The Digital Learning Network shares ideas and good practice in using digital
technology to support learning in the Cultural Heritage sector.
10 PRINT “Hello World!”
With these simple steps so began many people’s first steps in computing…
The National Curriculum has undergone some fairly radical changes over the previous couple of years. One of the most shouted about changes has been the renaming of ICT to Computing. This change could not have come soon enough. From my time at school, it usually appeared that we were always two steps ahead of what we were being taught. While the teacher was desperately trying to get us to complete our Excel worksheets, we were playing with the network storage, allocating ourselves more space for downloading albums from Napster. This appears to have changed little since I left and the gaping skills gap left by an inadequate IT curriculum meant that employers were beginning to notice that they could not get developers to create the products that 21st Century economy was crying out for. Campaigns such as the much maligned, “Year of Code”, championed by a group with no knowledge of coding, have run into problems getting the nation to be programmers, so where do museums and heritage organisations fit into supporting schools and teachers to deliver the new curriculum?
These problems were also compounded by the opaqueness of the technology being used. Physically, as devices became smaller, so did components meaning that self-repair was impossible and with code, a valuable commodity, barriers to accessing and manipulating it were put in place by developers keen to protect their intellectual copyright but also by consumers’ desires to get products that “just work”. Open Source and growth of the maker and hack movement have gone some way to changing this. They promote taking things apart, re-arranging them and creativity as something which promotes understanding, ownership and power to the user. All these effects are important for educating students – as with all things, code is never neutral. It is created and shaped by individuals and organisations with goals in mind and by picking apart their workings, we can regain our own control over our devices, communications and tools, to shape how we live and understand our lives.
The change of the name of study to Computing indicates a new direction. A number of high profile research papers outlined the problem facing educators and businesses, such as Nesta’s “Next Gen” and the government’s “Designing the Digital Economy” reports. Gone is the endless learning of Microsoft Office, now replaced by the study of computational thinking and building software and programs from scratch (and sometimes with Scratch!). Although explaining algorithms to KS1 students might sound like an impossible task, the new curriculum has opened up a whole range of opportunities for museums, science centres and heritage sites to use their collections in exciting ways, to tell new stories and to teach new skills.
Since 2008’s Decode exhibition at the V&A, our learning programmes have incorporated coding and programming in workshops. The exhibition, featuring digital artists’ work, looked at code as the raw material of digital design. Since then we have worked with families, schools, young people and adults to look at the building blocks of our digital lives. Exploring cross disciplinary collaborative making and open source practices have opened a new avenues to explore not only for our online work but also for our onsite public events.
This September, as part of our Digital Design Weekend and Disobedient Objects exhibition, we worked with families to create their own interactive protest signs. Using the physical interface, MaKey MaKey, families created simple instructions in the graphical interface of Scratch which were triggered when touching or waving their banners and signs. Mixing physical interaction and making with coding can be a powerful way to reinforce key concepts such as inputs and outputs, logic and iteration. The Museum of London’s school programme has also worked with primary schools to create interactives for their school that tell the story of Roman London. Mixing object based learning, craft and computing offers up chances to create engaging and unexpected outputs. Students could create a centurion helmet out of tinfoil which when worn would then tell you the story of life in the Roman army.
We are fortunate to have an excellent collection of digital art at the V&A. The range of works stretch back to the 1960’s and chart the development not only of a new digital aesthetic but also evolving technologies. In our Digital Design: Code workshop, students visit our archives and hear a talk from a curator before heading into a studio with artist Antonio Fernandes to use Sketchpatch.net to create their own generative art in Processing. Crossing disciplines, outcomes and approaches is key to bringing a richness to the subject. Those who may not have an interest in engineering or computer science may find a use for the subject in other ways. The workshop supports the curriculum by introducing the Processing, an easy to learn text based language developed especially with artists and designers in mind.
