It’s been a little over a week since the Museums and the Web conference finished in Baltimore. While at the conference I diligently collected tweets so I could storify them and save all the fantastic advice, tools and ideas to use in the future. I also took a few short videos of my fellow participants impressions of the conference. I’ve been struggling to edit the videos and sort all the amazing tweets; in the name of transparency this might have to do with the amazing spring weather we’ve been having here in Vancouver. If you know anything about the city then any day it’s not raining it is important to get outside (for my international friends, Vancouver has roughly the same weather as Seattle).

I’m still in the learning/experimental stage of video making. I already knew it was important to shoot in horizontal so as to avoid Vertical Video Syndrome.

After reviewing the footage I took at the conference I have now learned how important lighting and location is. I will also be investing in a mike for better sound quality. But Content is King and I got some really good analysis of the conference from some of the people attending.

My note taking style has evolved along with the conference. The first one I went to, in 2012 in San Diego, I wrote notes by hand and tweeted a bit. Then I went to MCN in Montreal this past November and I started writing notes digitally, while tweeting, retweeting and favouriting others tweets. This time I almost exclusively took my notes through twitter – by favouriting tweets I felt captured the key messages of the presentation well. So I have created a few storifies of the tweets based on different themes I saw emerge.





There are more themes to storify like the amazing Google tools from the Cultural Institute and Google Glass, lots of content on mobile, a theme of scaling down and doing less well. I could keep storifying until I’m old and grey. I might add some more if I get time to put them together to stay tuned.

Other Impressions

Many people who go to Museums and the Web have blogs and have been much faster than me in getting their impressions up. Here are the blog posts that I found tweeted out with #MW2014 and they are all worth a read. If you have written one that I haven’t listed here please let me know and I’ll add it.

Unpacking MW2014 – Part One by Ed Rodley

The Internet is a vast and endless ocean by Micah Walter

Ten digital lessons by Kati Price

Museums and the Web 2014: Digital Arrival, unpredictability and churn by Andrew Lewis

HCLE at MW2014 and MW2014 Provided Perspective by the History of Computing in Learning and Education Virtual Museum

A growler station in a hipster grocery store in Portland. Photo by author.

A growler station in a hipster grocery store in Portland. Photo by author.

I had a hankering for craft beer and hipster watching so I ventured down to Portland to indulge. While I was there I checked out the Portland Art Museum where one of my favourite museum bloggers works – Mike Murawski of Art Museum Teaching.  I had read about their video interpretation called Object Stories. Mike wrote a great post about it where he explains the danger of a single voice representing an entire culture and how Object Stories helps to introduce multiple voices into the museum where traditionally it has been dominated by one.

Peer-Led Learning

Object Stories integrated into the Portland Art Museum's galleries. Photo by author.

Object Stories integrated into the Portland Art Museum’s galleries. Photo by author.

For me, I enjoyed the Object Stories because instead of getting information presented like a dry textbook which can often be the case when you try to cram as much information into as little space as possible on object labels, I got to learn from a peer who explained the objects in a way a friend would describe something to me. Like most projects it did not start out perfectly, the early Object Stories are individuals talking about their own favourite objects and it often lacks a collection connection or anything more meaningful than a show and tell.

Recently, the Object Stories have become more directed. PAM partnered with the Native American Youth Association where young people picked an object in the collection, researched it, and then recorded their narrative about that object. These stories are integrated into the galleries. Under Mike’s guidance Object Stories has evolved into powerful interpretation tool for PAM’s collection.

Viral Videos

I’m taking a class on digital content and storytelling and decided to do some of my own digital storytelling in video format. I thought I’d have a bit of fun and spoof the recent First Kiss video which by now has gone through the full viral cycle – shared positively and extensively, critiqued, found to be a fake (actually an advertisement), and finally parodied.

Here’s the original First Kiss video.

There have been a lot of re-makes of this video already like Jimmy Fallon’s First Lick featuring puppies and cats kissing for the first time (so unbelievably cute!), and Hye Yun Park’s First Kiss NYC which shows average New Yorkers kissing strangers and all the awkwardness that ensues.

I decided to jump on the bandwagon and, like a lot of great art, copy something to send my message. My First Kiss video was created to advertise museums.

So if you are trying to target young people, possibly creative people, like many museums are, why not use this desire to replicate the things in their world with their own version (I have to admit I had a lot of fun making my video). Have teens create their own versions of viral videos using museum content. Then, like PAM did, use them as a way to interpret the collection for each other. A way to integrate more than one voice and lens into the museum (haha I made a punny!).

Rubbish idea or stroke of genius? Tell me what you think in the comments below.

Everyone has heard a lot about the Cleveland Museum of Art’s recent digital media projects, Gallery One and ArtLens. I  chatted with a couple of members of their education and interpretation department to find out a little bit more about how these projects fit into the department’s mission and goals. Here’s what Jennifer Foley, Director of Interpretation, and Seema Rao, Director of Intergenerational Learning, had to say about these innovative education efforts.

Conceiving with and Adapting to New Technology

Jennifer and Seema discussed how the museum engaged in a variety of audience research studies prior to beginning Gallery One and ArtLens.   One key study, a large audience research project in 2009, had a direct impact on the development of these digital media projects. The research revealed that visitors to the galleries were mainly falling into one of two groups: people either wanted a structured experience with a pre-determined path laid out for them, or a self-directed experience. The structured experience folks are the kind who go on tours and use audio guides, and the self-directed experience visitors tend to walk into a gallery, spy an object of interest, walk to it, then to the next one that catches their attention, and the next and so on. Most of us are pretty familiar with these two types of behaviors. I just encountered them myself while testing a game prototype – some people loved the structure a game gave them for experiencing the museum, others didn’t care for the way it interfered with their own exploratory impulses.

