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Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
Another Story to Tell
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Another Story to Tell


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Technology and Tales of the Museum presented at the 2007 Museum Educators of Southern California Annual Conference

Technology and Tales of the Museum presented at the 2007 Museum Educators of Southern California Annual Conference

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  • This is my partner in Sandbox Studios, Scott Sayre, he’s also my partner in life. Several years ago we traveled to Dublin Ohio, because my little brother was getting married to a young woman from there.
  • This is my little brother, in the yellow shirt. He’s also the inventor of the Snout House, I hope you can see it in the picture, it’s an outdoor canine commode and training system. But that’s another story.
  • Besides the site of my little brother’s wedding, Dublin Ohio is also home to OCLC, which stands for Online Computer Library Center. This is their building, in Dublin Ohio. OCLS is responsible for the Dublin Core, a set of data standards very important to museums and libraries.
  • If you don’t know what the Dublin Core is, let me take a minute to explain. The idea is that museums and libraries all adopt the same set of standards by which they describe their objects, and most agree these days that those standards are the Dublin Core. If every museum used the same set of standards to describe their objects, then all kinds of things become possible. Imagine sucking up all the information, images, videos, etc. all described according to the Dublin Core from all of your museums and making it available in one huge database. Suddenly a teacher looking for information on Cameroon, Africa can find a zoo’s living specimens, an archaeologist’s archives, geology samples, ethnographic audio recordings of music, historic maps of the area and works of art created by the people of Cameroon, all in one place. And since it is not Google, it’s all considered authoritative source material and teachers are confident to let their kids have at it. If you haven’t ever thought about it before, it really is startling to realize the power of a common language when it comes to museums describing their objects.
  • Anyway, back to the wedding. The night before the wedding, we attended the groom’s dinner where Scott and I got to talking to the bride’s mother. She asked if we had ever been to Dublin before and we said no, but we knew about Dublin from our work with the Dublin Core.
    “You know about the Dublin Core?” she asked.
    “Well yes,” we said, “we work for museums, but how do you know about the Dublin Core?” thinking it was curious indeed that someone outside our industry would know about metadata standards and wondering if she was in our line of work.
    “Oh, everyone in Dublin knows about the Dublin Core!” she said.
    “So, what kind of work do you do?” we asked, and she shared that she was a marketing executive for an oil related company.
    “But I suppose you would know about the Dublin Core given that you work with art museums,” she said. “It’s so exciting for us that it’s so well known outside of Dublin.”
    We thought that was a odd statement, as if only those in Dublin used the Dublin Core, which we knew was not the case, but we were at a groom’s dinner so we let it go and went to mingle with others. The next day, as we drove from the hotel to the church for the wedding ceremony, this is what we saw:
  • This is the Dublin Corn, a monumental public sculpture by an artist named Malcolm Cochran, meant to remind residents of Dublin’s beginnings as an agricultural community. So, I hope the result of that story is that you’ll never forget what the Dublin Core is. Good tour guides know this - if you want people to remember something, tell a great story about it. I think that museums aren’t telling the whole story about themselves. Let me show you a video to help illustrate that point.
  • I’ll tell you how this ends. The brothers Chudnovsky’s idea to stitch all the pictures together into one giant picture, didn’t work, the pictures wouldn’t fit together. They thought someone must have messed with the files, or the folks who made the photographs must have moved the tapestry while they were shooting, but after creating vector maps of all the pictures they realized that the tapestry was moving all by itself. After years of hanging on the wall, the fibers relaxed and moved when the tapestry was laid on the floor. This was a fascinating story, filled with drama and mystery and mathematics. And you aren’t going to see it at the Met. We need to be telling all of the stories in our museums, about conservation and about community and collecting. My dad would have gone to the Met to see this story. The great news is, we have technology as a new tool to help tell these stories. And it can be a powerful tool.
  • In 1999 the Minneapolis Institute of Arts undertook restoration of a Castiglione painting of the Immaculate Conception. But the painting was so big, they couldn’t fit it into their conservation lab, and they decided to use a gallery instead, but keep the gallery open to the public while the restoration was taking place. At the time, Scott my partner, was heading up the Interactive Media Group at the museum, and they decided to add a technology component to the project.
  • In order to tell a good story, you have to have all the pieces, the parts of the story. Let’s think about all the parts that went into telling the story of the restoration of the Immaculate Conception painting. There was video shot each week and uploaded onto the Web site as part of the daily log, there was the Conservator Cam in the gallery, a timeline and a conservation plan for the painting, frequently asked questions that were collected both from visitors in the gallery and people looking at the Web site during the coarse of the project, so you could email your questions to the conservators while this was all happening and your question might end up in the “Frequently Asked Questions.” And any outside coverage like this news clip was aslo captured and added to the Web site.
