News blog

Towards a hybrid engagement offer: DLNET Chat June 2021

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Lisa Peter

This month’s chat was about how organisations navigate the move back to (some) on-site engagement while still continuing to deliver online learning programmes. Our pre-chat poll had indicated that the majority of respondents was looking at hybrid delivery in the coming months, but there is also still some caution around re-opening and a return to physical engagement.


This might have to do with the fact that the UK home nations follow slightly different schedules, and restrictions aren’t lifted at the same pace throughout the UK. 

In addition, not all audiences are feeling confident about in-person activities at the moment. They might feel that more hands-off visits are more within their comfort zone for the time being than a more interactive engagement, no matter how Covid-proofed they may be. 

On the other hand, many organisations are similarly cautious about what the future will bring, and are programming accordingly.

After all, hybrid models have advantages too, in terms of access and in terms of geographical reach with potential audiences in the wider Anglosphere:

The second area we touched on in the chat was about what programming decisions are based on, given that there still is quite a bit of uncertainty around what feels comfortable for visitors and staff at the moment. 

One point was quite fundamentally that in some case it is not just a question of which kind of engagement works best in which format, but that this relies on whether a site can be re-opened in a Covid-safe way in the first place:

Speaking of resourcing, we were interested to see how sustainable hybrid engagement models are, also given that many organisations had to reduce the number of staff over the pandemic.

Hopefully it won’t become an either/or decision for organisations going forward, as so much has been learned about online engagement in the last year and a half, but the focus might have to move slightly away from the perception that a physical visit is more valid than a digital engagement:

The final question was quite cheekily looking for the Holy Grail of hybrid engagement and whether a truly blended approach of in-person and digital engagement could work and be efficient in time and money as well as being more accessible and more useful for audiences. I think it’s fair to say that the answers speak for themselves: we as a sector change because our audiences change. It might take a while (as it always does), but we’ll keep working on it!

Thanks to all the chat participants last week, it was great to see audience needs at the centre of people’s thinking first and foremost!

The next DLNET Chat will be on Twitter, Friday July 2 at 1pm, so watch this space!

Next DLNET Chat: Towards a hybrid engagement offer

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Lisa Peter

Join us on Friday 4th June, 1-2pm, to talk about balancing physical and digital engagement using the hashtag #DLNETChat

street busker juggling balls in Old Québec

Photo by Yi Liu on Unsplash

After some cultural heritage organisations have been able to reopen to visitors in all the UK nations, learning and engagement teams are now faced with trying to work out whether and how to continue their digital work alongside the return to some face-to-face engagement.

Together as a sector we have learned so much about digital content and online delivery in the last year, tried things out, evaluated and collected valuable experiences and learning, and got to understand digital audiences old and new better than before, and now? What are your thoughts on what a ‘hybrid’ offer could look like? Is it even something to be aspired to in the first place? Join us on Twitter on June 4 to talk about how digital and physical could be balanced in the time to come.

  • What are the expectations of organisations going forward? Go back to previous engagement formats (in a Covid-safe way) AND continue digital work, or is it a question of ‘either/or’, or a Salomonian ‘a bit of both’? 
  • What any data or insights do you rely on to ensure you are listening to your audiences’ needs?
  • How do you allocate sparse resources: What to keep doing, what to stop?
  • How do you address unbalanced strategies so that both onsite and online engagement are seen as business as usual? 
  • How have team dynamics shifted with the move online? Will they have to shift again now?

Watch out for the pre-chat poll on the DLNET twitter account next Wednesday, along with emails to the JISCMAIL lists. Join in with the voting to kick off June’s DLNET Chat, and share your views and experiences!

Evaluation: DLNET Chat May 2021

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Earlier this month, we had an interesting chat on the topic of evaluation. Like it or loathe it, being able to evaluate your content can ensure you stay current and that you are meeting your audience’ needs. However, this is easier said than done! 



With time constraints polling as the most important factor in the evaluation process, lots of people got involved to share some of their tips and tricks in how to get the most out of your evaluation. 


Data Processing

With no time to waste, we’ll start by looking at some time saving techniques for processing data that you’re getting in.


We had a few interesting responses to this, with a discussion about Net Promoter Scores (NPS) coming from the question. An NPS is a metric used to measure visitor satisfaction with a number, usually between -100 and 100. A simple example of this could be “On a scale of 1 to 10, did you enjoy your session today?”. This will give you data that you can look at quickly to determine overall satisfaction. You can read a quick summary of using an NPS in your museum here. And see below for some samples you can use yourself!



Recently, there’s been a trend towards using tools to measure wellbeing and mood before and after a session. One of our chatters suggested this, it looks like a really useful toolkit. 




Speaking of toolkits, we asked people for their opinions on what they thought was the most important technique for gathering this information to begin with! There are survey tools readily available with high levels of customisation to suit your needs. Google Forms has lots of customisation available, as well as a handful of pre-built example surveys that can be edited. Google Analytics as well has useful tools to help track website visits, downloads and demographics. Helen might have hit the nail on the head with this one however;



Keeping your questions succinct and asking only for what you need and for information that you have a use for is key to getting the most out of your evaluation.



We’ve dedicated a bit of this post to time, but there are plenty of other issues that we face when trying to effectively evaluate your output. The discussion focussed on a few important factors to be aware of during the evaluation process. Evaluation involves getting the right answers to allow you to grow, and to get those answers you need to ask the right, meaningful questions to help you gather your information. If you have clear objectives to begin with then you will find it easier. We should take a second to admire Sian’s excellent GIF game during this chat as well.



With most of the world moving into an online space, the difficulties of gathering data online over in person were discussed. We can’t hand out surveys during a session and collect them, we have to rely on folk filling things out for us in their own time. Once the session is over, they might forget to fill out an evaluation form. We can get quantitative data by asking for “thumbs ups” or doing simple polls on zoom but getting measurable data on that is tricky. It seems like openness might be key.

So rather than monetarily incentivising your audience to complete evaluation after a session (love 2 shop vouchers, anyone?), emphasising the importance of their feedback and adding the value that way could help get you the meaningful feedback needed.


Thanks to everyone who joined in on the chat and shared their experiences! If you want to read it all in full, you can click here to go to a Twitter Moment!


Next DLNET Chat: Evaluation

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Join us on Friday 7th May, 1-2pm, to talk about evaluating digital learning using the hashtag #DLNETChat

This month’s DLNET chat is all about evaluation. The last year has seen a shift in the way the culture and heritage sector engage and interact with their audience, moving almost exclusively to online and digital content in an effort to keep collections and services accessible and available. A lot of experimentation was involved, new skills learned and trialled by fire to see what worked and what did not work. Now things are slightly calmer, it’s time to think about the best way to evaluate your digital learning offer during the last year.

Evaluation is not a new concept, but with this move to predominantly online content, ensuring you are reaching and being well received by the right audiences is key. Any evaluation is good evaluation. It can be as simple as taking the time after a session to think about what worked and what you would do better next time, or as in depth as hiring a 3rd party to assess data you have collected and translate that into successes and next steps.

With that in mind, we want to hear from you! 

  • What are your experiences of evaluating digital learning in the last year?
  • Have you come up with any unique ways of evaluating a project or content?
  • Have you tried evaluating on the fly? How did it go?
  • What are your views on incentivising your evaluation (if the budget allows) – do you find it helps?
  • What are your favourite tools for evaluation?
  • How you have used your evaluation data to adapt and improve your content?
  • Do you keep both quantitative and qualitative data? Do you prefer one or the other or is a joint approach preferable? 

Keep your eyes peeled for next Wednesday’s DLNET twitter poll, along with emails from the JISCMAIL lists and join in the chat!

Working remotely in Learning Teams: DLNETChat April 2021

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Lisa Peter

Last week, we had a lively discussion on Twitter about how Learning Teams up and down the country have tackled the challenges of remote working. We covered topics from using individual tools to improving collaborative work to management techniques that might help to keep team members motivated and help to fight the isolation some of us might feel while working from home.

Lots of people shared their experiences as well as quite a few tips, so here’s a summary of the things people were talking about.





Perhaps unsurprisingly, people chatted about collaborative tools that can support project work and ideation, for example,  Google documents and sheets, which can be worked on in real time while on meeting calls, even without the need for screen sharing. For looser formats such as brainstorming, Padlet was mentioned (which some also use for teaching support in live sessions, as it’s very popular with teachers). For teams who create a lot of online content and need to ensure consistency in design, check out the online tool Canva to share design templates within teams. 






Another question we asked was around the challenges for teams that come with working from home. For teams that normally work closely with collections and historical properties, not being anywhere near the physical objects they use as source material for learning activity, feels odd, to say the least. 



But which other challenges were identified? Looking back over the conversation, they can probably be summed up as 

  • appropriate levels of communication, 
  • making space for the social side of work, and 
  • sense of achievement.

With team members still on furlough or on flexi furlough schemes, and without the usual ‘soft touch’ means of finding out what is going on otherwise in team members’ lives, it’s tricky to assess whether they have any capacity at that moment in time. Making a conscious effort to find out, and keeping calendars up to date with current work hours and time away from the computer can help to communicate quickly to others whether to expect a reply soon or in a few days’ time.



Getting the amount of communication needed just right seems to be challenging quite generally. Whether working closely with people on a shared project, or trying to stay in touch with quieter team members, chat participants were talking about the usefulness of keeping a number of channels running in addition to emails: chats, DMs, or even an open call in the background while working on things together.



If comms about work are already tricky to get right, then creating the ‘water cooler’ moments remotely seems to be an ongoing headache, especially for more volunteer-driven organisations where the social aspect of volunteering is often as important and integral to the experience as the actual work carried out. 




I think it became clear that we are all grappling with this, and that nobody in the conversation had already found or developed a ‘golden approach’ to this in particular, so if you know of any techniques or examples of ‘creating the space for social’ while avoiding the awkward, let us know!

And finally, staff and team wellbeing emerged as another challenge. Interestingly enough, the culture around being measured along key performance indicators, such as sessions delivered, people engaged with, etc, might contribute to teams not feeling that they achieved very much in the last year, even though they are exhausted.



However, there’s been so much learning this year that has happened behind the scenes, and so much change that wouldn’t be visible in terms of ‘outputs’. These are very real achievements though, that deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated.




Things people wished they’d known a year ago

We finally wanted to know what the 2021 version of us would have liked the 2020 version to know, and it looks like managing expectations and acknowledging the sheer amount of change that is happening at the moment are quite high on the list. It will be interesting to see whether compassionate leadership will turn into a much hotter topic over the coming months and years than we have previously seen.



A big thank you to all the participants who shared their experiences on the day! The next DLNET chat will be on May 7 at 1pm – watch this space for the topic announcement! In case you want to read up on the April chat on twitter, we collated a Twitter Moment with all the tweets.

Next DLNET Chat: Working remotely in Learning Teams

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Lisa Peter

Join us on Friday 9th April, 1-2pm, to talk about working remotely using the hashtag #DLNETChat

With most learning and participation teams throughout the cultural heritage sector shifting to almost exclusive online engagements, many of us have focused on tools, platforms and online delivery skills to get to grips quickly with the world we’re in at the moment. It’s been quite a ride for team leaders as well as colleagues, who not only had to get their heads around how to create online content for their different audiences, but who also needed to create new work patterns, communication channels and workflows in an immensely short period of time.

We therefore wanted to use our DLNET chat in April to take a look at the ‘backstage stuff’ that comes with working remotely, i.e. all the things that are not visible to the public but that are so central to keeping teams going. 

  • What have you learned about your own working styles and patterns as a team since the UK went into its first lockdown this time last year?
  • How have teams managed to pivot to working remotely, often working collaboratively with colleagues across their organisation?
  • Have you come across particularly useful ways of working together on a project, or on resources and other content, while working from home?
  • Have you discovered particularly useful tools for collaborative remote working?
  • Did you and your team develop any strategies to keep those crucial social interactions going that keep teams motivated and can fight any sense of isolation?
  • Was there something you have found out about remote team work that you wish you had known this time last year?

Watch out for the pre-chat poll on the DLNET twitter account next Wednesday, along with emails to the JISCMAIL lists. Join in with the voting to kick off April’s DLNET Chat, and share what worked and what continues to be challenging while many of us are still working from home!

Home Learning : DLNETChat March 2021

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Anne-Marie Langford

With the majority of students returned to the bricks and mortar classroom and parents able to catch their breath,  museums and cultural organisations reflect on how they have responded this unchartered territory.

 This month’s DLNET Chat on Twitter explored how museums and cultural organisations have been supporting home schooling by developing resources and activities. Organisations have made a diverse range of material available from adding worksheets to existing web-pages to creating fully interactive micro-sites and hosting virtual sessions for audiences to join.

Prior to the chat, we held a poll which posed the question: “How do you hope your cultural org’s home-school activities are getting to their intended audience?” Most respondents choose via class teachers, receiving 69% of the vote From the responses to the poll, there is a sense that many resources and activities are being geared towards schools and particularly teachers.

During the chat, several questions were posed leading to exciting conversations about examples of home learning, methods for evaluating home schooling, differences between home schooling and public engagement, overcoming challenges and learning, and plans for future integration. Here are just some of the key takeaways:

  1. Does anybody have any home-schooling resources or activities to show us?


A further question was posed “Do you have any evidence of who was using it or how?

One participants replied “ Not in terms of demographics but traffic from teaching pages like Google classroom is significant and engagement time on the site has done hugely above all media which speaks for learners accessing the page directly not just teachers”

Another participant replied “…we have been getting basic download numbers from GA (Google analytics) and video views but need to do more analysis.  We are also getting a good amount of written feedback and received images of work created from the resources”


Another question was “what do you think differentiates something that is for home learners rather than just being public engagement? Is there a difference?

