Karen Elinich @ Pepperdine University

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Action Research Project Portfolio




A Description of My Field of Action

My field of action will be my workplace: The Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia. The Institute is 180 years old. The Science Museum is 70 years old. The physical plant sits on a prominent square-block at the entrance to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The building complex features the original museum space as its core with newer wings that have been added over the years. The building is a complex network of passageways that tend to isolate working groups from one another.

Annually, the Institute welcomes about 700,000 visitors. Exhibit halls, a Planetarium, and an IMAX theater are the main attractions. On the weekdays, school field-trip and other groups are the main attendees. On weekends, multi-generational families are the norm. Most visitors pay an admission fee, but there are some funding programs that enable underserved audiences to enter for free.

The Institute also has a long-standing educational outreach effort. For example, the Institute has a strong regional reputation as a professional development provider for in-service educators. Most p.d. efforts target teachers of science in grades K-8, although some programs reach out to high school teachers. The Institute's focus on inquiry-based science education aligns well with current trends in formal science education.

The current organizational structure is fairly typical for museums and for non-profits in general. A volunteer Board of Trustees oversees the Institute's operation. The current CEO/President has been in office since 1995. The leadership council includes eight vice-presidents, including one Executive VP, three Senior VPs, and four VPs. The VPs oversee three "centers of excellence" including the Benjamin Franklin Center, the Science Center, and the Center for Innovation in Science Learning.

As the Institute's Director for the Educational Technology Programs (ETP) department, I report to the Sr.V-P who oversees the Center for Innovation in Science Learning (CISL). There are five departments within CISL, each of which investigates different aspects of science learning. Interestingly, the CISL staff members do NOT manage the public education programs that happen on the floor of the museum. (That's the Science Center.) CISL projects are all grant-funded and mostly involve outreach efforts and/or efforts to reach new audiences.

The ETP team currently includes 5.5 FTEs. We have diverse skills and, while we work collaboratively, we also have our individual areas of expertise and responsibility. In additional to myself (1 FTE), the ETP team includes:

  • Internet Content Manager: responsible for day-to-day management of The Franklin Institute Online (1 FTE)
  • Multimedia Specialist: responsible for online multimedia/design (1 FTE)
  • Project Coordinator: provides administrative support (3/4 FTE)
  • Educational Technology Consultant: a former teacher who supports development of content (3/4 FTE)
  • System Administrator: provides technical management of websites. (1 FTE)

We also work closely with an Educator Advisory Committe, a contingent of "Online Museum Educators," and other practicing educators. We've always included teachers as adjunct members of our team because they provide invaluable perspective.

Overall, the Institute is a fun, creative place to work and the nature of our work empowers us to imagine new things and take risks. It does, however, have its fair share of politics and frustrations. For example, the "three centers of excellence" model tends to create knowledge silos that can run deep.

Another interesting aspect of the organizational structure is that all of the employees in the Center for Innovation in Science Learning are grant-funded. Our jobs are dependent upon external funding. Currently, CISL has federal, state, corporate, and foundation support for its programs. In addition to supporting programs, our external funding generates indirect revenue for the Institute.

August 11, 2004