Category Archives: Museum Tech

Looking Up, Looking Down: Designing Mobile Interpretation that Engages with Art

Written by Rebecca Friday

When the Clark Art Institute reopened its doors this summer, visitors were greeted by an astounding new building by architect Tadao Ando, expansive views of the rolling hills of Williamstown, Massachusetts, and beautifully redesigned galleries for the museum’s extensive permanent collection. With this renovation and expansion, we faced the challenge of how to encourage visitors to engage with the art in new and inspiring ways. Previously, the museum had been renting audio wands; however, these were limited to a single layer of audio and had no screen option. Thus, a new interactive interpretive system was needed to accommodate deeper layers of exploration and engagement with the collection.

Through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the nostalgic audio wands have been replaced by mini iPads, which we call multimedia guides – although they are so much more than that. The multimedia guide currently has 150 objects from our permanent collection, each with a zoomable image, basic information, label, and audio (along with audio transcript). Many of the objects also give the visitor the option to explore the artwork further with varied layers of content. The multimedia guide is free with museum admission or visitors can also download a streamlined version onto their personal device. The guides also include information about the Institute’s founders, Sterling and Francine Clark, special exhibitions, and a grounds map.

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This interpretative project was several years in the making. Over the past two years I have worked closely with Media Manager Laurie Glover and Project Manager Viktorya Vilk to develop a system that embraced the mission of the Clark and its dedication “to advancing and extending the public understanding of art.” Central to our approach was the importance of looking at art — we did not want to detract from the importance of this practice, nor replace it with gazing at a screen. Instead, we found ways that would enhance the looking experience and point out things that visitor could not have learned otherwise. In many ways, we were inspired to the Van Gogh museum’s recent app, Touch Van Gogh, which allows audiences to examine the painterly process up close in ways never before possible.

So, how to accomplish these things?

To tackle this bold mission of active looking and learning, our process included months of brainstorming with the Clark curators and educators to decide which works of art would benefit most from additional content. We asked them what stories they liked to tell about the art, what questions they were most often asked, what special thing no one knew. From these stories, we slowly whittled down our extensive list to 150 objects and designated about half of them for additional content. Each of these objects would have no more than three or four sections of content. The content is layered, so there was an option to go deeper if there is interest but we did not want anyone to feel bogged down by the amount of content. We wanted to maintain choice in the pace the information is provided, the depth of knowledge one might be seeking, as well as a direct search for a particular artwork versus a more casual browsing of the collection.

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We endeavored to create content that most enhances the visitors’ understanding of the artwork – when it can make the invisible visible and inspire curiosity for deeper learning. We found conservation stories from X-rays that unearthed hidden secrets. We found collection stories from the diary pages of our founder. We also worked with Tristan Interactive to build a semi-customized content management system and develop three kinds of interactive within the application. These include:

1) Drag and Drop: This interactive works sort of like a puzzle, in which small details from the artwork can be matched to the larger whole to reveal interesting details. This works particularly well for very detailed paintings because it encourages the viewer to look back up at the actual painting to find the detail in front of them.

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2) Slider: By sliding your finger along a scrub bar the image changes to tell a story or transform an image. For example, this feature works well with our Domenico Ghirlandaio painting, Portrait of a Lady. The transformation shows the painting pre-conservation, when the painting was altered with the addition of a halo and wheel identify the sitter (mistakenly) as Saint Catherine. One of the things that was most important was developing functionalities that could be adapted in various ways: for example, the slider could move something in space, reveal a hidden layer, or move through a narrative.

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3) Hotspots: Pulsing circles appear on different part of the image – when tapped, screen pops up to reveal more information about this part of the work.

5hotspot

After our initial beta-build of the device we invited 80 volunteers and docents to act as a sort of focus group. We handed out the multimedia guides with a survey/set of instructions to help guide each individual through the 20-ish objects we had built into the device. The survey asked each person to the rate the difficulty of these tasks (i.e. “play the audio,” “find the Unpack Me interactive,” etc.). Because our focus group was limited to volunteers and docents, the demographic was mostly 50 years of age or older.

As we expected, there was a lot of initial confusion and outright contempt for the devices; mostly because they were perceived as new and scary. This was not a sample group that felt comfortable with technology or even used an iPhone or iPad on a regular basis. However, the more time we spent explaining their functions, the more they found joy and value in them. The less confusing the process became, the more impressed they were! Given our visitor demographic, it reinforced our commitment that the app be intuitive with lots of onscreen help. We worked with the engineers to create built in “hints” that appear on the tablet screen and encourage/guide the user.

Of course, there will always be visitors who do not want to engage with the tablets when visiting the museum. We worked hard to create something that was user friendly and, hopefully, a seamless transition from the traditional audio wand. We hope that audiences will want to engage with the collection in new and deeper ways through the expanded layers of content. Content that is presented in a variety of ways, with the belief that it will appeal to a variety of users.

As many others in the field have already noted, there is a constant grappling with the pros and cons of bringing technology into the galleries. Although I personally believe in the power of individual, intimate experiences with art, I also strongly value the communal experience that can be cultivated through conversation in front of a work of art. I can see the appeal and value of both experiences and I hope that each visitor is able to travel the path that best accommodates their needs. We chose iPad screens because they are shareable, a single headphone to make the experience less solitary, layers of content to pick and choose from. Interpretation should be available to those that seek it; it should spark curiosity and reveal what makes us love a work of art.

We have recently finished conducting an expansive survey in the Clark galleries, both with visitors who used the multimedia guide, and those who did not, to gauge it’s effectiveness, value, and possible issues that might have arisen with usability. Although we are still waiting for the concrete data, preliminary results indicate that our visitors love the app and love using the iPad minis. They enjoyed using the interactives, sharing tidbits with their family and friends, and listening to the audio components. However, those that did not take the device, often voiced negative comments about it. It seems the negativity is rooted in the unknown – something that is new, possibly complicated, and technological.

As is often the case on ArtMuseumTeaching (and a very valuable case), I’d like to open the floor to all of you. What are your thoughts on the future of technology in museum galleries? What are its positive effects and what are the possible criticisms it faces? Can an iPad screen really enhance a solitary and personal experience with a work of art? Or is that kind of thinking becoming increasingly elitist and limiting to everyday audiences?

About the Author

headshotREBECCA FRIDAY: Rebecca earned her Bachelor’s Degree from Sarah Lawrence College and Master’s Degree from Williams College, both in Art History. She spent the last two years working as a Curatorial Assistant at the Clark Art Institute. In addition to her contributions on the multimedia guide project and interpretation of the reinstallation of the permanent collection, she also served as curatorial coordinator for Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History, Cast for Eternity: Ancient Ritual Bronzes from the Shanghai, and Radical Words: From Magna Carta to the Constitution. Prior to her position at the Clark, Rebecca worked at the Williams College Museum of Art as well as several New York City art galleries, including Galerie St. Étienne and Robert Miller Gallery. She is currently looking for her next adventure in museum interpretation.  Rebecca tweets at @Fridayfridaygrl. Rebecca’s postings on this site are her own and do not necessarily represent the Clark Art Institute’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

Press Start to Continue: What Museum Educators Can Learn from Game Design

Over the summer, I helped a group of teens make a mobile game at the Brooklyn Museum.

