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Jane Devine Mejia


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Talk presented as part of Creating Online Exhibitions on 2 Nov 09 at the British Museum, run by the E-Learning Group for Museums, Libraries and Archives

Talk presented as part of Creating Online Exhibitions on 2 Nov 09 at the British Museum, run by the E-Learning Group for Museums, Libraries and Archives

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  • To give you the context for our Online Exhibitions Project, I’ll just say a few words about the Centre for Excellence in Teachng & Learning through Design. We are a Higher Education Funding Council for England – funded centre, based at the University of Brighton and the V&A.Two of the partners are HE institutions: the UoB and the RCA and two are primarily collections-based (the V&A and the RIBA),. The Unviersity of Brighton is also know n for its Design Archive and the RIBA has an important role in architectural education, both at the degree stage and in ongoing learning for practiising architects.Our project focussed on the archival collections at each institution, rather than museum collections.
  • In broad terms, these were the 3 goals of the project. A literature review focussing on art/design, library, museum and education literature soon revealsed that there was almost nothing writtten on how HE art and design students use online exhibitions. Our review of best practice in OLE design, looking at major design institutions, museums and award-wiinnig OLE site s also showed that HE was rarely considered a primary audience for OLEs and even university archives and museums did not,on the whole ,create OLEs with learning components.It was generally assumed that HE users would know how to find their way to archival collections, how to use finding aids and online catalogues.In fact seminars at the V&A and our own research suggested the opposite: that students were increasingly removed from hands on archival research and that online research tools did not always represent the full extent of archival and museum collections ( e.g. 20,000 of 2 million RIBA holdings are online) An OLE could therefore be a “way in” to these collections, making a digestible array of material available, with links to the larger holdings..
  • Since we had no funding for software development or purchase, we used the open source Jalbum Fotoplayer web album software to create an OLE what allowed users to view, post comments and see related metadata.The result was aesthetically pleasing, but had the disadvantage of not allowing students to upload their own images directly into the online exhibition.
  • Once we had created the OLE, the project was structured so that UoB undergraduate design students visited the house for a tour with the curator, time to sketch and take photos, then they saw the related RIBA archive at the V&A, were introduced to the OLE and asked to blog, upload their own images and see if the experience influenced their creative practice as they completed a one-term class in visual research.This entailed taking the risk that none of the students might find the house an its archive interesting, that they might not contribute anything to our blog and that, ultimately, they might not connect this immersive experience with the rest of their creative practice.
  • To describe the students, here are some basic data.The issue of dyslexia became significant and is something I recommend that you keep in mind if you are working with an art and design audience. It suggests the need to have audio narration and metadata, visual browsing rather than reliance on text-driven searching and database enquiry, A minimum of preferable.
  • Our findings revealed some interesting things about how students approached and used the OLE:Although most of the students used Facebook, this did not mean they were comfortable using our Elgg social network to post images or comment on other people’s postings. This is consistent with other CETLD proejcts’ findings on students’ reluctance to use academic social networks unless specifically required to do so.Students were comfortable uploading images, but rarely added text to their own photos and did not comment on other students’ work.While they appreciated the chance to view and reflect on the archival material they had seen at the V&A in its virtual version, this made them appreciate the physical experience even more. They also valued their contact with the house curator and other staff and wanted to continue the conversation with these experts.For several of them, descriptive metadata was not necessary to their visual exploration. They liked the fact that the house at 2 Willow Road has no labels on any of the objects and that nothing was under glass in a display case, making it very different from a museum experience where almost everything is labelled and contained.
  • The outcome of our project was to concentrate on developing the OLE within the Elgg Community@Brighton site, one of the first in the UK to connect students, tutors and University staff in a shared academic social network.Using Elgg I created three photo albums:# 1 with the RIBA and Design Archvies archival images1 with student images that they uploaded themselves 1 with my photos of students visiting the National Trust property at 2 Willow RoadWith this software, members of the community could add their comments to any of the images I’ve contributed, create and share their own Web albums, hold discussions with other students or tutors about the materialDue to copyright restrictions, we can’t make this accessible outside the University of Brighton, but you can find many of the archival photos on and the Visual Arts Data Service (VADS) collections detabase.This work will serve as the basis for more OLEs to be developed by the Design Archives and by tutors and students at UoB.
  • Institutions like the Library of Congress are placing parts of their collections in Fliickr Commons to reach communities of users, many of whom have never visited the LC website or searched its collections database – mueums,, libraries and archives need to be creative about disseminating their collections, rather than assuming that students will work their way through the plethora of databases, finding aids and web guides:. Creative Spaces, the National Museums Online Learning Project site, is another example of trying to connect users with museums collections and empower them to make their own collections of images.The V&A has been very active in testing different ways of promoting user engagement with museum collections. They have taken risks and sometimes failed (My Special Dress), but they continue to seek new ways of bringing users into contact with collections. People now expect websites to change and develop, so static online exhibitions are no longer the benchmark for excellence.While inter-institutional collaboration of the kind that we carried out is complex and time-consuming, the resulting learning can only help to bring archives and their users closer together, I hope that some of what I’ve presented today will help you to think about how your OLEs could be used by HE art and design audiences. And how you could benefit from collaborating with art and design students.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Online Exhibitions and Archives:
      An Immersive Experience for Design Students
      Jane Devine Mejia
      2 November 2009
    • 2. CETLD partners: collections and higher education(2005-2010)
    • 3. Online Exhibition Project goals
      to learn from best practice and existing research about online exhibitions and HE art & design audiences;
      to design a sustainable online exhibition learning site;
      to find effective ways of engaging design students and tutors with archives, particularly those in practice-based disciplines;
    • 4. Models of best practice: inviting user involvement
    • 5. Democratising curatorship: myVirtualGallery
    • 6. 2 Willow Road: Ernö Goldfinger, architectA modernist house and its archive
    • 7. Jalbum Fotoplayer: an open source solution
      Images courtesy of the Royal Institute of British Architects British Architectural Library and the University of Brighton Design Archives
      Web album software:
    • 8. An immersive experience for undergraduate design students
      Visiting, documenting, exploring archives, blogging, creative practice
    • 9. Undergraduate design students: an audience profile
      Predominantly female ( 70%+)
      Ages 18-25
      Dyslexia is significant factor for 21-35%
      Makers, not writers
      Proficient in use of social media
      No experience with archives
    • 10. Observations
      Academic vs. social networks
      Blogging (or not): image vs. text
      Recalling the physical: encouraging reflective practice
    • 11. Participatory Online Exhibitions: ElggCommunity@Brighton
    • 12. Closing Remarks
      Web 2.0 sites such as Flickr and Creative Spaces encourage self-directed exploration and participation – online exhibitions need to incorporate these concepts
      Don’t be afraid to experiment , take risks and even make mistakes: the benefit of Web 2.0 tools is flexibility and collaborative learning
      Consider partnering with an HE institution to develop content and build reusable learning resources as part of your online exhibition