Responses included “I think there are basic lesson plans elements that help to structure content” and “we found the language used to categorize the resources needs to be different as we’re not addressing ‘professionals’”


  1. Have there been any problems in developing your home schooling resources and activities? What have you learned, how did you develop?

“We’ve got separate teams working on primary and post primary, so getting all the resources accessible in one place for parents to access them required establishing new workstreams.  Surprisingly tricky.”

“In the early days there was a pressure to get something out to support home learning quickly. Most resources were for younger children and families initially.  Later we developed ones for older children and adult learners.”


  1. How much time effort and money has done to providing home-schooling resources and activities at your cultural organisation?

“We used a mix of existing staff time and freelancers to create our resources”


  1. How do you see the resources and activities created for a home-schooling audience will fit into your usual programme and continue to be used and developed post COVID?

“They’ve helped with our geographical reach. It’s helped us got ‘out of our building’, so there is a strong reason to continue to maintain and create future resources aimed at this audience.”

“even before COVID there’d been a year on year increase in UK homeschooling from 34, 000 to 2015 to 60,544 in 2019 so there may still be a demand post pandemic”

“…home schooling families are easily forgotten, because cultural orgs don’t know how to engage them – I think post COVID will see those figures rise further.  Museums will need to take notice”


Next #DLNET Chat

Join us on Twitter on Friday 9th April 1-2pm, where we are thinking about productivity for Learning teams.  Follow @DLNET and remember to use the hashtag #DLNETChat



Next DLNET Chat: Home learning 

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Anne-Marie Langford

 Join us on Friday 5th March, 1-2pm, to talk about home learning using the hashtag #DLNETChat

This month’s DLNET chat is about home learning. As schools get ready to welcome back most students from 8th March, this is an opportunity to take stock and look at the exciting practice that cultural organisations have delivered during this difficult time. Many museums and heritage organisations have created resources and offered activities online to support families in home learning. Examples are wide ranging and include virtual tours, early years story time, puzzle sheets, crafting sessions and so much more. As the sector brings its creativity and ingenuity to support learners in the current crisis. We thought it would be a great opportunity to share and reflect and what has been learnt.

What have you developed for home learners?

Who is using it? (parents, teachers, families)

How is it being used? (at home or in the classroom)

How has it changed and developed as it has been used?

What have we learned along the way?

Will we keep doing it?

How will it be funded?

Post Covid, how will it be integrated into our existing learning programmes?

A pre-chat poll will go out next Wednesday, along with emails to the JISCMAIL lists, to get you thinking.


Case Study: Home Educators Online

While we are thinking about home learning as a reaction to the pandemic, it’s easy to forget that home education has always been around, and will continue to be so when the majority of children are back in school. Read about how the National Museum of Computing works with home educators and the lessons they have learnt.

What happened?

Prior to the pandemic, the National Museum of Computing established an event day for home educators.  The purpose of the event was to enable home educators to access sessions and resources that are made available during school visits in a format that suits the varied skills, abilities and characteristics of home educated students.  During an event day we offer guided tours, handling sessions and workshops at different times of the day.  Participants then choose which sessions they wish to attend.

In the autumn term, the museum was keen to continue engaging with our home educator audience online. We decided to bring our home educators day online using the same timetable but delivered using Zoom, online emulators, our 360 degree museum model and sharing platforms (Cospaces, Socrative and Google Drive).

What have we learnt?

The main difference between delivering the remote sessions for home educators and school groups is that there is more interaction on the chat. Students needed more support and explanation but seemed more actively engaged and involved. Students were free to come and go during the session, although in practice most stayed for all the sessions. We felt that offering back-to-back sessions over 4 hours was a big mental commitment for both presenters and participants. If it was to be offered again it would be better to offer it a bite-sized pieces, although getting the numbers to make this financially viable is challenging.

Monetising Online Content: DLNETChat February 2021

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Sian Shaw

To quote ABBA “Money, money, money, must be funny, in a rich man’s world” – and we can all agree that the heritage sector is not rich. So this month, we asked DLNET followers what they thought about monetising online content.

First things first, initial reactions from the community confirmed original suspicions: monetising online content isn’t a straightforward yes or no. 

The lack of a clear-cut answer led to some fascinating Twitter conversations. Here are three key takeaways when thinking about whether to monetise online content:

The “what” makes all the difference

It was quickly apparent that the “perhaps, but not always” response was more linked to the type of content than the organisation it was coming from. There seemed to be a distinction between the more passive, downloadable content and the more active, live experience, with the latter being seen as more likely to be monetised. Unusually, quantity was brought up as a reason for charging, such as for longer, curated learning experiences. As one contributor put it, this allows audiences to “get a better sense of what they’re getting for their money”. Interestingly, a lack of quantity was given as a reason not to charge. Repeatedly, it seemed to be a balancing act, in that if you are charging for some digital learning content, you should make sure that parts of your digital learning offer are free.

As always, audience matters 

It’s easy to think of digital learning as just for schools, but of course it spans all ages ranges who want to access formal or informal learning. The success of adult course and workshops in the last year was highlighted (with mentions of the V&A, Tate and Wallace Museum) as adults appear more eager to pay for a virtual experience, both buying tickets and in pay-what-you-can models. For schools, the ever-changing landscape of fully onsite, blended, and mainly offsite (aside from keyworkers’ children) cannot be ignored when considering appetite. As one contributor said, “Might it be that ‘online museum visits’ are just too much of a luxury right now?” While we know school budgets are tight, for many who may be doing this instead of a school trip, the appetite is growing. There are examples are success in the sector, such as the Jewish Museum London, leaders in the creation of Virtual Classrooms, sharing positive news.

Sector self-doubt still exists

Progress in digital learning across the sector in the last year is undeniable, but conversations remind us that moving forwards doesn’t mean we are completely ready for the shift.  Even if we feel more confident as a sector, we still seem to be doubting ourselves; whether that is not trusting the technology, concerned about how to trouble shoot when things go wrong or confidence in our ability to deliver virtually. All of which hold us back when considering adding a charge. For many organisations, digital learning has been reactionary rather than strategic, which means a lack of training and often the wrong kit. As one contributor shared, “We prioritise practice for technical confidence.” We have to ask, when digital learning is tackled in a more strategic way, will we feel more confident charging?

To sum up

Ultimately, monetising online content will only be successful if the market is willing to pay. The ability to access similar digital learning content or experiences for free was seen as the biggest barrier to generating revenue, but wasn’t deemed as the end of the conversation. When making a charge or no charge decision, two things stood out. Firstly, be consistent with your existing onsite offer – so if schools usually attend for free, the online “visit” should remain free. And secondly, communicate clearly why some things are free and some charged-for. As one contributor mentioned, “Paid-for content also supports organisations to keep offering free things”. We all know that’s not a new message for cultural audiences.

Further reading

Next #DLNET Chat

Join us on Twitter on Friday 5th March 1-2pm, where we are thinking about home learning.  Follow @DLNET and remember to use the hashtag #DLNETChat

Join us – DLNET recruiting new committee members

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Sian Shaw

Interested in digital learning?

Enthusiastic about connecting and sharing with museum, heritage and archive colleagues?

Keen to give back to the sector?

We’re looking for you!

2020 has been a year like no other in so many ways. When thinking about finding silver linings, it has been amazing to see how much digital learning has progressed since March. From small organisations to nationals, from one-man bands to full digital teams, we’ve seen some fantastic work being done all across the UK by sector colleagues. Never has it been so important to support and praise each other for all the hard work.

The Digital Learning Network (DLNET), run by a small, voluntary committee, has always strived to share ideas and good practice in using digital technology to support learning in the cultural heritage sector. As you might imagine, the committee members of the DLNET have been rushed off their feet in their day jobs as the demand for digital learning soared (and continues to soar). We’ve had to say goodbye to a few wonderful committee members who are no longer able to give up their time, which means we are now putting out a call for new committee members.

As a committee, we want to better represent our colleagues working on digital learning, from those who are new to digital learning to those who specialise in digital. We want fresh eyes and minds joining in the conversations to make sure we give back to the sector in the best way we can. We want more heads around the table to share their experiences, their knowledge and the workload(!)

We’re looking forward to what the next chapter holds for DLNET – why not come and join us?

Martin, Stuart, Wilson, Alec and Sian – the current DLNET committee


So, what are the current DLNET committee looking for?

We are looking to recruit up to six new committee members who would start work properly from January 2021.

We are looking for people who are:

  • Passionate about supporting good practice of digital learning in the cultural heritage sector
  • Enthusiastic to share their experiences (the good, the bad and the ugly) with fellow colleagues
  • Excited about connecting with colleagues and promoting the work of DLNET
  • Willing to get stuck in to future projects, varying from regularly monthly chats on Twitter to larger scale events (or whatever else the committee collectively plan to do!)
  • Committed to joining a virtual meeting roughly once a month to keep the momentum going

You don’t need to be a “digital expert” or solely focused on digital learning because, as this year has shown, so many more of us are incorporating digital learning skills into our roles. We don’t need you to have years and years of experience.

And what do current committee members love about being part of DLNET?

Sian –  “I’m in a job where I’m the only one thinking day-to-day, everyday about digital learning, which can be lonely at times. Being a DLNET committee members allows me to play an active part in sector-wide discussions and access support from like-minded professionals – which can be as simple as finding out others are struggling with the same things you are!”

Wilson –  “I enjoy being part of a group that is making a positive impact and which has adapted with the times to engage people on digital matters big and small from across the museums and cultural sector.”

Stuart – “I love working with colleagues from around the country and across the sector, and I know that being part of this team has definitely helped me grow and develop in my professional practice.”

Martin –  “When I first started working on digital learning, back in the 1990s (!) it was all very new, and usually called E-Learning.  Over the years the DLNET group has helped me and many others keep in touch with what’s going on.  When considering ‘digital learning’ I like to keep the emphasis on ‘learning’ (an active process), with digital playing a supporting role.   Sometimes the focus on learning can get lost in the mix; through DLNET we can try to redress the balance.” 

Sounds fab, I’d like to apply. What do I need to do?

Great news! Please complete this form,by 5pm on Monday 30th November.  

It asks you to: 

  • write 250 words about why you want to be part of the committee and
  • send us a CV 

Guest blog: How I learned to love digital

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Sian Shaw

Zahra Dhalla, a Community Learning Officer at Westminster Abbey, shares her three key takeaways from delivering digital learning for families from scratch during the pandemic, and looks forward to what the future holds.

On 18th March, I began my new job at Westminster Abbey as a Community Learning Officer. This was also the last day we had in the office due to the pandemic. I cried in the office infront of my colleagues. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t the start I was hoping for. The concept of doing this onsite, delivery-focused role from home felt overwhelming — digital learning might have been somebody’s strong suit, but it certainly wasn’t mine. 

Now it’s been 6 months of working from home. Having delivered a busy families programme over Easter, May half term and the summer, running virtual tours and digital workshops on Zoom and developing complementary Facebook Lives, I’ve learnt a lot and come away smiling. 

Here are my three key takeaways:

Use what you’ve got 

When you work somewhere like Westminster Abbey, there’s no doubt about it, the building is the star of the show. So our challenge throughout this time has been: How can we bring the Abbey’s story and the magic of the Abbey to families? Well, we had to use what we’ve got. For us, this meant using high quality images and screen recordings from our website’s virtual tours to build our sessions.

You can build relationships with families online

At the start of all this, I made the assumption that building relationships with families online would be close to impossible. The magic of being in the space together would be taken away and any chance of developing a rapport would go with it. In reality, it’s been so different. With family learning, we’re often trying to connect spaces, objects, the stories we’re telling, with families’ daily lives and at home those connections are easier to make. We’ve also found that children who might not feel as confident sharing their ideas and thoughts face to face, are often more outspoken and forthcoming in online sessions. 

Virtual collaboration is possible and brilliant 

I’m most proud of our Virtual Family Days, I would have never have believed that this sort of collaboration could be achieved virtually. Hosted on Zoom, we ran themed family days in which families could take part in a carousel of virtual activities over an hour through making use of the Breakout Rooms function. Each activity was hosted by a different partner organisation. It’s been a great way to support each other in this difficult time, to introduce families to new faces and spaces and to learn from each other. 

At the end of the day, what most of us need and want in our lives is connection. To know that we have value, that we matter, that we have a voice and that someone wants to listen to it. It is totally possible to make children feel heard and that they matter online. If that’s at the heart of what you do, if you are able to maximise the resources you’ve already got and ask the right questions of yourself, you’re there. 

Looking to the future

By investing time and energy— and you’ll notice I didn’t say money here — in creating high quality resources, you can make something that lasts and that has value now and in the future.

Once onsite activities resume, we’re not going to leave digital learning behind. We’re going to make use of what it does best for us. We’ll have a blended programme and our audience will have more options. In time, we’ll be able to enhance, grow, repurpose and maybe even re-design the digital resources we’ve developed alongside our onsite programme. 

Now in September, the teary-eyed woman who left London in March is no longer — the new me has longer hair, an increased appreciation for leggings and wants to champion digital learning. I think that says it all. 

Reviewing ‘5G for Museums, Galleries and Heritage – unlocking the full potential’

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Sian Shaw

Most of us are used to 4G – so 5G is just the next version, the upgrade, right? If that’s the case, then why are people getting so excited about 5G? I decided it was time to find out…

If you are anything like me, 5G is one of those phrases that has been kicking around for a while and popping up occasionally on the news, but you wouldn’t bank on yourself explaining it accurately to a stranger. Or fully understand why it would make a difference at work. Luckily, this coincided with a free afternoon event all about 5G for museums, galleries and heritage and unlocking the full potential of this upcoming technology. Exactly the tailored approach that we busy heritage professionals need!

