The Near-Future of Museum Education for K-12 Audiences

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FutureEducationInfographic

 

This afternoon I had the privilege of participating in the North Carolina Museum of Art’s project, #NCMAAsk (search twitter for more), which is focused on museums, technology, and the future.  There were a number of issues that came up, but, many of them centered around hearing, listening, and flexibility.

Museums in their partnership with schools have can serve as advocates for students and teachers, but only if they are creating programming, experiences, resources, and spaces that respond to their needs.  In terms of advocating for teachers, it includes helping them out, it includes offering teachers the language that they can use to communicate the importance of the arts to their higher ups. It terms of advocating for students, it is about creating and implementing curriculum that is student centered.

Museums have the lucky position of being outside of the school’s systems.  They don’t have the same rules and museum experiences don’t end in grades.  We don’t know who is the smart student, the weird kid, or the screw up.  A good museum educator takes all of the kids where they come, and brings them all into the experience.  On an even footing, but in a totally different learning experience, a totally different kid might find themselves as the smart kid.  In museums, K-12 classrooms get the chance to visit an alternate learning universe, if it is even for one hour.

I was asked to me an oracle of the future of education.  I think there are some big issues, such as competency-based education and the complete restructuring of the grade-level system.  I think museums, with their high-quality digital tools, apps, and powerful search engines, will be poised to be right there at the horizon of education.  But, I am more focused on the closer targets.  In the short term, I am focused on how to deepen engagement through multi-visit experiences, as well as the ways that after school education can be impacted by museums. Also, I am interested to think about the ways that museums can use technology to augment K-12, such as through distance learning, online learning, and simulations.

Finally, individualized learning is already happening every where.  Phones are tools for learning and creativity.  Museums can employ them in gallery spaces with students. But, this requires the staff being comfortable with these tools and finding authentic ways to use them.  Taking the students lead, so allowing them to search on their phones when they are researching something in the galleries, is a great way to use mobile as a tool.

Donald Draper on the Way of Museums

“You are the product. You feel something.” Mad Men

The television show Mad Men celebrates the way that advertising men transformed brands like Hershey and Jaguar from things you buy into personas with which you identify.  In the show, Don Draper, a complicated anti-hero, was shown developing poetic narratives that made people connect with products.  With the power of words and images, Draper transformed things into experiences.

Draper’s powers in transfiguration seemed rooted in his innate understanding of culture and human nature.  While womanizing and hard-drinking, at his core, Draper seemed intensely empathic, employing this power for commercial ends.  In actor Jon Hamm’s read of the finale, Draper understands his core self in a moment of meditation.  Hamm’s reading is based on a sequence where Draper is seen smiling amid a cliff full of hippies before a cut to an iconic Coke ad about love and peace.  Rather than seeing Don as an opportunist, Hamm suggests that Draper realizes what he is—someone good at connecting people to ideas.

Museums might take a few notes from these admen.  Art museums do not make art; they make art available. Natural history museums might engage in excavations, but they didn’t fossilize the dinosaurs. Instead, museums are trying to get people to choose to buy what they are selling—cultural heritage.

But, people are buying our product less regularly. Museum attendance continues to drop. It might be because museums are selling the wrong thing.  Many museums are housed in buildings that were new and flashy. Building projects allowed many institutions to announce record attendance.  Now, these buildings are last season’s product.  Museum buildings are structures, elaborate housing for a collection.  Few buildings in our nation go beyond brick and mortar in the public consciousness. Even spaces that do, say the Rocky steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, are often imbued with meaning outside of the work of the museum itself.

The analogy of a movie theater might be helpful.  Movie theaters are places to go for entertainment.  Like museums, movie theaters are seeing numbers go down.  Like many museums, movie theaters house a watched form of entertainment. But, few, if any, movie theaters operate as 501-C3s.  They need to turn a profit to keep the doors open, and they have little hope of garnering donations to buoy their bottom line.  With such stakes, there is little time for academic concerns about whether they should sell the idea of movie theaters or the actual movie in the theaters.  They sell the movie, or they will have no theater to show the movie in.  Movies are the thing that make people go to movie theaters.

So, what should museums sell to get people go to museums?  If you follow my analogy to its conclusion, the answer would be collections.  Is that what the adman would say?  I think Don Draper would say that museums need to package themselves in ways that resonate.  In the Mad Men universe, Draper took the zeitgeist of his time, and with a Californian clarity, thought about what would make people feel a connection to the brand.  In that famous feel good ad, the Coca Cola brand positioned itself as a convener of people.

What will make people connect to museums?  What is that pitch that will help people feel that museums are as essential to their lives as a cold coke? After all, if anyone can teach a thing or two about homes,  honey bees, and turtle doves, certainly museums are well placed to educate the future in perfect harmony.

Usability for Users; Consumerability for Consumers?