ArtLens in action in the CMA galleries

ArtLens in action in the CMA galleries

While talking to educators about their projects, again and again we have run across an interesting aspect of the integration of digital media into museum education work – the way we are all adapting traditional ideas to new platforms. ArtLens grew out of a project to revamp the CMA’s outdated audio tour, in which they were seeking to bring community voices into audio tours, and it was developing alongside the Gallery One project, which had grown out of the idea of creating a space for intergenerational learning and play in the museum. There were many earlier inceptions of what that space might be like.  Eventually it became conceived of as a space where education, technology and design would come together. The goal of this reconceived space would be to have a place where the museum could engage visitors in surprising new ways.  As that idea developed, everyone became involved – curators, education, design, technology, collections management, publications, and audience research. In the end, it was very much a group creation.  As part of the design process for Gallery One, an idea had been floated that there would be some small touch screens near objects. Then the iPad came out, changing the landscape and opening possibilities. The team working on the audio tours had already been thinking of designing an app, and the Gallery One team began thinking about an app – so the two projects came together and ArtLens was born.

The project team then developed ideas to meet the needs of these two visitor behaviors. It was delightful to learn how closely the museum responded to visitor needs.  The ArtLens App has both a tour section featuring predetermined paths through the museum created by museum staff as well as ones designed by other visitors.  But the “Near You Now” section identifies works of art with interpretive content which are near your current location, allowing people who like to wander and explore to find works that intrigue them.

Both of these digital media efforts have been in place for several months now and a huge evaluation project has been going on to gather data about them.  The CMA has an in-house evaluation and audience research team, and they won an IMLS grant to support doing the project. The evaluation plan includes observations, visitor interviews, and audience panels. The final report should be ready early in 2014 and the team will be presenting results at AAM, because we’re all going to want to see that!  In what is becoming standard thinking about projects using digital media, shorthanded as “perpetual beta”, the CMA team is also thinking of the data coming from this evaluation as formative to the next iteration.

Design Thinking in Action

My colleagues and I have been working to incorporate design thinking into our process and, from the sound of things, some of those principles worked very well for the CMA as well. In fact, some of the lessons for K-12 students that is presented in Gallery One focus on Design Thinking.

5 steps of Deisgn Thinking - repeat as necessary

5 steps of Deisgn Thinking – repeat as necessary

While discussing the process of creation for these projects, both Seema and Jennifer said that audience research is really, really key before you begin (I could hear the bolded words when they said it). “Do a really good study of what’s happening with your visitors so that you can engage them.” That’s Empathize – understanding what your visitors feel about their visit. Define would be how they made decisions such as: we want a space that surprises and engages, we want to give visitors control over their visit. Ideate is when you conceive many possibilities of how to reach your goal. So far, most of this is simply the way we all go about our work. But where museums tend to skimp is on the next two steps and the cycling back around to the beginning to go through it all again. The CMA, however, did use prototyping: Caroline Goeser, Director of the department of Education and Interpretation did the first revamp of the audio tour which functioned as a prototype for content that went into ArtLens.

ArtLens allowed the CMA to realize their goal of incorporating community voices.  There is video, audio and slide shows, and content includes interviews with a variety of people – curators, conservators, scholars, and community members.

ArtLens page on Prayer Niche (Mihrab), Iran, Ishfahan, early 1600s, Gift of Katherine Holden Thayer

ArtLens page on Prayer Niche (Mihrab), Iran, Ishfahan, early 1600s, Gift of Katherine Holden Thayer

For instance, for this Persian Prayer Niche (Mihrab), there are four videos attached. Two incorporate a variety of voices, such as an imam from a local mosque, and footage of congregants being called to prayer at their prayer niche, all of which is interlaced with curator interviews. Other interesting interpreters include a plant curator from the Natural history Museum to talk about a painting which brings together lots of plants that don’t really go together, and a ballet instructor to talk about works by Degas.

Gallery One from an Educator’s Point of View

All of the objects in Gallery One are in ArtLens, so the two projects are deeply woven together even as they have different goals and purposes.  Seema put it like this, “ArtLens is an extension of you, it’s a small group device, but Gallery One is a place that congregates people.”  She said lots of school groups are signing up for active learning experiences in Gallery One.  These programs are not quite a studio and not quite a tour, more like a lab experience in the space.  The Intergenerational Learning department offers a math, a science, and three language arts based programs.  Despite frequently expressed concerns across the field about making use of technology for educational purposes in museums, Seema has concluded that “the technology does not negate people – it needs people.” Volunteer Gallery One Hosts report seeing a large number of repeat visitors, something that is substantiated by the museum’s audience research, and more and more families are coming to Gallery One as well.

There are approximately 60 artworks installed in Gallery One. They spoke to hundreds of visitors to determine what they would want.  Again mirroring Design Thinking as it is recommended for use in museums, while outside contractors helped to develop the front-end protocols for gathering this information, staff implemented the interviews. And it was well that they did, for big basic questions emerged from visitors about art work and creativity.  People wanted to know how were art works made, what was happening in the world when it was made, and what was it used for? Staff then used those questions as beginning points and asked themselves how they could create groupings that interest and surprise people? Seema said, “We drew from across the collection.  We’re really well known for an Asian collection, but we have a very broad collection.  We wanted to really draw on all of those things. The curators were incredibly generous and sometimes removed art from their galleries, sometimes giving over very powerful objects to install in Gallery One. Design had a big hand in it as well. Design was an incredible partner and advocate for the space.”