That’s a pretty innocuous-looking sentence, but it felt like a big, exciting Project of Note.  There were plenty of interesting factors at play: it was my own first foray beyond digital game design into actual game creation; it was a chance to see my home institution’s collections from a new point of view; it was a different kind of programming from my usual roster.  But it’s now almost two months later, and I’m still thinking about it.

Why?  What made it so special?

First, let me give you the basics:

  • This was a program called NYC Haunts, in which teens work together to design and create a location-based game people can play on their mobile devices.
  • It’s run by Global Kids, a great organization that has all kinds of initiatives to help teens become informed citizens of the world.  They’ve run this program in schools and libraries before, and this was the first version done in a museum.
  • NYC Haunts teaches teens the basics of game design and uses TaleBlazer (a free game-design app from MIT’s Scheller Teacher Education Program) to build the game.  TaleBlazer is a visual programming platform, which means you don’t write the code textually.  Instead, you put it together using click-and-drag building blocks that combine to form commands.
  • The game itself is designed to help a player solve a mystery about local ghosts of the past who may still be lingering around in the present.
Screenshot of the TaleBlazer interface.
Screenshot of the TaleBlazer interface.

In the Brooklyn Museum game, our team of thirteen intrepid teen Ghost Hunters collaborated on a game that invites visitors to explore our Luce Visible Storage Center.  The game is called Helen’s Treasures, and the player must find all the precious items collected by Helen (the ghost protagonist of our game, based on a Chester Beach marble bust), in order to help her remember how she died so her spirit can be at peace.

In-game illustration of Helen by one NYC Haunts Ghost Hunter.
In-game illustration of Helen by one NYC Haunts Ghost Hunter.

This program was an exciting step towards a goal near and dear to my heart: using digital technology to explore museum collections without the technology overwhelming or distracting from the artwork.  And it was a chance to explore the world of game design in museums, which has been on my museum education radar for a while.  (I still love Murder at the Met: An American Art Mystery.  More recently, I’ve been watching as Sophia George, the V&A’s first Games Designer in Residence, develops and releases her art museum-inspired game, Strawberry Thief, into the world.)

A big part of what made it feel so special, though, was the open-hearted, open-ended nature of the whole project and that fact that the teens were building something together from the ground up.  Before we talked at all about the museum-specific side of things, we spent a good chunk of time talking (and iterating) about what makes a game successful and how the game design process works.  We started with the basics, which fed into conversations that started to sound a whole lot like the kind of conversations museum educators have when coming up with programming ideas.

There was debate over how the game should feel to a player and how to create that feeling.  What were the goals of the game going to be and how should they be met?  What did we want our players to get out of their game experience?

Once the game creation itself got underway, I co-facilitated the meetings with Global Kids staff, but we tried to stay out of the way of the process as much as possible.  The teens decided what area of the museum they wanted as the location of their game.  They collaborated on the game’s story.  They worked smoothly as a whole group and then as small groups that focused variously on coding, choosing specific collection objects, creating the in-game visuals, and writing the detailed story players discover as they go.

And what they came up with, after only eight afternoon sessions, was a playable game that made my museum educator heart thump proudly.

It was the teens, not me, who identified that it was important for a player to look closely at art objects to answer the game’s questions.  It was the teens who chose the Visible Storage Center for both the artwork and the atmosphere (it’s cold and dim in there, as well as being full of shelves bursting with miscellaneous, sometimes-mysterious things).  It was the teens who created a cohesive story that brought new meaning to objects in the Museum’s collection.

They told engaging and creative stories, they created an immersive experience, and they made a fun, new way for people to discover an often-unexplored space.

Those sound remarkably like some of my Big Goals as a museum educator.

I’m trying to keep these lessons fresh in my mind as I head into a new school year of programming for teachers.  How can I hang onto that spirit of open exploration?  How can I help teachers see the museum in new ways?  What experiences can I create that are playful and fun and build skills in the museum, all at the same time?

I know there’s plenty of debate about digital games in the museum (should museums collect video games as art?  why is gamification such a dirty word?  what advantages do games have to offer museums, anyway?), and I’d love to hear from others who’ve experimented with games in museums (to resounding success or constructive failure).  I don’t know how much game design I’ll be doing in the future, but I do know I appreciate having tried it out and that it offered plenty of valuable things to keep in mind for my museum programming overall.  So, thanks to the clever Brooklyn Museum Ghost Hunters and to the energetic staff of Global Kids, not to mention the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund who believed in the project enough to give us the money for it.

One final note: If you’d like to playtest the prototype of the Brooklyn Museum NYC Haunts game, you can download TaleBlazer for free (Android or iOS).  Open it on your device and enter gvxkfju in the “Game Code” tab at the top.  Helen’s Treasures will download to your device, and then you’re free to play, even without wifi.

 

Openly Networked Learning In and Across Art Museums

How can museums begin to more closely connect with in-school and out-of-school digital literacy practices, tapping the tools of the digital age as well as the elements of making, connecting, and experimenting that create powerful possibilities for learning?  Can we, as museum educators, begin to see ourselves as designers, and reposition ourselves as active agents of change in today’s education environment?  In what ways can museums be more involved in re-envisioning what education looks like?

These questions, among others, have been sparked by my involvement over the past few years in the research and practice around a social and participatory model of learning called Connected Learning —  as well as my work with an inspiring group of educators within the National Writing Project.  And while art museums have been only tangentially related to this practice (which I blame more on us museum educators and less on NWP), I was fortunate enough to be invited to submit a case study for the latest ebook entitled Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom (published online in February through the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning initiative).  This volume highlights compelling firsthand counter-narratives from educators engaged in solving an array of challenges in today’s classrooms, drawing together a collaborative network of instructors who have been contributing to the NWP’s web community, “Digital Is.”

I wanted to take the opportunity of this volume’s publication to begin writing more about Connected Learning, sharing its principles and exploring more connections with the practice of teaching and learning in museums.  Below is the text of my case study entitled “Openly Networked Learning in and Across Art Museums,” published first in February 2014 as part of the Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom volume.  This short case study examines the aspects of “openly networked” reflective practice in my work as a museum educator and blogger, pushing forward the concept of museums as spaces where communities of learners can connect, intersect, make, collaborate, and share.  I encourage anyone unfamiliar with Connected Learning to learn more by visiting connectedlearning.tv or downloading the 2013 report Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design — and I plan to write more here at ArtMuseumTeaching.com in the near future.


Openly Networked Learning In and Across Art Museums

What happens when educators converge around shared interests and purposes in the spaces of museums?  How can museums more effectively build diverse networks of educators that support our teaching and learning practice?  Faced with the complex landscape of formal and informal education in the 21st century, museums across the globe have been rethinking their role as actors within their educational community. Not only are museum galleries increasingly becoming open spaces in which communities of learners can connect and intersect, but museum professionals are also developing online spaces of exchange and reflective practice.

As a practicing art museum educator as well as a museum blogger, I find myself constantly in the process of discovering how “openly networked” an art museum can be.

While the growth of online learning communities and Google Hangouts for museums certainly promotes this principle of connected learning, I want to begin by focusing on how museums can support openly networked experiences in the analog, physical space of their galleries.

