‘Engaging digital audiences in museums’ conference

A quick report and Storify summary from Wednesday’s joint Museums Computer Group (MCG) and Digital Learning Network (DLNet) conference, ‘Engaging digital audiences in museums‘, which was held on 11 July 2012 at the University of Manchester.  I’m the Chair of the MCG and was on the Programming Committee for this event so I make absolutely no claim to impartiality, but I thought it went really well – great speakers and workshop leaders, enthusiastic and friendly participants and a variety of formats that kept energy levels up during the day.

My notes are sketchier than usual as I was co-chairing some of the sessions and keeping an eye on the running of the event, so this is more of an impressionistic overview than a detailed report.  There are already a number of other posts out there, and we’ll have the post from our official event blogger and illustrator up soon for more comprehensive accounts.

For the MCG, this event was experimental in a number of ways – in running an event with another practitioner organisation, in the venue, in running parallel workshops, buying in commercial wifi, and in devoting part of the day to an unconference – and I’m curious to know what response we get in the evaluation from the day.  (If you were there, our short feedback form is online.)

The event was designed to bring museum learning and technology staff together because we felt we were missing opportunities to benefit from each others skills and experience. I know technologists are grappling with measuring impact, and learning people with reaching new audiences in different ways – hopefully each group would have something to offer and something to learn, though it might mean seeing past each others jargon and understanding different views of the world. (This ‘Interloper Report‘ and comments from MW2012 provide some insight into the potential.) We planned the day as a mixture of inspiring talks and opportunities to get stuck into conversation about topical issues. It was also a day for making connections so we’d included coffee breaks, lunch and the unconference so that people could find others interested in similar things or to put faces to names from the MCG and DLNet lists and social media.
The various tweets I’ve added to storify do a reasonable job of covering the day, but I’ve left out things like the QR code discussion. Other conversations about generic learning outcomes have taken on a life of their own – for example, Rhiannon’s post ‘Generic Learning Outcomes – friend or foe?‘ seeks to understand why non-learning people don’t seem to like them.

I thought Nick Winterbotham‘s presentation of the Group for Education in Museums (GEM) ‘self-evident truths’ was interesting, and some of his points were picked up and retweeted widely:

  • Our heritage is not about things it is about people
  • Everyone has a right to know about and be at ease with heritage
  • Heritage embraces the past and present of all cultures
  • Heritage is essential as the cradle of everyone’s tomorrow
  • Heritage encompasses all literature, science, technology, environments and arts
  • The multiple narratives of heritage deserve respect
  • Learning is an entitled journey, not a destination
  • Heritage learning is an entitlement for everyone
  • The development of heritage learning skills must be a perpetual excellence
  • Learning is not simply a justification for cultural spending, it is THE justification for cultural spending

Nick advocated for a world where no-one hesitates at taking a risk in learning, and said that we love art, digital culture because of how we feel about it, not what we know about it. He urged us to focus on how your audiences live, learn and love your subject matter; to acknowledge the intellectual generosity needed; and find the big idea that will transform your organisation.

Matthew Cock talked about the challenges of audiences, particularly around mobile. The three-pronged model for audiences in museums: attract -> engage -> impact.  He asked, when you see someone in a museum with a phone, what space are they in? Are they engaged, distracted, focused? Is it a sign of disrespect and disengagement or a sign of bonding with the group they’re with? And how do you know?

He talked about the work Morris Hargreaves McIntyre had done to understand their audiences and their varying motivations for visiting: social – museums as enjoyable place to spend time with friends and family; intellectual – interested in knowledge; emotional – experience what the past was like; spiritual – creative stimulation, quiet contemplation, etc.  (See also MHM’s Culture Segments report). How does this connect to using mobiles to engage people? People have different activities – chat, read, recording audio or photo, playing media back, share something via social media etc. Each fulfills a different need. The challenge is to match specific things you can do on a mobile with your motivations for visiting. He referred to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to think about the needs a museum satisfies in our lives and the experience economy.

People are seeking venues and events that engage them in a memorable (and authentic?) ways – we’re shifting from buying lots of stuff to seeking unique and engaging experiences. The visitor wants to walk away with the engagement having effected a transformation (the impact point of the three-pronged model). Measuring that impact is really hard. Evaluation can look at lots of things but it’s hard to understand the needs of our visitors and what works for them in this space.

Later I asked what Learning people like Nick could tell us technologists about measuring impact, but it seems like it’s the holy grail for their field too. Nick did mention that we go from a stage of cognitive to affective impact over time after an experience, which is a good start for thinking about this.  Judging from the response on twitter, I’m not the only one who thinks that measuring the impact of a museum experience and understanding whether it’s ephemeral or lifelong is one of the big tasks for museums right now.

