When I applied to join the faculty at GWU this year, I spent a lot of time working on my statement of teaching philosophy. I hadn’t written anything like this before, and wanted to make sure that my approach to teaching was informed, and appropriate to the types of subjects I’d be teaching. One of the pedagogic approaches I was most interested in was connected learning, which utilises digital media and online networks to enable personalised and integrated teaching.
socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity. [It] is realized when a young person pursues a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career possibilities, or civic engagement.
Connected learning is founded on three core values: equity, full participation, and social connection. Its learning principles propose that learning should be interest-powered (enabling personalised learning pathways), peer-supported, and academically oriented, while its design principles focus on learning that is production-centered (it should involve making or doing), openly networked, and have a shared purpose (we should be working towards common goals). These ideas largely align with the values of musetech, so it made sense to bring them to the classroom when teaching on subjects related to museum digital tech and social media.
The semester is five weeks in, and already this pedagogic approach is surfacing some interesting issues. As I mentioned in my last post, I assigned weekly blogging and Twitter participation to both classes. One student recently mentioned that she found it unnerving to have interaction with a professor outside the normal bounds of in-class interactions. She was uncertain how to react when I replied to her Tweets. Other students, too, expressed some doubt about what kind of online response would be appropriate (e.g. are gifs ok?). This kind of context collapse is frequent on social media, but this feedback reminded me that there are critical social boundaries–particularly related to authority relationships–to be negotiated in connected learning contexts. Even though I was undoubtably in my student’s imagined audience for class-related Tweets, she still felt uncertain about how to interact in the semi-public online environment.
What are the implications–seen and unseen–of breaking down those boundaries? How is the performance of identity between the student and professor (especially the identities we affect in class) impacted by interaction outside the classroom? Is there a renegotiation of the power or authority relationship between the students and me, and the expectations we each have of the other? If so, how might that impact learning?
Prompting the students to work in public can be unnerving for me. As with any new course, I’m still working out what does and doesn’t work with my teaching material, and I’ve felt vulnerable having it reflected out to the world. That said, it’s fascinating to discover which ideas and examples student are connecting to in almost live-time. There is an immediacy to the feedback that I’d otherwise find hard to get, and while it can be confronting to see discussions in the classroom reflected out in the world, it’s useful, too. (It’s also lovely to have a whole new pool of thinkers to draw upon.)
I’m sure my thinking on this approach to teaching will develop. In the meantime, I’d love to hear more about your experiences with connected learning approaches to education, whether in your museum, university, or other areas. Mike Murawski has written about his experiences with connected learning, and the Peabody Essex Museum recently advertised for a connected learning developer, so I know these ideas are surfacing around the sector. Let me know what you’ve been learning.
How have you seen connected learning practices manifest? What kind of experiences and reflections have they prompted for you?
Last night I had terrible insomnia, and so at 3.30am picked up Pierre Bourdieu’s The Logic of Practice. Nothing like a bit of dense French sociology to help calm the active mind, right?! As I read and tried to make sense of the complex concepts at play (subconciously lamenting that it was Bourdieu beside my bed, rather than some fine romance…), I started to think about the value of this kind of scholarship for me now, as a museum professional rather than an academic.
As a PhD student, reading this kind of challenging book made sense. It was a good use of my time. I was working within an academic space, and investing in learning the bounds of that space was critical. But what about now, when I am starting out a new facet of my museum technology career as the Digital Content Manager at the Baltimore Museum of Art? Is it still beneficial to read books on sociology, cultural theory, or philosophy, when instead that time could be used to read up on new technologies and business practices? Should I still dedicate time and headspace to the kinds of academic ideas that have informed so much of my thinking until now, or instead take a more pragmatic approach? Or, in other words, now that I am a practitioner, what room or need have I of theory?
This question comes just as Rob Stein, Ed Rodley, a collection of authors, and I have invested some time into CODE | WORDS – our experimental discursive publishing project, which focusses specifically on the relationship between technology and theory in the museum. The project was started in response to a perceived gap in the developed discourse linking the subjects, and because that was something that we as a collective valued. The theoretical was understood to inform and put into context the practical, because museums are about ideas just as much as they are about objects, audiences, knowledge, and experience.