Museums as physical, analog networks

In November 2011, I was invited to lead an in-gallery workshop for educators at the High Museum of Art as part of a conference hosted by Harvard University’s Project Zero. The experience centered around an extended engagement with Jackson Pollock’s “Number 1A,” 1948, which was on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of a special exhibition. Instead of an experience guided by information, we began an open, embodied exploration through a series of scaffolded exercises that included slow looking, sharing observations, quick sketches, free writing, and variety of ways to use sound and movement to create responses to the work of art.  Small groups of participants were then invited to pull together sounds, movements, and words to develop creative a public performance in response to the Pollock painting.

teachers explore layers of paint through dynamic movement
teachers explore layers of paint through dynamic movement

One memorable group of three teachers worked together to choreograph a short piece that used their bodies to perform their response to the complex layering of paint and brushstrokes. Freely responding to this single painting through multiple access points as well as public performance, we were able to have a collective learning experience outside of our comfort zone and then immediately “poke at it” and see into the experience as a group. In this case (and many others like it), the art museum becomes a safe, open, and public space in which professional educators from museums, schools, and universities can come together to make learning visible and then reflect upon our practice in a shared space.

Museums as participatory spaces

CoLab community of educators exploring learning at the Saint Louis Art Museum in 2012.
community of educators openly exploring learning processes at the Saint Louis Art Museum in 2012.

While an art museum gallery can be an amazing place to meet with a class or group of teachers, museums and museum educators must work to actively support openly networked learning experiences. First of all, museums need to see teachers and students as active participants in the learning experience, pushing beyond mere “spectating” or “learning at a glance” toward a more participatory and process-oriented experience.  Part of this involves museums letting go of their ‘authority’ over knowledge and meaning-making, and instead empowering educators to co-create learning experiences with museums — as opposed to passively receiving content from museums, whether that be text panels, audio guides, curators, or museum educators.

Part of achieving this “letting go” is simply valuing teachers’ voices and recognizing teachers as creators of content, knowledge, and meaning in relation to museums. Professional development workshops can be re-envisioned with more of an emphasis on developing communities of practice where we learn from each other no matter what our “home” educational setting might be (school classroom, university, museum, etc.). This sense of creating a community of practice then builds toward a shared, reflective process that leads to professional growth on the side of both teachers and museum educators.

Building online networks of museum educators

The openly networked reflective practice described here does not need to be confined within the walls of a single museum, though.  This is where my experience as a museum blogger has expanded the way that people can connect around issues of museum teaching and learning.  After facilitating the educator workshop at the High Museum of Art back in 2011, I decided to create a multi-author online forum to publicly reflect on my own teaching practice, spotlight the practice of other educators, and provide a space for conversation around larger issues of teaching and learning in museums. Since its launch in February 2012, ArtMuseumTeaching.com has brought together more than 30 authors actively contributing to a growing online community of practice that reaches out to thousands of educators each month.

ArtMuseumTeaching.com Google+ Hangout On Air
ArtMuseumTeaching.com Google+ Hangout

In addition to standard blog-style posts and comments, the site has hosted face-to-face Google+ Hangouts On Air with museum educators and teachers from across the world. The site creates a networked space across museums and teaching contexts, allowing readers and contributors to see into and reflect upon the practice of a wide community of educators.

In their 2012 book Networked: The New Social Operating System, Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman have argued that large online communities actually expand opportunities for learning, problem solving, decision making, and personal interaction.

“People’s relationships remain strong—but they are networked. Neighbors, and neighborhoods still exist, to be sure, but they occupy a smaller portion of people’s lives. It is hard to borrow a cup of sugar from a Facebook friend 1,000 miles away, but it has become easier to socialize, get advice, and exchange emotional support at whatever distance. Where commentators had been afraid that the internet would wither in-person ties, it is clear that they enhance and extend them.”

As ArtMuseumTeaching.com continues to expand as an online space for reflecting on museum practice, I have been exploring how we—as museum and education professionals—maneuver within a technology-mediated world in a way that allows us to cultivate productive, human-centered networks and communities.  Museums and schools have been widely engaged in how digital media and technology can connect them with their students and audiences. But what about the potential of these same technologies to build entirely new “communities of practice” among professionals—whether teachers, university faculty, or museum educators?

I am especially interested in the ways in which an online community like ArtMuseumTeaching.com can, in turn, bring people with shared interests together in physical spaces in new and meaningful ways.  Since 2012, the ArtMuseumTeaching community has hosted several in-person gatherings, including conference sessions, happy hours, and recently the first-ever Museum Teaching Throw Down as well as Gallery Teaching Marathon. As many as one hundred people have come together for these face-to-face social experiences — creating new professional connections and enriching existing collaborations that continue to grow through the online/digital forum.  After all, the relationships we develop online are complex, as a simple Twitter follower or blog reader can quickly become a close colleague, friend, and mentor.  One ArtMuseumTeaching.com Google Hangout in 2013 brought together educators from Australia to New York in real time, and these connections develop new peer networks, partnerships, and professional exchanges that help us all grow personally and professionally.

Through this work that I have been engaged with thus far — both online and in the physical spaces of museum galleries — I feel that the art museum has begun to make a shift in what it has the potential to become: a dynamic cultural landscape where authentic, learner-driven experiences are developed and enacted by teachers and their students. These experiences are opening up museums as places for educators to chart their own path in unpredictable ways, and to invite parallel exploration, risk-taking, and fresh discovery on the part of learners across a variety of contexts.


Originally published in: Garcia, Antero, ed., 2014. Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. This report series on connected learning was made possible by grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in connection with its grantmaking initiative on Digital Media and Learning. 

Museums Un/Plugged: Are We Becoming Too Reliant on Technology?

wall-plugI don’t know if it was attending the Museums & the Web conference back in April or just simply recognizing the amount of time I spend navigating technology issues in the museum, but I recently have had a good old-fashioned “freak out” when it comes to museum tech.  Touch screens, apps, MOOCs, mobile-optimized web design, iPad tours, Hangouts, social media, photo sharing, Vine, Instagram, YouTube … EEK!

The budgets and staff support for technology at museums seem to be growing and growing, with some museums investing more in a single technology project than other museums have in their entire annual operating budget.  I’ve certainly been an advocate for this shift in 21st century museums — don’t get me wrong.  As a museum blogger but also as a Director of Education, I have truly come to understand and appreciate the benefits of online engagement and the use of technology for interpretation and learning.  But when I head into the galleries to facilitate a learning experience, technology often falls away and I find myself focusing entirely on the analog elements of museum teaching.

Earlier this year, I was invited to give a public talk at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego as part of their “Outside Perspectives” program, so I decided to grapple with this issue in a public forum.  The main risk here was that I have not fully formed my own ideas and position about the role of technology in museum teaching and learning — but I was excited to throw out a series of raw questions and spark a conversation that would no doubt help me shape my own ideas and thinking.  Here is a link to the SlideShare of my PowerPoint:

The title of the talk kicked everything off with a rather false dichotomy between “plugged in” and “unplugged” museum experiences and the preferences museum visitors might have — even assuming that these experiences are separable in some way. But the real core questions I wanted to deal with were:

  • Are we becoming too reliant on technology in museum education?
  • As we focus more and more on digital and online experiencea, are we sacrificing any of the human-centered elements that have been at the core of museum education for more than a century?
  • If your museum lost power, how would that affect the learning experience in the galleries and across programming?

During my visit to the MCA San Diego, they had the Lifelike exhibition on view at their La Jolla building. So in preparation for my talk, I took some time to explore the online and digital side of people’s experiences with this exhibition — even adding my own Instagram photos and Vine videos to the mix — and presented these incredible layers as part of my talk about the “plugged in” experience.  I also brought in to the conversation a series of technology projects gaining attention in recent years, including Google Art Project, online courses and Google Hangouts via museums like MoMA, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Gallery One and the ArtLens app (showing this project always gets some oohs and aahs), and the Rijksmuseum’s new website.