Discussions about the reinstallation and new interpretive strategies fed into the object selection for Gallery One.  This helped to give some parameters to the selection of objects. “We present objects we know people love and that draw high level of return visitors. People have lifelong relationships with these objects and this factored into the choices,“ Seema explained.

Visitors explore connections to the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection

Visitors explore connections to the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection

Then she had some great nuggets of wisdom to share about the practical aspects of running the space.  “Always keep in mind that everything’s going to break.  Assume you’re never getting money again so you have to have multiples of everything, which also means you need storage.  Think of technology as flexible but don’t be tied to the device or the platform. Be tied to the idea. Scale the technology to meet your needs and be sure to spend under what money you have so that you have a cushion to deal with contingencies for when things break. Think about operating costs in terms of opportunities. Scalability is really important. A huge space may not be the thing for your institution; geolocation in an app may not be that important – think about your institution and match your tech projects to your capabilities and resources. Remember that content is king and everything else is just delivery.  There is some technology that really works and some that doesn’t, just like some people are great teachers and some people aren’t.  It’s just another tool. Museums are at the point that they don’t need to allocate specifically for technology just to prove they can, but if technology can serve a need, then it should be used.”

Jennifer added, “I used to work at the National Endowment for the Humanities. In the last several years there’s been an upsurge in the idea of digital humanities, but it’s not real to think about humanities and digital humanities as separate things. Eventually digital will just be part of the way we do the humanities.  It’s the same in museum education.  We’re in a bridge period, but eventually it will be fully incorporated rather than seeing it as something separate. We’re not thinking about it separately.”



White Cube aesthetic typical of art museums. Personal photo by author.

White Cube aesthetic with little to no interpretation historically typical of art museums. Personal photo by author.

I recently read the Globe and Mail’s article about the Glenbow, Primed for a renaissance, with great interest. In it the director of the Calgary based museum, Donna Livingstone, spoke about a revitalization she plans to implement by re-framing the museum and it’s collection as an art gallery. I’m guessing she read the article in the Economist, Contemporary Art: On a Wing and a Prayer, which talks about the popularity of Contemporary Art Galleries over other types of museums and the move of many galleries to add or emphasize the contemporary art in their collections.

I don’t have an issue with Livingstone trying to breathe new life into her museum which has been bleeding money and jobs – her predecessor was kicked out of office on a no-confidence vote from the staff. It’s clear something needs to change and good on her for making a plan of action. What I do have an issue with is that part of the plan involves putting a large part of the collection on display with absolutely no interpretation. I thought we were past that, sigh.

Livingstone’s plan to have a changing exhibition of the permanent collection every three months is pretty great. Museums have such massive collections and only 3-5% is showcased in their public galleries. What a wonderful way to share more of the treasures in the storehouse with the public! What I do have an issue with is how Livingstone plans to make this feasible. She explains in the Globe article –

There would be no curation, no label copy, no fancy mounts or anything. We’d just say: Here’s all our cameras, or here’s all our jewellery, or here’s all our quilts. So the visitor would…have to do the work. They’re going to have to make the stories around what they see.

We should be breaking barriers down, not building them up – asking visitors to make sense of objects and come up with their own stories with no help is yet another obstacle they don’t need. I understand that it could be very expensive to have to make new interpretive labels every three months. But there are other ways to deliver content.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has digital labels in some of their exhibitions and have shared the open-source software that they built them on. Why not have digital labels installed which can remain in place but have different content with the changing exhibitions (it can be updated from the comfort of a staff member’s computer)? Yes it’s expensive to get the initial hardware and install but perhaps worth the investment. And if there is no staff time to research and write constantly changing labels then the Glenbow could repurpose the content they already have online in their collection, library and archives databases.

Another option is to deliver content to visitors’ mobile phones so you don’t have much hardware to invest in. It’s now possible to set up iBeacons using Raspberry Pi’s which is very inexpensive. There’s even a DIY tutorial on how to make a PiBeacon. With the iBeacons set up there would still be a need to create an application to detect the signal and push out content so there is cost there. But having an editable application could be useful to more than one museum. Why not join up with a few museums and pool resources? We’re seeing this with museum games like Green Door Labs Edventure builder which uses a common platform that can create a variety of games by adding different content.

To transform this history museum into an art gallery you don’t have to go all hipster – removing all the context so that only those in the know understand the objects. Please do orchestrate a renaissance for the Glenbow, but don’t leave out the interpretation – give the museum visitors something to craft their stories with or risk alienating them.

Guest Post by Kellian Adams

I met Kellian at the Museum Computer Network conference in Montreal this past fall where I was blown away by her presentation on games. Her energy, enthusiasm and pure unadulterated passion is positively contagious. As the co-founder of Green Door Labs, Kellian has worked on games such as Murder at the Met and Agents of Change. Erin and I were thrilled when Kellian agreed to share some of her game design experience and advice on Edgital. Enjoy!

wuss owl

Meme by Kellian Adams.

From grad school, one of my favorite stories was about a teacher who had her first graders make the infamous paper “hand turkeys” as part of a class. The class struggled, there were tears and glue and paper cuts and they survived but it wasn’t stellar. Afterwards, the teacher advisor asked the teacher.

“What do you want the kids to learn here?”

“I wanted them to learn about Thanksgiving.”

“Did they learn what you wanted them to?”