  • So here’s the lesson we can all learn from that project. If we capture all the pieces of the story, when it comes time to tell the story it will be all that much richer. My background is in art museums, so it’s easiest for me to talk about examples from art museums, but I hope the same lessons hold true in science museums and history centers, etc. We all need to start thinking, if we haven’t already, about recording those visiting scholars who lecture at our museums, and getting smart about photo releases and other permissions for online applications. If there’s an artist installing work at the museum, interview them and record it. In fact, we recommend asking the same set of questions every time you interview an artist or a scientist so that you develop an archive of information that you’re familiar with and you can draw from. If you know your curator is doing a site visit, send a video camera along. Capture everything you can from family events, visitor logs, kids’ camps, your newsletters, and make it all digital. Believe it or not, one of the problems we still run into is designers making things like newsletters and labels in Quark, and you can’t get the text out. Meanwhile, the person who wrote it in Word figured if it was in the designer’s computer it was being saved, so they don’t know where it is anymore. Think about systems that capture this stuff, even if you don’t know how you’ll use it now.
  • Another lesson I’ve learned is not to be afraid of the same old story if you can use new tools to tell it in a fresh new way. This Web site began as a two slide set that were loaned out to teachers from The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. They were the most popular resources in the museum’s lending library, but they were old and tired and when the museum began to think about updating them, they decided that putting the material online might be good option.
    This Web site and the Restoration Online Web site are good examples of the first rule of teaching, as far as I’m concerned: show don’t tell. The old slide set really was an illustrated lecture, while the new Web site shows elements and principles from a number of points of view. And of course the Restoration Online site was all about showing what roles preservation and conservation play in a museum. I do think science museums are better at this than art museums - art making happens in a messy dirty, highly active and experimental environment and then the art winds up in a sterile white gallery where there is no activity on the part of the visitor, where as science starts out in a sterile, highly controlled environment and when it winds up at the science museum it’s a noisy, activity filled-place where visitor are encouraged to experiment.
  • Up to now I’ve been talking about telling the stories of museums, now I want to talk about telling stories about ourselves. How many of you are members of Museum-Ed the Discussion List? And how many have ever been to the Museum-Ed Web site? For art museum educators, there are two large conferences each year, the National Art Education Association and AAM. And all the presentations that are made there are virtually inaccessible once the conference is over. No one publishes the museum education material that’s presented, it’s not made available at all, and if you are working at a small museum in the midwest that doesn’t have an active local professional organization like Museum Educators of Southern California, and you can’t afford to attend the national conference, there isn’t a whole lot out there for you.
    Museum-Ed started in 1995 when an intern of mine came back from AAM and asked if we could start a list serv because people at the museum education luncheon at AAM wanted a mechanism to keep in touch during the rest of the year until the next conference. We added the Web site later on, when it became apparent that people wanted to share more than emails and it was dangerous to allow attachments on our listserv because of viruses, etc.
    I still wish we could do more, together with MESC or other organizations, the more the merrier, to reach out to all those educators who are working in little museums all over the country, or who are working in museums outside of the U.S. but not able to share their expertise and experiences with American museum educators, so this is an invitation really, to think collectively about how we can continue to come together and tell each other the stories of ourselves and our work.
  • I keep up with several K-12 focused news feeds and research sites, and one day a couple of years ago this article crossed my desk. The researchers examined a group of K-12 educators who were trying to innovate with technology, but rather than examine why they were successful, or not, the researchers took an in-depth look at what conditions need to exist in order for the innovation to be successful. It’s a meaningful distinction, and once I read the research I was really excited because it seemed to me that all the conditions they considered in the K-12 school had direct parallels in the museum. Let me outline the findings for you and you can see if you agree.
  • The researchers studies three areas: the innovator, the project proposed, and the context in which the innovation would take place.
  • Knowledge of technology and its enabling conditions is simple, meaning the innovator must understand how to use the technology. In the research a teacher is inspired by video conferencing technology and decides to try and use it to enhance her students literacy development. But oral skills had never been been a part of her pedagogy before, and she didn’t necessarily believe that practicing oral skills, in other words talking in front of a video camera, would increase literacy development. So the technology she tried to innovate with wasn’t very compatible with her pedagogy.
