Using Documentation to Create Dynamic Learning Communities


The Documentation and Community Engagement Institute on Thursday, June 19 at Wheelock College’s Documentation Studio included over 40 educators from colleges, schools, museums and libraries. This conversation helped many of us shift our thinking from learning in a fixed classroom community to a dynamic learning community in a museum or library.

Documentation Studio EventBelow are highlights of ideas and questions that are loosely arranged around questions and themes. Please reflect and respond and join the conversation!

Why highlight learning?

  • To advocate for children and the community
  • It can transform how we all see children, their work, and their importance as citizens in our community.
  • It is a reflection on our value of children and their humanity.
  • To advocate for the rights of children by showing their potential and ability to learn through rich experiences, environment, and emergent curriculum.
  • To ensure authentic engagement.
  • Documenting student work shows that what students are doing is important.
  • To communicate the image of child to the community in public spaces on our campuses, libraries, museums.
  • Is what we (adults) see as valuable also valuable to children?

 How can we highlight learning?

  • What do you want to learn from the documentation?
  • Reflection is key to the process.
  • How can I (in the classroom) steer away from narrating what happened to sharing my perspective of learning?
  • Documentation offers families examples of how to engage with their children.
  • Documentation is about a pedagogy of relationships…
  • What if children offered alternative interpretations of artworks on exhibit? Perhaps pair an artist’s statement with a child’s comments (either in print or audio).
  • How can museums and schools help parents document their children?
  • What languages do we use to communicate learning?
  • How do we encourage educators to revisit and reflect upon ongoing learning experiences?
  • What kind of artist statement or written documentation accompanies the student product outcomes? Is there any structure set up that reveals the thinking behind the making?
  • How can documentation support collaborative inquiry that is ongoing, refining, editing?
  • How can documentation support assessment, what would you do differently next time?
  • Let children narrate a walk through a museum … “this is my favorite part because …”
  • Could children and teachers curate an interactive activity related to one of the museum installations based on their classroom provocations?
  • How do we expand an understanding of children’s learning beyond “cute.”
  • Is it the artist, or the medium, or a prolonged art experience that makes a difference in children’s engagement?

Who is the audience?

  • What contexts do we need to be aware of?
  • How can documentation of learning increase the museum visitor’s authority?
  • How do museums with a broad audience work with educators who are focused on one age group? How do we capture the multi-generational, the social, the informal?
  • What does it feel/look like when the community is engaged?
  • I wonder if our general drop-in visitors (to the Columbus Museum of Art) realize we are a learning institution and if they think of themselves as active learners and creators in the space.
  • If you capture documentation for the child will this also be effective for the adults?


  • Can collaboration between museums and schools be genuinely mutually beneficial?
  • How can a school/college campus, museum and library space collaborate?
  • How can we connect with our local museum or library? What would that look like?
  • What is the role of social media in our collaboration?
  • Schools find museums, libraries, and community spaces to share children’s learning.
  • Is there a shared goal, city project, community documentation project we might collaborate on, such as story telling?
  • Libraries tend to have branches that museums can use as locations to bring the museums to the community.
  • Add an outside voice when designing documentation – add the child’s perspective and adults who can remind how the general public might view the work.


  • How does one prioritize to make the time to document learning? What are the systems and structures that can allow this to happen?
  • How can we use social media by families beyond broadcasting cute or funny photos of our children?
  • What if a teacher has two choices for documentation – how might we incorporate that dilemma and thinking into future work?
  • How do we figure out how to get out there more? That is – show what children can do.
  • What if a museum highlights a group they do not normally service – the children’s museum highlights learning of parents; the deCordova highlights the children …
  • In a college library, how can the research support team make visible the research process for the community of learners (i.e. other students, faculty, administrators)? How do you convince educators (and students) that making the research process visible is important to learning how to research?
  • How can libraries expand partnerships to get organizations (i.e. museums and schools) to use the library for displaying their documentation? Use public, neighborhood libraries as a local outpost for museums and schools.

Next Discussions

  • Bring documentation that includes interpretations through the voices of children.
  • What is informal versus formal learning? How do these distinctions work together or in opposition?
  • How does time affect learning – such as relaxed time in a museum versus specific time allowed at school?
  • Boston Children’s Museum, Peabody Essex Museum and the Discovery Museum might collaborate on a project – show us what you have in an Open Studio in the winter in anticipation of sharing more broadly in the spring when we have Tiziana Filippini visiting!
  • What other ideas do you have – please share in the comments.
  • We’ll set the Open Studio dates and post them on the Doc Studio website.