“Well mostly I wanted them to have a fun holiday craft to take home.”

“OK. Could that have been done in a simpler way without complicated scissor tasks?”

“Can’t we just let the kids have some fun?!”

“If it’s fun we’re after, let them play in the playground for an extra 45 mins.”

This story really struck me because it begs two really important questions: what are we really after and how do we know we got it? As a gamebuilder, this is near and dear to my heart. It’s work to build lesson plans and programming. It’s work for people to experience it. People will mostly do what you ask them to do in education and games so we’d better not waste their time with unclear goals.

So what do we want? Of course we want people to experience the museum and enjoy it. Of course we’d like them to learn. We all have more lofty goals as well. We want them to have one of those museum “moments” where things become more important. We want to increase creativity, empathy and curiosity. But those won’t work as goals. Why? They’re “turkey hand” goals. We’ll never know if we got them. You have to take all of those lofty intangibles and make them boring, unromantic tangibles. We need goals that can be measured.

For instance:

goal: we’d like people to make a personal connection with the portraits at the museum.

(Okay that is great but how do we know when we did that? How do we  make that assessable?)

Assessable goal: we want people to take pictures of their “portrait doppelgänger”. Find someone who kinda sorta looks like you. Take a photo of you and your art doppelganger.

Measure: Were pictures taken? Did people do the task you asked them to do?

Check out the Flickr set.

Did the achievable goal of collecting these photos also hit the intangible goal of having people make a personal connection with the art? Take a look at these pictures and tell me it doesn’t. #Nailedit! For me this is an example of taking an ephemeral goal and tying it to a measurable goal that can be assessed.

Maybe the trouble with non-assessable programming might be that we’re confusing goals with throughlines. Throughlines are the BIG ideas. The ephemeral things that you’d like people to take away- hopefully.  But goals are the measurable little things that when added up, will hit those through lines. You don’t want people just doing little tasks, you want to change lives. But how can you know if you’re changing lives without little tasks that measure it? You can’t have goals without throughlines. You can’t have throughlines without goals. New technologies (and games especially) offer tools that make assessment easier than ever. The trick is to know what you’re assessing and why.

When I work with people to build games and responsive programming, often the goals are something unmeasurable to start:

Meme by Kellian Adams.

Meme by Kellian Adams.

  • We want to engage the 18-35 crowd
  • We want to use 21st century learning tools to engage a new generation
  • We want them to have fun

These are good throughlines, but terrible goals. To make those into goals and measure them, you might say:

  • We want to attract 100 new people between the ages of 18-35 to the museum within three months
  • We want to be tweeted about, facebooked about and blogged about by 18-35 yr olds
  • We want pictures of happy, engaged people in our museum
  • We want spoken or written feedback from people saying that they enjoyed the program

These are goals that we could actually measure. And when you can measure, you know when you’ve won. As a gamebuilder, I’m especially conscious of measurement in activity. Often people want to win a game, earn points or level up. One thing to remember is that humans are measurement MONSTERS. They’re assessing themselves while they’re in your program: Did I look at the right art? Did I learn something? Did my kids learn a thing? Did I look smart? Help them out by making your assessment clear.

So don’t be wimpy. Create measurement metrics. Don’t say learning can’t be measured. You’re a talented museum educator and you can create programs that without a doubt show you, your administration, your guests and the rest of the world that you #Nailedit! And if not, you’ll know so you can fix it- and that’s good too.

Many of you will have read the special report on museums featured in The Economist’s holiday issue. The report included five articles:

Temples of delight

Discussing the current success of museums in terms of high visitor numbers; the success is due to the more visitor-centered attitude of modern museums.

The Bilbao effect

Exploring how thriving cultural centres have the power to make a city great.

On a wing and a prayer

Stating the popularity of Contemporary Art Galleries over other types of museums (possibly due to the strength of the contemporary art market).

Mad about museums

Reporting on the museum building boom in China and the many empty museums needing to be filled with collections that don’t exist yet.

Feeding the culture-vultures

Looking at the future and what museums need to do to keep alive such as playing to tourists, being niche, reaching out to different demographics, and creating international partnerships.

As you would expect from the Economist there is a big focus on money

  • museums induce tourists to spend and can earn a lot of money in taxes to help reinvigorate a city
  • museums are funded usually with a mix of public, corporate and individual giving
  • museums can make money by selling expertise to other museums
  • museums can generate income by loaning art
  • the recent slashing of public budgets means less funding for museums
  • contemporary art galleries are popular because of the growth of the art market in this sector (the super rich are diversifying their portfolios by investing in art)
  • not-for-profit museums take advantage of state and federal tax concessions (which can be seen as using poor people’s tax to pay for rich people’s pastime)

Overall the feature concluded that museums are successful and can continue to do well, for the most part. So what is this success due to according to the Economists analysis? The main reason pointed to is that museums have become more visitor centered.

The most fundamental change that has affected museums is the now almost universal conviction that they exist in order to serve the public. – Kennneth Hudson

We have changed museums from temples where we lectured at visitors and put our objects in a context-free vacuum into a place where visitor experience is facilitated according to the ways visitors want information served up to them.

Museums offer narratives in their exhibitions, provide a context for objects by linking them to other people and other places, work with digital experts to enable visitors to participate as well as watch and listen, and create innovative public programmes to bring in the young and inexperienced.

This isn’t anything new. I would argue that the use of technology and the mentality behind digital initiatives, giving the public greater control over the content of the museum and a means of interacting, is what is making us great and will continue to help us thrive. If we want to ensure the long term future we need to invest resources into, and reap returns from, digital interpretation.