So, first things first, what is 5G? The message was quite simple: 5G is 4G but with higher bandwidth and lower latency. In laymen’s terms, that means more “stuff” can be downloaded or streamed at a much faster rate. This lower latency, in particular, was being described as a change that would radically disrupt the way that people will interact with technology. It’s not just faster, it’s significantly faster. And it’s coming relatively soon with predictions of most people having access to it by 2022.

In our world of dodgy, unreliable Wi-Fi over large sites, often in historical buildings, this could be a real game changer. The sell was inspirational. There was talk of synchronised reality, such as a duet being played together despite the musicians being in separate countries.  There was talk of fully immersive experiences, where devices were taken away at the door, and concerts can be run using mixed reality (such as a real-life performer combined with AR). There was talk of global storytelling, with loaned objects no longer needing to leave their organisation in order for them to be used powerfully in an exhibition on the other side of the world. Real “testbed” examples were shared as the tease of what will be possible.

The point was summed up as a metaphor: we’ve made the theatre, now it is your job to write the plays.

Inspirational talk quickly turned to discussing practicalities in a mixed room of 5G and immersive technology experts sharing tables with museum and heritage professionals of varying disciplines. I was comforted as heritage colleagues were asking the questions we all think about when new digital technology hits the market – how easy is it for visitors to use, how easy is it for staff to use, and the big one, how much will all of this cost? I was sitting on a table discussing VR & AR content production and distribution, which ended up as more of a conversation about our audience’s technological abilities, wants and needs. Assumptions by technology experts about what the average person can do, and want to do, with devices when visiting heritage sites were being quickly squashed by anecdote after anecdote. This moved on from a conversation about 5G, which is merely a tool, to what output could and should we deliver. There was definite consensus that 5G wasn’t going to give solutions for every type of visitor; it was another string in your bow for those who want to use it.

So where does that leave me? I can now do the “lift chat” about 5G and I can see how it can open up the discussion of trying new technologies, which would have previously been dismissed over Wi-Fi concerns. 5G is exciting: no one is denying that. And with more reliable, faster technology, there is undeniable potential for what museums and heritage sites can do with it. But as always with technology, it’s about the idea you have and identifying the best way to share it. Which takes me back to the theatre metaphor. We need to focus as heritage professionals on working with our audiences to write the play, and then we can work out where is the best place to perform it.

POSTPONED. DLNET Conference: Digital ideas for learning, 23 March 2020

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The DLNET conference 23 March 2020 has been postponed

As a consequence of the Coronavirus situation, we are postponing the event planned for 23 March 2020 at RIBA.  We will be in touch again when we have a new date for this conference. 

Those who have already booked will receive refunds.    


Monday 23rd March 2020, 10.15 am to 3.30 pm

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), 66 Portland Place, London, W1B 1AD; Google map

What’s it all about?  
Engaging audiences with collections through digital technology and approaches

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

Full programme 

  • 10.15 am– 10.40 am: Registration and welcome

  • 10.40 am: Speed networking
    (Sian Shaw, Digital Learning Manager, Westminster Abbey)

  • 11.05 am : Update on recent digital initiatives
    (Alec Ward, Museum Development Officer, Digital and Communications, London Museum Development)

  • 11.30: BREAK
    (opportunity to input ideas for #DLNETChat)

  • 11.45 am: Virtual 3D reconstruction of objects from the Medicine Galleries
    (Emilia McKenzie, Digital Manager, Learning, Science Museum)

  • 12.10 pm: Live streaming for learning audiences
    (Ashley March, Digital Editor (Learning), Museum of London)

  • 12.35 pm: 3D printing in museum learning and outreach – Ideas and methods
    (Wilson Yau, Learning Manager, RIBA)

  • 1.00 pm: Lunch and VR exhibition exploration

  • 2.15 pm: Digital upskilling – Why it’s good to upskill across all staff, and an approach to doing this.
    (Izzy Bartley, Digital Learning Officer, Leeds Museums and Galleries) 

  • 2.40 pm: Session tbc

  • 3.00 pm: Final comments

  • 3.30 pm: Close

#DLNETchat and ThinkDrinks

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Martin Bazley

As well as our larger events, DLNET run a Twitter-based discussion, which is usually on the first Friday of each month. Use the hashtag #DLNETchat

There are also occasional ThinkDrinks:  informal gatherings for people interested in how digital can enhance learning within the cultural sector. Our next ThinkDrink is on 27 November 2019 from 6pm to 9pm, details here.


Using digital to support learning 15 July 2019

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Martin Bazley

A day of discovery and discussion for cultural professionals, examining the role of digital in supporting learning and engagement activities

Lunch and refreshments are included.  Day runs 0945 – 1630

Sessions include:

Alec Ward, London Museum Development:  Social Media and Creating Digital content : why and how to use it for your learning audiences

Wilson Yau, RIBA: Tablets as drawing tools, focusing on ‘observation’ and ‘making’

zzy Bartley, Leeds Museums and Galleries and Claire Duffield, Leeds Libraries: Microbits: hands on session with ideas for your organisation, with reference to the new computing curriculum 

Alec Ward, London Museum Development:  Digital storytelling: how and why to do it, with hands on practice using Twine


ThinkDrink at the RIBA

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Thanks to everyone for coming to the most recent ThinkDrink and revealing what they’ve been doing at their museum or in their area of interest.

Image: Royal Institute of British Architects, 66 Portland Place, London (Credit: Janet Hall / RIBA Collections)

Last week, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) was the location for the first ThinkDrink of 2019. It was a great social occasion for all museum and non-museum people to come together to share what they were doing in digital learning but also to have their questions answered. A range of professionals from local and national museums, researchers and interested individuals turned up throughout the course of the evening.

It was my first event, having only just recently joined the DLNET Committee. It was fascinating to discover, over some drinks, what others were up to. For the RIBA it was a good excuse to invite people to our building and explore architecture, as well as to get feedback about the digital learning projects we are doing. I’m looking forward to the next one!

Keep an eye out for the next event, which is on 27 November.   We will announce future events on our email list, Twitter or Facebook.    

Innovation and Digital Education at Oxford University Museums

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Martin Bazley

In advance of this summer’s joint event with Oxford University Museums Partnership (OUMP) , Jessica Suess, Digital Partnership Manager shares some of the digital learning initiatives happening in Oxford’s University Museums

A key area of interest over the past few years has been investigating how we can utilise digital to enhance our learning offer, making it more engaging, effective, and accessible to a larger number of people. We have been fortunate that we have been able to support this with a programme we have run since 2012: the Innovation Fund (part of our Arts Council Major Partner Museum programme). This is an internal funding stream to which colleagues from across the museums can apply for a modest amount of money to support projects that experiment with new ways of working and engaging audiences.

One of the first projects that we funded was Digital Sketchbooks. The Ashmolean had already been utilising third party apps to support facilitated secondary Art and Design visits, helping students to gather their stimuli more quickly, and collate and present their work in different ways. For the project the team created a series of videos for teachers and students explaining how these apps could be used to enhance an Art and Design visit. These have been very successful, being picked up and promoted by iTunes not long after they were launched, and through the Innovation Fund we are in fact now supporting the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum to explore a similar resource for family visitors, explaining how they can use free third party apps to create their own trails and activities. Find out more 

Another project we supported was the Sensing Evolution app at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, designed to facilitate the teaching of evolution at the museum for both primary and secondary groups.  Linked to new specimen touch tables in the museum court that are designed to tell the story of evolution, the app takes students from this display out to other objects in the collection that relate to evolution in a kind of scavenger hunt. Students are given clues to locate objects, which will unlock a video – presented by Steve Backshall for primary students and Alice Roberts for secondary students – and they are then asked a question about what they learnt in the video to unlock the next object:

In the most recent round of the Innovation Fund, again looking at Art and Design, we worked across the four museums with our Art Education Coordinator on Museum Sketchbooks. GCSE and A Level students often come into the museums to get inspiration for themed sketchbook pages that they submit as part of the examination portfolio. For the project we wanted to digitise example sketchbook pages, selecting examples that best reflect the examination criteria, to make them more accessible, but we also wanted to take it a step further. So as well as digitising the sketchbooks we created a platform which allowed us to put hotspots anywhere on the image, giving our teaching staff the opportunity to provide more information about individual elements of the sketchbooks eg why objects and techniques were selected. This project is due to fully launch after Easter.

We have learnt a lot over the past few years, but there are still a lot of areas where we would like to expand our knowledge, for example methods for refining student and teacher needs, evaluating our impact in the formal learning context, and integrating digital seamlessly into our education strategy. We see this upcoming conference and partnership with DLNET as a fantastic opportunity to expand our knowledge by sharing thoughts and ideas with colleagues across the sector.

Digital Learning in Museums Conference – 16 June 2017, Museum of Natural History, Oxford

The call for papers is now open, closing midday on 10 April 2017 – full details:

Tickets will go on sale on Wednesday 19 April 2017.







Evaluating Digital Projects… Or why we shouldn’t use social media to evaluate museum projects!

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Stuart Berry

Our recent ‘live’ Twitter chat, #DLNETChat on 3 March looked at the topic of evaluating digital projects, and it’s clear that there was a lot to be said on the subject.

We have done our best to compile a Storify of the conversations which took place on the subject – click here for more details.  However, here we are picking out some of the particular discussion points which may be of interest.

Our ice-breaker poll launched on Twitter before the chat started, and was contentious in the options which were conspicuously absent:

Some very good links were shared, even before the ‘live’ chat started…

Once things got going, John McMahon brought plenty of good advice…

Others contributed some good links too:

There were also some very interesting side discussions, including one about Sentiment Analysis (click here for a Wikipedia article), which is essentially a way of digitally analysing qualitative data including social media posts and comments…

And it very quickly transpired why this might particularly apply to museum audiences especially…

There were many other useful and interesting conversations, including links to case-studies, tools and methodologies in the chat, so please look at the Storify for the full run-down…

Don’t forget to look out for our next #DLNETChat on the first Friday of the month, and watch our Twitter account for further details!

#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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Martin Bazley

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.







Digital Learning Camp presentations

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Stuart Berry

Following the incredibly successful Digital Learning Camp earlier this month, on Thursday 3 December, we promised to upload and share the speaker presentations.

Please find links to the following presentations, below:

Jen Newby and Alison Glew, My Learning Website
Background, update and how to get involved

Emma King, Museum Consultant and Deputy Chair of GEM (Group for Education in Museums)
Conducting teacher focus groups for digital learning projects

Stuart Berry, Museums and Heritage Education Consultant and DLNet Committee Member and
Andrew Lickley, former eLearning Manager at Yorkshire & Humber Grid for Learning (YHGfL)
Introduction to video conferencing for learning

Paul Clifford, Learning and Creative Technology Consultant (former Digital Learning Programmes Manager at British Museum/Museum of London)
If this…then that. How collaborative and user-generated interactives can reinvigorate museums and galleries

Caroline Bunce, Education & Outreach Officer, M&S Company Archive
Browsing History: Virtual Outreach at the M&S Company Archive

Charlotte Czyzyk, Public Engagement and Project Manager, IWM
Lives of the First World War – digital platform featuring resources for teachers

Zoe Martin, Education Programme Developer, Heritage Learning
Hull Curriculum Project, including digital timeline and local history resources

Maxine Beuret, Artist
Hastings Cultural Heritage and Art Trail

DIGITAL MUSEUM ETHICS | Dealing with difficult issues

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Martin Bazley

By Jenny Kidd, Lecturer, Cardiff University

As a teacher in Higher Education and a researcher in the museums sector I find myself increasingly immersed in discussions about digital media ethics. They are appearing in my Twitter feed with increased regularity too. It would seem that as we find ourselves (often) more confident now in our use of digital media, we are able to stand back and ask questions about what it is they DO to us, whether what we do with them is always appropriate and defensible, and what our strategies are for responding should it become apparent that they are not.  

 Digital media raise ethical questions that should be considered, and reviewed, by institutions on a rolling basis because making decisions pertaining to ethics is an unavoidable and ongoing part of our daily practice. What is an ethical response in one moment might not be in another. What is an ethical response in one project might not be in another. Situations change, digital platforms– and the terms on which they operate – mutate. As we know with such media the ground moves quickly beneath our feet making them exciting, but on occasion unfamiliar, territory for us and our online and offline constituencies. Whether we are working with formal learning groups, ‘casual’ visitors, or those separated in time and space on the Web, ethics are unavoidable.

 Social media especially might be considered a test-bed for our practice when it comes to such issues as: surveillance and privacy; moderation; the archival and ethical use of audience content; transparency in collaboration and co-production; the ethical utilisation of data for marketing or as analytics; and the disposal of user data also. 

Some questions we might consider:

·     Are we comfortable encouraging visitors/audiences to use proprietary platforms wherein their data is harvested and sold to advertisers (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)? 

·     Are we clear about how we will use the data we harvest [Is it transparent for example if wifi users will subsequently be bombarded with marketing messages]? How will it be stored safely?

·     Do we conform to International norms for web accessibility and usability in our digital learning portfolio? Who do we exclude through our digital programmes by using particular platforms, operating systems etc.? Are we content that we could not be doing more? 

·     Is crowdfunding always ethically defensible?

·     Do online collections recognise the subjective and political nature of interpretation in their presentation?

·     Do we have a plan for what we will do if a user becomes distressed in their interactions with us online? 

·     Are staff who spend (often significant amounts of) their own time on social media out of work hours properly compensated? How is professional/personal demarcated within such spaces?

·     Is it defensible to collect personal testimony on an important local issue and then dispose of it when the archival platform becomes defunct? 

·     Do we check that users own the images they profess to own or is self-assertion enough? 