With all this in mind, it is worth thinking about other areas of study in the curriculum. It is impossible to expect a whole generation to grow up with the skills needed to slip into engineering and computing careers through changing their schooling, though it will go some way to help. Teaching digital literacy is still a vital part of understanding the contemporary world and digital media. Skills such as e-safety, correct attributions, validating and evaluating online content are essential in workplaces and for equipping students with the skills needed to make decisions elsewhere in their lives. Placing a heavy emphasis on coding and programming makes a determined political point but this shouldn’t be at the expense of immediately relevant and practical instruction. Likewise, discovery and creativity should be at the centre of the curriculum and museums can play a large role in promoting curiosity and experimentation.
Have you come across any examples of the new curriculum being explored in museums? If so, let us know in the comments below. If you are looking to explore teaching coding or digital craft sessions in your organisation, take a look at some of these sites for inspiration:
One of the final parts of the Museum Studies MA at University of Leicester is a two month work placement in a museum or gallery. It is an important part of the course, as it is a chance for all students to put into practice what they have been learning about all year and get some hands on experience. I have been fortunate enough to carry out my placement at the Imperial War Museum London as part of the Digital Learning team.
Throughout my MA, I have been drawn to learning more about how museums are using digital technology and the different conversations that are happening within the sector as to how best it can be employed now and in the future. A placement with a Digital Learning team interested me as I wanted to learn more about how museums are reacting to the changing learning habits of children today and the ways that an institution such as the IWM is using technology to engage with them. Digital Learning is also an area that is developing quickly and something I would like to pursue as part of my career.
During my placement I have worked on a variety of different projects; I have researched and created an online learning resource on the Gallipoli Campaign (hopefully going live soon), helped with other resources particularly one on Fighting in the Trenches during the First World War, assisted in developing a new format of online learning resources based around enquiry questions, worked on resources for a BBC News School Report project, networked with various different people and departments across the museum as well as being part of other projects away from digital learning. This was a lot of work to squeeze into an 8 week placement and has given me invaluable experience into working on digital learning projects.
I think one of the most important concepts I have learnt through this placement is that the emphasis here is not on digital but on learning. Digital technology is simply a tool through which learning can occur and the ‘digital’ in digital learning is more than just an indication of the technology in use, it is a reference to the type of learning that is happening. Digital technology has changed the way that people learn; they now expect information to be immediate, in small concise chunks that give control of learning to the user. Rather than being simply a transfer of knowledge from museum to student, it becomes more of a journey where learners become more empowered and active pursuers of knowledge. The public now demand more control over their learning and leisure time and museums are responding to this by providing educational material that moves away from more conventional learning models using their collections and hopefully encouraging more people to visit the museum.
For me this has been one of the most enjoyable and successful work placements that I have undertaken over the last few years. One of the main things which I think has made this placement such a positive experience, and is a key part of all such work placements within museums, is the planning, discussion and support given throughout the role to ensure an understanding of the tasks to be undertaken and that the outcomes are mutually beneficial for both .
On my first day, I sat down with Charlie Keitch, the Digital Learning Officer at Imperial War Museums who acted as my manager throughout my placement and we met regularly to discuss projects and update on progress. Charlie gave me advice on work when I needed but has also allowed me to work independently. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at IWM and I am certain that this experience and the skills that I have learnt will have a profound effect on the rest of my career.
Welcome to the Summer Holiday edition of the DLNET blog! At this time of year most museums, heritage sites and arts venues traditionally turn to a wealth of family-friendly informal learning activities to entice visitors inside, add value to their visit and of course to continue to promote and encourage engagement with the organisations’ collections and core values. Visitors don’t necessarily do informal learning activities with the intention of learning something, but often with the intent of enjoying themselves. This short post is intended as a very quick overview of the sorts of ways that the cultural sector can engage with informal learners using digital media.
This is perhaps the most straightforward example of digital informal learning, although it is only digital in that it is simply delivered online for people to download and print. Colouring-in, word-searches, dot-to-dots, mazes and puzzles are all relatively easily created. They can be linked to whatever subject or content you choose, and made available through your website to be downloaded and used by whichever audience you intend. The scope here is virtually endless, activities could be rainy-day activities for families to do together at before or after a visit. Activities could be stand-alone, or might be only achievable when done in conjunction with a visit. They might involve going out and exploring the landscape. This is a potentially low-tech solution, delivered through a high-tech medium. Just make sure you have copyright permission for any images or any other copyrightable aspect of your resource.