But what I’m now curious about is whether having a well-developed theory about museums actually makes someone a better practitioner. Does time spent learning and thinking about the theoretical ramifications of museum work, and of the museum qua museum, have value in the context of daily work? I have just spent 3.5 years thinking through what the transition to a pervasively networked information infrastructure might mean for museums qua knowledge institutions (how’s that for a little dissertation lingo?!), and I now have a particular sense and idea about what museums should be doing and why in this new knowledge context. But does the development of this work – this philosophical and theoretical dissection of the museum – actually help me now that I am working in the field?
I want to say yes, but that might be a defensive reaction. So instead, I’d love your input. Do you think that museum professionals benefit from having a philosophical or theoretical framework for the work that they do? Or does good work exist regardless of the theoretical underpinnings that support it? I know that I respond well to leaders who have vision for their work and their museums. Does that come from theory? Is a vision necessarily philosophical, because it relates to values and instititional missions? Or is it a different and distinct thing?
What do you think? What role does theory play in your work as a museum professional? Has it shaped your work and practice? Do you think that there is benefit for museum professionals to work from a philosophical or theoretical framework?
One of the coolest ideas that I picked up at Museums and the Web this year was the Imperial War Museums‘ Computer Club; an “informal club for all staff that aims to provide a hands-on experience with technology.” It was so cool, in fact, that I’ve asked Carolyn Royston, Head of Digital Media at the IWM, to tell us a bit more about it.
Carolyn, first up, can you tell me what Computer Club is and how it all works?
Computer Club is a new museum-wide initiative that we launched in May. The Digital Media department runs informal monthly lunchtime sessions that aim to develop digital awareness and skills across the museum. It’s open to everyone and we run the club across all of our five sites. We want to introduce staff to new digital things in a very practical hands-on way, perhaps try something they normally wouldn’t get an opportunity to do in their job and hopefully just get excited about digital. We have specifically made it informal and non-museum focussed so that people will come along and just have fun in a relaxed and friendly environment.
The initial sessions you’re running cover topics like Twitter, Facebook, Xbox and gesture control, and movie making on an iPad. How did you decide what topics to cover in the first instance? Were these choices a response to particular institutional needs, or were the subjects chosen for another reason?
My team came up with a list of initial ideas based on what we felt would be of most interest and use to staff. In the first instance, we thought that most people would know about Twitter and Facebook but not necessarily have accounts, or know how they work, or not necessarily know how to get the best from them. So for the Twitter session, we give people the opportunity to set up their own account, show them how to follow organisations or people they are interested in and everyone sends a tweet. It’s just a taster really but it gives people the chance to have a go and see what it’s all about. We have a long list of ideas but have only suggested six so far as we want to ask staff what sessions they would like us to run. We want Computer Club to be as user-focussed as possible.
Have you held your first session yet? How did it go?
Yes we ran our first session on how to use Twitter at our London site last month. We had a great response – fifty people from across different departments (including two directors) signed up. We want the sessions to be totally hands-on and we provide the equipment. We had to run the session three times so each person could have their own tablet and ensure the group was small enough for the team to provide help and support. There was a mixture of experience from people who already use Twitter and wanted to learn more about it to someone who had never held a tablet before and didn’t even really know what it was.
We also learnt an awful lot about the practicalities from the first session like dealing with wifi issues, trying to support sixteen people signing up for a Twitter account at the same time and just running out of time to get through everything we wanted to cover. A session is only an hour long and it’s surprising how quickly the time goes so we have learnt very quickly to limit the number of people per session to a max of 16 and keep the content very simple so there’s more time to play and experiment. We realised that we could always run a more ‘advanced’ session later on if people wanted to learn more.
We have just run the first of our second sessions on making a movie trailer on an iPad using iMovie. This is very different to the Twitter session as we ask people to work in small groups, give them a genre for a trailer, and let them go off for twenty minutes to make a trailer using iMovie. A member of the Computer Club team goes along to help them. They then get to do a very limited amount of editing and we upload the trailer to YouTube and watch each group’s trailer together. It’s a fun session that gets people collaborating, introduces them to the video camera on an iPad and shows them how easy it is to make a film and put it on YouTube. Hopefully, they will be encouraged to go off and try making a movie for themselves. Again, we’re thinking of running a more advanced session later in the year that focuses more on iMovie editing and shows what’s possible for those people that might want more than just a taster.
One of the things I love about the program is that you actually recognise people’s achievements with stickers and rewards of different kinds. Do you think this kind of recognition is important for other units seeking to run internal training sessions?
