My thesis title is “Young children’s experience of natural history in museums”, which I am studying under the supervision of Viv Golding. This research builds on my career in science museum education, during which time I have worked with many thousands of children of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. This project takes a child-centric approach to exploring what children aged four and five years of age experience when they encounter natural history objects in museums. It brings together constructivist learning theory, Reggio Emilia-inspired philosophies of childhood and Edward O. Wilson's biophilia hypothesis. The research is being carried out at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
The research aims can be summarised in two main questions:
- What are young children experiencing (including, but not restricted to, intellectually, affectively, socially, personally and physically) when they interact with natural history in a museum setting?
- What methods can we use to understand children’s experiences in these settings?
My intention is to find ways of providing pre-literate children with a voice within the museum literature. Building on the Mosaic approach from educational research methods, I am using children's photography as a way of actively focusing the participants on communicating their experiences within the museum. The project has so far demonstrated that, while there is an important social element to young children’s visits, much of their experience goes undetected by their accompanying adults. This challenges research practices in which adults are asked to speak on behalf of young children, showing instead a need to develop approaches which recognise and listen to the different ways in which young children communicate. The data is also uncovering the children’s aesthetic appreciation of the museum and its collections.
The research outcomes, both in terms of increased understanding of children's engagement with natural history, and in terms of developing research methods suitable for younger participants in museum settings, will benefit both museum professionals and the academic field of museum studies.
2008 - NVQ in Cultural Heritage, Unit G3 - Promoting the care, use and understanding of Cultural Heritage.
2001 - MSc in Science, Culture and Communication, University of Bath.
1999 - BA in Human Sciences (2:1), University of Oxford, Mansfield College.
March 2012 - Member of the organising committee for the University of Leicester Museum Studies PhD conference, Museum Utopias.
March 2011 – Member of the organising committee for the University of Leicester Museum Studies PhD conference, Curiouser & Curiouser: Challenging conventions and celebrating the unusual. In addition, I co-curated the conference exhibition ‘Apocalypse Then’.
2009 to present – Assisting with the University of Leicester MA in Museum Studies. Marking essays and presentations and leading occasional seminars.
2009 to present – Freelance museum educator and researcher. Including projects for the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, Northampton Museums, Leicester Museums, Ignition East Midlands STEM Partnership, and the Media Archive for Central England.
2008 to 2009 – Education Officer (senior management team) at the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds.
2001 to 2008 – Education Officer, Presenter, Senior Enabler and Enabler at Thinktank, Birmingham science museum.
2000 to 2001 – As an MSc student at the University of Bath I led undergraduate seminars in the History and Philosophy of Science and assessed student presentations.
2009 to present – Website reviews editor for the Kids in Museums Campaign.
2011 to 2012 – Committee member for the Visitor Studies Group.
Kirk, E. & Buckingham, W. (2013) Invisible Museums and Multiple Utopias, Museological Review 17, 16-26.
Kirk, E. (2012) "Speaking, Hearing and Translating One Hundred Languages in Museums", in Jelavić, Ž. (ed.), Old Questions, New Answers: Quality Criteria for Museum Education, ICOM Croatia, Zagreb, 73-80.
Kirk, E. (2012) “A school trip for Reggio Emilia: Enhancing child-led creativity in museums”, in Jacobs, R. (ed.), Creative Engagements with Children: International Perspectives and Contexts (ebook), Inter-disciplinary.net, 133-41.
Dodd, J., Jones, C., Watson, S., Golding, V. & Kirk, E. (2011) 'An Evaluation of the Their Past Your Future 2 Programme 2008-10', MLA
Conferences & Awards
December 2012 - Photography & Theory Conference, Ayia Napa, Cyprus. Presenting a paper entitled "Visual Voices: Young Children's Photography as a Lens on Museum Experience".
July 2012 - I participated in the Vitae Midlands Hub Regional Poster Competition. My poster (as below), was awarded Third Prize. In addition, I received the Extra-Ordinary Prize for Poster Summary for a Non-Specialist Audience.
May 2012 - I participated in the University of Leicester Festival of Postgraduate Research. My poster, entitled "Through a Low-Down Lens: Young Children's Perspectives of a Natural History Museum", was awarded the Elsevier Peer Recommendation Prize.
March 2012 - NatSCA Conference in London. I presented a paper entitled "Gaining Young Children's Perspectives on Natural History Collections".
March 2012 - Leicester Museum Studies PhD Conference, 'Museum Utopias'. I presented a paper with Dr Will Buckingham entitled "Invisible Museums and Multiple Utopias".
October & November 2011 – I was awarded the Alison James bursary by the Visitor Studies group to carry out a research and networking trip to the USA, with a focus on museums and museum studies departments in New York, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington DC.
September 2011 – ICOM CECA conference in Zagreb. I presented a paper entitled “Speaking, Hearing and Translating One Hundred Languages in Museums”. Conference proceedings available to buy online.
September 2011 – I received a bursary to attend the British Educational Research Association conference in London, where I presented a paper entitled “Mosaic in the Museum: The challenge of adapting the Mosaic approach to museum settings”.
July 2011 – Creative Engagements: Thinking with Children (Interdisciplinary.net) conference in Oxford. I presented a paper entitled “A school trip for Reggio Emilia: Enhancing child-led creativity in museums”.
September 2010 – I received a bursary to attend the Group for Education in Museums Conference. My reports on a number of conference papers are published in Journal of Education in Museums, issue 31.
2007 – Wow! This is Big, Playtrain Conference in Birmingham. Presentation to education and childcare professionals about the evaluation of the Healthy Bodies project at Thinktank.
http://www.eleekirk.com/ (freelance website)
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