·     What are the digital legacies of high profile commemorations, and how are they utilised – even appropriated – over time? 

·     Do we have an ethical responsibility to ensure collections data is complete and (to the best of our ability and budget) future-proofed?

·     Are certain uses of our online collections defensible and others not? Or does it depend on the financial gain?

·     Are the subtleties of our mischief-making online always understood and does it matter if they are not?

·     Are ethics a consideration of our digital policy/strategy and larger mission statement? 

There is also a question of course about how – and where – we create space to talk about ethical conundrums with peers in the sector.

 The UK Museums Association is about to launch its new Code of Ethics, and we already know there will be a more nuanced consideration of digital ethics. The Digital Learning Network would like to celebrate that launch by creating a space where people can begin to share their thoughts and experiences on this increasingly visible and unavoidable topic.

The Digital Learning Network’s next Twitter live #DLNETChat on the subject of ethics will be taking place on Friday 6 November, from 12.00pm until 2.00pm. Keep an eye on the hashtag and on the DLNET Twitter account, @DLNET. Alternatively, post questions or comments to the DLNET Email List using #DLNETChat in the subject line, and we will try and compile responses and bring them back to the list. You can also leave a comment here.

Using tablets as museum learning tools

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Martin Bazley

Over the last 2 years the Ashmolean Museum has been enjoying experimenting with using tablets in secondary school sessions. We’ve been keen to explore which apps (available on the App Store) are effective, as well as to assess their value for museum learning.

One project in particular has provided a focus for our work, Digital Sketchbooks.  Funded through the Major Museums Partnership programme, we worked with a local secondary school to create a series of films showing how to use 3 apps on a museum visit: Brushes (not supported on iOS8 so we’ve shifted to Procreate now*) Pic Collage and 123D Catch. These have been enthusiastically welcomed by local art teachers, as well as reaching an international audience via iTunesU.

Beyond this, we have delivered innovative sessions that include using Pic Collage to create an eighteenth century country house interior, using Talking Pictures to create dialogues between characters in paintings and using Tellagami to record student responses. Creative Book Builder has enabled us to collect evidence for Arts Award projects. So, what have we learnt?

Brushes animalsTablets are a fantastic art tool.  They allow students to work in ways not possible using a traditional sketchbook – they can photograph, crop, annotate, edit and arrange material, as well as use painting and drawing tools to reproduce the qualities of oil paint and watercolour, charcoal and pastel – materials not normally allowed in a museum gallery.

In all sessions, student engagement has been high – across all abilities. The most common word used by students involved in the Digital Sketchbooks project was that it was ‘fun’. Using the iPads allows high quality work to be produced in a surprisingly short amount of time. One teacher commented that boys who found drawing difficult were engaged because they had found an alternative way of expressing their ideas.

Museum learning using iPads is student led, open ended and playful. For example, through creating their own country house interior, students were encouraged to see beyond the museum cases and to imagine objects as centrepieces in people’s homes. Because students were able to choose objects of interest to them, this invariably led to questions and discussion – learning by stealth. It also created opportunities to have fun cropping images of themselves pretending to sit on lacquer chairs!


2014-07-04 13.58.24Anyone who has worked with secondary groups will know that teenagers can lack confidence or motivation to contribute to whole group discussions. Apps like Tellagami that allow students to prerecord their responses (hiding behind an avatar), have proved to be an effective and creative way for students to share and talk about their work.

* But don’t get too reliant on one app! Since Digital Sketchbooks we’ve abandoned Brushes as it is not supported on iOS8.

As a final observation, I’m finding that working with off the shelf apps is a great (and cheap!) way to develop creative learning activities, and is a better investment of my time than getting bogged down in app development itself.

Secondary students often have access to smart phones and tablets, but don’t necessarily see them as a learning tool. This presents an exciting opportunity for museums – what activities should we be suggesting that open up new ways of engaging with our collections?



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

#DLNETChat 4 September 2015 – (Digital) evaluation and the cultural sector

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Stuart Berry
Our latest #DLNETChat via Twitter last week looked at evaluation, and we had a lot of people joining in and sharing their experiences.
To see what was said, have a look through the Storify slideshow below, or go to Storify direct by clicking here.
We will be hosting another #DLNETChat on next month on Friday 2nd October, from 12.00pm until 2.00pm.


#DLNETChat 3 July 2015 – cultural organisations and digital learning in the classroom

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Stuart Berry
We thought that our first informal #DLNETChat via Twitter last week was a great success, and we had a lot of people joining in and sharing their experiences.
To see what was said, have a look through the Storify slideshow below, or go to Storify direct by clicking here.
We will be hosting another #DLNETChat on Friday 7th August, from 12.00pm until 2.00pm, when we will be looking at cultural organisations and their use of mobile technologies.  

Introducing #DLNETChat …

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Stuart Berry

#DLNETChat is your chance to take part in live discussions with others who are interested in digital learning from within the cultural sector, and beyond.

What is the purpose of #DLNETChat?

#DLNETChat is intended to be a ‘live’ discussion. We hope that everyone will feel welcome, regardless of their level of expertise, experience or confidence in the fields of digital technology and learning.

We would like to keep the themes of each #DLNETChat as broad as possible, but wherever possible will try and link it to what is going on elsewhere on DLNET, including our blog or our events.

We hope that #DLNETChat should help give participants a greater confidence in thinking about digital technologies and their role in cultural learning. 

How often will #DLNETChat take place?

#DLNETChat will be held monthly, on the first Friday of the month from 12.00pm until 2.00pm.

This means the next one will take place on Friday 3rd July 2015, at 12.00pm.

How can I take part in #DLNETChat?

Live #DLNETChat will take place via Twitter.  Keep an eye on the #DLNETChat hashtag and the @DLNET Twitter account.

For those who don’t use Twitter or aren’t able to join via Twitter on the day, we will also use the DLNET email list. We will use the list in the run-up to the live Twitter discussion to gather thoughts, opinions, case-studies and questions on the subject matter. During the live chat on Twitter, we will also aim to highlight some of the discussion via the email list too. Following the live discussion, a summary will be emailed around the mailing list, and we will put a blog post on the website.

What will be discussed in #DLNETChat?

#DLNETChat will have broad themes looking at how digital technology is used as a tool or a platform for learning by the cultural sector for its various audiences. The theme of the first #DLNETChat will be looking at how the cultural sector and schools use digital technologies for learning in the classroom.


Don’t forget to join us via Twitter or the DLNET email list to talk about how museums and cultural venues can contribute to digital learning in the classroom on Friday 3rd July at 12.00pm.

Videoconferencing for learning

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Stuart Berry

In recent decades, video communication has evolved quickly from the stuff of science-fiction to an everyday reality. Faster internet speeds, cheaper technology in terms of processing power and image and audio capture, along with the rise of the mobile phone mean that Skype, Google’s Hangouts and Apple’s Facetime are now commonplace communication platforms that allow us not only to hear but also to see friends, family and loved-ones at any time from virtually anywhere on the planet.

Many cultural venues are already using videoconferences as a way of delivering some of their formal learning content into schools, allowing them to overcome barriers of geography, budget and staff time – on both sides.  There are some obvious restrictions as to what can be achieved through this medium, but the sessions can still be very interactive.  In addition, museums can offer downloadable resources such as background information for use by school teaching staff, or resources such as picture packs or simple paper-based activities to be used directly by the students – either during the the live videoconference or as part of the preparation or follow-up work.  It might also be possible to offer loans boxes, so that students can handle real objects again either during the conference or in the support work.

Schools are also using videoconferences to add variety to classroom lessons. For a school and the content provider it is often less expensive than either the cost of a visit or the cost of bringing outside providers in to school. It also allows them to connect with providers that would otherwise be located too far away to engage with.  Potential content providers for schools might include creative practitioners such as poets or musicians, formal education providers such as university departments or educational publishers as well as cultural venues.



Cultural content for videoconferences can take any format, as long as it pays heed to the limitations of the medium. Lecture style presentations can work well to older students or adult groups. Alternatively storytelling and some living-history type role play can serve a similar function. ‘Meet the expert’ type sessions are very easily done, whereby a curator, educator or other specialist presents to the group, and then takes questions. It is also possible to organise sessions whereby a group that has visited your venue can present some of their work back, including stories and pictures. More adventurous sessions can include investigations or mock trials.

To see a selection of the videoconference content providers listed on Janet (an educational network), to find out what sort of sessions they already deliver click here.



Specialist equipment for running videoconferences from your museum is available; with everything from high resolution cameras to chroma-key ‘green-screen’ technology available to make your sessions come to life. However these can require a great deal of up front investment, and if the content is good might not be necessary.

What is necessary is a good broadband connection, a computer,  a webcam and a microphone. It is worth saying that cheaper or older pieces of equipment might give lower quality results, but it probably isn’t worth investing in expensive high-spec equipment right at the outset. It might be possible to get some help from your local Grid for Learning who might loan equipment and provide advocacy about what can be achieved within a certain budget, and with the broadband available in your area.



In addition to the potential for using the commercial video-call suppliers, there is also a dedicated network providing digital expertise to the education sector, and they have a dedicated videoconferencing service for use in business as well as education; Vscene (formerly called JVCS).

In addition to providing a platform, their community pages also provide a great deal of information about the various uses of videoconferencing.


YouTube Preview Image

This short film was made by the Yorkshire and Humber Grid for Learning a few years ago whilst I worked at the National Coal Mining Museum for England, and explains some of the benefits of using videoconferences for learning.



Anybody that has ever tried to use video-calls as a communication method will tell you that they are not without their share of potential technical problems, and my experience of using them to deliver museum learning to schools has taught me a few tricks.

  • Get the content right. Videoconferences are interactive, but the fluidity of those interactions isn’t quite the same as being in the same room. It is important to pilot activities and for delivery staff to get used to using the medium. There can sometimes be a slight delay between questions and answers so quickfire interactions don’t tend to work as well as they might in a face-to-face situations. I also found that sessions broken down into 15-20 minute segments work well, with videoconferences lasting a total of about 40-45 minutes being ideal.

  • Always do a test-call. You might have done the session successfully dozens of times before and the school might assure they have dozens of videoconferences with other providers, but if you do a quick five-minute test call with the teacher a few days (or even a week) before, you can iron out any technical glitches well in advance of having a group of expectant and restless students putting extra pressure of you and the teacher at the other end.  For many schools, it may be their first time, and there are likely to be a range of additional issues to overcome, these can include audio and visual inputs, using the software, or more commonly the over-zealous firewalls in place at some local authority schools. These test-calls might be more than a formality, and might require several attempts.

  • Wave and shout. Starting a videoconference with an enthusiastic wave and a chirpy ‘hello’ will encourage the class staring back at you to wave back their ‘hello’.  This interaction will immediately tell you a few key things; that the connection is working, that they can see you and hear you, and that you can see their video and hear their audio.  It also signifies to the teacher that you are here and that you are taking the lead.

  • Get the teacher to help. When in a conference, you will never remember all the pupils’ names, and it can be hard to specify an individual to whom you are talking.  So when doing questions and answer sessions, ask the teacher to pick the students to speak – this is something I usually go through during the test-call, along with a few of the other practicalities.


Videoconferences aren’t going to be the answer to everything in museum learning, and whilst the technology is still establishing itself there are likely to be some technical glitches along the way. However, I think that there is still plenty of room in every museum education team’s arsenal for this quite straightforward way of beaming some of your museum content straight into the classroom.

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

Digital Learning and the First World War

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Martin Bazley

The recent Digital Learning and the First World War event at Imperial War Museums London was a great success.  We have now storified it so that those who were unable to be there in person can get a sense of the day for themselves.  


   Simon Bendry – National Education Co-ordinator, First World War Centenary
   How is the First World War taught in schools today?


   Alison Glew – Support Officer, My Learning   Lucy Moore – Projects Curator: First World War, Leeds Museums & Galleries
   Our First World War Guardians’ and ‘Aviation in Leeds’: Two digital interactives based on First World War collections


   David Avery – Senior Web Content Developer (Learning), British Library
   Uniting collections from across Europe: Building the British Library’s World War One learning website


   Ludvig Lohse – Digital Media Manager, IWM
   Talk on Digital Elements First World War Gallery


   Charlie Keitch – Digital Learning Officer, IWM
   Developing Imperial War Museums online resources for schools


   Gill Parkes – Principal Archivist, Durham Record Office
   Developing the Durham at War project


   Robin Clutterbuck & Martin Bazley – Project Team, Gallipoli Association
   Gallipoli – Sharing Our Stories






Hashtags and the Art of Cultural Engagement

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Stuart Berry

What is a hashtag?

Most people who are regular users of any of the major digital social networking platforms will be familiar with the concept of the hashtag; the words, either singly or in strings with no spaces between them, that are prefixed with the hash symbol. The hashtag came to prominence on Twitter, but is now widely recognised and used on a range of networking platforms.

The idea is that the hashtag can label or tag a post, in order that it can be seen as being a contribution to a wider discussion without directly replying to any one individual. On a platform such as Twitter, where many conversations, discussions, comments, observations and declarations are continually being made on a variety of subjects, the hashtag was a convention that allowed people to label their tweets within confines of the 140 character limit. This labelling meant that other users interested in that subject could search for contributions easily. Twitter also then allowed users to click the hashtag in a tweet to find other tweets that contain the same hashtag. This same functionality is now available on other networks such as Facebook and Google+.


When can I use a hashtag?

The hashtag is particularly useful both for participants and observers when commenting on live events, such as news stories or sporting events, conferences, election campaigns or television shows, to name but a few examples – it enables users to see personal reactions from a crowd of individuals who may be geographically distributed, but all tracking the same event. Most conferences and many tv broadcasts will give themselves a designated hashtag for people to use when posting comments and for others to follow.