  • A good example of a project in the research that was very distant from the school’s culture was an interdisciplinary science unit. The interdisciplinary nature of the project meant that teachers in the school had to work together to make the project successful, but teachers in this particular school had never worked together on any curriculum based project in the past. The most successful projects were those that required very few new resources, if people needed to buy a lot of equipment or new software, the chance for success was diminished. Distance form the innovator’s current practice means that a project has a greater chance of success if it’s close to something the teacher is already doing. For example if a teacher always has her students create a timeline as part of a history course, then creating an electronic timeline would be close to her current practice.
  • A good example of a technological infrastructure that doesn’t work is the case where a teacher assumes she’ll have access to all the Internet sites she wants to use, but discovers once she sets out to use them that the IT staff has placed blocks on some sites due to district policy. Social support means the degree to which a project is supported among a teacher’s peers. If everyone at school thought a project was stupid, it had less chance for success even if the cooperation of the other teachers wasn’t required.
  • The point is that all of these things work together in favor of a successful innovation, and if you are thinking of innovating with technology, you have to consider all these things when you are trying to predict how much success you’ll have. The Innovator, at the top, is the most important aspect of any attempted innovation, but even with a savvy innovator, a poorly designed project in a school context that’s masquerading as a circus was enough to take the whole innovation attempt down.
    I was reading about this stuff right at the same time that I was conducting a pilot program for ARTstor with four different museum educators around the country. The pilot was really asking these educators to innovate with technology by each of them using ARTstor, a digital art library in a different way. I applied the classroom technology innovation research to the museum educator pilot, and it worked perfectly. Each of the four projects could be judged using the criteria that the classroom researchers articulated. I was telling Troy Smythe, a friend of mine and a very talented and thoughtful museum educator about this, and he had a marvelous idea. What if you could devise a quiz for museum educators trying to innovate with technology, using the same criteria that I had been working with, that could predict how successful their project might be? Not only that, the quiz could point out areas where the museum educator might need to do some ground work before attempting the project, for example, if the human infrastructure leaves much to be desired, an educator could devote some time trying to improve that infrastructure before the innovation was attempted.
    Handout the quiz
  • So, I want to end with one cautionary note. Don’t use technology just for the sake of technology. I talked about that in the context of a teacher when I was telling you about the classroom innovations. You have to have a good story to tell, and technology has to make the most sense as a vehicle for telling the story.I’ll show you an example.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Kris Friday, June Another Story to Tell: Technology and Tales of the Museum
    • 2. Kris Friday, June
    • 3. Kris Friday, June
    • 4. Kris Friday, June QuickTime™ and a TIFF (Uncompressed) decompressor are needed to see this picture.
    • 5. Kris Friday, June Simple Dublin Core The Simple Dublin Core Metadata Element Set consists of 15 metadata elements: 1. Title 9. Format 2. Creator 10. Identifier 3. Subject 11. Source 4. Description 12. Language 5. Publisher 13. Relation 6. Contributor 14. Coverage 7. Date 15. Rights 8. Type
    • 6. Kris Friday, June QuickTime™ and a TIFF (Uncompressed) decompressor are needed to see this picture.
    • 7. Kris Friday, June
    • 8. Kris Friday, June
    • 9. Kris Friday, June
    • 10. Kris Friday, June
    • 11. Kris Friday, June Opportunities for capturing media assets: - print production - web updates, video, audio - lectures, interviews, tours - events, performances, presentations - marketing/public relations - rights and permissions - store - product development - photography - research and writing - commissions, installations
    • 12. Kris Friday, June
    • 13. Kris Friday, June
    • 14. Kris Friday, June
    • 15. Kris Friday, June Conditions for Classroom Technology Innovation • The Innovator (Educator) • The Innovation (Project) • The Context (School)
    • 16. Kris Friday, June Conditions for Classroom Technology Innovation • The Innovator (Educator) - Knowledge of the technology and its enabling conditions - Pedagogy-technology compatibility - Knowledge of the organizational and social culture of the school “Socially savvy educators are much more aware of the potential for problems and can frequently negotiate compromises among the various stakeholders that smooth the way for successful technology experiences.”
    • 17. Kris Friday, June Conditions for Classroom Technology Innovation • The Innovation (Project) - Distance from the school culture - Distance from available resources - Distance from the Innovator’s current practice
    • 18. Kris Friday, June Conditions for Classroom Technology Innovation • The Context (School) - Human infrastructure (support staff, policies and procedures, etc.) “A healthy human infrastructure would include flexible and responsive technical staff, knowledgeable colleagues who can help with the innovation, and supportive administrators.” - Technological infrastructure (facility, network, equipment, etc.) - Social support
    • 19. Kris Friday, June The Innovator The Project The Context Success
    • 20. Kris Friday, June QuickTime™ and a decompressor are needed to see this picture.