Invisible Pedagogies: the messages we send, sometimes without even knowing it, by how we craft our environment, by the words we use, and through our actions.
What are Invisible Pedagogies?
- Andrea De Pascual helps us understand the concept of invisible pedagogy by asking the following questions: “What do our students in class, the participants in a workshop, or museum visitors learn beyond the contents we have prepared for them?” 
- We teach people by what we say and do but more importantly by how we say it and do it, as well as how we construct the physical spaces in which we engage them.
In the summer of 2014, the USS Constitution Museum's (USSCM) staff prototyped two programs in order to explore ways to increase adult engagement in family programs as part of their Engage Families Project. The first program, Out Run Out Gun, involved building a “boat” out of paper, loading it with as many cannon (pennies) as it could hold, and racing it down a water flume. Another activity, Under Pressure, involved loading a “cannon” (film canister with Alka Seltzer™ and water) and shooting it at an enemy ship (a painting of an historic ship).
The Problem: Adults Were Not Participating
During initial program testing, adults mostly stood back and let the children participate – a common scenario in many museum family programs.
Why Adults Weren't Participating? Invisible Pedagogies
We analyzed videos of these sessions and it became clear that unintended invisible pedagogies were countermanding the facilitators' intentions:
- Facilitators made eye contact with children much more than with adults. Adult caregivers interpreted the lack of eye contact as a cue that they were not expected to be a part of the experience. They would usually encourage their children to go with the facilitator, while they hung back.
- Facilitators rarely explicitly invited adults to participate with the children, so of course most adults stayed away from the activity area.
- The facilitator stood behind a long table, creating a physical barrier to engagement in general.
Revisions to Encourage Adult Participation
The USSCM staff consciously addressed the physical environment problems, as well as their welcoming and invitational strategies:
- The long table was replaced by several small tables, which physically opened the space and encouraged families to move into and around the activity stations.
- For both the Under Pressure and Out Gun Out Run programs, families were invited to work together as a team to accomplish the goals of the programs.
- Faciltitators taught themselves to make eye contact with adults and consciously offer the invitation to participate.
- Parents chose to participate in the program as equal members because it looked like it would be fun, for themselves and their children
- Parents were motivated to engage because they wanted to work alongside their children on a shared experience.
- Adults also found the topics of the programs interesting in their own right. The programs served as a learning experience for both children and adults.
In our post-program surveys, the characteristic rated most valuable by parents was the ability to work together in teams. They also appreciated that the experience was interactive and hands-on. Many adults appreciated that while the whole family had fun, they also learned something. They enjoyed the group problem-solving and competitive aspect of the experience.
The willingness of the USSCM education staff to take a hard look at both the specific content and the invisible pedagogies resulted in richer and more satisfying experiences for visitors.
By Marianna Adams, Ed.D. Audience Focus, Inc.
1. de Pascual, Andrea. “Invisible Pedagogies: Expanding the concept of education in museums.” Art Museum Teaching. 3 April 2014.
2. Falk, John H. & Dierking, Lynn D. The Museum Experience Revisited. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2013, 150.