Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

June 14, 2007

Opening Doors
<b>"Opening Doors to Great Guest Experiences," a collaborative project between Ball State faculty member Mary Theresa Seig and Conner Prairie, recently won a silver Muse Award recognizing outstanding achievement in museum media. </b>
A collaborative project between a Ball State faculty member and Conner Prairie recently won a national award recognizing outstanding achievement in museum media.

"Opening Doors to Great Guest Experiences," an instructional DVD/CD about best practices among museums, earned the 2007 Silver Muse Award in the teaching and outreach category.  More than 200 entries were submitted from museums in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia for the 18th annual competition, sponsored by the American Association of Museums' Media and Technology Standing Professional Committee.

Mary Theresa Seig, a Ball State associate professor of applied linguistics, participated in the award-winning project, which arose from Conner Prairie's efforts to improve visitors' experiences at Prairietown, a restored and recreated 1836 Indiana frontier village in Fishers, Ind., that attracts 300,000 visitors annually.

"I am very honored that the team's work has been recognized nationally," Seig said. "It was a creative, exciting process, especially the interplay between the practitioner and academic ways of approaching the instructional design — figuring out what we wanted to communicate and how best to do so."

Conner Prairie's chief operating officer Ken Bubp said the award is significant.

"This training resource has garnered a tremendous amount of attention in the broader field," Bubp said. "We've shipped copies of 'Opening Doors' to 47 states and five countries. We are very excited about the Muse award because it is recognition from the national field."

In the judges' comments, the panel described the "Opening Doors" DVD as "an amazing compilation and demonstration of museum education philosophy, theory and practice. It's apparent that Conner Prairie has invested time and money into providing valuable museum experiences for audiences. … Overall, this behind-the-scenes look at how to make museums matter is comprehensive and inspiring."

Through funding initially provided by Ball State, Seig began working with Conner Prairie in 2001 to examine how interpreters talked to visitors by recording family conversations as they toured the museum. Conner Prairie staff and Seig then examined several thousand pages of transcripts to find that the museum's mission as a learning environment was not being fulfilled.

As a result, Conner Prairie enlisted a team, including Seig, to change the park's culture through the Opening Doors Initiative, a project to reorient interpreters to a variety of ways to interact with visitors.

The transformation of the park's communications efforts was so successful that Conner Prairie — again with Seig's help — was awarded additional funding to develop the educational DVD designed to assist museums in revamping their communications with visitors by envisioning those interactions more broadly.