seattle’s local evaluation field, this initiative is a successful model of university and community collaboration.
Specialization in Museum Evaluation begins in a student’s first year of study and requires them to complete three consecutive courses, as follows:
MUS.574 Introduction to Museum Evaluation (Winter: 3CR)
This foundational course focuses on audience research and evaluation as it relates to museum practice. Classes introduce evaluation fundamentals, language, ethics, and practices of evaluation through readings, reflective fieldwork, mentorships, and discussions.
MUS.575 Evaluation Project I (Spring: 3CR)
Designed in collaboration with local museum evaluators, this quarter-long evaluation project develops student skills in data collection, data management, analysis and interpretation.
MUS.576 Evaluation Project II (Fall/Winter/Spring: 3CR per qtr.)
This yearlong, student-led evaluation project builds on previously acquired skills and further develops competencies in professional collaboration, evaluation planning, outcome development, instrumentation design, data analysis, and communication.
Courses are progressive and interconnected—building student proficiency and comfort with evaluation over two quarters in preparation for them to independently design and manage a yearlong project for a local museum client.
Each evaluation course leverages the unique partnership the Museology Program has fostered with the local Seattle museum community over the years. Some of our museum partners include:
- Burke Museum
- Henry Art Gallery
- Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI)
- Museum of Flight
- Pacific Science Center
- Seattle Aquarium
- Woodland Park Zoo
In addition to coursework, students have an opportunity to participate in evaluation-based internships. Students in evaluation internships have logged over 4,500 hours with museums.
- Around Puget Sound, e.g. EMP Museum, Nordic Heritage Museum, Edmonds Historical Museum, Frye Art Museum, Gates Foundation Visitor Center, UW Botany Greenhouse
- Across the United States, e.g. Shedd Aquarium, Minnesota Historical Society, Chicago History Museum, Snow Leopard Trust, Western Science Center
- Internationally, e.g. Australian Museum
Student-led evaluation projects
MUS.576 is the culminating project for students working towards a Specialization in Evaluation. Since 2009, over 70 graduate students have participated in 22 evaluation projects with 8 different local museums.
These projects represent a range of evaluation studies—from front-end to summative—that assess exhibits, programs, and museum operations. They explore topics such as family learning, visitor expectations/satisfaction, visitor behaviors and experiences, museum resources utilization, and school group engagement.
Yearlong project reports
- Making Sound Choices: Evaluating Conservation in a Compact Space at the Seattle Aquarium
- The Times They Are A-Changin’ in the True Northwest: The Seattle Journey exhibit at MOHAI
- RAWR! Tweet Tweet! An Evaluation of the Addition of a Living Component to Pacific Science Center’s Exhibit Dinosaurs: A Journey Through Time
- Evaluating Visitor Expectations of Content at the Burke Museum
- Learning Through Touch: Assessing Learning Behaviors at the Life on the Edge: Inland Seas Touch Pool. Seattle Aquarium
- Quiz Yo’ Self: Evaluating Network Stations at the Wellbody Academy of Health and Wellness. Pacific Science Center
- McCurdy Family Maritime Gallery: Summative Evaluation. MOHAI
- Getting to Know Family Audiences: Family-Oriented Program Use at MOHAI
- Summative Evaluation of the Renovated Harbor Seal Exhibit at the Seattle Aquarium
- Formative Evaluation of Lobby Experience and Resources at the Henry Art Gallery
- Exploring Spaces: Evaluating Visitor Experiences at the Henry Art Gallery
- Science on a Sphere: Evaluation at Pacific Science Center
- Visitor Use and Reaction to the Underwater Dome Exhibit at the Seattle Aquarium
- Evaluation of the Gallery Guide Program at the Frye Art Museum
- Harbor Seal Habitat Renovation: Front-end Evaluation at the Seattle Aquarium
- Evaluation of Self-Guided School Visits at Woodland Park Zoo
- Visitor Expectation and Satisfaction of Family Day Events at the Burke Museum
- What’s Going On In This Tour? Evaluation of VTS-Based School Tours
- Holding Power of Exhibits for the Toddler Audience at the Seattle Aquarium
- Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway: Summative Evaluation at the Burke Museum
- East by Northwest: Summative Evaluation at the Northwest African American Museum
- Use and Effectiveness of Discovery Carts at Pacific Science Center
Impact on the museum field
Through their coursework, projects, and internships, students are encouraged to engage with museum professionals and contribute to the building of the field’s knowledge base.
Informalscience.org is an online community and resource hub for those interested in research and evaluation within informal learning settings like museums, zoos, aquaria, and botanical gardens. Since 2009, the Museology Evaluation Group has used Informalscience.org as a way to disseminate project reports created by our graduate student teams who conduct evaluations within our partner institutions. All of our students are encouraged to create a profile on Informalscience.org as a way to connect and become involved with the informal learning community and also as a tool to seek out and use research and evaluation reports published by other professionals.
Visitor Studies Association (VSA) is an international association of museum professionals who conduct and use audience research and evaluation. Students in the Specialization in Evaluation are exposed to the work of the VSA in a number of ways. Since 2009, our graduate students have presented their yearlong evaluation projects during a poster session at VSA’s annual conference. During this conference, students have the opportunity to network with museum professionals while showcasing their academic work. Students and alumni often become involved in VSA through volunteer work within its various professional committees, as well as participate in regional workshops.
American Alliance of Museums (AAM) is a nonprofit organization that supports the global museum community of over 30,000 members through advocacy and excellence. AAM focuses on developing standards and best practices, providing resources and career development, and advocating for museum health and sustainability. Students in the Specialization in Evaluation are encouraged to participate in any of AAM’s 22 professional networks, specifically the Committee on Audience Research and Evaluation (CARE). Like VSA, students have an opportunity to participate in webinars and professional development sessions, network with museum professionals, and participate at the annual meeting. Museology faculty serves leadership roles, both past and current, in a variety of AAM professional networks such as CARE, COMPT, and EdCom.