The Woodland Trust’s Nature Detectives site is a great example of how to make this work; also, sign-up to their e-newsletter and you’ll be notified when their resources change with the seasons: http://www.naturedetectives.org.uk/
Simple online games are something that we are all familiar with. Some can be very simple and straightforward, and some can be more complicated. Online games can often double up and be used in the classroom, but can also be used at home on a laptop or desktop, and increasingly websites are becoming more mobile-friendly for gaming on the move. Often aimed at younger users, the games will involve simple animations and puzzles.
The My Learning website has a wealth of resources from the museums, libraries and archives sector primarily aimed at formal learners, but many of the games are fun and might while away a few educational minutes have a look at: http://www.mylearning.org/interactivelist.asp
Beyond the sector, the BBC does a good job of this too, have a look at their Cbeebies pages for examples of educational TV-show tie-ins: http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/games/
Smartphones and the apps we use have a wealth of potential. However, it is true to say that the most popular apps are the most simple; social networks such as Facebook and Twitter make use of photographic and GPS technology that is built-in to smartphones. Many smartphone games make use of gyroscopes, but just as many do not. The unique feature of the smartphone is often it’s ability to access the internet from virtually anywhere, although there are many apps that do not require an active internet connection.
One of my favourite examples of an arts related smartphone app is the Tate’s ‘Top Trumps’-style app that has players hunting for imagined characteristics of various pieces around the galleries: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/apps/tate-trumps
National Museums Scotland’s Capture the Museum is a team game that is played at special events hosted at the Museum: http://www.capturethemuseum.com/
It is also possible to use third party apps or concepts to enable people to engage with a site or a collection. QR codes were once touted as an easy way to link information and media online with physical objects and spaces. This hasn’t really taken off and QR codes do have their critics, but for organisations without the budget to create their own app, there might be some imaginative ways that QR codes can still be used to great effect. Geo-caching also has similar potential, and is already embraced by some outdoor sites.
This short overview only really takes in the obvious ways that informal learners are being engaged, please let us know if there are any more case-studies or examples of good practice within this sector or elsewhere…
Our next DLNET surgery will be on the subject of digital informal learning. It will take place from 12.00pm until 2.00pm on Friday 5 September. Join the DLNET email discussion list, check our Twitter feed, or Like our Facebook page for more details.
The main focus of my PhD research, just completed, was to investigate how digital technologies in museums are impacting on visitor engagement. I specifically looked at the use of digital visitor generated content and considered it’s impact on visitor engagement with museum content. Here I share some details of my research and ask how this research could have a bearing on digital learning in cultural heritage.
My time on the DLNET committee has been a bit quiet of late, as I have been focusing on my PhD. I’m pleased to say that of the 20th June 2014, I passed my PhD Viva (with minor corrections) and I’m now Dr Claire Ross!
I thought it would be helpful to share some details of my PhD research and to start asking questions about how this research could have a bearing on digital learning in cultural heritage.
The overarching aim of my work was to investigate how digital visitor generated content systems in museum spaces impact on visitor engagement. Concentrating on the complexities of visitor engagement and digital visitor generated content; investigating whether or not, and how, digital visitor generated content can impact on visitor engagement with museum content.
Museums have a long history of involving visitors in contributing content to museum collections and exhibitions, primarily as a means to gather feedback and assess effectiveness of exhibitions through the use of visitor books and feedback forms. Most recently museums are encouraging visitors to create their own experiences and interpretations of museum objects at a deeper level. This notion of visitor-generated content has taken a new dimension with the advent of social media, and visitors increasingly expect to be actively involved in their own individual experiences rather than passively consuming museum content.
I have used two key case studies to illustrate my research: QRator and Social Interpretation.
The QRator project is in the Grant Museum of Zoology, its a collaborative project between the Centre for Digital Humanities (UCLDH), UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), and UCL Museums and Public Engagement. QRator is a project that allows museum visitors to get involved in conversations about the way that museums operate and the role of science in society today. DLNET interviewed the Grant Museum Manger, Jack Ashby about the QRator project in 2012.