Usability is one of those words that has a faint jargon-style feeling to it. In pitching the power of eyetracking, card sorts, and participant design, you are wisest to avoid all those terms.  These are terms that alienate your clients.  As John Rhodes discusses in Selling Usability, focusing on the customers, rather than the testing, will help people understand the end goal of testing.

To get to that goal, you will need to design a test, perform the test, get results, analyze the rests.  After all of that, you will then need to make sense of the data.  With eye tracking, for example, you will need to help make sense of heat maps.

Visualizations, when interpreted well and correlated with think aloud information, can translate data into meaning. A final report puts everything together creating meaning out of data.  In the end, usability could be said to be the study of users and interfaces. But, you could think of it as understanding customers or consumers, and then finding a way to help your clients see what you have come to understand.

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Why play games in museums?

Whyplaygames

One of my clearest memories of childhood is being beaten soundly at Uno by my uncles and aunts. Strangely, I felt belonging and comraderie. It made me begin to think strategically. It made me want to play more.  In the end, it was the doing that I liked.  We were actively engaging in a shared experience.  We were having fun. (Maybe my aunts and uncles more than me.)
It a time when museum attendance has decreased, the idea of having fun experiences for visitors is appealing.  Games can build good will in audiences and encourage visitation. 

But, games also offer other benefits. Museums often seek to impart information, so games are useful. In games, people learn to learn, acquiring skills, making sense of the game system, and garnering new information. 

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For my other posts on games:

Why play games?

Guide to Museum Games

Game Development Tutorial


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What kind of games can you play in museums?

Guide to Museum Games

There is no one game solution for museums. In fact, as a game developer it is often fun to try to continue to break boundaries with your museum game.

Some of the things to consider:

The game structure and mechanics are related to the level of social engagement. In some instances, more individual games allow for people to develop individual connections to collections. But, social games can enrich understands of collections in a collective way. 

Galleries can be a great place to play a game, but make sure to maintain your core mission. If your mission is to give people access to real objects, don’t create a game that doesn’t engage with the collection.

There are also rewards earned with games that are played outside of gallery spaces.  Games played in lobbies and family spaces offer opportunities for reflection about and reconnection to collections.

Your game type will be chosen based on a number of factors, like budget and project goals. But, be flexible. Experiment. Start with what you know, but then try new games.  

Games may overlap. A live-action game may have mobile components. A board game may include a live-action component.  This listing above is a way to help you begin to make sense of games.

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For my other posts on games:

Why play games?

Guide to Museum Games

Game Development Tutorial

How do you actually make a game?

MakingAGameDesigning a game? Well, there are many ways to start, but, in essence, you want to think about some big issues:

1. What is your goal? What do you want your players to get out of it? What is your project goal? How does it relate to your game goal?

2. Where are you going to play this? In the galleries, or out? Both? Why did you choose that space? What does the game play have to do with that space? 

3. How much can you spend? Think money and time. Do you have the staff to make the game? Play the game? Maintain the same?

4. Who is playing this game? Who is your audience? What do they like to do? How do you know? What are their limitations? What are their strengths? 

Also, each answer effects the answers to each of the other questions.  In other words, think wholistically. As you answer each question, reflect on your ideas.  

After thinking about those big issues, you then need to expect to take lots of time developing, testing, and iterating.  A seamless game often has hours and hours of prep time to get to that perfect game play.

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For my other posts on games:

Why play games?

Guide to Museum Games

Game Development Tutorial 

#MobileVideo Call To Arms

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#mobilevideo

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have wasted 15 seconds.  For that matter, I think my teenage years were a study in wasting time.   Think of all the time you might waste in your day?  I bet you could find a few minutes that could be put to use to make a video.

The rewards will be great.  Making social media videos helps me refine my ideas and find new ones. I am able to take a risk on something that is very low stakes. I am able to find petty fame.  I get feedback from people who are interesting (and then loads of spam.)  Basically, there are a lot of returns for very little time.

There is also no wrong way to do it.  You might start my mimicking videos that you have seen. (But, be kind and credit your source.) You might start and make the video you have never seen.  Eventually, you might settle on your voice.  In the last few months, I have been focused on stop-motion craft.  It has become my voice.  I don’t know if that will stay that way.  There are a lot of new ideas sort of percolating in my head.

What is nice also, is that it lets you think physically.  You don’t need to storyboard or script.  You can just directly build your story in your app.

Certainly there are practical ways to think about social media (and below you will see many posts about it.)  But, in a big picture way, think of social media video as your chance to create as you wish.

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#mobilevideo 2015 overview

My vines can be found here.

