Learning and Technology sitting in a Museum Shaped tree…EngageM Take Aways

For the past while, the Digital Learning Network and Museums Computer Group have been toying with the idea of holding a joint event.  An event which combines two areas very close to my heart, learning and technology in museums.  Why? Well… we all know that museums are finding more and more ways to use digital technologies to enhance visitor experience; and this has a big impact on museum learning and public engagement programmes. But really how often to these two sections of the museum world really get to talk to each other?  Surprising little, because in many museums the work of learning departments and technology teams is still quite separate.

We wanted to change that so, we held Engaging digital audiences in museums this week.  It’s the first event that MCG and DLNet have organised together, and it’s been great working with everyone.  A big shout out to Rhiannon, Juno, and Mia, who did most of the organising and programme decisions.  I hold my hands up and say that I didn’t do very much of the work, apart from turn up and jump over tables, but I am very proud of how the event went.

The aim was to bring together the two worlds of museum technology and museum learning and encourage them to talk and learn from each others’ skills and experience.  I hope we managed to do that is some form or another.

We had some official bloggers on the day (posts will be up on the DLNet and MCG sites shortly), and there have been a couple of posts up already by Juno and Ben from Thought Den (including not one but two awesome Twitter posters).  So I won’t waffle on but here are my take aways:

  • Nick Winterbotham  is particularly good at soundbites.  I love his enthusiasm for all things learning. From encouraging us all to make this conference the most important day of our lives so far,to, Have you heard about the Big Society version of Cluedo? It’s got no library in it
  • There’s still a lot of questions about mobile use in museum. “Is using mobiles in museums a sign of Super modernity of a sign of flawed concentration and disengagement?”  Matthew Cock asking How does audience motivation fit into the use of mobiles? Can you match mobile functionality with motivation types?  Quite a lot of the discussions reminded me of Kevin Slavin‘s keyonte at MCN2011: “The job of technology is not to give us new things to look at, but new ways to see”
  • Lucinda Blaser encouraging us to all think creatively and not let the technology guide us. “if there was magic in the world what would you want to do in the museum?”
  • Wonderment is the ultimate key performance Indicator
  • I miss Newcastle more than I thought I did.  Thanks to John Coburn’s presentation on Hidden Newcastle.  And the eccentric brilliance of a lying egomaniac.
  • Generic Learning Outcomes. They. Are. A. Good. Thing. But there is more work to do to embed them into digital projects.  See Rhiannon’s post about that.

Short and sweet. ish.

What is the DISH of the Day? A big plate of digital learning?

Yesterday I took part in a panel session at the Digital Strategies in Heritage conference, or DISH for short, in Rotterdam.  I was quite honoured a few months back to be approached by Wendy Earle from the BFI to take part in a panel about digital learning strategies, or lack of, and start thinking really strategically about what digital learning means in the cultural sector and where exactly digital learning practitioners sit in cultural institutions.

The panel consisted of some fabulous digital divas; Rhiannon Looseley from the Museum of London, Shelley Mannion from the British Museum, Wendy from BFI, Bridget McKenzie from Flow Associates and a token chap Steven Stegers from EUROCLIO. Oh, and me.

It was a really interesting panel that raised more questions than answers, but I think that it was really quite telling that we all had questions about the jobs we do, the experiences we provide, and the roles we play in the wider institution, and how there really aren’t any best practice guides or key institutional guidelines of how digital learning should be approached.  Or in fact evaluated.

Despite Learning being increasingly acknowledged to be a core function of museums, and the multitude of digital and online museum learning resources being produced there is still a lot of confusion about what all of that really means. As we stated in our panel abstract museums ‘have embraced the transformative possibilities of the digital realm. However, introducing digital initiatives into learning raises interesting questions that have not yet been fully discussed.’

On a practical level there are questions about responsibility and job roles; for example who is responsible for creating digital learning content within heritage institutions, and where do they sit within organizations? Tech, learning, curatorial, marketing?

But we raised other interesting questions:

  • How can non-technical educators manage digital projects successfully?
  • What partnerships have been established? Do they work efficiently? Do these partnerships include non-heritage partners?
  • What kind of learning is encouraged?
  • How is the impact measured?
  • Is a learning framework used?
  • Which audiences are addressed and how?

Then we raised more  strategic questions, including ‘what do we mean by learning in a digital context?’, ‘what kind of learning do we want to encourage?’ and how do we know if learning is taking (or has taken) place?

I was really interested in questions about digital learning and the institutional mission and where does digital learning fit in with senior management policy decisions? Also issues of how do you get institutional support for digital learning research projects, particularly if you are doing something really new? Does that fit with institutional aims?  Also talking about whether or not personalised digital learning can be implemented in siloed museum departments? Is there collaboration and transparency required to do so efficiently?

The big question for me looked at whether focusing on the user, and whether or not we can create meaningful digital learning experiences with the visitor rather than for the visitor.