The Social Interpretation project at IWM London and IWM North was a Research and Development exercise joint funded by the NESTA / Arts Council / AHRC digital R&D Fund, and Imperial War Museums (IWM). At its heart, it aimed to bring successful social interactions already found online and apply them across IWM’s collections – making social objects out of museums objects.
In a nutshell, my PhD discovered that Digital Visitor Generated Content on the whole is a good thing because it allows visitors an equal voice in the museum. But I do wonder how it could be used in aspects of digital learning. The idea behind digital visitor generated content is that it helps museums to become more open and diverse, to encourage debate and present a range of different voices and perspectives.
But does inviting visitor generated content really help fulfil these aims?
How can digital visitor generated content work with formal learning resources?
Should visitor voices be encouraged – what are the learning outcomes?
How do we measure success in terms of VGC and learning? Numbers, quality, debate, what?
I would love to hear your thoughts on how digital visitor voices could work with learning experiences.
Early in April I attended the 18th annual Museums and the Web conference in Baltimore. A wide range of museum staff from all over the world both attended and presented at the conference and there was a definite learning strand that I was able to follow throughout the four days that I was there. Here are just some of the things I found out about.
Online Learning Games
The very first workshop I attended, presented by David Schaller, tried to answer the important question: ‘Why do Educational Games Suck?’ Schaller has a lot of experience developing online learning games for a variety of different institutions and took us through the different design elements of games. At the heart of the question is the link between what a player does in a game (the games mechanics) and the museum content you are trying to present. In many games this content is extrinsic, or separate, to the game mechanics, so the museum content populates the game but is not what the game is about. Schaller argued, however, that if you can make the content you are presenting intrinsic to the game mechanics, so the game is actually about the content, players will actively learn through doing. They will have no choice but to engage with your content as it is integrated into the gameplay. Unfortunately, this is much harder to achieve. One example is WolfQuest, which Schaller’s company eduweb developed for Minnesota Zoo. In this immersive, 3D wildlife simulation game players learn about wolf ecology by living the life of a wild wolf in Yellowstone National Park and as Wolf behaviour is defined by a clear set of rules they were able to integrate it into the gameplay.
Much has been written about MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, over the last few years. One of the busiest sessions I attended was looking at how three museum learning departments had used MOOCs to roll out new teacher’s CPD programmes in collaboration with Coursera. A key theme within all of these presentations was the importance of taking advantage of the platform to create the right experience for the audience. One example was MoMAS ‘Art and Inquiry: Museum Teaching Strategies For Your Classroom’ course. This was developed by looking at the potential that the platform offered and comparing this to what was popular in their onsite CPD programmes. For example, MoMA knew that teachers valued talking to each other during onsite CPD and so they decided to make the most of the online forums offered by Cousera and participants were required to post in these areas, share their thoughts and peer assess each other’s final projects. They found that one of the real benefits of providing the MOOC was that it was an excellent way to drive audiences to their wider web content and 98% of people who participated in MoMAs first online course said that they found the MoMA learning website helpful. When you take into account that 32,000 people had registered to participate in the American Museum of Natural History’s MOOCs there is clearly the potential to drive a lot of people to your wider learning content. It’s worth remembering, however, that of those 32,000 participants, less than 300 had registered with Coursera’s Signature Tack option, which costs between $30-$100 and enables participants to earn a Verified Certificate for completing their course, so whilst you might be able to drive people to your content, you won’t find yourselves making a lot of money.
Tiki-Toki and Vine
Whilst very few organisations are going to have the time and resources to produce a MOOC, it was very interesting to see examples of Museums using freely available platforms to create learning content. One of these which I had not seen before is Tiki-Toki, a web-based piece of software for creating interactive timelines. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery has used this to plot their existing educational resources onto a timeline for teachers, stretching from 750 BC to the modern day and linking back to resources available on their own website.
I also attended a brilliant session which explored the promise of short video apps for museums, particularly Vine, a mobile app for sharing six-second, looping videos. Examples here were provided by the Cleveland Museum of Art, who have been using vine to illustrate learning programmes; Allie Burness, a museum writer and content creator from Australia and Chad Weinard from the North Carolina Museum of Art where they experimented with Vine in relation to their 0-60 exhibition. It’s definitely something I will be exploring more.
