The Digital Learning Network shares ideas and good practice in using digital
technology to support learning in the Cultural Heritage sector.


News blog

#DLNETChat – our live monthly Twitter get together…

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Stuart Berry

Our regular followers and subscribers might already be familiar with our regular live #DLNETChat Twitter events, but for those of you who are new to us, new to Twitter, or who just wanted a quick recap, here is your definitive guide to #DLNETChat


What is #DLNETChat?

#DLNETChat is a monthly live discussion on the subject of digital learning or digital engagement in a cultural setting. Many who take part are from a museums or heritage background, but we are keen to involve anybody from the wider arts or cultural sector.

Each month’s Chat has a specific topic, such as formal learning, using mobiles, etc. and there are a range of questions and discussion points raised to prompt further discussion and enable as many people as possible to join in.

The Chats usually take place on the first Friday of the month, at 12.00pm, and last for an hour. Keep an eye on the @DLNET Twitter account, the #DLNETChat hashtag or the Digital Learning Network email group for details of when the next chat will be, and what the subject is.

That sounds great, what else do I need to know?

Anybody can join a Chat, just make sure you use the #DLNETChat hashtag when you tweet, in order for everybody else involved to pick it up. Try and keep to the subject matter, although invariably the conversations do stray from time to time.

If you have a specific request for a Chat subject, or a particular question you would like answering, why not tweet direct to @DLNET, or send an email to the Digital Learning Network email group.

I’m new to Twitter, what do I do?

If you are new to Twitter, joining a Chat could be daunting, so follow the steps below to get involved.

You will need to be logged on to Twitter, it doesn’t matter if you are using a desktop, a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone – you can follow using the Twitter website through your browser (e.g. Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer) or through an app on a tablet or smartphone. I use the Tweetdeck app in my browser, as it allows me to follow several strands at the same time, but the normal Twitter app or website is just as good.
In the search box, search for the ‘#DLNETChat‘ hashtag (hashtags are not generally case-sensitive) and this will bring up a list of Tweets using the hashtag. There can sometimes be options after you have searched, such as ‘Latest’, ‘Top’, etc. these will filter the Tweets – use the option that says ‘Latest’ or ‘Live’ as this means that you will see all the Tweets in time order, rather than just the ones which have had the most engagement. You can also keep an eye on the @DLNET Twitter page to see the Tweets coming from DLNET directly.
If you see a Tweet you want to engage with, just retweet, like or reply to it, using the icons at the bottom of the Tweet. If you reply, remember to include ‘#DLNETChat‘ in the text of your Tweet, people tend to either put the hashtag at the very start or very end of the Tweet, but it is just a case of personal preference. You can also join in by asking your own questions or making comments, again remember to include the ‘#DLNETChat‘ hashtag somewhere in the text of the Tweet – if you are commenting in reference to somebody else’s comment, it is possible to link to or quote their original Tweet, but it is usually good to at least mention them by their Twitter @name.

MOOCS and online courses for heritage

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Helen Ward

Guest post by Katherine Biggs, Multichannel Producer at Historic Royal Palaces

There has been growing interest in MOOCs (massive open online courses) over the past few years, and the ways in which the heritage sector can tap into their potential. Many of you will have followed the #DLNETChat dedicated to MOOCs back in March, and at Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), we wanted to see whether these courses could provide a platform to take our stories to a new, global audience.

Filming for course

Filming for course

 ‘A History of Royal Food and Feasting’, HRP’s first course, launched in June 2016 on the FutureLearn platform. Produced by HRP’s Learning & Engagement team in collaboration with the University of Reading and colleagues from across the palaces, we were particularly interested in how the free online course model could allow us to reach new audiences. Over five weeks the course examined the changing face of royal food from Henry VIII to Queen Victoria, focusing on five monarchs across four of our palaces.

