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Reinforcing Object-Based Learning

As students leave the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden Of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, a docent gives each of them a set of four trading cards. The trading cards, not unlike baseball cards, are printed on two sides. On one side, the cards feature a favorite image of the building, painting, or sculpture from the Sheldon’s collection of 20*-century American art. On the other side of the card, students discover questions about the artwork.

For instance, the back of the card featuring Room in New York by Edward Hopper, poses the following questions:

  • Where are you, the viewer?
  • What is the woman doing?
  • Why is the man reading the newspaper?
  • Edward Hopper is known for depicting loneliness and isolation in his paintings. Does this painting show those feelings?
  • What shape has the artist repeated numerous times?
  • Sometimes artists repeat colors to unify a composition. Has Hopper done this? What color?

The answers are printed in smaller type, upside down on the bottom of the card. The style of inquiry-based learning on which the questions are based complements the more open-ended inquiry-based tours given by the docents. The docents themselves prepared the questions for the trading cards, designing them to reinforce the learning opportunities provided during tours.

For years, Sheldon docents have handed student visitors postcards of a collection image, stickers, or pencils to reinforce the learning that occurs during tours. The latest innovation of the trading cards has been a major hit with both students and teachers. The cards were the inspiration of the Education Committee of the Nebraska Art Association and Sheldon’s docent council and were made possible by a donation from the estate of a longtime supporter of the arts in Lincoln. The images chosen for the cards have no copyright issues, so the cards also can be sold in the museum shop. As soon as the image choices were finalized, the docent council convened many sessions to write questions that built upon the information learned during the tours. The Sheldon staff was helpful in providing color transparencies, proofreading, and interpretive information.

Once the cards were printed, scores of volunteers were marshaled to assemble the card packets. Volunteers sorted the cards into sets of four, from twenty-six images as possibilities, sealed them in small plastic sleeves, and placed an oval sticker on each packet acknowledging the donors. A printer who is a trustee of the Nebraska Art Association, our museum’s primary support organization, printed the cards. He not only worked closely with staff in the final design format, but also provided additional financial support.

The Sheldon Education Department evaluates the success of its docent-led tours using ongoing teacher surveys. The evaluation form includes the question: “How do you and your students utilize the trading cards?” In response, teachers have reported such things as “… we share, compare, and discuss,” or “The students traded for their favorites!” and “Students loved this. They talked about the ones that they had seen and told others about what they learned.” Several Sheldon docents who were delegates to the 2001 National Docent Symposium in San Antonio provided samples of the cards to other delegates and reported a great deal of interest in, and enthusiasm for, them. For additional information on the mechanics of creating such a useful teaching resource, please contact us at or call (402) 472-2461.

Karen Janovy has been curator of education at the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln since 1987. She is also Senior Lecturer in the University’s Museum Studies Program where she teaches the graduate course, “Museum Education.”

Janovy, Karen. “Reinforcing Object-Based Learning,” The Docent Educator 11.4 (Summer 2002): 18-19.

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