Digital Heritage Education
However, I found the most interesting element of Museums and the Web were the various discussions which took place around ‘The Baltimore Principles’. These conversations were trying to define a common vision for digital heritage education and professional development and involved a total of three workshops throughout the conference. However, these conversations tended to focus on ‘museum technology leaders’ and , for me, the question needs to be opened up to consider how we can improve the digital skills of all staff, both new and old, to enable them to work with ‘digital’ within museums. One example of this in action is Imperial War Museums’ Computer Club, which also featured at the conference, and which launched in 2013 with the aim of getting staff excited about digital technology and raising their skills. Carolyn Royston and Simon Delafond ran a session exploring how other organisations could set up their own versions and I think more initiatives like this would definitely be a step in the right direction.
If you would like to discuss any points raised in this post or if you have any questions about this year’s Museums and the Web, members of the DLNET committee will be running a Facebook Surgery on the subject on Friday 02nd May from 12.00pm until 13.00pm. Follow us at www.facebook.com/DigitalLearningNetwork to get involved.
DLNET met up at Museum of London last Friday at “Formal Digital Learning Resources in Gallery, Online and in the Classroom” to share some of the latest work happening with digital learning resources in museums and heritage sites in Britain. From the most visited museum in the country working with games companies to museums with no specialist digital staff building a website, everyone was asking the same question: How can we best support teachers using our resources to create inspiring lessons?
From the source…
Karen Heath – Primary School Teacher - presentation
Samantha Broad – Secondary School Teacher - presentation
To kick the day off teachers Karen Heath and Samantha Broad came to set a context of what teachers find helpful from museums in developing lessons. Simplicity and easy to digest information was the first point to come out. Bullet points of key messages are preferable to whole lesson plans and as Karen noted, each teacher will adapt any resource to their teaching style and the needs of the class anyway. For resources which may be accessed before a museum visit, activities to prime the class and others to consolidate learning once back at school also helped to maximise learning.
There was lively discussion around how technology is used in classrooms and how the new focus of the ICT curriculum with its concentration on programming will have knock on effects for other subject areas. The BBC’s online offer for children was brought up as a great example of where technology was being used to deliver great content built specifically with the users needs in mind. Samantha told us how she had used the Museum of London’s Great Fire of London game in class and subsequently found out that the museum had an exhibition devoted to it and recommended it to parents. It goes to show that having great resources online can bring greater awareness of your site and lead to visits, especially from families.
Having the opportunity to ask questions to two teachers allowed the attendees to really quiz them about how they find and use materials. The session set up a great foundation for the rest of the days speakers and everyone in attendance putting practicalities in our mind, drilling down into how we can create and design digital resources with the users coming first.
Crowdsourcing and Learning
Ally Davies – From inception to delivery - presentation
Ally Davies, Online Learning manager at Museum of London, shared the development of a crowdsourcing learning resource, where students use skills to analyse objects, tagging them with descriptive time periods and identifying their use. The data from this goes back into the museum’s collection database and helps to improve the searchability of it. To inform the design they tested extensively with pilots in schools and created a suite of resources around it which look at databases and how they work.
This creative idea required the buy in of lots of departments across the museum and showed how reaching out across teams can create something sustainable, rich and innovative. We were also treated to a glimpse of some of the objects removed from the catalogue for the project, such as a Soho sex shop advert, which goes to show you can never check your content too much.
Kristin Wood and Craig Fletcher made the long journey down from Stirling Castle to give a great talk about some of the challenges of bringing a thousand year castle into the twenty-first century. “The Lab” at the castle is a learning space which was funded to bring together media and heritage. Schools can come and use iPads to make films documenting their journey through the castle or undertake a murder investigation studying the skeletal remains of knight found in recent renovations. The site is a springboard for creativity and imaginative approaches to working with schools and some sound advice on the practicalities of maintaining a dozen iPads and sharing the media made raised some useful considerations for those starting out.