During my talk at MCASD, I stopped to open the floor for conversation and audience thoughts about the balance between plugged-in and unplugged engagement in museums, and whether we rely too much on technology.  And even after presenting a series of eye-popping, meaningful, transformative technology-based projects and experiences in museums, the audience largely seemed to place more value on the analog and non-technology-based social experiences they have (or develop as educators) in museums. And I am reminded of the human core of my own gallery teaching practice — a core that was highlighted so perfectly by Briley Rasmussen’s post on this site last year after the Getty’s decision to cut its education teaching staff.  In her post, Briley boldly states:

“When art museums support their collections through personal human interactions, … moments of humanness and ‘unselfing’ occur. This is when our collections shine and are the most profound. This is when we have real public value.”

So with these raw questions laid out, I’m curious about other people’s thoughts.  Are museums becoming too reliant on technology and the internet?  Are we sacrificing any of our core values as we dedicate more and more resources and staff to technology initiatives?  How can we create a meaningful balance between the “unplugged” and the “plugged in” as we move forward into the 21st century?  Join the conversation below.

Google Hangouts: Live Video Chatting between Museums & Online Communities

By Brinker Ferguson, Digital Media Fellow, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

In the past several months, many museums have begun using live video chat as a way to enhance and foster new online discussions and interactions between museum educators and the public. One of the most popular tools has been Google Hangouts which is part of the Google+ social network. It allows for up to 10 users to video chat together and gives them the ability to broadcast the video stream live to a large audience and even record the session for future viewing. The recorded video, which is archived on the museum’s G+ page and YouTube channel, can be shared on various social networks. In addition, the videos collect (limited) analytics information so museums can track the attention it receives. Users who express interest in a museum video session ahead of time can be alerted when it is about to begin via Google+ email messaging.

This use of video chatting has spawned a new online forum that helps to bring together museum curators, directors, historians and educators with different virtual communities for in-depth conversations of art and ideas. Rather then a YouTube video, which disseminates information in a “I talk, you listen” format, video chatting can enable a more flexible and collaborative seminar style discussion. This idea of accessible online videos is very much in keeping with many museums’ mission of providing an open space for dialogue, learning, and exploration for the public, and working toward developing meaningful online communities of practice.

Current Projects

Though relatively new, there have been a large number of museums using Google Hangouts from all over the globe. This past month alone, MoMA debuted its “Art Hang” series, which brings together art educators with other art enthusiasts to discuss topics surrounding art and identity. The Google Art Project began its #ArtTalk hangouts with the National Gallery on March 20th and more recently with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The series, which discusses the stories behind famous works of art, will continue to take place each month at different cultural institutions such as the Museo Nacional de Arte in Mexico and the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar.

screenshot of Google Hangout of artist Felipe Iskor
screenshot of Google Hangout of artist Felipe Iskor

Hangouts have also been leveraged in several other artistic ways. For example Google Brazil has used hangouts for their street art campaign, where artist Felipe Iskor created a mural live.

Likewise artists have conducted live studio visits, in which they talk with interested online groups about what inspires them, what their next artwork might look like, and get much needed critical feedback from online art communities.

Understanding Its Impact

Of course, use of a new medium brings new challenges. In trying to gauge the success of video chats, museums are learning how to interpret the relatively sparse analytics information provided by Google+ and YouTube. Statistics like “this video was viewed 5000 times” does not paint a full picture of just how beneficial the video was for the museum and its viewers. It is very clear, however, that hangouts have the ability to reach far greater percentage of the global online community and can do so in a more engaging way. And while it can be difficult to measure the success of these videos, museum educators know it is worth their time to continue exploring the limits of new this technology in order to captivate a broader audience and share more of the museum’s passion for art and cultural heritage.

Possible Uses in the Future

Tools associated with video chatting such as live commenting, image sharing, hash tags, and social media sharing have become additional ways of connecting online viewers with the live discussion. Recently, Mike Murawski of the Portland Art Museum brought up another possible use for video chatting. He suggested using Hangouts as a way of connecting living contemporary artists with museum visitors both in the gallery and online. What would it be like then to talk with an artist about his/her work right in front of the artwork in the gallery? Or watch an artist explaining his/her artwork online while you ask questions?

How can we use these new tools to better facilitate learning and interaction onsite and online in the future? Are there other ways that Google Hangouts or other chatting services will connect people, or perhaps help the museum’s visitors feel closer to its collection?

Anybots meets Wall-E and Eve.
Anybots meets Wall-E and Eve.

Taking this question further in a mini-thought experiment, imagine what would happen if the video feed were not fixed to the wall. What would a more intimate conversation with an artist look like? While you ebb and flow around the gallery, could an artist virtually tag along with you?

One company exploring the idea of digital presence is Anybots, a team that has created a roving avatar robot with video screen projecting the face of a remote participant. The robot is controlled remotely and reacts to speech frequencies to directly address and react to questions or comments from multiple people. Right now, the Anybots are in the hypothetical realm (due to the hefty $15,000 price tag).

While video chatting environments will continue to develop (though at the moment we are not yet sure in what form they will appear) the strides taken by #ArtHang, Google Art Projects, and many other institutions and artist communities will continue to push online connection and conversation.

Blending Art, Technology, & Interpretation: Cleveland Museum of Art’s Gallery One & ArtLens

By Caroline Goeser

I am part of the team that has led the development of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Gallery One and ArtLens iPad app. These new initiatives – blending art, technology, and interpretation – are garnering interest in the press and among museum colleagues. Many thanks to Mike Murawski for asking me to offer my perspective on the project, understanding that it is newly launched and we are in the process of gathering initial feedback. This project is the focus of a paper session at Museums & the Web 2013 in Portland (link to paper here). Responses so far have been enthusiastic as well as probing and have challenged us to think in new ways about what we’ve created and how we want to move forward. Recurring questions from reporters, colleagues, and visitors can serve as a way of introducing some of our goals and future ideas.

What was your plan behind integrating technology?

A view of Gallery One from the main lobby of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of Local Projects.
A view of Gallery One from the main lobby of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of Local Projects.

Our plan conceives technology as an interpretive tool to drive active experiences with art at CMA. Creating Gallery One and the ArtLens app has been part of our mission to put visitors front and center. We wanted to build a gallery experience at the entrance to the museum that would welcome all visitors, with particular focus on families, college students, and young professionals – audiences that have not always seen CMA as their kind of place. We wanted to offer them new possibilities to experience art in a participatory way through the medium of interpretive technology. We also wanted visitors’ encounters in Gallery One to spark interest in the museum as a whole and to provide tools of understanding and enjoyment that could enhance their experience of art in the galleries.

On January 21, 2013, we opened Gallery One and went live with the ArtLens iPad app. Gallery One is a unique space just off the museum’s main lobby in which 55 top-quality art objects from the permanent collection are arranged in thematic groupings that cross time and cultures. This organization allows visitors to make connections across CMA’s comprehensive collection of world art. For example, sculptures of the human form from ancient Rome, Japan, Africa, and 19th-century France greet visitors as they enter the gallery, prompting them to experience how our bodies have inspired art differently over time. Another installation groups paintings and ceramics from Europe and Asia, asking visitors to engage with roots of our contemporary, global culture. Interactive, multi-touch screens interpret selected art installations, allowing visitors to engage actively with the works on view by virtually creating their own works of art, or by physically striking a pose inspired by a work of art they see. Gallery One also includes Studio Play, a dedicated family space with hands-on art-making activities, as well as interactive technology stations that provide young children and their families with fun ways to have first encounters with art and CMA’s collections.