I have written a series of short posts about Vine.  Enjoy:
Vine Video for Museums: Post 1
How can Museum Educators use Vine?
The Right Audience for Vine
Fostering Participation in Vines
Vine to Share the Museum Experience
Narrative in Vine
Looking at Art through Vine
Vine on Your Own
Vine Interface—An Orientation
Vine Basics
Vine and Audio
Stop Motion Tips

I produced these posts as notes in preparation for co-writing this paper for Museums and the Web 2014, with Alli Burness, @Alli_Burnie; Patty Edmonson, @Retrograde_D; and Chad Weinard, @caw_

Our presentation Vine feed is here. 

Our workshop in April, 2014 sparked some good conversation, see the Storify.

Many of our participants made some wonderful Vines, check these out.

 

 

 

#MobileVideo

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#mobilevideo infographic

Social media video can be a powerful way to engage people. The statistics are staggering. This is one of those things that everybody is doing–and you should too.

It is direct and easily accessible.  A huge percentage of the globe can access these videos from anywhere.  (It might be helpful to remember that there are more cell phones that people on earth.)  Anyone can do it, and some of us can do it well.  This inherently democratic media can be useful to museums in many ways.

First and foremost, museum people get a chance to capture what they see in real-time to share with their audience.  Get a behind the scenes look at your aquarium’s fish doing the cancan? A picture is certainly not going to work.  (And, that is a video that could go viral fast.)

Second, when museum’s post videos, they are speaking to their audience in a language that their audience already speaks. 1.5 billion videos loop daily.  People are making these videos themselves and consuming them.  There is a powerful message when institutions agree to participate with their visitors where they are.

That said, institutions should be careful to make videos that seem authentic and appropriate.  An exhibition about the civil war might not be the venue for humor. While an exhibition in a children’s space about bodily function might result in videos that are fun for the whole family.

How do you get started? Now social media, including Instagram and Vine, have made it a lot easier.  You can import videos from your camera reel.  If you are really into it, you can make them in GoPro, follow a series of work arounds, and then import them.

I can’t say that I go through all that.  I usually shoot using Vine, and then save it to my camera reel by unclicking post to Vine, and then edit in VideoShop.  Then I reload my videos to Vine.  Vine and Instagram findability are fueled by #hashtags. So, go a little nuts with that.  It will help you be found.

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My vines can be found here.

I have written a series of short posts about Vine.  Enjoy:
Vine Video for Museums: Post 1
How can Museum Educators use Vine?
The Right Audience for Vine
Fostering Participation in Vines
Vine to Share the Museum Experience
Narrative in Vine
Looking at Art through Vine
Vine on Your Own
Vine Interface—An Orientation
Vine Basics
Vine and Audio
Stop Motion Tips

I produced these posts as notes in preparation for co-writing this paper for Museums and the Web 2014, with Alli Burness, @Alli_Burnie; Patty Edmonson, @Retrograde_D; and Chad Weinard, @caw_

Our presentation Vine feed is here. 

Our workshop in April, 2014 sparked some good conversation, see the Storify.

Many of our participants made some wonderful Vines, check these out.

Eyetracking

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I am a starer.  It doesn’t help that my eyes are on the large side.  Yesterday, sitting in the airport, I was struck by how many people assumed I was looking at them, when instead I was just staring out into space.  So, I have a natural bias to question eye-tracking studies.  But, there is a real difference between the ways that your face (and your eyes) react when in open-ended learning situations and in information seeking moments.

In websites and mobile devices, you are using these tools for a certain end.  You are seeking something specific.  Much of your interactions with the interface could be summarized by the phrase, “how do I get to the next place, page, part, link, etc.”  In other words, your gaze is often the moment before you take a navigational step.

Eye-tracking studies have real promise in understanding usage in an unmediated way.  Even the smoothest researcher is putting their participant on the spot.  In this case, the participant is acting in a somewhat normal way.  Tools, like the Tobii, do require participants to sit very still–which is not terrible real-world.  But, at least, they are not being artificially prompted by a person.

Eye-tracking studies are not just about where people look, but also understanding this in correlation to time.  What did they look at first? What are the patterns of things they looked at? What didn’t they look at?  In other words, one is assessing behavior.  This can then be correlated with attitudinal data, from their talk alouds, for example.  But, at the core, eye-tracking is about behavior.

More Mobile Testing

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I have continued to ruminate on mobile testing.  In thinking about the pervasiveness of mobile, getting mobile right is imperative.  But, at the same time, the testing options have major limitations.  After all, no one actually hugs a laptop while searching for the ideal episode of Gilmore Girls on Netflix on their surface.  And, they probably don’t use a sled when flipping through Pandora on their iPhone.  Most testing scenarios just don’t mimic the real world.  In fact, they are very different from the real world.

It makes me more sure that there has to be someone out there who can create the ideal mobile testing software.  The big challenge with this is that fact that there are many different types of mobile.  There is iOS; both phone and table.  There are Androids and then there are the Windows tablets.  Given the diversity, one might need to create a number of different mobile testing systems.  (Apple has a vested interest in locking down their system.  They have a controlled access mechanism, i.e. with their developer program.)

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