Firstly, I should say that every single person that has come to Computer Club has wanted a sticker at the end. I think the stickers are a really important part of the Club. Everyone, no matter what age, loves a sticker! – It’s recognition that a person has come along to Computer Club in their lunch hour to have a go at something digital. We have designed several different stickers and we give out a different one depending on the content of the session. It would be great if in the future we could build in rewards and other badging ideas perhaps when we have a more established programme. We got some nice tweets from staff after the first session and I have started to see stickers proudly displayed on people’s computers and staff badges. It’s great to see people really engaging with Computer Club and the stickers definitely help with that.
I really think there is scope to think about recognising people’s achievements in this way in other areas of staff development. For some reason as we get older, learning and development seems to become more and more boring and predictable in its delivery. It’s hard for me to think of one really interesting training course that I have been on since I entered the museum sector. I think Computer Club has caught people’s imagination partly because its different to anything else that staff have been offered before at the museum and also that it’s not tied to more formal training. It’s light touch sessions that people come along to because they’re interested and want to learn more about an area that perhaps they don’t feel very confident about. You come for a fun taster session that lasts an hour, get a sticker to say you’ve attended and then go back to work. Why can’t that approach be adopted for other areas of skills development? Ultimately, my aspiration is that Computer Club stickers are recognised by managers as a form of achievement. The more stickers a person gets, the more it shows their interest in digital. If this is recognised, then perhaps it can lead to people taking on digital leadership in their area of work and provide further opportunities for people to develop their digital interest and skills. This has to be of benefit to the organisation.
In the piece you wrote for Sarah Hromack and John Stack’s Institutional Strategy Digest, you mention that that IWM’s digital strategy has “at its heart an aspiration – to develop the confidence, initiative and digital capabilities of staff at all levels, so that they embed digital media instinctively in their work.” I think this is the sort of aspirational ideal that digital staff at most institutions would love to see in their own museums. How do you intend to build this sort of digital confidence and competence into your institution? What role do you expect Computer Club to play in this process?
This relates to my answer above. I firmly believe that in order for the museum to transform into a modern digital organisation we must raise the digital skills of staff. Computer Club is just one part of this strategy and is firmly about reaching the widest number of people and introducing them to digital possibilities. However, there are three other key strands to this strategy that support that approach and are designed to increase the confidence and digital capability of staff in a more sustained way:
One is identifying ‘transformational’ projects that have a strong digital component and will move the museum to where it needs to be more quickly. These projects are classed as ‘priority projects’ and provide an opportunity to work in ways more suited to digital development, illustrate good practice as a model for others, and enable us to demonstrate the difference and value that this approach brings if investment is made in this area.
Secondly, to support working in this way, the role of the Digital Media department will need to evolve into more than just providing digital project delivery. We need to mentor and coach project teams working on transformational projects, giving them the confidence and support to ‘own’ their projects, better embed them into their overall programme of work and show initiative when thinking about future development and planning in this area. This requires the Digital Media team to develop their skills in coaching and facilitation.
Finally we are introducing a new set of digital competences and digital leadership roles across the museum. These are applicable to Directors, Heads of Departments and all staff members. The digital competences will be applied to job descriptions, annual job plans and appraisals as well as newly advertised roles. The introduction of these new competences sends a very clear message about the importance of digital skills, about the need for on-going development and training in this area and raises expectations about what is required and expected from all staff in terms of digital skills and knowledge in their areas of work.
My goal is that through this strategy we will start to see a more digitally capable museum. This could be expressed in a number of different ways:
Staff are excited about all things digital and displaying an appetite for doing more and taking initiative in this area
Staff feel more confident in using digital tools in everyday work
Staff are more skilled in managing public participation projects and using social media
Computer Club continues to grow and staff are actively involved in choosing topics
Digital competences are implemented and digital leadership from staff at all levels starts to emerge across the museum
What do you think the challenges will be in running Computer Club?
There are definitely logistical and capacity issues trying to run Computer Club across our five different sites. Successful delivery relies on everyone in my department being involved in some way – from brainstorming session ideas to designing sessions, to leading and supporting their delivery. This obviously becomes a big challenge for the department from a capacity point of view as at the moment we are doing this in addition to our normal workload. The team have been brilliant in taking this idea on and making it happen and I hope that once we have a developed programme of sessions it will become easier to manage. However next year, if Computer Club is successful, then I want to ensure that it is built it into our overall programme of delivery and not seen as an add-on.