From paper trails to an augmented reality app
Katherine Biggs – Paper, PDFs and Play Store - presentation
Katherine Biggs, Education Manager at the British Museum’s Samsung Centre, showed us the brand new app, “A Gift for Athena”, developed to help raise the capacity of supporting schools during their visits. Self led classes explore the spectacular Parthenon galleries using tablets and follow the story of Athenians parading to deliver a gift to the goddess Athena. With 250,000 visits from school children each year the use of technology can deliver meaningful interaction with the collections and support classes unable or not wishing to go to a facilitator led workshop.
The app itself began life as a paper trail which was in use before. In this case, the use of technology provided something that a pen and paper could not by using augmented reality to bring objects to life before your eyes. Katherine talked us through the development of the game, showing how user testing informed the final design, reducing the amount of instructions on screen and making games harder to increase the satisfaction of winning them.
Objects in Focus
Tali Krikler and Francis Jeens explained a new online resource from the Jewish Museum, Objects in Focus. The web resource curates themes, highlights interesting objects with stories and provides high resolution zoomable images and downloadable activities around each. Every object poses a set of questions which begin enquiry and establish how students can begin to develop methods to interpret them by asking a few simple questions. Both speakers owned up to not being tech experts but they did not have to be anyway: they had identified exactly what they had wanted to achieve and could concentrate on writing, research and creating the engaging stories that they excel at.
The day brought colleagues together from across a huge range of organisations and was a great chance to share advice and new projects. The speakers sparked debate and inspiration for people exploring the creation and use of online and onsite materials or activities with schools. Simplicity and interesting content make good resources but as the projects we saw today showed, knowing your audience and listening to them will make them great.
On a cold and wintry morning, a group of us gathered inside an ultra-modern building on a field a few miles outside of Stirling. This was our chance to take part in one of Scotland’s most pivotal battles. Though unlike the troops standing in the same place some 700 years ago, we had been invited by The National Trust for Scotland to trial their new 3D Battle of Bannockburn experience.
The Bannockburn visitor centre focuses on bringing the mechanics of medieval war to life through state of the art motion-capture technology similar to the technique used to create the character ‘Gollum’ in The Lord of the Rings saga. This 3D introduction sets the scene for what proved to be one of the most famous battles fought on British soil.
This ‘Prepare for Battle’ area is where visitors can learn about the tactics and choices of Robert the Bruce and King Edward II as they faced each other on the battlefield. In this area you are transported back to 1314, the night before the battle. You can wander between both camps interacting with the real people preparing for battle, while witnessing some of the physical preparations including battle training all surrounded by 270 degree, massive 3D screens. Accounts from historians, the voices of Scottish actors, replica weapons and even the genuine skull of Robert the Bruce have all been used to help create this unique visitor experience. An advisory panel made up of historical experts ensure that the new interpretation is strong and academically sound.
Through a clever use of objects and technology, this is historical interpretation for the 21st century and provides a unique experience for young people and indeed visitors of all ages. Crucially, the technology does not replace traditional interpretation but instead provides an immersive interpretive ‘layer’ for young people who may not be as engaged with traditional museum panels and objects. The historical context of the event is presented through a medium which is immediate, familiar and relevant to them.
‘The Battle Game’
After experiencing some of the sights and sounds of medieval warfare, we had the chance to move on to the highlight of the centre, the ‘Battle game’. Here, we were randomly assigned a rank in either The Bruce’s or Edward’s armies as we stood around a gaming table complete with digital troops and cavalry battalions. Having been assigned the role of The Bruce, I immediately felt the weight of history on my shoulders as I was now responsible for some 6500 troops and most importantly, ensuring the Scottish army was victorious. I confess, I have am no gaming enthusiast and have only used an xbox once or twice but I quickly became immersed in the game, shouting orders at my commanders, selecting field positions and weapons. The ‘Battlemaster’ takes instructions from both leaders on troop movements and when to engage the enemy so alongside troops, the leaders must decide which weapons to use: cavalry, archers, or the formidable ‘schiltron’. Tiny virtual soldiers can be seen advancing, retreating and clashing violently, while computer-generated images of battle. scenes appear and disappear overhead.