What do you think? What is the key to our success?

And should success be qualified in terms of visitor numbers to begin with? Or should it be the more subjective notion of engagement (a difficult word to quantify)? Or is success merely survival? Whether museums can earn their right to stay alive by attracting funding?

I know it’s been a little while since the Museum Computer Network conference in Montreal but I’ve finally gotten over the conference cold and am ready to talk about what has stuck with me.

Digital Humanities Unicorn

Let’s address the unicorn in the room first. It’s all thanks to Don Undeen’s opening Ignite Talk that had us all in serious stitches. Maybe it’s best to watch his talk in order to understand. It’s kinda hard to describe…

Don’s talk is from 20:28 to 26:48

For the rest of the conference the Digital Humanities Unicorn gained celebrity status with its own twitter handle (@DHUnicorn) and celebrity sightings.

Design Theory

One of the most inspiring presentations came from the Digital Strategy workshop By the People For the People run by Annelisa Stephan (@Meowius) and Emily Lytle-Painter (@MuseumofEmily) from the Getty along with Dana Allen-Greil (@DanaMuses) from NGA. I didn’t get to go but when reading the slides of the presentation that were posted afterwards I kept thinking YES! This makes so much sense! And it’s exactly the framework I needed to feel like I can tackle things like creating a digital engagement strategy and rapid prototyping.

One thing that really stood out in the presentation was Design Thinking.

Design Thinking is a mindset and methodology for reframing problems. It is centered around empathy with a user, collaborative ideation with your team and rapid iteration.

The whole presentation is filled with gems of knowledge and actual methods of tackling things. If you read one thing from MCN please let it be this.

Rapid Prototyping

Micah Walter from Cooper Hewitt did a session on Rapid Protoyping in Museum Office Culture. It’s really logical but then again sometimes it helps to have someone tell you how they create their amazing stuff by breaking it down into those logical steps.

I think the most important part of Micha’s talk is that it is inspiring. Read his description of how to take an idea and make it something great. Then tell me you don’t want to do some rapid prototyping of your own.

Come up with even a notion of an idea, talk about it with your peers, your friends, even your dog… whatever, just talk about it, and then come up with a short term plan to build the thing with whatever tools and materials you have at your disposal. Once it even comes close to being a working model, put it out there for all to see. Put up the source code if you can, put the project up on the simplest free webserver you know how to work with, and then write

Managed to fit in a delicious Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich

Managed to sneak out for a delicious Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich

about it. Tweet about it, share it with your friends, send it to your parents and see if they have any clue what you are talking about. Nine times out of ten, if they do, you’re on to something big.

Open Everything

There were a lot of sessions about Open Access – such as these which explicitly had Open in their titles: Minimal Friction, Maximal Use: Optimizing Open Access Image Delivery; Museums & the Digital Public Library of America: The Role of Museums in Building the DPLA and the Power of Open LAM Data;  To Open or Not to Open?  A Technical, Legal or Philosophical Question; and Defining Open Authority in the Museum. But pretty much every session had an aspect that talked about openness.

One session about openness that really stood out was After You’ve Opened Pandora’s Box about experiments with Wikipedia at the ROM (Ryan Dodge @wrdodger), the many outcomes of trying to be more open at PEM (Ed Rodley @erodley), image releases at LACMA (Heidi Quicksilver @MissHQ.), and after opening up at SMK (Merete Sanderhoff @MSanderhoff).

What Ed said about the social media being too PR focused really struck home. On those lines I attended a really wonderful session about social media facilitation –  Facilitation Matters: How we Used Facebook, Mobile Phones, and Sketchpads to Measure Learning in Online Communities with Tory Livingston, Beck Tech and Jeff Brabill. The three explored if learning can happen online and if facilitation makes a difference to whether or not learning occurs. The answer was yes and yes!  The Facilitation Toolkit was generously shared so we can all use our social media channels to facilitate learning.

The importance of #Selfies

One of my favourite sessions was Beyond the #selfie: Connecting Teens and Art through Social Media. Dana uses existing visitor behaviour to get teens to interact with the collection at the National Gallery of Art. Teens are already taking photos of themselves (selfies) and sharing on social media. Dana uses a printed gallery guide, highlight objects in the collection, and prompts on how to interact with the art to share on social media. A hashtag is used to follow what’s being shared. What a great idea! It’s also appropriate for young adults which brings me to the next selfie related presentation….


Rich conversations about the conference can be found on twitter with #MCN2013

Rich conversations about the conference can be found on twitter with #MCN2013

Onsite Social Media Activation, in Real Time with Ryan Dodge from the ROM about how to activate social media at museum events. Ryan talked about the ROM’s Friday Night Late series which is exactly what the title implies – a series of Friday nights where the museum is open late. During these events the museum opens up bars, dance floors, live music and activities. It’s aimed at young adults and is very successful in getting them into the museum. At these events there is a photo wall set up and anyone who uses #FNLROM will get their images up on the wall for all to see. There are a lot of selfies and the popularity of the wall is largely due to the thrill young people get when they see themselves up on there – a brief moment of fame. I can attest to this as fact as I’ve been to FNL at the ROM and have been psyched to see my tweets and instagrams projected on the photo wall. And I’m also guilty of doing the meta selfie – taking a photo of a photo of myself up on the wall. Sharypic is how the wall is made possible. It grabs images with a specified hashtag from a number of social media platforms and then puts them in sequence. You can use a moderate feature that allows you to approve the images before they go up. It’s a great way to get us self-obsessed young adults to engage with the museum. Ryan has tried running contests to get people to engage on deeper level without much success. Something to contemplate and keep experimenting with.