You’ve committed to run the program for a year initially, to have time for evaluation. What will Computer Club success look like for you? What would you love to achieve with the program?
I think there are a number of success criteria including the number of people that we’ve reached across the organisation over the year – looking at how many attended multiple sessions, range of departments and types of work they do. We also want to run some surveys over the year to get some qualitative feedback as a measure, and also find out which sessions were the most popular and useful. I think we need to look at the how the Club develops over the year; we have changed things after just one session so I imagine that they will continue to evolve and improve as the year goes on. There are also practical operational considerations – is it sustainable for the Digital Media department to run the sessions across five sites?
I will also evaluate how Computer Club has contributed to the success of the digital strategy along with the other activity we are doing. Are there signs that we are raising digital capability in the organisation? Is digital leadership emerging, perhaps in surprising areas? Are we starting to see staff embedding digital media more instinctively in their work? Have our expectations changed around the digital skills and knowledge that we are expecting our staff to have?
The IWM is a pretty large institution, set over a number of locations. Do you think that a program like Computer Club can scale to suit institutions of different sizes and types?
Why not? There are lots of ways you can champion digital in your organisation. This could be anything from running a Club like we’re doing, to simply sharing links and ideas of things you’ve have seen and are excited by, to just talking enthusiastically about digital with colleagues. For me, it’s all about displaying digital leadership and positioning yourself (and your department) as the digital champion in your organisation – whatever the size. You just need to work out what’s right for your organisation, what skills and knowledge the staff need to have to make the organisation more digitally capable, how you can contribute to raising the digital agenda so its seen as important, and who in the organisation can help you to achieve this. Start small with like-minded colleagues and aim for some quick wins!
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Computer Club?
Just that I’ve had a really positive response from the museum community since I announced Computer Club at Museums and the Web. I’m really interested to see if, in the future, it’s a model that can be replicated or adapted in other organisations.
Carolyn Royston is Head of Digital Media at Imperial War Museums and is responsible for the strategic development, delivery and provision of all public-facing digital outputs across the museum’s five branches: IWM London, Churchill War Rooms, HMS Belfast, IWM Duxford and IWM North. Carolyn’s work spans web, in-gallery multimedia, mobile and social media. She has transformed the museum’s approach to digital engagement so that it is now central to organisational thinking and planning. She is a skilled digital project leader and manager with over 15 years of experience working in the cultural and education sectors. Prior to joining the museum in 2009, Carolyn was project director of the National Museums Online Learning Project where she was responsible for co-ordinating and managing the needs of the nine national museums and galleries to create a range of educational resources. Prior to this, she was Head of eLearning at Atticmedia, a top 25 UK digital agency, where she led several large web projects in the education and cultural sectors. Before moving into digital media, Carolyn was a primary school teacher.
Thank you so much Carolyn! Now I’d love to know what you think. Does your museum have anything like Computer Club for internal staff development? Could you see an approach like this working in your institution?
If you’re anything like me, you probably keep a mental notebook of museums that seem to do consistently interesting work; it’s pages filled with the names of people you’d want to work with or museums you’d like to be at if the opportunity arose. My list has quite a few names on it, but one that has been near the top for a while is the Dallas Museum of Art, so it was enormously cool to spend a week at the DMA following Museums and the Web this year.
The DMA has been of interest to me for a number of reasons, but primarily because its mission and approach seems to align with much that I value in museums. It has an emphasis on transparency, dialogue and participation, ethical practice, scholarship, and even taking informed risks (yes! Risk is built into the mission). Under the leadership of Director Maxwell Anderson and Deputy Director Rob Stein, the museum appears progressive, innovative and interesting, and consistently looking to new ways of thinking about museum practice like opening up museum membership to anyone who wants to join it, for free – so it ticks all of my boxes.
So what did I learn from a week there? In short, a lot. As well as spending a significant amount of time with Rob, I had meetings with a number of high-level staff, sat in on general staff meetings, and lingered long in the museum observing visitors and thinking about the dynamics of the space. The takeaways are too many for a single post, so I’m going to run a short series of reflections from my week as museumgeek-in-residence at the DMA. This is the first.