Hashtags can also be used to contribute to (and observe) continual, ongoing discussions on the same theme. Some hashtags are weekly regulars, such as  #FF – short for ‘#FollowFriday’, a recommendation to follow a named user or group of users. Tweets marked with this tag, as the name indicates, are usually posted on any Friday and are a great way to name check those other Twitter users with whom your organisation has had some support from or connection with over the course of the previous week – this also enables you to talk about your work, and encourages a retweet or reply from the other party involved, thus broadening exposure of your own brand.  #MuseumMonday is a hashtag used across museums on a Monday; and some accounts make the most of the opportunity to regularly talk about their own work. There are also some subject specific tags, such as #FossilFriday, which is similarly self-explanatory.

Many hashtags in use in the cultural sector are annual events, examples such as #AskACurator, #MuseumMascot (celebrated as this is being written on Friday 5 December) and earlier this year, the Twitter endorsed #MuseumWeek event. These annual events often have specific themes or ideas behind them, but often invite broad contributions from all users. These types of events can be centrally coordinated by one organisation or agency, or can come about through a synergy of users with similar agendas that wish to highlight their cause. In the cultural sector, they are often designed to encourage engagement, and to break down barriers between the institution and the general public.



It is also worth noting the hashtags that are used for posting across platforms. For example, #fb is added to Tweets when a Facebook and Twitter account are linked, and allows the same post to be broadcast on both networks. Similarly, a Twitter post marked #yam will post to a linked account on Yammer – the internal workplace social networking platform. Other tags for other networks exist too, and if organisations have accounts on more than one social network, it is worth checking what conventions exist.  Not only do these tags allow users to save a little time by posting to multiple networks in one go, but they can also act as a signpost to other users about the other networks on which the organisation is active.

If you are interested in seeing what other hashtags are out there for Museums, Twitter user @danamuses has compiled this list:


Is there anything to be wary of?

One difficulty with hashtags is that of consistency. There is no centralised registry of hashtags, and so any word in any interaction could be a hashtag if the author decides to put the hash symbol at the start of the word. For example, this means that there may be some instances of accounts that post using the hashtag ‘#museum’, while at the same time other users are using ‘#museums’. This could mean that there are many similar conversations happening but not necessarily joined up, with the potential for contributions to get lost or be missed. In this respect, it pays to see if there is a designated hashtag for the subject on which you want to contribute to, and to do some research. For example, is there an ‘official’ hashtag for the event or project, are there other hashtags that some participants are using? Which one is being used the most? If there seems to be more than one tag, find out which one has the types of interactions that you want to be a part of, and is being used by the accounts that you might want to interact with.



Anybody can use any word as a hashtag, but if you are starting a new hashtag for an event or project, it will pay to see if there are already some similar tags in use – it could be confusing and even potentially embarrassing to condense the initials of your latest funded project into what you think might be an engaging new hashtag, to find that the acronym you have created is already being used elsewhere for something completely different.

As with all interactions on the web, hashtags can also be used in less desirable ways; sometimes hashtags can be used in more subversive, contradictory or sarcastic ways too.  As long as users look to treat hashtags with the same level-headed caution as they would other online interactions, it is quite straightforward to avoid complications.


Do hashtags make a difference?

The effectiveness of the hashtag will always depend on a number of factors. Perhaps most importantly is the groundwork in the way that an organisation uses its social network accounts on a day-to-day basis. Knowing what you want your social media presence to do for organisation is important, identifying your online audience and outlining how you will use your accounts to communicate with them is also very useful. It is generally accepted good practice that these are platforms for an organisation to have a more human voice than other official communication lines. Additionally, whilst these networks are good marketing platforms, many followers are turned off by a continually stream of marketing information; reminders about upcoming events or offers in the gift-shop are useful, but cultural organisations have a much wider remit, and their inherent physical subject matter is more conducive to range of more engaging posts. Simple ‘mystery object’ or ‘fact of the day’ posts can be very engaging to any audience, and will create more of a dialogue, thus generating reach. Following other similar institutions and creating online conversations with them also allows other users to see a ‘behind the scenes’ snapshot and can also raise one organisation’s profile among followers of the other.  Hashtags can play a part in all of these kinds of interactions.



Many of the sector specific hashtag events can be a great opportunity for new kinds of interactions and posts from an organisation, and if the event generates enough traffic, the hashtag might appear in the list of trending topics, thus broadening the reach even farther.  In this event, it is important to remember that the amount of other posts required to achieve this will mean that one or two updates will get lost among the deluge from all the other organisations concerned. At the same time a constant stream of essentially empty posts could stand out as such, and won’t achieve any of the engagement objectives of your brand’s account. Like so many other aspects of using social networks, the important thing is to maintain a balance and retain quality – one good post that gets retweeted twelve times is better than twelve posts that don’t say a great deal.

In addition to the raft of regular tags used by cultural organisations, it can aso be very beneficial to find and make use of tags beyond the sector; these can encourage new kinds of posts, and extend reach to users that may not otherwise engage with your brand.


Do you have any questions or concerns about hashtags? Which hashtags do you or your organisation regularly use? Have you ever had a bad experience with using the wrong hashtag? Do you have any hashtag related advice for others who might be embarking on a social networking journey? Post a comment below, email us on, or join us for our Twitter-based surgery on the subject of hashtags on 16 January 2015 from 12.00pm until 2.00pm using the hashtag #dlnetsurgery.

How schools are using technology creatively: Minecraft, Digital Storytelling and MakeyMakey

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Martin Bazley

FullSizeRender (1)The Digital Learning Network and Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums jointly hosted a half day event on 14th November at the Great North Museum, to discuss all things digital learning and innovation.  The main focus was to look at how schools are using technology creatively and how cultural organisations can learn from and support the best of what is happening in their classrooms.  Many schools and museums in the North East are using technology in exciting and creative ways so it was a fantastic opportunity to share the best of what is happening with digital learning in classrooms and in museums.

Zoe Ross: Mapping Minecraft. How GeoCraft is using Ordnance Survey maps and Minecraft to engage pupils in their local area and beyond.


Unfortunately Zoe was poorly on Friday and was unable to attend the event, however, her colleague Steve Bunce, very kindly stepped into the breach and presented on Zoe’s behalf.  Steve discussed the use of Minecraft in the classroom.

Steve took us through the GeoCraft project, is an innovative project working in schools to increase pupils’ knowledge and understanding of the environment.  GeoCraft which uses Ordnance Survey’s OS OpenData within Minecraft to help students to learn about the environment.  Minecraft is a hugely popular game set in virtual 3D worlds made up of cubes of different materials.  As well as Minecraft, the GeoCraft project uses Ordnance Survey’s OS OpenData to introduce students to Ordnance Survey data as they navigate their way around the virtual worlds. Rather than creating new virtual worlds, using OS data enables towns and places in Great Britain to be recreated.   The main aim is to make worlds that are more relevant to children, teaching them about their local environment.   Pupils work through a number of environmental challenges using virtual worlds built in Minecraft. They then apply their knowledge and understanding to their school, helping it to become more environmentally friendly.

Steve discussed the importance of bridging the gap between children using Minecraft for fun at home, and using it for educational purposes at school.  Is it necessary to find a balance between scaffolding workshops and letting children explore the virtual world themselves.   It’s about facilitation rather than direction and using Minecraft as a sandpit for exploration.

The next step for GeoCraft, is to focus on Lindisfarne, a tidal island off the Northumberland Coast, almost like a virtual field trip.  This has huge possibilities for Museums.  Particularly with the recent announcement that the British Museum is currently being built in Minecraft.

Some useful  Minecraft links:

 Steve Boneham: Digital Storytelling – from sceptic to supporter (my reflections on digital storytelling with academics and educators)

Steve discussed the importance of giving people and voice and using technology as an enabler.   With main premise being to use digital tools to help people tell their own stories in a compelling and emotionally engaging form.  At a very basic level digital stories are multimedia movies that combine photographs, video, animation, sound, music, text, and often a narrative voice.    However, Technology is a facilitator it is the story and the content which is important.  Steve discussed the possibilities open to museums to connect deep and meaningful stories to collections.  Storytelling can be a powerful and effective tool.  Despite changes in technology and visitor behaviour, a core focus on great storytelling should serve as the critical element for museum communication as a way of connecting with their visitors. Steve focussed on the power of stories and gave a few example of simple to use web-based tools to create engaging messages through images and sounds.    The main being adobe voice, which is a free app which enables you to turn a story into an animated video quickly and easily.

One of the issues with digital storytelling is the time it takes to put together.  If you are going to implement digital storytelling it actually takes quite a lot of time at the beginning to enable people to be creative. But it is often worth the time investment.  A good example of museum using digital storytelling is the Culture Shock! Project which used museum collections as inspiration for individuals to create their own digital stories and then share them online.  

Steve Bunce (after doing a fantastic job filling in for Zoe) showed us a quick fire range of examples of how different primary and secondary schools are using technology and got us to think about how they could be enhanced, using museum collections.  Steve first started with some audience participation and handed around a few ipads and asked people to take a photo, he then went through the process of using Morfo, a free ipad app which animates a face.   It was a fantastic example of how museums could quickly and cheaply bring a museum object to life.

Steve then turned to the Horizon Report – Museum Edition which highlights six emerging technologies or practices that are going to have an impact on the museum sector and breaks them down into three distinct time frames or horizons.  Steve discussed the main areas and the digital tools which are available, and most are free.  Steve started with the near term horizon, the focus was on Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and mainly focused on how schools are using ipads/tablets particularly looking at the computing curriculum, and the ideas behind merging digital literacy, computer science and information technology. 

  • Padlet: an online noticeboard or ideas wall.  A useful tool for crowdsourcing ideas.
  • Mozilla X-ray goggles: allows you to see the building blocks that make up websites and then adapt them to make something new.  A really useful tool for critical thinking.  Steve used the example of the BBC News website to get students to identify what is real and what is fake.  
  • Mozilla AppMaker: Appmaker is an free Webmaker tool for creating mobile app without learning to code.  Could be used for students to design a new museum app.
  • Mozilla popcorn: Popcorn Maker is a video editing platform to easily remix web video, audio and images to create a new online video.

Steve then moved onto the theme of Electronic publishing, identified in the Horizon report  as having an adoption horizon of Two to Three Years.


Finally Steve discussed the Natural user interfaces which the Horizon report believes to have a time to adoption horizon of four to five years.  The tool which captured the room’s imagination was Makey Makey.  

All in all, it was a really interesting afternoon, lots of food for thought!

New Event: Digital Learning and the First World War

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Martin Bazley

DLNET’s winter event will be held at the Imperial War Museums on the 12th December 2014.  The theme this year is very timely, focusing on the First World War.   The day will explore how different organisations have developed digital learning content connected to the First World War.  The case studies will look discuss a range of content for formal and informal audiences who will be sharing information about their First World War projects, but will also be exploring how these could be applied to wider subject matter in the future. 

Case studies include:

  • Charlie Keitch, Digital Learning Officer, Imperial War Museums: Developing Imperial War Museums online resources for schools
  • David Avery, Senior Web Content Developer, Learning Team, British Library: Uniting collections from across Europe: building the British Library’s World War One learning website
  • Simon Bendry, Centenary Battlefields Tour Programme Coordinator on what teachers want from resources on the First World War
  • Robin Clutterbuck, Project Manager, Gallipoli Association:  Gallipoli Centenary Education project
  • Gill Parkes, Principal Archivist, Durham Record Office:  Developing the Durham at War project

The event will take place at IWM London and the day will include the opportunity to visit their ground-breaking new galleries and discover how IWM has used digital technologies to help interpret the First World War.

Tickets are on sale now and available via eventbrite


How can Museums support the Computing Curriculum?

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Martin Bazley
© Kevin G.Vega

© Kevin G.Vega

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.


MaKey Makey workshops with Codasign at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

MaKey Makey workshops with Codasign at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum, London


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.


An example Sketchpatch programme for creating a generative artwork

An example Sketchpatch programme for creating a generative artwork


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 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:

Code Club
Computing at School
Make Magazine
Creative Applications
BBC Bitesize

Museum Studies and Digital Learning: A Work Placement

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Martin Bazley

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.

© IWM (Q 13392)

An image from the upcoming Gallipoli resource. © IWM (Q 13392)

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.

Digital Informal Learning

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Stuart Berry

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.


Downloadable Resources

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:


Online Games

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:

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:


Smartphone Apps

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:

National Museums Scotland’s Capture the Museum is a team game that is played at special events hosted at the Museum:

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.


What Else?

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.

Does Visitor Generated Content have a place in Learning Experiences?

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Martin Bazley

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.

For the past three years I have been working on a PhD in Digital Humanities in the Centre for Digital HumanitiesDepartment of Information StudiesUniversity College London

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. 

Digital Learning at Museums and the Web, Baltimore

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Martin Bazley

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.

Facebook Surgery

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 to get involved.




Formal Digital Learning Resources in Gallery, Online and in the Classroom conference

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Martin Bazley



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.

The Lab

Craig Fletcher and Kirsten Wood – To the lab at Stirling Wood – presentation


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

Resources-Event-AM-5967Katherine 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 Frances Jeens – Objects in Focus, reaching beyond the museum walls – presentation

Resources-Event-AM-5983Tali 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.


The Battle of Bannockburn…immersive learning through gaming

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Martin Bazley

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.

interactive-displayWould we be able to master the art of medieval warfare? Could we get to grips literally and metaphorically with the weapons?

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 open_bobpreparations 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. visit-the-battleI 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, participation and learning

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Stuart Berry

‘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…

Twitter Surgery

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 or post them in the comments below.