A detail of the Collection Wall in Gallery One. Photo courtesy of Local Projects.
A detail of the Collection Wall in Gallery One. Photo courtesy of Local Projects.

Within Gallery One, just off our new central atrium, a one-of-a-kind, 40-foot multi-touch Collection Wall displays high-resolution images of almost 4,000 works of art from the permanent collection, most on view in the galleries. Every 40 seconds, the wall changes views, showing groupings of art objects based on themes, allowing visitors to see that the collection is dynamic, depending on how you view it. Visitors can touch and browse objects on the Collection Wall to discover other artworks that are related and to find tours that connect objects throughout the collection.

The Collection Wall functions as a place to organize a visit through the permanent collection galleries by way of a unique connection with the ArtLens iPad app. By docking their iPad (or one available for rent) at the Wall, visitors can save their favorite objects to the app and create a personalized tour through the museum. The app’s way finding system directs them to the objects on their tour or to other objects in the collection. They can also find CMA-created tours to organize their visit according to themes they like. Alternatively, they can browse through the galleries and find works of art that engage them, discovering text and video interpretation within the app, or even scanning two-dimensional objects through image recognition to find quick bites of text or video.

What are your learning goals for visitors?

Our goals for what visitors take away involve experience rather than content. We hope that:

  1. visitors have fun with art
  2. the interactive games and interpretation provide tools for understanding and spark social experiences with art
  3. visitors find transformative moments of discovery about continuing creative traditions that make art relevant for them.

Above all, we want to refrain from providing a single, authoritarian guide but instead to offer a variety of choices for visitor engagement. Rather than designing content to meet our own goals for visitors, we have learned from our audience evaluation and responded to the way many of our visitors browse through our galleries, drawn to particular works of art based on their own visual interests and prior knowledge. We’ve been mindful of Jay Rounds’ prescient advice in Curator (2006):

“Visitors come to museums for their own reasons, and those reasons are not necessarily congruent with the goals of the museum. No doubt their browsing through exhibits is suboptimal when compared against [a] museum’s goal that visitors ‘engage in systematic study or exploration.’ But the same [browsing] behavior may prove to be an intelligent response to the situation when measured against the goals of the visitors themselves.” (p. 134)

Sculpture installation in Gallery One. Photo courtesy of Local Projects.
Sculpture installation in Gallery One. Photo courtesy of Local Projects.

Gallery One and ArtLens were designed to honor browsing behavior. There’s no preferred path through Gallery One; visitors can move from one art installation to another, each with its own story. The Collection Wall asks visitors to browse rather than search: to find artworks they like visually, and to discover connections to related works by theme, medium, or time period. The “Near You Now” section of the ArtLens app follows browsers as they meander through the permanent collection galleries, indicating where they are in the building and the artworks near them. For objects with video interpretation, visitors can find a variety of short segments that they can choose according to their personal preferences rather than a prescribed sequence.

When visitor evaluation begins later this spring, we can find out how these tools are working for our visitors. In the meantime, we’ve been fortunate to have visits from a variety of museum colleagues who have shared initial responses. Following his on-site visit, Peter Samis of SFMoMA wrote to our CMA team:

“The Collection Wall reminds me of David Weinberger’s Everything Is Miscellaneous (2008): it makes every artwork equally available, democratizing the collection…, it enables me to create a tour that threads me like a needle through all the various parts of the building. It disappears the architecture, the molecules, and replaces them with a new organizing principle: visual interest.”

Cool! Interpretive technology serves visitors’ visual interests and democratizes the collection. The challenge comes in the connectivity between the Collection Wall and the iPad app. With the ability to save almost any object to their iPad, what will visitors expect when they reach the actual objects in the galleries? Currently only a portion have video and audio interpretation within the app, some draw web texts and label copy from our databases, but others feature only basic “tombstone” information. We’re eager to discover visitors’ expectations, and in the meantime, to develop priorities for creating new interpretive content.

How can visitors contribute their own art interpretation within the iPad app?

ArtLens video and audio content draws on conversations with curators, educators, conservators, and community members. We hope the variety of voices allows visitors to feel part of the conversation and to suggest that there is no single way to interpret or enjoy a work of art. The community voices are particularly important, as they call up continuing traditions that grow from the artworks on view and connect visitors with people in their community – like the Imam of the Cleveland Mosque for whom the Islamic prayer niche in our collection is part of a living tradition, or the Cleveland ballet dancer who brings his creative perspective to Degas’ Frieze of Dancers.

: Object page for CMA’s Prayer Niche (Mihrab) in ArtLens. Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.
: Object page for CMA’s Prayer Niche (Mihrab) in ArtLens. Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

ArtLens also allows visitors to create their own tours – playlists of their favorite objects with their own catchy titles: “Randomness and Variety,” and “Lightning Tour Before Dinner Dash.” They can share favorite objects through Facebook and Twitter. We conceived these as first steps toward more extensive visitor participation. We’ve discussed the potential for gathering visitors’ stories about CMA’s artworks and incorporating them into the app. We’ve also dreamed about the potential to capture visitors’ voices within the app, so that they can contribute their own insights about their favorite works of art from the galleries or from off site.

We encourage you to download ArtLens to your iPad and give us your feedback. Our project is ambitious – an interpretive system that reaches throughout CMA’s permanent collection. I’ve outlined some of our ideas and plans here, but there’s much more to come, so stay tuned!

I want to extend huge thanks to the members of my CMA team in Education and Interpretation responsible for the development of interpretive content in Gallery One: Seema Rao, Patty Edmonson, and Hajnal Eppely, and in ArtLens: Jennifer Foley, Lori Wienke, and Bethany Corriveau. They are part of CMA’s Gallery One development team, led by Griffith Mann in Curatorial, Jane Alexander in Information Technology, Jeffrey Strean in Design, and myself. Local Projects of New York is responsible for all media design and collaborated with us on the concept development. Earprint Productions of San Francisco produced the ArtLens app digital content, in collaboration with the CMA interpretation team.

ABOUT AUTHOR

image005CAROLINE GOESER currently serves as the Director of the Department of Education and Interpretation at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Joining the museum in 2009, she reorganized the Education Department in 2012 to focus on two primary goals: 1) invigorating classroom experiences through object-based educational programs, and 2) creating vital experiences with works of art in the galleries through interpretive text, technology, gallery teaching, and public programming for visitors of all ages. Caroline collaborates with the Chief Curator and Directors of Information Technology and Design to oversee the new Gallery One, an interactive gallery for intergenerational visitors. She has facilitated and enhanced the museum’s collaborative interpretation program, which has garnered national recognition with the recent award of an NEH Challenge Grant. With colleagues at CMA and Case Western Reserve University, she has worked to re-envision the joint CWRU-CMA doctoral program in art history, which recently received a major grant from the Mellon Foundation to focus on object-based study. Caroline’s postings on this site are her own and don’t necessarily represent the Cleveland Museum of Art’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

Reimagining Peer Networks in a Digital Age

By Mike Murawski, Portland Art Museum; Dana Carlisle Kletchka, Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University; Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, National Writing Project, University of California Berkeley

“People’s relationships remain strong—but they are networked. Neighbors, and neighborhoods still exist, to be sure, but they occupy a smaller portion of people’s lives. It is hard to borrow a cup of sugar from a Facebook friend 1,000 miles away, but it has become easier to socialize, get advice, and exchange emotional support at whatever distance. Where commentators had been afraid that the internet would wither in-person ties, it is clear that they enhance and extend them.” (Lee Rainie & Barry Wellman, Networked: The New Social Operating System, 2012).