DMA Reflection One: Confident, comfortable staff make for confident, comfortable visitors While the DMA’s simultaneous introduction of free museum entry and DMA Friends were perhaps the most noteworthy moves it has made towards visitor engagement in recent times, they have not happened in isolation. A less-documented but equally interesting shift in the museum has been in the role of visitor services staff, who are no longer expected to simply guard the museum space, but to take a far more proactively open approach to guest engagement. A member of staff greets visitors upon entry to the museum; another waits near the sign-up stations for the Friends program to assist anyone who needs help. Floor staff through out the museum make eye contact and nod or say hello when guests approach. It’s an approach that reminds me of Disney’s concept of being “assertively friendly” to provide exemplary guest service.
This change in the manner of the floor staff to visitors dovetails nicely with the broader emphasis on relationships found in the DMA Friends program, but is also indicative of a more general cultural change in the institution. For staff who have worked on the museum floor for a decade or longer, the difference in attitude and expected actions is significant. Even the uniforms of floor staff are now different, with a move away from formal jackets and towards more comfortable polo shirts (something which has left some feeling a bit vulnerable without the authority of their prior uniform, but also more open). This change might seem superficial, but comfortable staff make for comfortable visitors.
Cultural change does not happen overnight. One of the most important elements for bringing in change is equipping staff with skills and strategies for coping with the new expectations of their new role; something the DMA and its Director of Visitor Services, and Visitor Services Staff Barbee Barber seems to be approaching proactively. Visitor services staff are given a 15 minute briefing before every shift, as well as attending weekly training. During the training session I sat in on, two members of visitor services staff – David Caldwell and Joe Delinski – had each gone out of their way to research a topic they were personally interested in that was also related to the DMA Friends program to teach other members of the team (itself a great idea for encouraging internal staff development).
Joe’s talk was on gamification and gameplay as they relate to DMA Friends, a subject he was passionate about because Joe is himself a gamer. David spoke on the datafication of concepts, and the idea of “quantifiable social opportunities” and the “cumulative quantity of positive impressions [on visitors]” that the DMA floor staff could make. His talk emphasised the importance of the visitor services staff in generating positive impressions to protect, generate and promote the image of the DMA. What was particularly lovely was the emphasis placed on respect and self-esteem of visitor services staff as well as others, in order that the floor staff could take pride in their work whilst impressing other people. David put forward the idea that while curators, educators and registrars etc have particular knowledge and training that makes them experts at their job, those who work consistently on the floor are the museum’s experts at making “positive impressions.” It’s an attitude and idea I’d like to see at all museums.
Floor staff may also be the most efficient vehicle for transforming museums into social spaces. Web 2.0 succeeds by focusing on the personal interests of users and connecting users to each other via their interests. If we truly want museums to become places for social engagement among visitors, why not re-envision floor staff, who are trained to interpret the collection, as community organizers, trained to encourage and support interactions among visitors?
My impression is that the DMA is on the way to doing just this. They aren’t absolutely there yet; cultural change takes time. But this approach to visitor services, which puts emphasis both on providing welcoming experiences for visitors, and upon ensuring that staff feel respected and gain self-worth from the role played in that experience, seems valuable and aligned with the museum’s approach more generally.
What role are floor staff expected to play in the visitor experience of your museum? And how are they supported in this role?
A story is not just a collection of things or a sequence of events. In this I think breaking down some distinctions between Story, Plot and Narration is very useful.
The framework I like to use, borrowed form numerous scholars in the field over centuries, is that Plot is a sequence of Events, Narration is how those events are Told and Story is what the Viewer experiences through the combination of the Plot being Told in a certain way… or in other words Plot + Narration = a Story Experience in the mind of the Audience.
Once we engage with this idea we can get away from the vacuous notion that ‘everything is a story’ and actually focus on bringing to bear the mechanics and craft to generate an engaging story experience – dramatic questions, a cause and effect chain, a distinct voice in the ‘telling’ of the story, clear point-of-view, characters who are flawed and have desires and obstacles – a story that’s worth experiencing.
How do people who work in museums (curators, exhibit designers, marketers, digital content creators, everyone) learn to tell good stories? Where do they learn that art? Is it taught in school? If you took museum studies, was there a course on story development like a filmmaker or writer might take? Or is the craft handed down, curator to curator? If it isn’t taught formally, should it be?
What do you think? Where do museum story-tellers learn the mechanics and craft of story-telling to tell worthwhile and compelling stories in museums?