Welcome to our new membership structure, surgeries and more

Posted on by

Martin Bazley

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


 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

 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:  


Subscriber (FREE)

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.


Organisational Member

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


Ways to stay in touch with DLNET

As well as our website at we are on Facebook and Twitter

 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.       


Digital Learning Discussion – #museDLD – 26 February 2013

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Martin Bazley

Last week we held our first ever Digital Learning Discussion – a Twitter based event intended to encourage the sharing of ideas and good practice in using Twitter to support learning in the museum sector.

Over the course of the event, we tweeted 5 questions – one per hour. Using the hashtag #museDLD for reply collection, the Digital Learning Discussion included debates on the possibilities and benefits of using Twitter as a museum learning tool, and brought to light case studies of past use. Participants reflected on challenges and proposed ideas for future participation and application.

We had a great response to the questions, with over 175 tweets received and dozens of Twitter users from a wide variety of museum roles engaged with the event to discuss their views and experiences. Below are a selection of just some of the tweets we received and discussions that went on between tweeters on the day.

Q1 – What do you think are the benefits of using Twitter in museum learning?

Tweeters mentioned that Twitter can allow museums to communicate with a range of new audiences, making use of a technology which many already have access to. Tweeters suggested that Twitter offers the benefit of providing a virtual space in which debate and dialogue may be encouraged – online discussions need not necessarily necessitate an onsite visit.

I think it can get you direct to an audience (maybe not the usual audience of Learning departments…).
— Adrian (@acediscovery)

It enables you to talk to the audience in a medium they use on a daily bases – not ‘stuffy old museum labels’.
— MoDiP (@MoDiPAUB)

I think Twitter offers the ability to give immediate feedback and to extend engagement away from the physical museum.
— Claire Ross (@clairey_ross)

Direct responses from the public, dialogue between audiences, audiences inside and outside the gallery can create dialogue.
— melany rose (@melanosaurus)

Interesting Qs! Key benefits are engaging different audiences and encouraging debate.
— laura jane lannin (@l_lanni)

Many #museDLD participants mentioned that there is often a marketing tone to content tweeted by museums, with many sites tweeting about learning activities rather than using tweets as a learning activity in themselves:

Useful for promoting a one-off event.
— Emma Espley (@EmmaEspley)

We use it mainly as a signpost to other resources – so marketing really.
— MoDiP (@MoDiPAUB)

If learning dept use twitter to say what they’re doing, isn’t that actually just marketing?
— Adrian (@acediscovery)

Q2 – What examples do you know of Twitter being used by museums for effective learning?

Tweeters referenced a range of projects, hashtag activities and studies in which Twitter has been used effectively for learning:

I think was a really good use of twitter for learning. But that was a few years ago now.
– Claire Ross ‏@clairey_ross

Not sure if it’s learning per se, but I really like how @Your_Paintings are using twitter.
– Adrian ‏@acediscovery

I like @designmuseum‘s #fontsunday. Fun. Creative. Easy 4 every1 2 get involved w/their own unique take on the premise.
– Juno Rae ‏@junorae

I recently used twitter in a study w/ KS3 students at Museum of London. A paper discussing this study .
– Koula Charitonos ‏@ch_koula

A number of museums that have specific learning Twitter accounts were also identified, a list of which can be found here:

Q3 – What challenges do you think face museums using Twitter for learning?

#museDLD participants identified a number of challenges impeding museums from using Twitter for learning, including difficulties agreeing on a museum-wide strategy, evaluation issues, virtual firewalls, and hesitant non-Twitter users – staff and audiences alike:

Working out the goals in a way that satisfies all stakeholders.
– Adrian ‏@acediscovery

How to measure learning and or engagement and or success are the biggest challenges.
– Claire Ross ‏@clairey_ross

Understanding that there are different audiences to engage with & being ‘allowed’ to do so.
– laura jane lannin ‏@l_lanni

Encouraging non-Twitter users to engage with & explore the medium – it can be daunting when you’re not a regular.
– laura jane lannin ‏@l_lanni

Actual barriers e.g. firewalls can be a challenge & I agree w/ @acediscovery working out a brand tone everyone’s ok with.
– Juno Rae ‏@junorae

Think there’s also a challenge for some learning staff to engage with tech. They like face-to-face interaction not phones.
– Adrian ‏@acediscovery

Q4 – How would you encourage participation in Twitter projects?

Tweeters made several suggestions for how museums could boost participation, including incorporating it into learning programmes and making good use of the Twitter hashtag function:

Target participation on-site within specific programmes. 
– Koula Charitonos ‏@ch_koula

I think hashtags such as #askacurator and #museummascot are great engagement tools to get institutions and public talking.
– Stuart D. Berry ‏@stuartdberry

Q5 – Going forward, how would you like to see Twitter used in museum learning?

#museDLD participants expressed their hopes for the future of Twitter use in museum learning, highlighting its use as a record of audience learning processes and its possibilities as a crowdsourcing tool to garner information audiences may have on objects from museum collections:

I would like more participants to share their on-site museum learning experiences and outputs on Twitter!
– Linzsay @linzsay

I’d love to see us using twitter to generate useful information about our objects from the whole tweeting world.
– Adrian ‏@acediscovery

This first Twitter event explored the social media’s learning potential and acknowledged challenges as a step to overcoming them. We’d like to thank everyone who took part for offering their unique opinions and experiences. We hope that the points raised will be of use to those involved in social media strategy planning, to encourage the application of Twitter in such ways that it effectively supports learning and engagement with museum audiences.

A full transcript from the event can be read and downloaded here:

Have an idea for a topic you think we should cover in future #museDLDs? We’d love to hear your ideas – why not leave a comment on this post or tweet us your ideas @DLNET.


New event – Digital Learning Discussion, 26 February 2013, Twitter

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Join us for our first ever Twitter based Digital Learning Discussion – a day long online event to encourage the sharing of ideas and good practice in using digital technologies to support learning in the cultural heritage sector.

The topic for this inaugural social media event will be Twitter itself – we’ll be asking you questions relating to its current use by museums and its application as a learning tool. We’d love to hear how you approach Twitter use in your museums.

Keep an eye out for our tweets and join in the discussion 11am Tuesday 26 February. Direct your tweets to @DLNET and remember to use hashtag #museDLD so we can collect your responses!

We’ll be summarising the tweets so check back at our website after the event for a round up of the day.

Project Blaster: Building information literacy in the Primary classroom

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Project Blaster website

With information overload now being a part of every day life, when is the ideal time to introduce the skills that can enable pupils to identify, analyse and make sense of the information they need to become successful learners? The National Library of Scotland sees such skills as vital to ensuring young people are equipped with the skills not only to become successful learners at school level but through their whole educational journey. It is currently developing an online resource which aims to introduce these vital skills to primary pupils.

Through six stages, primary teachers can work with their pupils to understand the basic research skills needed to create a classroom project.  From understanding primary and secondary sources to knowing where to loook for information, to checking and verifying facts, the site shows pupils how to critically evaluate the information they find from a variety of sources.

Allan Bennett, a popular children’s author in Scotland who specialises in writing history books for young people, guides teachers and pupils through each of the stages, providing fun, fact-filled activities for use both in the classroom or online in pairs/individually. Designed to meet Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence‘s  ‘Literacy across Learning’ element, the Project Blaster website  introduces the skills for building critical literacy. This states that:

‘Children and young people not only need to be able to read for information; they also need to be able to work out what trust they should place on the information and to identify when and how people are aiming to persuade and influence them.’

Information and critical literacy skills are vital 21st century skills for young people to have so that they do not become mere passive consumers of information but are able to investigate, question, analyse, and become creators of information themselves.

Decoding Learning Report

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I recently read Nesta’s Decoding Learning: The Proof, Promise and Potential of Digital Education report. It makes interesting reading and has a lot of takes aways for digital learning in museums.

The report was written for Nesta by researchers at the IOE’sLondon Knowledge Lab (LKL) and Nottingham University’s Learning Sciences Research Institute (LSRI) and it pulls together evidence about the innovative use of technology to support learning and the impact this can have for students.

The report offers a range of examples of learning and teaching being supported by well-used technology and is organised around learning activities rather than by types of technology, producing 8 learning themes:  

  • Learning from experts
  • Learning with others
  • Learning through Making
  • Learning through exploring
  • Learning through inquiry
  • Learning through Practising
  • Learning from assessment
  • Learning in and across Settings

The report argues that we need to move towards a focus on learning and what works for learners.

The report identifies trends and opportunities grounded in effective practice and sets out what the authors believe are some of the most compelling opportunities to improve learning through technology.  

One of the things that the report discusses is to make better use of what we’ve got and to change the mindset amongst teachers and learners: from a “plug and play” approach where digital tools are used, often in isolation, for a single learning activity; to one of “think and link” where those tools are used in conjunction with other resources where appropriate, for a variety of learning activities.

The report highlights that in order for schools to explore the full potential of technologies they need time and support, something I think we in the museum community can help with.  

Digital Learning at Imperial War Museums

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 © IWM (D 11005)

© IWM (D 11005)

On 15th October IWM (Imperial War Museums) hosted a Digital Learning Workshop for staff from across its five branches.  The Workshop was hosted by Charlie Keitch, the Digital Learning Officer, National & International Programmes & Projects, IWM.   Here he tells us about the reasons for putting on the workshop and what IWM is planning to do as a result.

First of all, let me give you a bit of background.  I am relatively new in post at IWM, having started in the summer and the post itself is also a new one.  A large focus is the upcoming centenary of the First World War and I was taken on to develop a range of online learning resources targeted primarily at secondary schools and young people.  These resources are not intended to be visit specific and should be just as relevant for someone who hasn’t visited one of our branches as someone who has.  We’re also designing them for an international audience so they need to be relevant for people based anywhere in the world, so I’ve done a  lot of work looking at how the First World War is taught in Commonwealth countries like India, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.  These resources will be incorporated into a new online presence for IWM’s different learning departments, which we will be developing throughout 2013, and which will be available via

That all sounds very exciting, but I had a lot of questions relating to our wider offer, particularly content that dealt with conflicts beyond the First World War.  For example, IWM currently has a range of online resources available via so we would have to consider these as well and think about how they could be updated and incorporated into the resources we would be creating.  We would also need to think about the resources IWM already offers online like our Collections in Context articles and material that has been made available via external sites like the Google Art Project.  How would these link up with our new resources? What about content for young people outside of school – what was that going to look like?  Basically, I wanted to ensure that our online learning offer made sense as a whole and that people could easily find the content that was useful and relevant to them.

Alongside that I was really keen that we think about ‘Digital Learning’ in a wider sense and what that meant for IWM beyond our online offer.  So, what should our digital learning offer be for schools visiting one of our sites and how does that relate to groups who take part in one of our learning sessions?   That’s not to say that people haven’t thought about this already.  For example, IWM North have already incorporated tablets into one of their learning sessions in a really interesting way.  I was keen to think about how we could ensure a consistent approach across all our branches, which would feel like part of the same offer as the online resources.   Again, everything had to make sense individually and as part of a greater whole.

Which leads me on to the workshop!  I was really keen that myself, as well as other key staff from across IWM, were able to learn from the brilliant work which other people are already doing, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. So I thought about colleagues who were doing things that seemed relevant to us. Thanks to a combination of calling in favours and bribing people with the offer of a free lunch, I put together a panel of colleagues from outside organisations including The British Museum, Museum of London, Royal Museums Greenwich, TATE, and Wellcome Collection.  Whilst wanting to make the most of their expertise, I didn’t want to give them too much work to do as I was very aware that they were already donating their time and they were all busy people.  I asked everyone to lead a 10 minute discussion covering subjects ranging from online provision for different audiences to digital workshops and mobile learning.  Happily, everyone seemed very enthusiastic to take part and spoke for at least twice as long as we’d scheduled, meaning that it was a struggle to fit everyone in before lunch!  It was a great morning and led to some very interesting conversations amongst the attendees from IWM in the afternoon, but everyone who attended seemed to appreciate the opportunity to meet and discuss what other organisations were doing so I’d really recommend it as an approach if you can find someone to foot the bill for lunch! 

So, what next?  Well, I had a bit of an epiphany half way through the day when I realised that I couldn’t do everything, in fact it’s highlighted in bright yellow highlighter in my notes!  More accurately, I realised that I couldn’t do everything at once.  The priority has to be our online resources and content and ensuring that these are ready for the centenary.  Luckily, everyone else agreed with me so I’m currently working on getting the plans for these really firmed up and talking to people around IWM to ensure they draw on the highlights of IWM’s collections.  I’m also working closely with staff from across the learning teams at our different branches, as well as our Digital Media department, to make sure that our wider resources are developed in tandem with those for the centenary.

A major theme to come out of the day was the importance of having a vision / manifesto for our digital learning offer and this was something I was hoping we would be able to produce on the back of the workshop.  However, this will now be developed early in 2013 in conjunction with a new learning and engagement strategy for IWM.  This is fantastic, because it means digital learning isn’t being seen as separate to the rest of our offer and isn’t being retrofitted to an existing strategy, it’s being thought of as part of the whole, just as it should be.  As for digital learning beyond the website, it’s been put onto the backburner for the time being, but that’s not to say things aren’t happening.  For example, we’re currently waiting to find out about an exciting project which will involve us working with an outside organisation to trial some onsite activities in a new way.  Hopefully these will have the potential to roll out across different IWM branches in the future, so there’s still plenty going on!    


Presentation slides from Engaging Digital Audiences in Museums July 2012 conference

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Keynote speeches

Keynote speech from Nick Winterbotham, Group for Education in Museums (GEM) Chair and Director, Winterbotham Associates at Thinktank.

Keynote presentation from Matthew Cock, Head of Web, British Museum. 