Overall  the panel were talking around how museums are rethinking how we engage with our audiences, and there are shifting ideas about learning becoming about active production and participation, and now museums increasingly expect projects to include some kind of digital learning element.  But there are challenges in demonstrating the impact of these on audiences and learners.  But it is important to have a sensible discussion about how these are impacting on the educational practice of heritage organisations.  And really as a panel we came to the conclusion that this hasn’t really been done yet, and perhaps this can be the start of proper discussions about this, and how dealing with digital technology and learning can become more strategic in its approach.

you can see my presentation above, and Shelley’s is below.  I’ll link too the others when they are uploaded.

Innovations in Digital Learning but no benchmarks…yet

(C) UCL, Grant Museum of Zoology / Matt Clayton

A while back I had a lovely phone conversation with Rebecca Atkinson from the Museums Association about digital learning in museums.  If I’m honest I had completely forgotten about it, mostly due to the fact that I rambled a lot and thought poor Rebecca had her work cut out to make any sense out of me.  But her recent post on the Museums Computer Group about Exhibition Labels reminded me and low and behold the article is up and on the Museum Practice site and I make sense! Hooray! It’s behind a membership login but in essence I wanted to highlight the fact that museums using digital technology should provide an opportunity for people to think rather than just observe.

“This means letting people find connections with objects on a personal level,”   Visitors will gain more from this experience; it breaks down barriers between museums as the keepers of objects and visitors.  I used the QRator project as a case study to show how we have been putting this concept into practice. Using technology developed at UCL CASA and UCLDH based upon the Tales of Things infrastructure; visitors can create their own interpretation to museum objects as well as giving their own opinions about difficult questions museum curators face.

There are wonderful examples of brilliant work being undertaken in digital learning, both online and in the galleries: The Museum of London’s pocket histories and their NFC tags around the gallery, The British Museum’s stella work at the Digital Samsung Centre, the excellent Compass lounge at the National Maritime Museum, BMAG’s pre Raphaelite resource, and My Learning managed through Leeds Museums and Galleries just to name a few.  There are many many more.

But one of the key things I spoke about in the article is the need to know the impact of our digital learning projects.  Museums evaluate face-to-face workshops and utilise Generic Learning Outcomes as a system of measurement for learning workshops, but this isn’t done when it comes to digital learning. It should be.  I’m not talking about how to measure online success, metrics are great. But as far as I’m aware there is yet to be a generic digital learning strategy or any clear benchmarks to look at for the work that we do.   I’m not suggesting that museums stop working with digital technology to create learning experiences, far from it.  There are enough projects around now to get good ideas from, I just think we are missing a strategic opportunity to evaluate and consolidate our practice.  Perhaps we all need to sit down and think about creating a document of best practice when it comes to cultural digital learning, so we can carry on making better digital learning experiences for our audiences.

Digital Learning Adventures in Museums Quick Low Down: The Morning

Friday saw me with my chair of The Digital Learning Network hat on for the first time at the Digital Learning Adventures in Museums event.  What a day! Apparently I looked incredibly calm throughout, but inside I was a massive bundle of nerves.  Which is a shame, because I didn’t really get to enjoy the day or see everything, I’m only now really beginning to be able to think about all the questions and discussions which occurred throughout the day.

We had splendid array of digital learning practitioners and researchers in the underbelly of the British Museum. The whole day focuses on the ways in which museums are using digital technology to create new learning experiences and enhance learners visits both onsite and online. What was overwhelming was the fact that the best way to work with digital technology, is to jump in, have a go and experiment, because that is when the most inspiration things can happen.

Alex Flowers, from the Museum of London, kicked us off with a really snazzy prezi showcasing the work that is going on at the Museum of London.  Alex talked about 5 C’s of digital learning:  Consume, Create, Capture, Collaborate and Communicate.

Lorna O’Brien, who is soon to be leaving the V&A, spoke about being refreshingly creative,  DIWO (do it with others) rather than DIY (do it yourself), and the OMM – the open mouth moment.  All things we should aspire to with digital tech.

Frank Angermann from Metaio and Shelley Mannion from the British Museum, told us about diving into augmented reality and producing an AR tour which was one giant experiment.

Rhiannon Looseley, from the Museum of London, told us about her experience of creating resources using SMART Notebook software. I don’t know very much about interactive whiteboard resources, so it was interesting to hear about the software, the filesizes and the implications. It’s not as easy as you think.

Beth Harris, from MOMA, spoke about MOMA’s online courses which are heavily video based.  Beth also spoke about Smarthistory and creating conversations about art, as an alternative to museum audio guides.

Chris Darby, from the National Space Centre, talked about Video conferencing, fully engaging students and space toilets.

The morning session was a whirlwind of inspirational speakers and amazing projects. This is really just a quick and dirty post. I will do a full post when I have had a chance to digest all the excellent ideas, experiments, discussions, and questions about future directions of digital learning.  There is a lot to think about!

TeachMeet Museums and Adventures with Digital Learning

I’m working on a few events which are coming up very soon! Sooner than I’d like if I’m honest, time just seems to slipping through my fingers.