Rolin Moe presented on MOOCs and Museums (MOOC = Massive Open Online Courses – see Erin’s post on them). Rolin explained what MOOCs are, different types of MOOCs and why he thought they would be a good fit for Museums. MoMA is currently running one so it will be interesting to find out how it goes once its completed. Rolin promised to create a DIY guide on MOOCseums for us to use. Something I’m eagerly anticipating.

My MCN Heroes

Dana Allen-Griel – for her work as an education technologist, providing a useable framework for creating a digital engagement strategy, and showing how you can integrate visitor behaviour into education programming.

Ryan Dodge – for his reinvigoration of the ROM through his innovative social media initiatives. Super inspiring.

Ed Rodley – for his deep thinking that makes me an avid reader of Thinking About Museums


You can find the conference sessions that were live streamed on MCN’s YouTube Channel. There are also sessions from the video booth, MuseoPunks and slides from presentations with audio overlayed. Enjoy!

There were some great tweets using #MCN2013 Kajsa Hartig has put them together in a helpful Storify that’s worth scrolling through.

Lots of amazing people have already written posts about MCN. Here are a few:

If you know of anyone else’s’ reflections on MCN please post them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Here’s a little insight into how things happen for a blogger.  With my handy dandy google alert, I follow news with the keywords “museum education” and “museum education digital”. Every once in a while something fruitful pops up such as this article in the Bloomington Pantagraph (not a website I would normally run into) about Mystic Seaport’s distance learning program. Intrigued, I went to the museum’s website, tracked down some email addresses and requested an interview. Krystal Rose, Project Manager, Mystic Seaport for Educators, agreed to talk to me and I found myself on a path of numerous discoveries.

Krystal has been at Mystic Seaport for almost seven years. In 2010, the museum received an IMLS grant to develop an online learning community, a project initiated by the museum’s President Steve White and Executive Vice President Susan Funk. The idea for a virtual field trip program had been running around the museum for several years. Their in-house film and video team had been interested in it and did some research into other museums that ran such programs, such as the Mystic Aquarium, which had been doing distance learning programs for about a decade.  The new online learning community project would be centered around a website, Mystic Seaport for Educators, designed to make the museum’s collection accessible to educators, complete with primary resources and features that would allow teachers to connect to each other.  As a component of this larger program, the museum was able to apply itself more seriously to developing some virtual field trips.

 Starting Simple and Experimenting

Following the advice of their colleagues at Mystic Aquarium, the program began simply with very basic equipment: Skype on a laptop and a $75 Logitech webcam.

Early experimental virtual education programs using Skype, a Logitech Webcam and a PC. In Photo: MSE Project Manager Krystal Rose, whale eyeball, Curator of Collections Fred Calabretta, former Planetarium Supervisor, Jeff Dunn.

Early experimental virtual education programs using Skype, a Logitech Webcam and a PC. In Photo: MSE Project Manager Krystal Rose, whale eyeball, Curator of Collections Fred Calabretta, former Planetarium Supervisor, Jeff Dunn.

Educators at the museum connect with their virtual field trip classroom teachers about a week before the actual “visit”, going over instructions on how to call in on the day of the lesson. On that day, the teacher calls in to the studio where an educator is waiting. The educator offers an introduction to museums and what they do, what a curator is and what s/he does, what the museum collects and why it’s important, and the conservation of museum objects. They then go through Mystic Seaport’s different collections and show various objects, telling their stories. Everything is connected to the new Common Core State Standards, with a goal of getting students to think deeply about historic events, helping them to learn how to analyze documents and artifacts, then creating an argument and supporting that argument with evidence in order to understand multiple perspectives. Educators ask questions of the students such as: What’s the whale’s perspective on the 19th century whaling industry? How did a black crewmember feel like while working on this ship? How did the family the sailors left back home feel?

In the early days of the program, the museum was able to customize lessons for each classroom, but as the program has picked up more requests, the lessons have become standardized and now focus on the Charles W. Morgan, a feature artifact of the museum – and the last wooden whaling ship in the world. The ship is coming out of an extensive 5 year restoration and will sail next year to several New England ports and the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Because of the popularity of the program, the museum is now using 4 educators to provide virtual field trips. They delve into different collections using Morgan artifacts. Historic videos end the session to impress upon students the realities of whaling – that it was dirty, dangerous work.  The goal of this is for students to think about the perspective of the people of the past.  Educators ask, in 100 years what is someone going to look back at you and think?

Early experimental virtual program on a cold day, below decks on the 1841 wooden whale ship, the Charles W. Morgan. Program used Skype and iPad. In photo: Brian Koehler, Museum Educator, Krystal Rose.

Early experimental virtual program on a cold day, below decks on the 1841 wooden whale ship, the Charles W. Morgan. Program used Skype and iPad. In photo: Brian Koehler, Museum Educator, Krystal Rose.

One thing I really admired about this program was how experimental it was. As museum educators we all know the value of seizing an opportunity, and this program is a great example.  The first run of the program was with the Pine City School District in Minnesota, where they did virtual field trips with several classrooms throughout the district.  They connected to the district through an intern whose mother worked there.  A strength of virtual field trips is that they allow multiple contacts with the classrooms so the Mystic Seaport educators were able to talk to these students more than once. Some of the teachers from that first year won scholarships to come to Mystic Seaport’s summer teacher institute and they had been so bowled over by the experience that they charmingly asked the educators to sign their copies of Moby-Dick.