The interactive table also lets you see how how many casualties your side is suffering,while the Battlemaster provides the overarching dramatic narrative of what is happening on the ground. Sometimes Bruce’s army wins, sometimes it’s Edward’s. The main aim is to allow visitors a chance to re-create the battle through gaming technology and if my own experience from a non-gamer’s point of view is anything to go by, this ‘Battle Game’ shows just how engaging and exciting learning about history can be particularly for young people, if presented through a relevant and immersive medium like gaming. At the end of my own visit, I was relieved to have led a successful army against Edward and to have sent him home to think again…
The centre is the first major joint project between the National Trust for Scotland and Historic Scotland.
If you would like to find out more about developing your digital learning offer for schools, both onsite and in the classroom, DLNET is organising an event on 4 April which explores formal digital learning resources in gallery, online and in the classroom. Details are available in the events section.
All images are © National Trust for Scotland.
‘Crowdsourcing’ is something of a buzz-word at the moment, but is not a new concept. The arts, culture and heritage sectors have all been making use of their audience for a number of years, but the greater range of opportunities afforded through advancing technologies are now helping institutions and their audiences to work together in new ways on new kinds of projects.
According to this Horizon report, crowdsourcing is going to be one of the big development areas for museums in the next year or so.
What is crowdsourcing?
At its core, crowdsourcing is a type of volunteering. Volunteering has been part of the culture in museums and heritage sites for many years. Traditional volunteer roles might vary according to the scale of different institutions, but are generally all based on-site; they may be public-facing or may be curatorial and behind-the-scenes in nature. Many of these roles, by virtue of the tasks involved, require the volunteer to be on-site and physically doing the work.
Crowdsourcing moves beyond simple volunteering, in that it asks many people to do a small amount of work to get one big thing done. Crowdsourcing also doesn’t have the same sense of commitment that volunteering in the traditional sense does. Examples of ‘crowdsourcing’ in the pre-digital world might include asking the local community to come and clear snow from a site car-park, or asking the public to bring old egg-boxes and yogurt pots in for an art-and-craft project.
The Internet can extend any institution’s ‘community’, and social networks are one example of the web doing a great deal in overcoming geography as a barrier to engagement. The Internet can also be used as a tool to allow the public to participate in and contribute to a variety of projects. By asking many people to perform small simple tasks over the Internet, institutions are capable of getting a great deal of work done that might otherwise be monotonous and extremely time-consuming. By its nature, this is facilitating greater levels of engagement, and is enabling community contribution in many new ways.
The V&A have a very straight-forward example of a digital crowdsourcing project that is asking people to crop images from their online catalogue.
What are others doing?
Crowdsourcing projects can vary widely in their scope and nature. Some institutions are big enough to have the budget to host their own digital projects, whilst others use existing platforms elsewhere.
Some projects are research-based in nature, asking the public to observe and record events around them. Good examples include the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, where the RSPB are asking the public to submit results through their website. The Society of Biology have also done recent surveys in this way, including their house spider survey last Autumn - this survey also had an accompanying smart-phone app that participants could download to help identify and record their sightings.
The Woodland Trust have a similar project, Nature’s Calendar, collecting information on sightings of certain species and events in the natural world through the year – this site also has an interactive display showing data from the current and previous years, allowing participants to see annual fluctuations and differences plotted geographically.
Some projects, like that of the V&A above, ask participants to assist with very small specific tasks. Your Paintings Tagger asks users to add tags to publicly-owned oil paintings in order to make the Your Paintings database more searchable and accessible. In a similar fashion, Calbug is one example of a project on the museum crowdsourcing site Notes from Nature that brings together collections records from a number of museums, and asks digital participants to transcribe handwritten catalogue labels and ledgers.
In addition, there are popular ‘third-party’ crowdsourcing websites that the museum and heritage sector are able to use, including Historypin, which asks the public to ‘pin’ historic photographs onto an interactive map; and Wikipedia, the online, crowdsourced encyclopedia. Both of these run independently from any specific museum projects, but can be used by museums to harness the power of the crowd in achieving certain research and engagement aims. Wikimedia (who run the Wikipedia website) are especially open to working with the sector, and have a variety of options in place, as is demonstrated on their Cultural Partnerships page.
