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The ambiguity of perception: Virtual art museology, Free-Choice learning, and children's art education

, Teachers College, Columbia University, United States

Teachers College, Columbia University . Awarded


With many art museums uploading web-based art activities for youngsters, an online phenomenon is burgeoning, and a research domain is emerging. In an effort to contribute empirical evidence to an area of educational research that I refer to as "virtual art museology," or the study of art museum's online art activities for young people, this narrative case study examined children's interactions with and attitudes of four art museums' online art activities. An aim of the research is not only to provide art educators with a more cogent understanding of how art museums' online art-making activities may influence the art education of youngsters and vice versa, but to promote a discourse among art educators regarding the educational purpose and design of online art-making activities for children by art museums, now and in the future.

Fourth- and fifth-grade students were invited to be co-researchers in the investigation—as they are the intended audience of the activities examined—taking on the role, during their free-time, of virtual visitors to art museums' online activity "wings" where they freely selected and engaged with art museums' online art-making activities. In order to create a theoretical context for the online investigation, John Falk and Lynn Dierking's theory of Free-Choice learning, an outgrowth of their extensive museum visitor research, framed the study.

An analysis of the collected data from the young participants' online experiences uncovered common threads and patterns of behaviors of how children approach art museums' online activities. The resultant dimensions, or approaches, that emerged are: (1) critical; (2) experiential; (3) personal/preferential; (4) social; (5) technological; and (6) visual-aesthetic. These six flexible approaches overlap, intersect, and recur during a youngster's interactive experiences with art museums' online art programs. How the approaches manifest during children's interactions with museums' online art activities depends upon the needs, wants, and values of an individual child. The findings of the study reveal insight into the perspectives of young people their somewhat ambiguous perceptions of online art-making activities—and the importance of their participation in research endeavors related to their art education, both online and in the elementary art studio.


Mulligan, C.S. The ambiguity of perception: Virtual art museology, Free-Choice learning, and children's art education. Ph.D. thesis, Teachers College, Columbia University. Retrieved November 13, 2019 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

Citation reproduced with permission of ProQuest LLC.

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