Eyeless at the Gallery


I went to the National Gallery of Victoria a couple of weeks ago for their Italian Masterpieces exhibition and  I SAW THE PAINTINGS. “Why the capital letters, bold type and red letters?” you might ask.

Because there was a large group of schoolgirls from one of Melbourne’s more prominent private schools who didn’t see a single painting.  Instead, they were clustered in the middle of the exhibition room in small circles, their heads bent over their Ipads and their backs to the paintings.  I’m not sure what the assignment was, but they were all typing something onto what looked like a notecard on their screen.   Occasionally one or two looked at the written panel beside the painting.  At no time did I see a girl turn around,  look at a painting, step back to view from a distance, move forward to view close up, nudge a friend and point something out or interact in any way with anything other than her Ipad.

Their attendance at the gallery, in the presence of such beauty and treasure, was completely unnecessary.  They may as well have stood in their own schoolyard.

I don’t know what the instructional design principles  were of that assignment, but it failed in every regard.

By the way, the exhibition closes next weekend. Well worth seeing. Leave your Ipad at home.

9 responses to “Eyeless at the Gallery

  1. They needed Sister Wendy or Betty Churcher with them. I once videod a stage performance and afterwards I realised that I had not really seen the show. Even with a photo camera, you have to just put it away at times and enjoy the experience.

    • I agree!! It seems as if sometimes we’re more intent on documenting things so that other people can see them that we don’t see them ourselves, beyond a little viewfinder.

  2. I remember being at Hampton Court Palace when a school excursion turned up – exactly the same attitude, complete indifference to where they were. And I thought of what it had cost me in time and money to be there, and how thrilled I was by every bit of history I encountered, and I felt so sorry for these kids because they have not learned to take delight in the opportunities that they have.

    • I agree- although in this case, I blame the teacher who designed the assignment they had been set. My fundamental question as an ed.designer was always ‘what is this activity making the students DO’? and in this case, it made them type information onto their tablets. I couldn’t work out where they were actually getting the information because very few of them read the panels, and no one looked at the paintings. They didn’t have headphones of any sort. Although- I’ve just had a thought- perhaps they weren’t even studying the paintings at all, but the crowd??!!!! Perhaps the assignment had nothing to do with the paintings!

      • Could be! When we were in one of the Berlin museums, we were approached by some delightful children who were surveying visitors to ask them why they were there. They were very excited to be able to try out their English on some visitors who’d come all the way from Australia:)

  3. I love electronic devices but it is important to know when to put them away. Used poorly they can be a barrier between a person and life’s great experiences. Used well they can supplement and enhance the experience. It’s all about moderation, but in these early days of mobile technology we can be over-enthusiastic about the benefits and allow our experiences to be swamped by the bright, shiny screen.

    I’ve learned this from making the same mistake this teacher did. Hopefully they will learn from this too.

  4. And I’ve seen the same thing happen at the Zoo and at Healesville Sanctuary. I have been asked by kids “How do we answer this?” Because I used to teach once, I usually try to help – without giving the answer. Sometimes a careful look at the exhibit leads to understanding. And sometimes I am just bemused by the appalling design of the questionnaire.

    • Yes, I would have loved to have known what they were asked to do. Should have asked them, I guess!

    • Sometimes the questionnaire/worksheet activity has been designed by the staff at the place the kids are visiting, and while some of them can be great, some are terrible. Often the reason is that the institution has hired a secondary teacher for their expertise in whatever the subject is, but the teacher has no idea at all about what’s an appropriate task for primary school children.

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