 We are not the first heritage organisation to be embracing the power of these online courses. The British Library now has two courses running on FutureLearn, Tate has collaborated with Khan Academy, while American museums have long been advocates of this model, especially MoMA’s large presence on Coursera. With so many platforms available for hosting these courses, where does one start in selecting the correct one? At HRP we knew we wanted a narrative structure for our course, taking learners on a journey over a number of weeks rather than a ‘how-to’ model. Being new to the world of MOOCs we were also keen to work with a newer platform (FutureLearn launched in September 2013 but already has over 4 million users), feeling that we would receive more support from a slightly smaller organisation. And almost more importantly, we loved the FutureLearn social learning ethos , and have continued to be impressed by the sheer quantity and quality of discussion between learners on the platform: 35,366 comments were posted in our course across the five weeks.

I’ve really enjoyed this course, especially the contributions from the non-UK learners regarding their own cuisine and history. All of the personal recollections have been lovely too, I think it’s really important to hear stories of grandparents and relatives that lived through previous ages whilst we still can! Thank you to all who contributed!” (Feedback from a course participant)

Activity steps

Activity steps

Courses are made up of a range of activity steps, including videos, animations, quizzes, articles and discussions: lots of variety and opportunities for active participation. This was brought to life through historical recipes for learners to try at home (see some of the learners’ shared Tudor cookery attempts here), videos of experts from HRP and the University of Reading, costumed characters filmed within the palaces, animations showing where foods came from…

“I love the combination of reading, watching videos, trying out recipes, taking quizzes, reading comments from fellow students, etc. Technology has greatly expanded what can be done both online and face to face in a classroom. It’s so exciting!” (Feedback from a course participant)

As you might imagine, with this amount of content to produce, it was a huge undertaking. It was brilliant to partner with the University of Reading online casino on the course as they brought a huge amount of knowledge and experience of building courses for FutureLearn. However, much of the content came from HRP, which also meant that our organisational tone and feel had to be incorporated, as well as some of our ‘eccentricities’ like using the less-popular spelling of Sir Walter Ralegh’s name. We also had to manage the content in such a way that it supplemented, rather than replicated, the onsite experience. We wanted to encourage a new audience to visit, to add to the experience of existing visitors but also provide an enjoyable course for those who were unable to visit our sites.    

The course exceeded our expectations in terms of reach. We had nearly 13,000 sign-ups for the course, and 57% of these were converted into learners (the average for FutureLearn course is 50%). But what was most exciting for us was that these learners came from 153 different countries (only 31% of participants were from the UK) and that they represented a new audience for HRP: of these, 35% said that they had never visited one of HRP’s sites before, and 25% had never heard of HRP before. One of our ambitions for the course was to reach out to these participants who had never visited the palaces and to convert them from online to onsite visitors: of those surveyed at the end of the course, 46% of people said they planned to visit one of our palaces.

“I have loved this course – thank you so very much. We have decided to extend a planned visit to London in September in order to incorporate a visit to Hampton Court Palace” (Feedback from a participant)

Proud course completer!

Proud course completer!

We’ve learnt so much during this process, and we’re still digging through the reams of data and comments to plan our next run of this course, and to embark on planning for a new course topic. But we’ve put our heads together and collated some of our top tips for others planning similar courses:

Choose the right platform for your course, and trust their ways of working – using the combined expertise of University of Reading and FutureLearn was amazing for getting an insight into what learners want from the content.

Have a clear course objective in place from the start – the course narrative and tone follows much more easily when you know who it is aimed at, and what you want it to achieve.

Proof, proof and proof again! – with so many people reading your content, they spot everything.

Know what your story is – a strong narrative agreed early on makes the content creation much easier. We learnt the hard way and built our narrative around the content.

But make sure you have the content to back up the narrative!  – with so many steps, you need much more content than you would have thought. And during the course new questions and avenues emerge so great to have additional content up your sleeve.

Sit back and enjoy your learners’ sharing their varied knowledge and interests – watching the interactions during the course was a real joy.

Let us know what you think; either post in the comments below, email, or get in touch with us on Twitter or Facebook.







What are iBeacons and how can they be used?