John Coburn‘s presentation on the Hidden Newcastle app harked back to the buzz around storytelling
a few years ago, but it also resonated with conversations about the different types and purposes of museum websites – an app that’s not about sharing collections or objects but about sharing compelling stories fits firmly in the ‘messy middle‘.  In this case, ‘it’s the story that creates the impact, not the object. The value of the object is as the source for the story’. I love that they wanted to create intrigue about the people and the times in which they lived and compel exploration.

It was a difficult choice but I popped into the ‘tech on a budget’ workshop where Shona Carnall and Greg Povey presented some interesting ways to use existing, readily available technologies to create interactive experiences.

I’ll leave the detail of the other presentations to the storify below and other people’s posts and skip to the unconference.  Because time was short we asked for session ideas and votes from the podium, rather than letting people write ideas and put their votes up on a shared board.  After the unconference we all gathered again to hear what had been discussed in each group. The summaries were:
  • Commercial side of commissioning cool things: reluctant to put a price on it, but UK has cultural expectations around free museums which makes it harder to charge. Digital is received as god given right, something that should be free. But how come the West End theatre is able to charge so much for a ticket? Museums providing paid-for entertainment not just a browsing experience. We pay for entertainment but we don’t expect to be entertained in museums. 
  • Learning outcomes: friends or foe? Attitude is sometimes that learning outcomes are rubbish – decided generic learning outcomes (GLOs) are a really good thing. It’s not about shoe-horning facts into everything or pure knowledge transfer – it’s also about inspiration, experience, skills, wonderment. The wondrous Romans! Trying to change the stigma about what learning actually is, it’s an experience as much as formal education. Maybe ‘aims and objectives’ a better term than ‘learning outcomes’.
  • How do you evaluate wonderment – with difficulty. What is it? Element of surprise, something being visceral, physiological responses. Are adults too cynical for wonderment? ‘Smiling Victorians’ – challenge expectations. Imagine writing a budget to get iris recognition to measure wonder! Hard to measure or evaluate it but should always aspire to it.
  • Coherent experience, call to action in gallery to online with mobile in gallery: talked about pressure museums are under to introduce next tech, be whizzy, or is it addressing a real need? Can you piggyback on software that’s already out there?
  • Reaching different audiences: particularly teenagers: find out what inspires them, tap into that. What are the barriers to engaging them? They’re creative, maybe we should work with them to create digital offers, empower them. Apps for apps sake – under pressure to deliver them.
  • Big ideas: intellectual generosity. (Goodness! There was a long list of the characteristics MCG and DLNet would have if they were an animal or a tool…)  We are intricate explosions. Intricate – all the stuff we’re talking about is detailed and a little fragile but explosive because the world will catch fire with what we’re doing.
  • Failure confessionals: web content management systems – maybe simple is the way to go. Failure is a good thing, and at least we didn’t screw up like the bankers.
  • Social media audiences: does it make sense just to have one FB, twitter, etc account per org? Keeping a brand together is good but it doesn’t always make sense to lump all audience conversations into one channel.

And with the final thanks to the student volunteers, programme committee, unconference organisers and speakers (and particularly to Ade as local contact and Rhiannon as the tireless organiser that made it all happen), it was over.

We’re already looking ahead to the MCG’s Spring 2013 meeting, which may be an experimental ‘distributed’ meeting held in the same week or evening in different regional locations.  If you’re interested in hosting a small-scale event with us somewhere in the UK, get in touch!  We’re also thinking about themes for UK Museums on the Web 2012, so again, let us know if you have any ideas.

Drinking about museums: the Manchester edition, July 10

A few years ago the Museums Computer Group committee started inviting people attending our events to join us for drinks the night before. For locals and people who’ve travelled up the night before an event, it’s a nice way to start to catch up with or meet people who are interested in technology in museums. These days people around the world are organising events under the #drinkingaboutmuseums label, so we thought we’d combine the two and have a #drinkingaboutmuseums in Manchester on Tuesday July 10, 2012. Come join us from 6:30pm at the Sandbar, 120 Grosvenor Street, Manchester M1 7HL.

And of course, the reason we’re gathering – on Wednesday July 11, 2012, the MCG (@ukmcg) are running an event with the Digital Learning Network (@DLNet) on ‘Engaging digital audiences in museums‘ in Manchester (tickets possibly still available at http://mcg-dlnet.eventbrite.com/ or follow the hashtag #EngageM on twitter) so we’ll have a mixed crowd of museum technologists and educators. You’re welcome to attend even if you’re not going to the conference.

If you’ve got any questions, just leave a comment or @-mention me (@mia_out) on twitter. We’ll also keep an eye on the #drinkingaboutmuseums tag. You can find out more about #drinkingaboutmuseums in my post about the June New York edition which saw 20-ish museum professionals gather to chat over drinks.

20% time – an experiment (with some results)

A company called Atlassian have been experimenting with allowing their engineers 20% of their time to work on free or non-core projects (a la Google). They said:

You see, while everyone knows about Google’s 20% time and we’ve heard about all the neat products born from it (Google News, GMail etc) – we’ve found it extremely difficult to get any hard facts about how it actually works in practice.