The First is a Digital Learning Network event held at the British Museum on the 4th Feb: Adventures with Digital Learning in Museums.  I’m really excited about this event, as it is my first as Chair of the committee.   It’s quite a hands on day, myself and the wonderful Shelley from the BM have played with the format a bit to include two sessions (onsite museum digital stuff and museum outreach digital stuff) each with 3 speakers and a overview speaker, followed by an activities session, encouraging people to dig in and have a go with some of the cool digital technology in the British Museum galleries and the state of the art Samsung Digital Discovery Centre.  We are still finalising the speakers, but so far we have some absolutely brilliant speakers who are doing fantastic things with digital learning in and outside of Museums. I’m really excited about this, as I have only met a few in person, so it will great to meet everyone properly on the day.    Adventures will also involve an Unconference session, as I think it’s really important to provide opportunities for networking and discussion to share ideas, and actively contribute to the best of what is happening with Digital learning in museums and in outreach.  Fingers crossed it will be a great day.

Following on from that on the same day, we are also holding a TeachMeet Museums!I love the concept of TeachMeet’s.  They are informal gatherings for those curious about teaching, and technology.  The ethos of a TeachMeet is for everyone to get involved and learn something new, be amazed, amused and enthused.  TeachMeet previously have focused mostly on teachers sharing good practice, described as a “Show and Tell for teachers”.   With TeachMeet Museums we want to find out what, why and how teachers are using museums, and museum digital content, and what museum learning teams can offer teachers; what’s good, what’s great, and why.

I’m looking forward to hearing stories about digital learning, from teachers and other museum learning professionals.   The aim is for anyone interested or curious about teaching, technology and museums to come along and share great ideas they’ve trialled in their classrooms, in museums and in outreach, ask important questions or simply sign up to take part as a member of the enthusiastic audience.  Teachmeet Museums will give educators from all sectors the opportunity to meet up with likeminded individuals and share the best of what is happening in their classrooms and in museums. If technology tickles your fancy, museums make you happy or independent learning excites you then come along and share your ideas and experiences with others.

Thinking and Drinking at DLNet and DDH

I have recently become chair of the Digital Learning Network for Museums, libraries and archives, which I am very excited and nervous about in equal measure. It is a great honour and I cannot thank enough the previous chair Martin Bazley and the rest of the committee for their continuing support and hard work.  I hope I can do the role and the Network justice.

As part of DLNet we hold ThinkDrink’s  which aim to get a few people together who are interested in talking about using digital technology for learning in museums, libraries and archives round a table with a few drinks and nibbles to help get the discussion going. A brilliant idea!

Last week (16th September) the Wiener Library hosted a very interesting ThinkDrink focusing on the issues and opportunities surrounding digital learning in relation to difficult or challenging subjects.   The Wiener Library is one of the world’s leading and most extensive archives with over one million items on the Holocaust and Nazi era. I had not been to the Wiener before nor had I really considered the difficulties of creating digital resources which discuss such sensitive subjects. It was a fascinating evening, and it was really great to see a wide selection of museums, libraries and archives represented. We had a very engaging discussion which explored the specific responsibilities attached to providing sensitive online resources and information.  We had a few key questions that guided the discussion. What is appropriate or inappropriate in relation to digital learning and difficult subjects?  How do you protect the user and the subject of the material without becoming inaccessible? and how do you guard against the misuse of resources?  I have certainly taken a lot away from it; however we seem to have created more questions than answers.

Here are some of the questions that really stuck in my mind:

  • Is it our responsibility?  Should we be protecting the user?  Are we policing or supporting?
  • Could anyone be harmed as a result of releasing the material?
  • Audiences need to be able to trust us as information providers– trust to provide access to the material, but perhaps also trust to limit access where appropriate?
  • Is viewing distressing and difficult material online any different from viewing the same material in the physical reading room?

Another thinking and drinking meet up I am a part of the Decoding Digital Humanities. An informal monthly gathering in the pub for those who are interested in all things digital, providing an opportunity to mingle, share ideas, discuss readings and raise questions surrounding the field of digital humanities.

This weeks (Tuesday 21st September) DDH we were discussing Alan Lui’s 2003 paper entitled The Humanities: A Technical Profession. Lui raises questions about the concept of Knowledge, of protocols, organisation and information behaviour and the institutional nature of the humanities.

It was a fascinating meet up with the discussions provoking more questions than reaching answers, but it is a brilliant opportunity to get us thinking about concepts and the work that we do more.  What separates DDH and the DLNet ThinkDrink’s is not that one is attended by academics and one is attended by practitioners, the difference is that at DDH we also are able to hold some of the discussions online using twitter and the blog.  This weeks DDH produced some really quite fascinating discussions on twitter when I frantically tweeted some of the questions the physical meet up was throwing up.  You can see more about the content of the meet up and the tweets on the UCLDH blog.  This is what I want to happen with the DLNet ThinkDrink’s.  But it appears putting these things into practice are more complex than you would think.  Previously I would have been rather quick to say “why there is no problem with putting these discussions online, what harm can it do?” but following on from the Weiner discussion perhaps it isn’t as simple as that.