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Throughout 2015 you may have heard the word iBeacon being thrown around at conferences, on twitter etc. and wondered what people were talking about? iBeacon technology has grown in popularity over the last few years across many sectors and will become more prominent in 2016, but what are they and how can they be used by cultural organisations? Hopefully this blog can shed some light on the subject for you.

What are iBeacons?

iBeacons are small, wireless transmitters which use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to ‘push’ information to devices based on their location. BLE can determine when a device is in range of the transmitter (between 2-10 meters), by sending out signals and measuring the strength of a signal being received. Any device that has Bluetooth capability can interact with a beacon, meaning that most iOS and Android smartphone and tablets can be used. These beacons can be loaded with content to be pushed to devices through an app when they are in range. iBeacons come in many different forms but are small, relatively cheap, can last up to two years on a single battery, the content can be customised and they are quite simple to use.

In principle the technology allows organisations to provide extra information and content to users through devices and potentially create engaging experiences through a digital medium. 

Obviously this is not a new concept, in previous years there has been buzz around QR codes and NFC tags, which many believe failed as an engagement tool. One of the problems with these was that users had to actively go seeking the information and get up close to tags to be able to interact, which can be awkward, especially if the content then does not work. iBeacons are the next step in this evolution and in a wireless world where people want information to come to them, they are a new way for organisations to interact with their visitors and improve the visitor experience.

A huge range of content can be uploaded to a beacon including; images, sound, video, text, 3D images etc. and organisations are using them for treasure trails, gaming, tours, sales, and much more. As with all projects, the amount of money you have to develop experiences with beacon technology will dictate the quality of the final product, but a lot can be achieved on relatively small budgets. 

How are they used in cultural organisations?

Over the past few years a number of organisations have started to use iBeacons in different ways, opening up the potential for this technology.

The Hidden Museum is an app created by Bristol Museum and Art Gallery alongside Aardman and University of Bristol as part of the Digital R&D fund for the Arts. They wanted to create an experience that opened up the building and collections to families in a fun and engaging way, while promoting group interaction and improving the visitor experience. They used over 120 iBeacons to create a game which revealed elements of the museum not normally seen, such as seldom-visited galleries, collections not currently on display and behind-the-scenes stories, all of which can be taken home digitally and enjoyed away from the site.

The National Slate Museum installed 25 iBeacons across their site to enable visitors to discover more about the museums and open up their collections as they walk around. They used different media including, images, video and sound to provide extra content to visitors on their devices, as well as offering deals in the shop and café when they were near by. It was all based on digital content that was already curated by the museum making it less expensive and time consuming than creating totally new content.

The Rubens House in Antwerp uses iBeacons to help visitors interact with the artwork in new ways, they developed an app and the movable nature of the beacons meant that they did not have to make any physical modifications to the historic house. The app allowed for a number of different interactions when close to certain artwork, including x-ray scans, zooming on artwork, answering questions and more. All of the beacons provided a thematic route through the house to help visitors engage further with the artwork and physical site.

These are just a few examples of museums and galleries using iBeacon technology, there are many more examples across the world and ever more museums are testing this technology with their collections.

What’s next?

Beacons offer museums a great opportunity to open up their collections and provide relevant information like never before. They can encourage visitors to explore parts of the building they have never been to, discover objects they’ve never heard of, or see art in a new light.

Going forward this technology could help engage more people; for example digital signage when a certain area is busy, content annotation can allow for users to leave comments at a specific exhibit for other visitors to see and engage with, bookmarking of content to save for later after the visit and helping us to understand visitor behaviour and dwell times better.

Cultural organisations can enhance different aspects and add features to their own collections, creating new experiences and repurposing existing content to enrich the visit.

iBeacons may not be the right fit for everyone and some believe they will go the same way as the QR code, but there is a lot of potential for them if used well and thoughtfully. Most museums and galleries have a majority of their collections behind closed doors; this is a technology that can allow for more to be in the hands of the visitor regularly and in an engaging way. Many visitors are bringing their own devices to cultural sites and will use them if the experience is right.

 Let us know what you think; either post in the comments below, email, or get in touch with us on Twitter or Facebook.