So they started with a list of questions they wanted to answer through their experiment, and they’ve been blogging about it at http://blogs.atlassian.com/developer/20_percent_time/. It makes for interesting reading, and it’s great to see some real evidence starting to emerge.

Hat tip: Tech-Ed Collisions.

Learn web standards for free

So now you have no excuse – it’s free, accessible, and “designed to give anyone a solid grounding in web design/development, no matter who they are” (and what they might/not already know):

Learning Web Standards just got easier. Opera’s new Web Standards Curriculum is a complete course to teach you standards-based web development, including HTML, CSS, design principles and background theory, and JavaScript basics.

Interesting, the introduction says, “I am mainly aiming this at universities, as I believe the standards of education in web standards to be somewhat lacking at many universities”.

More at Learn to build a better Web with Opera.

“The coolest thing to be done with your data will be thought of by someone else”

I discovered this ace quote, “the coolest thing to be done with your data will be thought of by someone else”, on JISC’s Common Repository Interfaces Group (CRIG) site, via the The Repository Challenge. The CRIG was created to “help identify problem spaces in the repository landscape and suggest innovative solutions. The CRIG consists of a core group of technical, policy and development staff with repository interface expertise. It encourages anyone to join who is dedicated and passionate about surfacing scholarly content on the web.”

Read ‘repository or federated search’ for ‘repository’ (or think of a federated search as a pseudo-repository) and ‘scholarly’ for ‘cultural heritage’ content, and it sounds like an awful lot of fun.

It’s also the sentiment behind the UK Government’s Show Us a Better Way, the Mashed Museum days and a whole bunch of similar projects.

Web tools for different learning styles

A useful page presenting 100 Helpful Web Tools for Every Kind of Learner:

Determining how you best learn and using materials that cater to this style can be a great way to make school and the entire process of acquiring new information easier and much more intuitive. Here are some great tools that you can use to cater to your individual learning style, no matter what that is.

Resources listed include mind maps and charts and diagrams for visual learners, podcasts, presentation tools and screen readers for auditory learners, and collaboration, note making and interactive tools for kinesthetic learners.

It’s also a good list of the applications people might be using while surfing your site – how well does your content work with these web services?

Talking to IT students about the cultural heritage sector, and a small ‘woot’

I’ve just written a report of a visit I made with June (our diversity manager) and Bilkis (our web content manager) to Kingston University to talk to students from the Faculty of Computing, Information Systems and Mathematics about the role of IT professionals in museums.

The full post is on the Museum of London blog (‘Why should IT students consider working in cultural heritage?‘) but I thought it was worth linking to here because the discussion raised lots of interesting questions that might benefit from a wider audience:

How can we engage with our audiences? How would you challenge us, as a museum, do to a better job? Is there obvious stuff we’re missing? Do you have an idea for a project a museum could work with you on? Do you want to contribute to our work? Do you have any more questions about museum jobs?

On a more theoretical level, what effect might new methods of collecting objects or stories have – does it create a new kind of visibility for content from IT literate people with reliable access to the internet? How can we engage with people who aren’t comfortable online?

I think I got more out of the session than the students did, and it’s nice to think that one or two of them might consider working in a museum when they graduate.

And the small ‘woot’? This blog has been listed as an example of a ‘programming and development blog’ in the ComputerWeekly.com IT Blog Awards 08. I have no idea how that happened, but it’s very flattering.

Call for participants: 1st Annual Antiquist Workshop

This might be of interest if you are interested in computer applications in archaeology (and can be in the UK in late April):

1st Annual Antiquist Workshop

21-23 April 2008

Department of Archaeology

Southampton University

www.antiquist.org

SECOND CALL FOR PARTICIPANTS

The 1st Annual Antiquist Workshop will be hosted at Southampton University Archaeology Department in April 2008. The purpose of the Workshop is to provide postgraduate students in Archaeological Informatics and associated disciplines with the opportunity to:

  • Broaden their skill base with a short series of practical seminars focusing on real-world applications of IT in archaeology
  • Get career guidance from professionals working in the field
  • Network with peers from other institutions
  • Become involved with the Antiquist online community for IT & Cultural Heritage

Seminars will be based on topics requested by participants but are likely to include GIS, web-based mapping, 3D visualisation & reconstruction, data structuring and scripting. Workshop attendance is free but participants will need to pay for food and accommodation where required. The organisers will be happy to reserve accommodation at a local hostel or hotel on request. Places on the workshop are limited and will be assigned on a first-come-first-served basis. Topics requested by early registrants may also be given priority. The final deadline for registration is 10 February 2008.

In order to register please send an email to l.isaksen@soton.ac.uk stating your name, institution and course, two specific topics which would be of interest to you, and whether accommodation arrangements should be made.

Please feel free to forward this to any person or list likely to be interested.

Best wishes

The AAW team