In their recent book Networked: The New Social Operating System, Lee Rainie (director of the Pew Charitable Trusts Internet & American Life Project) and Barry Wellman (Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto and Director of NetLab) have argued that the large online social circles of familiar platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. actually expand opportunities for learning, problem solving, decision making and personal interaction. Their work at the Pew Internet Project and the NetLab (especially research for the Connected Lives Project) suggests that digital technologies are not isolated — or isolating — systems, but rather networked systems built upon these social networking platforms as well as mobile device technologies.

As Rainey and Wellman remind us (although we need no reminder):

“Daily life is connected life, its rhythms driven by endless  email pings and responses, the chimes and beeps of continually arriving text messages, tweets and retweets, Facebook updates, pictures and videos to post and discuss. Our perpetual connectedness gives us endless opportunities to be part of the give-and-take of networking.”

But how do we—as museum and arts education professionals—maneuver within a technology-mediated world in a way that allows us to cultivate productive, human-centered networks and communities? Museums and schools have been widely engaged in how digital media and technology can connect them with their students and audiences. But what about the potential of these same technologies to build entirely new “communities of practice” among professionals—whether art teachers, university faculty, or museum educators?

These questions are at the core of a series of conversations that we will be facilitating over the next several weeks, centered around a panel discussion that will be part of the National Art Education Association annual conference in Fort Worth at the beginning of March. Through these organic and open conversations, we hope to begin exploring models of human-centered professional exchange and peer networks suited to the increasing complexity, connectivity, and velocity of the 21st century. Drawing on innovative work from the National Writing Project (such as Digital Is), sites of exchange such as this one (ArtMuseumTeaching.com), and connected learning models developed with MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative, we’ll be discussing how online networks and communities can harness the power of emerging technologies and social media to share, collaborate, curate, and participate with peers both today and in the future.

One way to more easily digest this sizeable topic is perhaps to take it one bite at a time.  So we’re excited to be facilitating two public “on air” Google Hangouts along with the session at NAEA—one hangout prior to the conference to take that first bite, and one a couple weeks after the conference to extend our thinking and perhaps follow-up on questions raised in the panel.  The online Google Hangout format also allows us to potentially engage a wider range of people than just those attending the NAEA conference, while at the same time practicing one of the most widely used technologies for face-to-face online engagement.

CONVERSATION #1 – Come Chat With Us via Google Hangout

“What Do WGoogleHangoutIcone Want from Online Communities of Practice?”

Open Google Hangout w/ Mike Murawski, Dana Carlisle Kletchka, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl

Thursday, February 28th – 1:00pm Pacific / 4:00pm Eastern

For this preconference conversation on Google Hangout, we thought we might simply ask:  “what do we want from online communities of practice and peer networks?”  What online networks and communities are you involved with? When you consider jumping into a new online community, what do you hope it will achieve?  What types of exchanges and experiences keep us engaged and prevent us from leaving (or ignoring) the online network? During this conversation, we were able to gather your thoughts, questions, and experiences which will inform our discussion at NAEA on March 7th.

View the YouTube recording of the “On Air” Google Hangout here:

Couldn’t join the Google Hangout?  Watch the broadcast above, and please add your thoughts and perspectives to the “Comments” section below, and we’ll utilize this space to keep the conversation going.

CONVERSATION #2 – NAEA Conference Session

NAEA_logo  “Reimagining Professional Exchange & Peer Networks in a Digital Age”

  NAEA Panel Session w/ Mike Murawski, Dana Carlisle Kletchka, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl

  Thursday, March 7th, -12:00-12:50pm, Meeting Room 121C/Center/1st Floor

At this session, we gathered with a great group of peers to share some of our own experiences working as developers, researchers, and participants in online networks and communities of practice, but also spent time opening up the conversation about key issues (many pulled from the preconference Google Hangout).  For example: how do we promote online ‘contributing’ instead of just online ‘visiting’ when it comes to these experiences? What are some ways to build co-learning interactions online?

Couldn’t attend the session?  Please feel free to connect with either of the Google Hangouts, or chime in via the “Comments” section below.

CONVERSATION #3 – Reconnect via Google Hangout

GoogleHangoutIcon“The Digital Follow-Up: How Do We Drag Everyone Back to Their Screens?”

Open Google Hangout w/ Mike Murawski, Dana Carlisle Kletchka, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl

Thursday, March 28th – 1:00pm Pacific / 4:00pm Eastern

One of the most difficult things to motivate busy museum and education professionals to do is to reconnect online after the conference or workshop.  While we all know the values of extending these relationships and opportunities to reconnect, it can be so difficult to make these a reality.  It only seems appropriate to make this one of the topics of our own ‘digital follow-up’ discussion.  How do we manage and nurture online professional networks so that members stay active, build stronger ties, and feel supported?  We also kept this follow-up conversation open to issues and questions that were addressed in the panel session at NAEA.

View the YouTube recording of the “On Air” Google Hangout here:


We look forward to continuing this exciting series of conversations!  If you have any ideas for a future Hangout or online get-together, let me know and we can work to schedule here within the ArtMuseumTeaching.com community.

Reposted through the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website.

When Bloggers Collide

I recently was invited to participate in a panel session on museum blogging at the 2012 Museum Computer Network (MCN) conference, which was luckily hosted in nearby Seattle. The session was pulled together by power blogger Ed Rodley (aka Senior Exhibit Developer at the Museum of Science in Boston) and moderated by what I would now consider the new James Brown of museum technology, Koven Smith (aka Director of Technology at the Denver Art Museum).  It was my first time attending MCN — which I had followed closely via Twitter during their last conference — and I was blown away at the energy and passion of this group of museum professionals that represented so many areas of museum work.

Since this conference has sparked a lot of thinking for me, I may end up writing a few MCN-related posts in the next week or so, but for now I wanted to focus on the reason I was there in Seattle this past week — the bringing together of a diverse group of active bloggers to dissect the how, why, and who of museum blogging.  For me, this was the first time meeting these other bloggers “in the flesh” or face-to-face — what would happen?  I could not help thinking about my favorite lines from the 1984 classic film Ghostbusters:

Egon: There’s something very important I forgot to tell you.
Peter: What?
Egon: Don’t cross the streams.
Peter: Why?
Egon: It would be bad.
Peter: I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, “bad”?
Egon: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

Luckily, just as in the movie, that’s not what happened at all.  It turns out, when bloggers collide, you get some productive conversations about professional and personal (or offline and online) identity, the complex networks that these blogs build online, and the ways in which these online entities may even push museum thinking forward.  In this post, I would simply like to introduce those who came together for this MCN session, and then lay out three questions that I spent time thinking about before participating in the panel (and that we grappled with a bit during our conversations).

