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.

The Digital Learning Network has arrived!

In 2007 I found myself so far out of my comfort zone, in Cornwall, by myself, in a tin mine museum, with a lap top and wonky internet connection and a project plan entitled ‘e-learning’. I didn’t know where to start, and I didn’t know who to talk to, and at times I felt very isolated and out of my depth. I had no option other then to jump in head first, and it was brilliant, it was hard work, and very difficult at times, but some wonderful people helped me along the way, and I am very grateful for that. I had a head full of ideas, and I was very excited about the task and it was fantastic to talk to people who had been in the same situation as me, had similar ideas, and most importantly loved everything about museums and digital learning.

Fast forward a couple of years, I have a successful digital learning project under my belt, I’m now a researcher in Digital humanities, and loving every minute of it. I am also on the committee for the Elearning Group for Museums, Libraries and Archives (ELG). And its fantastic.

Last month I wrote a post about reigniting my passion for digital learning! This was mostly down to an ELG committee meeting .What made it brilliant? Being able to bounce ideas around and talking to other people who just get it. Who are just as passionate about digital learning and what it has to offer.

So what were we talking about that got us so excited? Well…

The ELG has become the Digital Learning Network

DLnet for short

The idea is to go back to basics and get people talking about technology and learning in museums, archives and libraries. There are so many people whose job involves some kind of educational/digital role, but who don’t have a network and really depend on colleagues and informal relationships to share information about new developments. We want to be able to help, people like me in 2007 to Find people, build networks, share ideas and basically just talk about digital learning, why its great, what you are working on, what do you want to know about other projects, how can you over come some problems with digital learning in your area. So, If you want to find people working in digital learning in your local area, build networks, and exchange ideas, DLNet can help.

We’re getting conversations going about using digital technology to support learning:

  • online – through the website or Twitter
  • face to face – all over the country, in networked groups

Here’s what you can do:

  • get a few people together for a ThinkDrink – at the pub, out for tea, at the zoo – wherever you like
  • let us know what you talked about – Tweet it, post pictures on Flickr, write a blog post, or post a short video on YouTube (tag it with #DLNet and we’ll find it)
  • form your own Digital Learning Network group

So: we are changing our name from the E-Learning Group to the Digital Learning Network – DLnet for short – and putting more effort into getting people talking and sharing ideas, as well as doing all the stuff we used to do.

And don’t worry, we are still:

  • exploring how technology can help deliver inspiring and creative learning in museums, libraries, archives and the heritage sector
  • running our highly popular events such as conferences and seminars
  • hosting the email list, which will soon become DLnet@jiscmail.ac.uk (instead of elearning@jiscmail.ac.uk )

Have a look around the Digital Learning Network website and let us know what you think. I hope you find it as helpful and exciting as I did and still do!


Relight my fire…digital learning you are my only desire

Earlier in the week I tweeted “Today has reignited my passion for digital learning! Long may it continue.”

In fact it was two brilliant days filled full of digital activities, and more importantly talking to other people who just get it. who are just as passionate about digital learning and what it has to offer.

On Tuesday my colleague Anne (check out Anne’s blog here) and I hopped on a train and went to deep snow entrenched Reading to conduct the first of the interviews for the Linksphere Project.  We held a brilliant interview with the curator of Ure Museum of Classical Archaeology, one of the participants in Linksphere, and it was fantastic to discover her passion for open access to museums, and how digital access plays an active role! The Ure museum, has a small physical space, so since 2002 they have digitised and uploaded the collection online.

Then off I popped to the ELG committee meeting, where we had some very interesting talks… more news on that forthwith, but it is very exciting! I cant wait for us to take it forward, and turn our excitement in to something substantial.

On Wednesday, was a meeting, again as part of the Linksphere project, with the British Museum.  We hope to do some collaborative research with them on some juicy things (a great meeting, with exciting possibilities and very interesting people).   Coming from a museum digital background, I found it quite hard to start with getting into the research mind set, particularly academia’s understanding of users and usability. My bosses/mentors/guru’s I don’t exactly know what I call them, but they are brilliant at usability and user studies (as well as digital humanities and electronic publishing to name a few), so it was great to sit around a table with museum webby people who are focused on users, and research webby people who are also focused on users and watch the sparks ignite!

All in all a very exciting couple of days.

But it got me thinking about digital learning, elearning, computer mediated learning, what ever you want to call it. My professional field and my research field is new to some, and not to others, but it is seen in some eyes as a marginalised field, particularly with a museum slant.  I don’t make it easy for myself do I? But I do like a good challenge.  What happens to people who don’t have the support network that I have in my research?  From my previous elearning project manager job, although I had a great team around me, and I was pretty much given free reign to do whatever i liked! (which was fab, and I got to play with all sorts of social media and set up lots of exciting stuff), but I did feel isolated at times, when people didn’t really know what I was talking about.

What is good that things are beginning to change. People are beginning to sit up and take notice.  Twitter is all over the news, celebrities doing this that and the other, facebook causing a stink with its privacy issues, even Barbie is getting in on the act – Barbie is thinking of taking a new career direction, and computer engineer is on the list, if only museum digital team member was on the list, now that really would be something. Times are certainly changing, and its really exhilarating that people are beginning to get excited about what I do!  About flipping time.