The program with schools in Bloomington, Illinois came about when the museum landed a grant which required the money be spent on schools in Bloomington. They did a cold call to the school district upon receiving the grant and the schools were thrilled at the opportunity.  They met with 9 classrooms over a two week period. This year Mystic Seaport’s virtual field trip program will reach 50 classrooms in northeastern Connecticut, supported by grant funding.  Each class will get a visit to the museum, an outreach visit from an educator and a virtual field trip – which represents one of the best integrations of digital media into an existing museum education program that I’ve seen.  The museum will also be advertising the program in their school programs brochure this year, so more requests are coming in.  Schools can pay $175 for a virtual field trip, which costs less than your average rental of a school bus for a field trip, especially if you have to travel any distance to reach the museum.  The museum also provides some funding for virtual field trips based on the number of free and reduced lunches at the school. Grant writing also continues to support the program, and is what has allowed Mystic Seaport to upgrade – they now have a green screen and better equipment for their virtual field trips.

Our new set up- diagram of new equipment including ATEM TV Production studio and green screen.  In photos:  (top right)students from Pine City, Minnesota, with Museum Staff Brian Koehler and Barb Jarnagin, (bottom left) Museum Teacher Dean Hantzopoulos in front of the studio’s green screen.

Our new set up- diagram of new equipment including ATEM TV Production studio and green screen. In photos: (top right)students from Pine City, Minnesota, with Museum Staff Brian Koehler and Barb Jarnagin, (bottom left) Museum Teacher Dean Hantzopoulos in front of the studio’s green screen.

Involve Your Audience in Program Development

I asked Krystal about how the museum was evaluating their virtual field trip program.  Since it is one part of the larger Mystic Seaport for Educators project, a new website which launched November 6, it is included in the evaluation of that project.  That assessment is being carried out by New Knowledge, a group run by Dr. John Fraser and dedicated to helping cultural organizations “expand their programs in ways that increase social knowledge, positive lived experiences, and ecological harmony”.  Dr. Fraser is looking primarily at the website and its relationship with educators.  He led several focus groups in the beginning of the project and after big milestones and he assisted the team in creating a model to complete a year and a half of research with 150 teachers, students, and parents, holding team meetings each with a different focus. From this, they learned what teachers wanted from Mystic Seaport, which informed the entire project. Right now Krystal is doing informal follow up with teachers who participate in the virtual field trips to get feedback, and she is working on a survey to go out at the end of every program.

By this point in the interview I was deeply interested in how the larger project had been developed – not least because I recently had a change of job descriptions from Family audiences to K-12 School programs. So I asked Krystal to fill me in on what Mystic Seaport for Educators was all about.  She explained that education at the museum had previously focused largely on the museum grounds, which recreate a 19th century maritime village. The online learning community initiative that started with the IMLS grant was designed to create a closer relationship between the Education Department and the Collections Department. What resulted was a summer teacher professional development program that has been carried out during the last two years. Teachers have to do 40 hours of research and content creation and turn in content by the end of summer to qualify for the program’s stipend.  The museum’s educators clearly defined what the teachers were to turn in: they chose from a list of objects, documents, and maps to create content to be featured on the new website. An ancillary result was a series of primary source workshops that also developed out of this project.  The heart of all of it is making the museum’s objects more accessible.

The team hire began work on a concept called the “Interactive Artifact Record,” which would be created by the teachers in the summer professional development program.  The interactive artifact records told the stories of artifacts and documents. Each record included about 10 features inside. During the first round of professional development workshops, the museum ended up with 30 page research papers (beware turning teachers loose or you’ll get what you asked for and much, much more!).  They found they couldn’t funnel that level of research into the structure that they had designed. So Laura Nadelberg (Collections Specialist and MSE Teacher Coordinator), Krystal and Digital Gizmo, their contracted web design firm, sat down and went through the instructions they had given to teachers and rethought every step.  They spent all of 2012 experimenting with it to create a new format. Dr. Fraser also did a focus group with the six teachers who participated in the project. Their feedback included things like how much they loved being treated like colleagues within the museum, working with curators, getting access, and doing special workshops to help them with their writing. They dubbed it some of the best professional development any of them had ever experienced.  The museum’s staff hadn’t really thought of it as a professional development experience, but as it turned out – it was.  All sorts of interesting experiences popped up. For instance, in an orientation workshop, Henry Kydd, a high school history teacher, had mentioned to one of the curators, Fred Calabretta, that his grandfather had been a whaler. Fred did a little looking and discovered that Henry’s grandfather was one of the earlier oral histories that he had taken when he first started at Mystic Seaport.  He found the tapes which shared them with Henry, who got to hear his grandfather’s voice telling his life story.

Meanwhile, working with Digital Gizmo (who Krystal described as “phenomenal”) they tweaked the requirements for the features they wanted teachers to write, scaling them down into five different specific features.  Teachers in the second year of the professional development workshops now do much smaller tasks with very detailed instructions and the museum got tremendous results which they could plug right into the system. It took two years to figure out how the website content would come together but they are feeling very good about where things are now. Currently they have more content than they have people to proofread it all.

