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.




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