Crowdsourcing, participation and learning
Crowdsourcing in this context is about community participation and community contribution, it is also about getting things done that will ultimately further any institution’s broader engagement aims and objectives. This means that crowdsourcing is also about learning. It may not have pre-defined learning outcomes in itself, but participants are inevitably learning something in the course of performing the actions required to make a contribution. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, crowdsourcing also benefits any organisation’s end-users, by providing research or by making collections and collections-related knowledge more accessible.
Finding out more
If you would like to find out more about crowdsourcing, including more examples, case-studies and discussion, try some of these links:
This academic paper from the Museums and the Web conference in April 2013 looks at defining crowdsourcing, as well as examining some prominent case-studies.
This Museums Practice article is only available to members of the Museums Association, but offers some good discussion on the subject.
This blog post from the London Museums Group in August 2013 also offers useful links and advice.
This post written in 2011 on the blog The Museum of the Future still rings true, and provides some useful advice for those considering embarking on a project.
Crowdsourcing The Museum was a session I ran at the GEM conference in September 2013 as an introduction to the subject – this blog documents some of the discussion and case-studies from that session.
There has been a great deal written about the subject of crowdsourcing as it relates to the cultural sector, and many of the articles above will be able to direct to numerous other sources and discussions. Please post in the comments below if you know of any other projects or sources of information relating to crowdsourcing…
If you would like to discuss any points raised in this post or if you have any questions on the subject of crowdsourcing, members of the DLNET committee will be running a Twitter Surgery on the subject on Friday 14th February from 12.00pm until 2.00pm. Follow @DLNET or use the hashtag #dlnetsurgery to get involved. Alternatively email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them in the comments below.
Hi and welcome to the January blog post for DLNET
We have been busy over the last few months, including reviewing the membership structure and planning the next event. We are also planning to try out regular monthly ‘surgeries’. Please let us know what you think.
Next event: Formal Digital Learning Resources in Gallery, Online and in the Classroom 4 April 2014 at Museum of London
This one day event will feature:
• What Teachers Want: A session with primary and secondary school teachers
• Case studies of best practice in Formal Digital Learning Resources, including:
From inception to delivery: Museum of London web resources for teachers and students by Ally Davies – Online Learning Manager, Museum of London
The full programme will be available shortly at www.digitallearningnetwork.net
New: Monthly surgeries
As a new way of helping people benefit from sharing of ideas and best practice, we are planning to host a surgery every month. Initially at least we will hold surgeries during lunch break to make it easy for people to take part.
The first surgery will be Twitter-based, in February. The focus is likely to be based on our February blog post ‘Crowdsourcing the Museum’.
If you have a question or suggestion for a topic you would like addressed, tweet us @DLNET or email email@example.com
We are intending to try out various ways of hosting the surgeries, including
Please let us know whether you like the regular surgeries idea, and if you have any suggestions we would love to hear from you.
New membership structure
We have reviewed our membership to improve our offer. Here are the ways you can become a member of DLNET:
To be a subscriber to DLNET simply follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or join our Email discussion lists. You will be able to:
- Participate in discussions through the email list or social media
- Raise topics for discussion
- Participate in DLNET research
Individual Member (FREE)
Register with us for your FREE individual membership today, and as well as having the same benefits as Subscribers you will also be able to:
- Get discounts on fees for DLNET events
- Attend the AGM
- Propose and second resolutions at the AGM
- Stand for election as an Officer or Committee Member
- Vote on DLNET business
Individual Membership is renewable annually.
Organisations can become members of the network, and will receive the same privileges as Individual members, plus:
- Nominate up to four representatives from their organisation as members of DLNET
- Have free attendance for one delegate at a fee paying event each year
Organisational Membership costs just £40 per year and is renewable annually
(The above is taken from our Membership page at www.digitallearningnetwork.net/membership/)
Ways to stay in touch with DLNET
As well as our website at www.digitallearningnetwork.net we are on Facebook
Please let us know what you are up to. We always welcome suggestions on how we could do more to support you in digital learning.