A Model for Success

I was thrilled to hear how Mystic Seaport built their new site for educators and how well they integrated it into their existing school and teacher programs.  Krystal told me this was the first ever digital project for her and the MSE team – and they really went about it right by starting small, experimenting, tweaking, keeping the audience involved at every step and approaching everything with an open mind so that experience could lead them on to the next step. She said she feels the project has been very successful at meeting its goals to provide access to the collection. Not only does the new website do this, but the virtual field trip program which allows interaction with a live museum educator adds a completely different dimension. The reality is that these days, schools have a lot of difficulty finding the money to spend on buses for field trips. She said their department realized that if they wanted to keep connecting with schools, even schools in CT, then they had to start thinking about the museum campus in a different way, that is, not just the visitors who walk through the gate.

Thanks to Krystal and the team at Mystic Seaport for their efforts and be sure to spend some time on Mystic Seaport for Educators. It’s a marvelous site that I’m sure will see a lot of growth in the years to come!



I’m freshly back from 3 weeks of traipsing from Moscow to Madrid. To celebrate my return I participated in an event hosted by NESTA, a charity that aims to inspire innovation; the event was called Building a making and learning ecosystem. There were four panelists and we were each asked to give 5-10 minute presentations about how our organizations are contributing to building a making and learning ecosystem. A good question. One I tried and hope I answered. But enough about me, I want to tell you about the cool things my fellow presenters are doing and the positive changes in the UK that are contributing to the strengthening of this ecosystem.

Fellow Presenter #1 – Make to Learn

Make-to-Learn is an organization that bridges both the UK and the USA. They combine the DIY culture, digital practices and educational research to advocate for placing making at the core of educational practice. They seek to engage young people with collaborative learning, experimentation and invention.

Fellow Presenter #2 – Freeformers

Freeformers offer digital workshops to corporations so their employees can learn tech skills. For every paying corporate client Freeformers trains a young person in these digital skills. These same young people then become the trainers for the corporate clients creating a symbiotic relationship.

Fellow Presenter #3 – Apps for Good

Apps for Good partners with informal and formal education institutions to run app courses. Young people are paired up with professional designers, developers and entrepreneurs who assist them in creating an app that solves a social problem they are passionate about.

New Computing Curriculum in the UK

The UK has recently changed the curriculum from ICT (Information and Communication Technology) to Computing which will be implemented in September 2014. ICT taught students how to use software packages like Microsoft Office. The New Computing Curriculum will teach digital making skills and ensure students have an understanding of how technology works. Skills taught will include things such as understanding abstraction, logic, algorithms and data representation, how to create and debug basic computer programs, and understand the hardware and software components of a computer.

Moving Forward – What Can Museums Do?

A topic that came up in discussion at NESTA’s event was the need to help teachers upskill (i.e. learn digital making skills required to teach tech to students) for the new computing curriculum. This is an area where museums can help. Seeing computing as cross-curricular means it can be worked into different subjects related to a variety of museum collections.

The V&A, a museum of Art & Design, holds a number of digital workshops for adults that are taught by digital makers, experts in the creative use of tech. Things such as soft circuits – making interactive hand puppets that light up, learning how to use arduino and raspberry pi to name a few. Teachers have been known to attend to learn these tech skills although the workshops are designed for adults in general. The museum is a safe place to learn; it gives entry points from the familiar (collection, and making activities) to the unfamiliar tech.

Moving forward perhaps museums should get accredited to give professional development points to teachers for attending our courses?

Would this be something your museum could offer or is offering? What else can museums do to help contribute to the digital making and learning ecosystem?

There was a twitter conversation during the NESTA event using the hashtag #makelearn. If you’d like to see what was said or contribute to the discussion further please use that hashtag.

Online professional exchange: photo courtesy of Oakland Museum of California

Online professional exchange: photo courtesy of Oakland Museum of California

Today I received a survey from the California Association of Museums Online Community asking me about how I interact online and what they could do to build a more robust online community. This, along with a recent conversation in a department meeting at my institution about where the really interesting professional conversations are now happening for museum educators (books? journal articles? listservs? online forums? blogs? conferences?), got me to thinking.

When I began in the field, there were certain authors of books, and occasionally journal articles, who greatly shaped my thinking and practice. Today, given the slow pace of book publication and the extreme dearth of journals that are useful for museum educators, my greatest influencers are bloggers and posters. Though the number of specifically museum education related blogs is (lamentably) very small, LinkedIn has good discussion forums, and museum-related blogs are many. A recent post on the Center for the Future of Museums discusses the professional advantages of blogging, as well as giving a few tips on how to build a successful professional blog.

I heartily believe the field of museum education must be more visible online. Just in the past couple of weeks, we’ve had the marvelous article on the benefits of museum field trips on EducationNext, which deserves a robust discussion in our field; that is, the kind that happens in other museum-related areas.  Witness the intense online conversation that has coalesced around the two diametrically opposed opinion articles about museums in the last 6 weeks: Judith Dobrynski’s New York Times piece High Culture Goes Hands-on (museums are too interactive! There’s no room for quiet contemplation anymore!) and James Durston’s CNN article Why I Hate Museums (museums are boring! Give me a story! Show, don’t tell!) Would you like a fascinating look into both your colleagues and the general audience? Read the comment sections on both of those articles, or the various blog posts responding to them. Such as Art Museum Teaching, Dennis Kois, Ed Rodley, Flux Boston, Adrianne Russell, Robert Connelly, Dana Allen-Greil, Museum Minute – and I’m sure there are ones I’ve missed. While many on the bloggers above engage with topics that are of tremendous importance to museum educators, only one of these blogs is actually BY museum educators.

So I’m wondering, who do you look to professionally to keep you informed, and to inspire you? What are you reading and who’s writing it? Where do you exchange useful ideas, engage in debate, challenge yourself in thinking about your practice? If you are active online professionally, what are the advantages and disadvantages?