The Blog Roll

Here is a quick run down of the other bloggers/blogs represented at this exciting MCN session:

Ed Rodley, Eric Siegel, Me, & Suse Cairns

Suse Cairns blogs at Museum Geek, and is also currently a PhD candidate at the University of Newcastle, Australia. She holds a unique position as an emerging museum professional without a museum institutional affiliation, perhaps permitting her to strike up a bit more of a disruptive conversation (or maybe that’s her indie rockstar background). She contributed a guest post to ArtMuseumTeaching.com about “Getting Uncomfortable in Museums.”

Ed Rodley blogs at Thinking About Museums, and currently works as Senior Exhibit Developer for the Museum of Science, Boston. He also coordinates a series of conversations & explorations among the Boston museum community that he has dubbed “Drinking About Museums,” posted to his blog regularly (here is the most recent installment). Ed and I are in a similar boat in which we blog independently of the institutions we work for — making for a slightly more complex situation when it comes to our more ‘rebellious’ ideas or questions. I’m grateful that he pulled this panel together for MCN.

Eric Siegel blogs at The Works, a New York Hall of Science blog, and is currently that institution’s Director and Chief Content Officer. With 30 years of experience in museums, Eric writes about challenging aspects of innovative projects in exhibition, technology, and education as well as collaborations and current thinking in museum work. One of his great recent posts discusses the ReGeneration exhibition being developed at the New York Hall of Science that will bring together contemporary art and science. Not only does Eric blog about projects like this, but he also supports his staff creating their own blog content across the institution — see SciSpotlight.

Session Attendees — OK, this was the real fire power at the session. Almost everyone who attended the panel also blogs themselves, and some for longer than the entire panel combined.  During the session, we asked how many of them had their own blogs, and the photo on the right shows the sea of hands (as good as an iPhone can show it). In hindsight, we should have really thrown more questions out to the “audience” and had a richer conversation about blogging — and not just our blogs.  I wanted to give a shout out to everyone who submitted their blogs to our session’s Twitter feed, but I know there are more.

So that gives the long and short of who was there for the session, and it might also help many of you connect with more of the museum blogging community.  Now I wanted to quickly frame some of the issues I brought to the table during the session, and then I invite your feedback and comments below.

Museum Blogging Issue #1: Who Reads This Stuff?

After writing for and managing this blog for over 9 months, I have come to be quite fascinated by blog readership … or clicker-ship, as I’d rather call it (mostly because I can measure how many people click on the blog, but I can’t measure how closely they read it).  First of all, there is the actual number of people that museum blogs reach.  I estimate that across a few dozen museum blogs (17 of them are listed above), there are approximately 1-2 million people accessing these sites each year.  And I don’t think this figure is exaggerated — I recently met an art blogger who gets about 1.25 million hits a year, showing how widespread the reach of this form of content can be.  And I want to be clear here: I am not associating the number of hits or clicks with the value of a blog’s content or the blogger.  I frankly don’t care whether a blog gets 1 million hits a year, or 100 hits a year — if they both have thoughtful, quality content, then they both serve an important role in this online thinking space.

Beyond the sheer number of hits or clicks, I am way more interested in the organic web of interactions that can take place online after a blog post is published.  For example, a blogger can share their post via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, and their own circles of colleagues and peers.  Then, others share or retweet the post, and the ideas start to spread in unpredictable ways.  Search engines also direct people to the blog from Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. Then, people from across the world have the chance to add their thoughts and comments on the blog itself, or on Twitter and Facebook, and the conversation grows beyond the blog.  Furthermore, other bloggers can respond to your ideas through their own posts.  For instance, my recent post on teen engagement in museums has pingbacks from 4 other blogs — and each of those blogs has its own social media networks and clicker-ship.  The term ‘blog’ often seems so two-dimensional and self-directed when you consider the three-dimensional interactions, relationships, and ideating that can potentially ripple out from each post.  After hearing a great “Ignite” presentation at MCN from Lori Byrd Phillips on “open authority,” I think I am going with the term “BAZAAR” instead.  More to come on that idea in a future post.

Museum Blogging Issue #2: Do Blogs Really Have the Power to Create Communities?

Sometimes people can get quite cynical about blogs, thinking that it is just a bunch of people talking to themselves. Can these sites really create relationships among people and professionals?  Are blogs really a way for people to collaborate online and share ideas, questions, and processes?  Well, I would not have created this online forum (now with 14 authors) if I didn’t think that it had the potential to create an online community of practice in the field of art museum education. My experience thus far proves that people really do come together through a blog to exchange ideas, ask questions, and challenge each other.  Since us art museum educators only come together a couple times a year at conferences (and most museum educators are not able to even attend these conferences), I do find that online communities are finding a new role in the professional field. There is certainly more that sites like ArtMuseumTeaching could be doing to enhance peer engagement, and I hope to explore some of these in the upcoming months.

This whole question of how we build online communities is something that really interests me, and I will be partnering with some amazing colleagues (Dana Carlisle Kletchka and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl) to explore this through a session at next year’s National Art Education Association conference — a session that will have a rich online, digital presence before, during, and after the conference.  So I leave these questions open: how do we build communities of practice online, and what does that mean in terms of the way we work, interact, and play together?

Museum Blogging Issue #3: How Well Do We Play With Others?

My final thought simply opens up more questions about how we develop expansive, boundary-crossing communities online.  As bloggers, how well do we play with each other?  If you have your own museum blog, how many times have you invited other museum bloggers to write a guest post, commented on their blog, or added a link to their blog on your site?  Do bloggers reach out to make connections with other bloggers outside of their own national and cultural boundaries?  What about across types of museums and academic disciplines?  Even outside of the blogging circles — how well do we connect with other existing forms of online interaction (Google Hangout, Blog Talk Radio, or other online communities such as Digital Is)?  I, myself, have a lot of work to do in many of these categories, but I wanted to lay out these questions so that we can be thinking of them as we push forward in the blogosphere.

**********

So, I really enjoyed attending MCN, and it sparked all kinds of questions and thoughts in my mind about this site as well as large areas of my professional work.  I invite your thoughts and perspectives below, and I am open to all suggestions as to how to grow the community already forming around this online “bazaar” I call ArtMuseumTeaching.com.

During the conference, MCN publicized Twitter hashtags for each session, so I wanted to make available an archive of all of the tweets up to this point that used our hashtag: #mcn2012tale.  Here it is in PDF form, with lots of great questions and thoughts from those attending the session and beyond: TweetArchive_#mcn2012tale

Teaching with the iPad: Adding a New Dimension to the Museum Experience

Back in 2011, I attended a fantastic session led by Kris Wetterlund and Sheila McGuire at the National Art Education Association conference about how the Minneapolis Institute of Arts was using iPads with their docents — and how they were training the docents to use this newly adopted technology.  I remember sitting in the audience thinking: “A. I will probably never own an iPad myself,” and “B. Our docents will probably never use iPads.”  It turns out I was wrong on both accounts — I got my own iPad 2 within a couple months of attending that session (I think Apple still owes Kris and Sheila their commission), and we now have about half a dozen docents using an iPad on their tours at the Saint Louis Art Museum — a number that I hope grows in the next year.

So what’s the big deal with the iPad?  Does it really add anything to a tour that we couldn’t already do without this device?

A study from the Pew Research Center released earlier this year indicated that 19% of adults in the United States own a tablet computer, and that statistic is rising significantly (probably much higher by the time I write this).  I also read somewhere that Apple has sold approximately 200-220 million iPads worldwide since the product’s first release in 2010.  So I thought it was about time that I more fully utilized this device in my own teaching practice, and then lead a workshop for our docents on the ways in which the iPad (and tablet/mobile technology in general) can add a new dimension to the museum experience for our visitors.

