Museum Studies
MSST 205: Science and the Detection of Art Forgeries
Digital video
Chandra Reedy
November 7 , 2003


Solving Art Mysteries with Science

DNA, microscopy, Carbon-14 dating, Infrared Spectroscopy, the null hypothesis – How do these connect to art? Closely – according to Chandra Reedy, Professor of Museum Studies, who offers MSST 205 – Science and the Detection of Art Forgeries.

Museums continually evaluate the authenticity of their art objects or those they wish to acquire, says Reedy. MSST 205 trains students to advise museum curators and relies on an extensive MyCourses component that incorporates multimedia presentations and other online student resources.

"I want students in the humanities to see that science can actually be interesting, relevant, and important,” says Reedy. With museum funds and prestige on the line, art professionals are frequently called on to make critical recommendations to museum administrators, explains Reedy.

MSST 205 introduces students to the scientific method and the tools to analyze art objects. “I want students to understand what makes for good and bad science,” stresses Reedy. “There is a lot of bad science in authenticity, the Shroud of Turin, for example.” Often, researchers rely on invalid or limited evidence, inappropriate analyses, and flawed argumentation.

After receiving a Technology Assistance Grant from Information Technologies/User Services, Reedy transformed her traditional course. In the fall of 2000, Reedy began consulting with Debbie Jeffers (graphic designer) and Justin Schakelman (instructional designer) from PRESENT. Reedy set a pace she was comfortable with, and gradually, MSST 205 became more dynamic and valuable: It now generates an average waiting list of 350 students for 30 seats!

Reedy had several challenges in reaching her goal to create a more active and engaging course. She was unfamiliar with using course management and presentation technologies such as MyCourses, PowerPoint, and QuickTime movies. Further, she needed to expand her instructional design methodology to include a web-based environment.

For the better part of a year, Reedy worked with Jeffers and Schakelman to evolve her design, develop a visual style for the MyCourses component, and choose the most effective technologies for the class. “I had two people to work with me on the course. Otherwise, it never would have happened,” says Reedy.

Her old course used a traditional art history slide lecture format with some discussion and exams. “By about 40 minutes, no matter how interested they were, you could see that everyone was losing it. You just saw this glaze in their eyes.” The key to improving the course was not only making it more engaging, but providing more time for higher-level activities to practice the analyses of art objects, explains Reedy. With her impressive course materials and curriculum, Reedy was in a very strong position to explore new directions.

Everything is active. There are no exams. “I’ve gotten depressed about exams because I know students do really well, and a year later don’t remember much,” says Reedy. Class meets for 90 minutes, twice weekly, and features collaborative, problem-based learning.

Before class, students do research using MyCourses, other Web sites, and paper sources at the library. Class is devoted almost exclusively to discussions and group work: The students are put in teams that simulate the museum team charged with evaluating and making a recommendation on an object.

Teams review three case studies presented via : The Shroud of Turin, Vermeer paintings, and the Getty Kouros sculpture. Each team evaluates the cases to make recommendations to the class. They use the scientific method, online video clips and readings, and art object analysis tools. QuickTime movies prepared at PRESENT include documentary footage, as well as personal instructions from Reedy. Old course slides were also scanned and put in PowerPoint presentations.

While Reedy is a very experienced instructor with rich materials and a sound methodology, the technology assistance grant allowed her to validate new approaches and learn new technologies. “There were a lot of things I saw demonstrated. They were things I hadn’t thought about doing because I didn’t know you could do them,” says Reedy.

Redesigning MSST 205 has a very positive impact on the class as well. Students are able to easily access information, and that gives them more time for the group activities, according to Reedy. Students are more motivated and involved, and their comprehension of and competence in the field has increased dramatically.

With the success of MSST 205, Reedy plans to expand her use of MyCourses. “I want to put all my other courses online in MyCourses, and now I have the skills to do that.”

Return to Faculty Profiles Page

"I want students in the humanities to see that science actually can be interesting, relevant, and important."

—Chandra Reedy