Conferences, Social Media Adventures

You Look Digitally Familiar! VSA2017 Volunteer Adventures

When I found out that VSA would be bringing their 2017 conference to Columbus, I knew I had to find a way to get involved. Because I can’t afford to pay for my own fees and I already live in Columbus, volunteering was a no-brainer. Plus volunteers get to go to sessions when they aren’t volunteering!

If you don’t know the Visitor Studies Association, you can check out their website here.Β VSA is a membership organization dedicated to understanding and enhancing informal learning experiences through research, evaluation, and dialogue. My people!

This year’s conference theme: New Pathways in Visitor Studies! In the field of visitor studies, we must always be on our toes to keep a current understanding of visitors and their needs.

Attendees could expect to explore questions such as:

  • In what new ways can and should the field of visitor studies act as an advocate for those audiences who have traditionally been excluded from informal learning spaces?
  • How are changes in society, culture, and human interaction impacting the field of informal learning – and how can the field of visitor studies creatively adapt to these changes?
  • How can we think big and pivot our attention to use research and evaluation methodologies to address issues in our communities, nations, and world?

Big, juicy questions like this make for great conversation.

So what sessions did I get to go to? Read on for a recap!


Beyond Excellent: The Overall Experience Rating

Presenters Nick Visscher, Andrew Pekarik, Kerry DiGiacomo, and Hannah Ridenour spent the session sharing their experiences with the Overall Experience Rating & thoroughly convincing me of its benefits as a rating scale. From art museums to zoos, the OER gives institutions the opportunity to identify the most enthusiastic visitors with “superior,” to compare expectations with experience, and to track areas that need improvement.

Session Bonus: listening to Andrew Pekarik rage about Net Promoter Score.


Later that afternoon, I volunteered at the registration table, giving me the chance to say hi to lots of other participants and watch as staff attempted to free a poor hotel employee from a stuck elevator. Yikes. Working with the VSA leadership was a great experience. Expectations for volunteers were very clear, and I had a great time!

Examining Cultural Assumptions: Implications for Equity in Museums

Oh boy, this session is what I’m here for. Shedd Aquarium’s Lindsay Maldonado and North Central College’s Nicole Rivera, Ed.D. led a roundtable discussion on cultural assumptions inherent to museums. To be honest, I didn’t even take any notes in this session because we were having such good conversation. Discussion centered around the three questions in the image below.

Session bonus: Anna Lopez deciding that culturally responsive evaluation is like baklava, a little sticky and a little crunchy, but oh so worth it.


Thursday evening’s festivities included an “Evening of Creativity and Conversation at the Columbus Museum of Art,” which I sort of got to attend – I ended up in the same galleries as conference attendees while I was at work in as a gallery associate!


When I got to the hotel on Saturday morning, I connected with three of my colleagues from the Columbus Museum of Art. It ended up that they didn’t need us as volunteers for the sessions, so we got to attend them!

Investigating Pathways to STEM Identity in Free-Choice Learning Environments

Having just finished John Falk’s Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience, I knew I couldn’t miss this session. He, Smirla Ramos-MontaΓ±ez, and Lynn Dierking shared their research on STEM identity in traditionally underserved communities. Absolutely fascinating to listen to these three talk about their varied techniques for doing this research and the implications of that research for future free-choice learning.

Session Bonus: Smirla’s transcripts of interactions the 9-14 year old girls in her studies.

Making Connections: Facilitating Learning Through Making

Lisa Brahms from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh brought a hands-on session to VSA. Coming from a summer camp background, I love anything and everything hands-on. And even better, we got to bring home the activity! Making Connections is an Apples to Apples-style game, giving facilitators a chance to practice matching facilitation strategies with learning objectives and learner styles. I had a blast playing, and I’m really glad I got to bring the game home!



I had a wonderful time at VSA2017. I’d encourage anyone interested in Visitor Studies to get involved with the organization, to take advantage of the many opportunities available as a volunteer, and to continue to connect with everyone on Twitter!

Special shout out to Elizabeth Bolander of the Cleveland Museum of Art for telling me that I looked “digitally familiar,” when we finally connected in person! A great phrase that made a perfect title for this blog post.