I personally began using my iPad on tours a little less than a year ago.  My first experience was with a group of 2nd grade students from an city public school, and we were scheduled to visit the African art galleries.  It had always been a bit of a challenge to make those galleries come alive, since they were small, dimly lit spaces with the objects up high in big plexiglass cases.  Was there something I could load onto my iPad that would enrich the experience?  I found a video of an African buffalo mask (similar to the one in our collection) being performed in a ceremony in Burkina Faso, so I downloaded that to my device just as I was heading from my office to greet the group.  As I led them into the African gallery with the “Buffalo Mask,” I was nervous that something would go wrong and my iPad experiment would crash and burn.  I popped out the mobile device, clicked play on the video, and quickly noticed that every student in the entire group was silent and paying very close attention to the video.

I had intended on only playing about 20 seconds, but we actually stayed and watched about 3-4 minutes (not recommended, but it worked with this group).  While the video of the African dance ceremony played, I invited the students to discuss everything they noticed in the video: the movements of the dance, the sounds of the drums, and the community gathered in the background. Then our discussion turned back to the “Buffalo Mask” before us in the gallery — a really great exploration that had the students looking more closely and connecting in a more meaningful way.  Their level of interest had skyrocketed.  Was this just because I brought this short video clip into the galleries with me?  Was it this simple to deepen the level of understanding and engagement on my tours?  I remember leaving this tour with a lot of excitement about using the iPad in the galleries, but questions about whether the focus was truly on the objects … or was the focus too much on the technology?

Research and Best Practices

Back when I attended Kris and Sheila’s NAEA session last year, there were not a lot of resources to guide the use of iPads on tours.  I remember contacting Kris after the session, and she sent me some thoughtful tips based on her own experiences with docents.  Since then, though, she, Sheila, and their colleagues have written some useful “best practices” based in their research on using iPads in the galleries.  Here are links to the most useful:

  1. “iPads on Tour,” written by Kris Wetterlund and Sheila McGuire for the Museum-Ed Blog.  Nice short overview of key things to keep in mind when enabling docents and educators to use multimedia on the iPad to enhance their tours.  Their best tip (and a “Golden Rule” for me) is Organize Your Stuff.  I have used FileApp Pro, which they recommended, and it seems to serve my needs for bringing video and images together into an easy-to-access folder.  This means I’m not fumbling around to find the content while I’m in the middle of my tour.
  2. “Enhancing Group Tours with the iPad: A Case Study,” authored by Ann Isaacson, Sheila McGuire, Kris Wetterlund, and Scott Sayre, now a chapter in the American Association of Museums 2011 book entitled Mobile Apps for Museums.  This more in-depth article discusses a study that the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts conducted on their docents’ use of iPads and visitor response.  They found that “all of the museum visitors were engaged during the iPad portion of the tour” and that “all thought it added to their understanding of the works of art.”  A good tip that you can pull from this article is that, like any gallery prop, the iPad or mobile device should be used judiciously to avoid making it the focal point of the tour.

Other than bringing the iPad on tour or using it as an educator, the device has wide-ranging applications for museum education, learning, and audience engagement (that I’m not going to discuss in detail here).  I would even go as far as to say that each day a museum somewhere probably launches a new iPad app or is offering a program that utilizes the iPad and other tablet devices.  It has truly become the new bandwagon (for good reason, I think).  If you’re interested in some of the uses of iPads through museum apps, Hyperallergic reviewed “3 iPad apps that recreate the museum experience … almost” back in December, and Scott Billings wrote a great piece for MuseumNext a couple years ago about “what can the iPad do for museums?”

Bringing the iPad into the Galleries: A Sample Tour

So why all this thinking about iPads and touring?  Well, I decided it might be good to have a conversation with our docents about the benefits of bringing a iPad with you into the galleries.  Therefore, last week I offered an open workshop for any interested docents — about 15 attended, and about 10 were interested but unable to attend.  My workshop demonstrated a handful of ways that the iPad can enrich the museum experience, focusing mainly on ways in which additional content and context can be introduced to gain a deeper understanding of the objects themselves (again, the focus should always be on the art and objects, not on the technology).

On our workshop tour, we discussed using the iPad in three galleries of the Saint Louis Art Museum’s collection: African art, Impressionism (mainly Degas’s sculpture), and contemporary art.  I am going to quickly review the use of the iPad in these three areas, and link to some of the multimedia content we viewed in the galleries.

African Art: For our time in the African galleries, I demonstrated two uses of the iPad.  First, I showed how a tour guide could use a map application like National Geographic’s World Atlas to show students the location of Africa on the globe, and then zoom into the regions and countries that might relate to the objects on the tour.  I have had a lot of success with this map app on my tours, and I find it more effective than paper maps or color print-outs.  In addition to the map, I showed the video I mentioned above of the Buffalo Mask dance, which we all agreed would enrich and deepen visitors experience with the mask on view (not just school children, but adults too).  After exploring the map and video, I discussed how important it is to keep your multimedia content to a minimum — in other words, do not have 3 videos to show along with a map for one stop on your tour.  I recommend that docents choose approximately 3-4 multimedia items (photos, maps, videos, etc.) for their entire tour, and spread them out across the tour.  Remember, you don’t want the iPad to become the focus of the tour.

Impressionism/Degas: We moved up to the Impressionism and Post-Impressionism galleries, and I spent some time with the sculptures by Edgar Degas that our museum has on view.  First, I quickly showed a video of Eadweard Muybridge’s ‘Horse in Motion’ images from 1878 along with our Degas Galloping Horse of a slightly later date. The museum label even refers to this experiment in capturing motion, and it was powerful to see these images and the Degas side-by-side.  Then we moved to Degas’s Little Dancer of Fourteen Years to compare our bronze version (cast after the artist’s death) with hi-res detail images of the original wax and mixed media sculpture that Degas created himself (now in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington). This sparked an interesting discussion of the appearance of our bronze, the surface textures, and the fabric, and I think we all left wanting to explore our Degas further.

Contemporary Art: Finally, we discussed the various types of content one could bring into the contemporary art galleries. I focused primarily on artistic process, or artists in their studios.  This is something I know visitors enjoy seeing, and I feel it deepens our understanding of the artworks and the artists themselves. I brought in two examples. First, I showed a video of Toots Zynsky, a contemporary glass artist, working in her studio to create, heat, and mold one of her well-known glass forms.  We’ve had curators discuss her process before, but the video really helped the piece come alive in a new way.  And finally, I ended the workshop with a video clip of Gerhard Richter painting with one of his squeegees — a process that visitors are always confused by.  Seeing Richter carefully pull paint across his huge canvases certainly helped me gain a better understanding of these massive paintings.

For me, this was a good place to start with our docents, and it was my goal to keep it simple.  I know that iPads and mobile devices allow for many more types of experiences, including augmented reality (see excellent paper from Cherry Thian from 2012 Museums & the Web) or using real-time video applications (FaceTime, Skype, etc.) to bring artists, curators, or community members into the galleries for Q&A and dialogue.  But for the human-centered experience that is the guided tour, these simple uses of the iPad can truly add a powerful dimension to the learning experience.

What is your best use of the iPad on a tour or teaching experience?  Are there ways we can push the best uses of mobile technology into tour experiences?