Mobile learning case studies
Lucinda Blaser, Digital Projects Manager at Royal Museums Greenwich discussed developing a bespoke mobile learning system where the user drives the learning process.

John Coburn, Project Coordinator ICT from Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums presented a case study looking at the successes and challenges in creating compelling content for Hidden Newcastle, an app revealing strange and forgetten stories in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Evaluation and measuring engagement case study 
Martha Henson, Multimedia Producer at Wellcome Trust discussed the evaluation of their online game ‘High Tea’, making discoveries about new audiences and how people play games, as well as reaching towards best practice in evaluation itself. 

Parallel workshops
It’s not always easy to identify and implement technologies that are a good match for audiences, content and organisational context. This workshop by Greg Povey and Shona Carnall provided some inspiration and help to get started.

Alyson Webb and Lindsey Green‘s workshop focussed on mobile apps and what they mean for cultural heritage organisations. Should we all be developing them? Do they deliver the new audiences they promise? Can we really use them to deliver learning objectives or are they just the latest new shiny distraction? 


Pauline Webb, Collections Manager at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) joint led a workshop questionning how can we re-align museum practices to make more of changing technologies? 

Michael Woodward, Commercial Director at York Museums Trust joint led a workshop questionning how can we re-align museum practices to make more of changing technologies? 

Guest blogging the Engaging Digital Audiences in Museums conference

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For our joint conference with Museums Computer Group (MCG), we invited two bloggers to record the event – Nadja Ryzhakova used her iPad to capture the day in pictures and Laura Martin provided a written summary. Their work is shown below:

On July 11th 2012, under the title ‘Engaging Digital Audiences in Museums’, professionals from museums throughout the UK gathered to discuss and share experiences to bring two different worlds together – museums and technology.

Nick Winterbotham keynote

“None of us is smart as all of us” – with this quotation and using a ‘Nail Puzzle’ challenge attempted by two willing volunteers to exemplify his points, Nick Winterbotham – Chair of Group for Education in Museums – asserted that dilemmas within museums should be met by professionals sharing experiences and observations. Only in these ways can results be achieved. We have important challenges knocking at our museum’s doors – we are living in fast changing society, with more and more different ways to digitally communicate and get engaged. Museums are having to find ways to beat the recession and the funding challenges it has brought, by demonstrating their importance in society.

As Nick quoted – “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”.

Nick’s speech highlighted the importance of people as the real source of heritage. Museums are not for things, museums are for people. And to reach people it is necessary more than ever to engage with them through new paths. To be connected. But, what is the better way to reach these audiences? How should we use museum resources to achieve this?

Matthew Cock keynoteMatthew Cock – Head of Web at the British Museum  reflected about his Museum’s approach to audiences and mobile apps. He recognised that mobile technology has changed its patron and gone “from fun to fundamental” and only by understanding visitors needs can museums create suitable apps for them.

And not all visitors have the same needs to be fulfilled, they can be a mixture of social needs, intellectual, emotional, spiritual… Museums must use knowledge of their galleries and collections and explore different audience targets, considering how they can be connected through technology.

Until this point in the day we have talked about the ideas. About the spirit and the philosophy that leads the connection between these two not-so-separate worlds; museums and technology. But… What about the cases? What about the real practice?








Lucinda Blaser – Digital Projects Manager at Royal Museums Greenwich – told us about her experience with the 2009 project ‘Discovery sessions – new ways of learning’. Through a user generated tagging mobile device children were encouraged to create their own historical enquiries, and to learn more about topics which interested them. Lucinda noted that children behaved especially well in this scenario, showing more engagement with the galleries, being collaborative with other students and focusing well on the activity in hand. Teachers were crucially also included in the activity, by being provide with specially modified mobile devices which meant they could oversee student activities, send messages to them.

John Coburn – Project Coordinator ICT, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Newcastle – discussed his recent app experiment which purposefully attempted a different approach from the norm. In his project, ‘Hidden Newcastle – failed inventors and body dredgers’, the focus was on people of Newcastle’s stories – 13 common people, not famous, not regularly commemorated ones. The criteria used to select these individual’s stories was that they displayed elements of failure, macabre, eccentricity…  John was not looking to teach a deep knowledge of Newcastle’s history with this app, but instead was looking to engage users in a sensation of wonderment. The combination of the app with its unique stories and visiting the physical sites where events happened was intended to create a bond of affectivity and empathy, which is the motor that stirs public imagination, encouraging them to explore, and engage themselves.

Isabel Benavides – Programme Manager (Family Outreach) at Museum of London – tackled one of the big concerns about the relationship between technologies and audiences: the impact. At the Museum they are trying to go beyond the traditional methods of enquiries, beyond the usual survey. By experimenting with technologies and a bit of imagination, they are focused on achieving something more valuable: subjective opinions.  Communication between parents and children has been collected through digital devices such as easy speak microphones and cameras, allowing visitors to record their experiences and thoughts. Tools like ‘talking mats’ have been introduced, on which visitors can express the things they have enjoyed or not.

Martha Henson -Multimedia Producer at Wellcome Trust – told us about their on-line game ‘High Tea’. This game, set during the Opium Wars, has proved very successful on the web, and allowed Martha to collect useful information about what users knew and felt about in this historical period. Rather than a game primarily intended to attract audiences to their collection and exhibitions, it was a fun and engaging way to spread knowledge about this phenomenon in history, raising empathy and comprehension about it.

WorkshopDuring the workshops in the afternoon there was time to talk about doubts, concerns, ideas and issues. Probably, one of the most repeated words during the workshops and the end of day ‘unconference’ was sustainability. Despite being a conference about technology use, everyone was very clear that it is very necessary to resist being technology driven. 







Unconference 2Some of the most applauded themes to come out of discussions was the need for experimentation – piloting little activities, sharing best practices, consulting visitors about their needs and working in partnership with other departments, museums and organisations.








As a final reflection, I would pick up one of the sentences used to describe the state of the current situation and the aim of the conference: an intricate explosion – something with a lot of pieces and layers mixed together, which have to work together, combining slowly and without leaving anything behind, to finally explode. To finally blossom.

UnconferenceNotes about the artist: Nadja Ryzhakova is a young Russian-born London-based artist, who despite her traditional arts background and education has chosen an innovative and 21st century medium to create her art – the iPad. Nadja’s art is part of what is known as net art, digital art that uses a network as its means of circulation and diffusion. Nadja defines her artworks as “iPaintings”, a term not used solely by her but one that is most appropriate to the nature of her works: traditional and representative in their style, but created using a progressive technological medium, they are truly digital paintings that simultaneously challenge both conventional fine art and net art.

In April 2012 she founded the iPainting Facebook Page – an open online art studio uniting people who draw on mobile devices from all over the world. It is also open for those who accept iPainting as a progressive form of art, for art historians grappling with new media art, for enthusiastic supporters of mobile devices, and for curious individuals.



Twitter: @Nadiart

Programme Announced: Engaging digital audiences in museums, 11 July 2012, University of Manchester,

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We are pleased to announce the programme for Engaging digital audiences in museums, on 11 July 2012, at the University of Manchester.

Curated jointly by the Digital Learning Network and the Museums Computer Group, this event will bring together the two worlds of museum technology and museum learning and encourage them to talk and learn from each others’ skills and experience.

Book tickets now at:

Room G.107 in the Alan Turing building, University of Manchester.

Book now for what promises to be a popular day featuring best practice case studies, workshops around key digital challenges and an ‘unconference’ session where you suggest the themes ensuring we discuss the most pressing challenges that you’re currently facing.

Follow@dlnet  or @ukmcg on Twitter for updates.

Working together to engage digital audiences in museums, 11 July 2012, University of Manchester

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Book tickets now at:

Room G.107 in the Alan Turing building, University of Manchester.


Today, museums are finding more and more ways to use digital technologies to enhance their learning and public engagement programmes. Technology has tremendous potential to engage, excite and inspire people, to make learning more flexible and to cater for different learning styles and abilities.  In many museums, however, the work of learning departments and technology teams is still quite separate.


This conference, curated jointly by the Museums Computer Group and the Digital Learning Network, will bring together the two worlds of museum technology and museum learning and encourage them to talk and learn from each others’ skills and experience.


Museum technologists will learn about tried and tested techniques used by colleagues in Learning departments to measure the impact of digital projects on audiences. Learning teams will be inspired by the potential of digital technologies to achieve learning outcomes, audience engagement and reach.


Book now for what promises to be a popular day featuring best practice case studies, workshops around key digital challenges and an ‘unconference’ session where you suggest the themes ensuring we discuss the most pressing challenges that you’re currently facing. 


Full programme to be announced 11 May 2012.


Book tickets now at:

Follow@dlnet  or @ukmcg on Twitter for updates.

Challenging history with digital media

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A conference focusing on Understanding aims, audiences and outcomes in work with difficult and sensitive heritages was held in February 2012 at City University and the Tower of London.

Amy Ryall and Martin Bazley helped deliver one of the sessions on the programme, dealing with the use of digital technology.  The session was highly subscribed and participants had access to computers on which they looked at a number of online examples, including  Lives at War is the product of an intergenerational project in Brighton involving students from Longhill High School and a group of older Brighton residents. It uses a virtual reality world which is populated with the products of the project – films, stories and memories.

Screenprint of Lives at War

Screenprint of Lives at War

During discussion of this and several other online resources, a number of points arose regarding the effectiveness and appropriateness of the use of digital technology for learning about difficult histories. One advantage of using digital media is that it can help make material more engaging; but in dealing with difficult and sensitive subjects a game-style approach may not be appropriate. Making something ‘fun’ can distort the learning outcomes originally intended, and does not necessarily lead to an understanding of the subject. Making it engaging, interesting, challenging and immersive are all realistic aspirations when employing digital media, and can be achieved without reducing the impact or understanding of challenging subjects merely to a bit of fun.


Using digital ‘characters’ can make participants forget that history is about real people and turn it into a cartoon in which nothing is genuine. If we achieve one thing when teaching history, it is to convey the understanding that history happens to real people, the good things and the bad things.  It is also important for those using the digital media to feel that their input and interaction matter. We cannot expect young people to learn about history if they are invited to interact as if they have a say in the outcome, only to be told at the end that it didn’t happen like that: far better to engage young people with actual decisions that were made at the time and then explore why those decisions were taken.  Reflecting the consequences of such decisions is not always best done via the sort of game logic that is typically of digital learning activities, which tend to impose over- simplified models in order to make them workable in purely functional terms.  


For example, one game set in a military situation involved making decisions about logistics, which were tricky to engage with and also made no reference to the human side of conflict. The group found this lack of understanding frustrating and it led to them moving through the scenario quickly, without engaging with the history involved. It was a good example of digital methods not leading to historical understanding. Others, which involved a ‘reward’ style system – participants answering a question in order to make a character do something – caused similar issues. For both these two examples, interaction focused more on the digital interface, rather than learning about and understanding the subject material involved. This would not be considered helpful in any learning scenario, but with subjects involving difficult or sensitive histories it seems particularly problematic. In any situation, the key to dealing with subjects in history is to treat them with respect. By reducing them to a series of click-throughs to get to the end, we risk actually causing respect for the subject to be lost by learners using the resource.


In short, digital methods of engaging learners in challenging histories have to start with the history and keep the focus on it. As for any learning engagement method, a strong focus on intended learning outcomes should guide development of the resource.  Learning outcomes must be decided and agreed engagement at the outset and must also remain the driving force behind the resource throughout, informed by evaluation and testing with members of the target audience. Ultimately a digital learning resource is only effective if it fulfils the desired learning outcomes, and getting this right is an iterative process, as summarised in the diagram below.


Diagram summarising iterative nature of resource development



 We would welcome any comments on the above or suggestions for other points to consider when planning use of digital technology to support learning around challenging histories.

Amy Ryall, Professional Development Manager, Imperial War Museums

Martin Bazley, Digital Heritage Consultant, Martin Bazley & Associates




Staffordshire Hoard – How a Museum and the Public can Learn Together

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Staffordshire Hoard

The Staffordshire Hoard poses a challenge  to tell the story and produce learning content because it is such a mystery, how can we tell the story of the Hoard when it is unknown? In case you don’t know the Staffordshire Hoard is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found. It was discovered by a metal detector in field in Staffordshire in July 2009.  The story that the media has tended to focus on is about how it was discovered and how much it was worth. It was acquired by Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery (BMAG) and Stoke Museums in March 2010 at a cost of £3.285 million. 

The conservation and research programmes at BMAG and Stoke Museums will gradually discover more about the Hoard. But how can we can convey this learning process – even better, how can we allow people to discover and learn with us? I should of course add – with no budget! The answer for us at BMAG has been to attempt to capture what is being discovered and learnt as it is happens via blogs, videos and recently a live web chat, using the free/cheap digital platforms at our disposal. The conservation team Deborah Cane (project leader), Deborah Magnoler and Cymbeline Story have been blogging about their conservation work and so have other people working on the project. You can see many of the blog posts on the Staffordshire Hoard website  (due to a web glitch older posts are not showing at the moment).

Conservation Team

Conservation Team: Cymbeline Storey, Deborah Magnoler and Deborah Cane

The video work has been done with a cheap flip camera by the conservation team themselves. The flip camera was the perfect fit for doing something quickly and easily at low cost but that still produced good quality images in HD. I edit the film using the flip software and subtitle the videos using Universal Subtitles. We have produced 19 short Staffordshire Hoard themed videos since March 2011. The range of subject matters include conservation methods, new discoveries, the 2011 Mercian Trail tour, the 2011-12 Washington D.C. exhibition, behind the scene tours and a family Anglo-Saxon Day. They are available on the BMAG Youtube channel (all 19), Staffordshire Hoard Vimeo channel and the Staffordshire Hoard website.

The live web chat was the idea of Geoff Coleman, from (Birmingham City Council’s online press office), who had previously used Cover it Live (a free live blogging tool) for other council work. Curators Dave Symons and Morn Capper were asked about 30 questions by the public from the UK, USA and Germany over one hour, and as many as possible were answered. You can see a captured version of the the Hoardchat on the Staffordshire Hoard website and new images of some of the Staffordshire Hoard objects that have been conserved were put on Flickr to tie in with the event . We are going to do it all again with the Conservation Team soon.

Live Web Chat

Live web chat: David Symons and Morn Capper answer questions about the Hoard

From people’s comments on our blog and their own blog posts it appears that many are enjoying the ability to learn with us, to ask questions – and make some calculated guesses! Museums attempt to tell the story of objects but we don’t know that story, we’re working on the pieces that will hopefully fit it together. And that means that people beyond the museum can be attempting to work it out at the same time as us. The most popular video and blog posts have been related to the Mystery Object. The interest in this started when we posted a video about how conservator Deborah Magnoler had noticed that two pieces of the Hoard fitted together.  

YouTube Preview Image

A third piece was discovered but the object remained equally mysterious and David Symons posed the question of what it might be in a post on the Staffordshire Hoard website. Since then we have been inundated with replies on the blog and via twitter and Facebook – many of them very good guesses. He then wrote another Mystery Object post looking at these suggestions – and as a result more guesses kept coming. He’s promising another post again very soon on the new suggestions!  The great thing about this process is that we are learning together with the public, and learning from the public. 

Mystery object

The mystery object is made up of three pieces that fit together

As plans for a new Staffordshire Hoard gallery come together and we learn more we will of course be able to develop a more sophisticated digital offer that attempts to interpret the Hoard and brings it to life both in the new gallery and via other platforms. We already have lots of exciting plans and building on what we have already achieved and learnt is going to be important – remaining open, sharing, listening, answering questions and admitting we don’t know all the answers! 

Linda Spurdle, Digital Manager, Birmingham Museums.

Thinking Outside the Screen: Digital Programmes at the V&A

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DLNET talked to Alex Flowers, the Digital Programmes Manager at the Victoria and Albert Museum, about the variety of digital events he offers to visitors, and the 3D printing event being run in conjunction with the upcoming “British Design 1948–2012: Innovation in the Modern Age” exhibition.

Hi Alex, welcome to the new look DLNET website. In your role as the V&A, what sort of events and resources are you responsible for planning?

One of the aspects that I love the most about my job is the variety of projects that I can involve myself in. The Digital Programmes team is based in the Learning and Interpretation department and we work across all audiences, combining on projects with other programmes and departments.

Throughout the year we run courses for adults in a variety of digital skills, crafts and media. As the programme manager I am responsible for finding tutors and working alongside them to develop the content of the course. Once they are up and running, I ensure that everything is going smoothly, answer the participants’ questions and more often than not, make emergency visits to the studio to manically update patches for our software, locate missing leads and reconnect printers to the network! 

There is also a digital learning strand of our family events programme which runs one Sunday a month and during the majority of the school holidays. We tie these into the current exhibitions on at the museum, giving us a chance to explore the collections through creative workshops and sometimes we have the pleasure of working with our artists in residence to get the public involved in their practice. (more…)

Scotland’s heritage narrated by new digital storytellers

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Great Escapes Moray – an app for iPhone/iPod touch

The Learning Team at the National Library of Scotland (myself and colleague Beverley Casebow) have been working with schools and community volunteers in Moray (north east Scotland) to create an insider’s guide to the area. Using the Library’s collection of 19th century ‘Handbooks for Travellers’ as inspiration, we wanted the app to reflect the unique voices and cultural heritage of the region as well as highlighting the area’s key historic industries – fishing, weaving and whisky.

Through the Library’s collections of archive film, historic maps, manuscripts and images, students and volunteers have chosen 20 “points of interest” to create an insider’s guide to this stunning area of Scotland proud of its historic associations with Macbeth, Vikings and the Picts.  From a lighthouse designed by Robert Louis Stevenson’s family to early dinosaur footprints on the Moray coast to the magnificent ruined cathedral in the centre of Elgin, it’s all brought to life by local students and community members.

It’s been a great outreach project for the wider community too as students have enlisted the help of older residents to recall the once bustling fishing port of Lossiemouth, the local Doric ‘Gaelic’ dialect and an interview with a Prime Minister’s granddaughter. We’ve also used the students’ own photography and artwork in the app so it’s a real example of a cross-generational, cross-curricular, multimedia project to coincide with the 2012 Year of Creative Scotland. We’ve been thrilled that it has also allowed the students & volunteers to discover their unique digital storytelling voice and provided the perfect platform to make our historic collections relevant to a 21st century audience. The app will be available free on the App store at the end of March 2012.

iPads and a Jar of Moles: Digital Technology in the Grant Museum

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© UCL, Grant Museum / Matt Clayton

DLNET talked to Jack Ashby, the Museum Manager at the Grant Museum of Zoology, about the QRator project.
Hi Jack, welcome to the new look DLNET website.  Can you tell us a bit about the QRator project that has been introduced to the Grant Museum?
QRator is a project that allows our visitors to get involved in conversations about the way that museums like ours operate and the role of science in society today. In the Museum are ten iPads which each pose a broad question linked to a changing display of specimens. We are really interested in what our visitors think about some of the challenges that managing a natural history collection brings up, and other issues in the life sciences. They change periodically, but at the moment our current questions include “Is it ever acceptable for museums to lie?”, “Is domestication ethical?”, “Should human and animal remains be treated differently in museums like this?” and “What makes an animal British?”

Building Secure Foundations: MoL Picturebank

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Martin Bazley

DLNET talked to Rhiannon Looseley, the Online Learning Manager at the Museum of London, about the new Picturebank.

Hi Rhiannon, welcome to the new look DLNET website.  Can you tell us about the Picturebank which has been introduced to Museum of London Website?

The new Picturebank at was built to replace a previous version which had loads of great content, but was beginning to show its age and had few key disadvantages that this new one corrects.  The Picturebank supports (and was developed alongside), the Pocket Histories – short introductions to areas of London’s history which use the Museum’s collections to tell their stories.  The Pocket Histories are intended to be for a general audience which includes school and college teachers/tutors and students but also generally interested adults, parents looking for homework resources etc.  The Picturebank, on the other hand, was developed specifically for schools and colleges.  It takes images from the Pocket Histories and explores each object further in an interface that was built with the needs of the classroom in mind.  Users can browse by period or by topic, or simply search by key word. Each object page can be viewed in a variety of different formats with just the enlarged image, or with a description and/or suggested discussion questions that can be turned on or off. (more…)

Digital Learning Strategy Panel at DISH 2011

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Martin Bazley

The Digital Strategies in Heritage conference, or DISH for short, in Rotterdam was held at the begining of December 2011.  Where Wendy Earle from the BFI chaired a panel about digital learning strategies, or lack of, and asked everyone to start thinking really strategically about what digital learning means in the cultural sector and where exactly digital learning practitioners sit in cultural institutions.

The panel consisted of; Rhiannon Looseley from the Museum of London, Shelley Mannion from the British Museum, Wendy from BFI, Bridget McKenzie from Flow Associates,  Steven Stegers from EUROCLIO, and me (Claire Ross, chair of the Digital Learning Network).

It was a really interesting panel that raised more questions than answers, but I think that it was really quite telling that we all had questions about the jobs we do, the experiences we provide, and the roles we play in the wider institution, and how there really aren’t any best practice guides or key institutional guidelines of how digital learning should be approached.  Or in fact evaluated.

Despite Learning being increasingly acknowledged to be a core function of museums, and the multitude of digital and online museum learning resources being produced there is still a lot of confusion about what all of that really means. As we stated in our panel abstract museums ‘have embraced the transformative possibilities of the digital realm. However, introducing digital initiatives into learning raises interesting questions that have not yet been fully discussed.’

On a practical level there are questions about responsibility and job roles; for example who is responsible for creating digital learning content within heritage institutions, and where do they sit within organizations? Tech, learning, curatorial, marketing?

But we raised other interesting questions:

  • How can non-technical educators manage digital projects successfully?
  • What partnerships have been established? Do they work efficiently? Do these partnerships include non-heritage partners?
  • What kind of learning is encouraged?
  • How is the impact measured?
  • Is a learning framework used?
  • Which audiences are addressed and how?

Then we raised more  strategic questions, including ‘what do we mean by learning in a digital context?’, ‘what kind of learning do we want to encourage?’ and how do we know if learning is taking (or has taken) place?

I would love to hear from anyone who has some asnwers to these questions.

I was really interested in questions about digital learning and the institutional mission and where does digital learning fit in with senior management policy decisions? Also issues of how do you get institutional support for digital learning research projects, particularly if you are doing something really new? Does that fit with institutional aims?  Also talking about whether or not personalised digital learning can be implemented in siloed museum departments? Is there collaboration and transparency required to do so efficiently?

The big question for me looked at whether focusing on the user, and whether or not we can create meaningful digital learning experiences with the visitor rather than for the visitor.

Overall  the panel were talking around how museums are rethinking how we engage with our audiences, and there are shifting ideas about learning becoming about active production and participation, and now museums increasingly expect projects to include some kind of digital learning element.  But there are challenges in demonstrating the impact of these on audiences and learners.  But it is important to have a sensible discussion about how these are impacting on the educational practice of heritage organisations.  And really as a panel we came to the conclusion that this hasn’t really been done yet, and perhaps this can be the start of proper discussions about this, and how dealing with digital technology and learning can become more strategic in its approach.

you can see my presentation above, and Shelley’s is below.
Strategies for Digital Learning (#dish2011)

View more PowerPoint from Shelley Mannion

The Horizon Report: Museum Edition 2010

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Martin Bazley

This weekend I had fun reading the Museum edition of the Horizon report.   It made for very interesting reading.  It is American centric however the issues and technology discussed do transcend regional boundaries.

The report focuses on key trends and examines emergent technologies for their potential impact on and use in museum learning and interpretation.   They also highlight some significant challenges to supporting digital technology in museums.  The most obvious being financial difficulties, which of course will have a massive bearing following the comprehensive spending review which sees funding for culture slashed.  Somewhat boldly the report suggests that “any museum that is not making reasoned continual investment in its technological future is putting the museum’s ability to engage with ever more networked audiences at significant risk”.  I like this about the report, it is bold, and it doesn’t apologise for it.  It makes clear statements about what needs to be achieved in order for museums to reflect the impact of technology in every other aspect of everyday life.

The Horizon report is very well laid out; stating that there are 6 key technologies to watch and the time scales to which museums should be adopting them.

The near term horizon: Mobiles and Social Media

The second adoption horizon: Augmented reality and Location based services

And long term horizon: Gesture based computing and the Semantic web.

It also provides examples the technologies in practice and then some suggested reading.  I have highlighted the examples which I love:

Mobiles in practice: TAP Indianapolis Museum of Art

Mobile Media For Cultural and Historical Heritage Guidelines and pilot projects

Social media in practice: ArtBabble (play art loud – yes I have the sticker!)

Freeze Tag! the Brooklyn Museum

World Beach Project at the V&A is brilliant.

Teens and social media: An overview

Augmented Reality in practice: Culture Clic

Augmented reality technology brings learning to life

Location based services in practice: MoMA – Museum of Modern Art on foursquare

7 Things You Should Know about Location-Aware Applications

And finally gesture based computing and the semantic web

Gesture based computing in practice:

New devices are appearing all the time which take advantage of movements that are easy and intuitive to make.  This is the section of the report which I am least familiar with.  The examples the report suggest are interesting, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what the world of computer vision has to offer museums in the future.

Mapping Application Magnifies California’s Rich History

The Natural History Museum Darwin Centre also has some nice examples of touchtables and gesture based computing along with Nature+

Towards Interactive Museum: Mapping Cultural Contexts to Historical Objects

The Semantic Web in Practice: CHIP Project at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and CultureSampo are good examples.

Geospatio-temporal Semantic Web for Cultural


Does anyone have any more examples of the 6 technologies the Horizon report mentions?

Why talking to people matters

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Martin Bazley

Claire Ross, March 22 2010.

In 2007 I found myself so far out of my comfort zone, in Cornwall, by myself, in a tin mine museum, with a lap top and wonky internet connection and a project plan entitled ‘e-learning’. I didn’t know where to start, and I didn’t know who to talk to, and at times I felt very isolated and out of my depth. I had no option other then to jump in head first, and it was brilliant, it was hard work, and very difficult at times, but some wonderful people helped me along the way, and I am very grateful for that. I had a head full of ideas, and I was very excited about the task and it was fantastic to talk to people who had been in the same situation as me, had similar ideas, and most importantly loved everything about museums and digital learning.

Fast forward a couple of years, I have a successful digital learning project under my belt, I’m now a researcher in Digital humanities, and loving every minute of it. I am also on the committee for the Digital Learning Network. And its fantastic. I really appreciated talking to people who know what I was going through and we want DLNet to be able to help with that, by helping you to find similar people, similar situations to what I was in to find and meet up with others to share experiences and ideas with other people working in digital learning.

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about reigniting my passion for digital learning! This was mostly down to an DLNet committee meeting .What made it brilliant? Being able to bounce ideas around and talking to other people who just get it. Who are just as passionate about digital learning and what it has to offer. Talking to people matters.
Ive been looking around the DLNet site and its brilliant to see that there’s a Cornwall DLNet group! Its great to see new groups forming, and people starting to talk to each other. Thats what this is all about, getting people together to discuss all things digital learning!  I really hope everyone finds it useful.