On June 16, 2010, the Pearson Foundation, Nokia and the Smithsonian Institution hosted a Leadership Summit on Digital Media at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC.
The Smithsonian-based Leadership Summits are designed to bring museum staff of all kinds together with digital media practitioners and researchers to begin or continue the conversation about how to introduce and integrate new media practices into the museum experience.
Museum venues and other informal learning environments are increasingly regarded as a rich resource for blending interest-driven learning with digital media practice. The Smithsonian’s sixteen museums, 100 affiliates and seven research centers, hold world-class collections of art and objects, and produce research and scholarship designed specifically to be shared with the public.
The Summit featured five speakers, activities that used cell phone computers, and short videos that showcased NLI programs and efforts to document best practices.
Going Mobile at the Smithsonian Museum - Nancy Proctor
Nancy Proctor is the Head of Mobile Strategy & Initiatives at the Smithsonian. New to the Smithsonian, Proctor has spent the last few months surveying all of the mobile efforts that have taken place at the Smithsonian’s museums, at least one of which goes back to 1994 and the Apple Newton.
Proctor argues that the material that is produced for visitor experiences must endure over the long term, regardless of which technology is used at any given time. Mobile digital media that personalizes the museum experience as well as makes it a social one, will be the primary connection mode going forward. This may mean integrating applications like Facebook, twitter, and Foursquare into the visitor experience as well as making communication between visitors and museum experts two-way. She used the example of the agora — a shared courtyard community — as opposed to the Acropolis or a building that keeps people outside.
Proctor also argues for a pragmatic approach to adopting technologies in a museum setting by leveraging best practices and expertise, taking some risks, and learning from failures as well as successes. She ran through several examples of how mobile strategies have been used in the Smithsonian, including podcasting, applications sold at the Apple Store, mobile scavenger hunts and games. She identifies one of the biggest challenges is finding common platforms across many organizations that are essentially bound only in name to the Smithsonian.
Digital Media at the Field Museum - Krystal Villanosa
Villanosa is Digital Learning Manager at the Field Museum in Chicago. The Field’s focus is natural history and the five core areas of Botany, Anthropology, Geology, Zoology and Environmental Conservation. They support 150 scientists in 90 countries; and have 22 million artifacts of which 2% are displayed in 30 exhibits. The primary mission of the Field is to increase public understanding of science.
In addition to delivering science knowledge through lectures, professional development, and education programs, the Field is making a concerted effort to meet young people where they are by employing digital media in a number of settings.
Why digital? To increase audience diversification, create a dialog between scientists and the public, connect educators, customize its content, extend its impact outside of Chicago and into virtual world platforms, generate new visitor user-driven agendas for science and public programs, and generally to improve scientific literacy.
Villanosa identified some of the problems with using technology in a setting like the Field: concerns about security, thick walls, outdated materials on websites, and limited staff and funding.
She also identified the lessons learned from their experience with digital media: start with lower risk and lower cost experiments first; fail fast, not slowly; provide experiences where visitors can access them in a variety of settings (adults in lectures area also parents involved with family activities).
Augmented Reality — Location-based Games and Simulations — Judith Perry
Judith Perry, Ed. M., is Research Manager at the M.I.T. Scheller Teacher Education Program and oversees mobile projects, augmented reality applications, and games.
Many of the games that Perry works with are meant for learning. There are significant benefits to adding “gaminess” to learning that include the freedom to experiment, the freedom to fail, to try out new identities with role playing, and to make a learning experience more engaging by adjusting the intensity of the activity. Perry argues that games help structure a continuum between work and play.
She described a number of games the she and her colleagues have been involved with. Time Lab 2100 looks at climate change on a local level in Cambridge, offering the opportunity to make concrete recommendations. At the Museum of Science in Boston, adults and their children holding mobile devices roleplay as doctors and investigators in a forensics game that is integrated into the exhibit.
Perry also identified opportunities for public science using information technologies in order to explore and examine current scientific controversies and engage in rich discussions.
Mobile Phones for Museums - Dr. Ingrid Erickson, Chris Lawrence
Ingrid Erickson is with the Social Sciences Research Center and Chris Lawrence with the Hall of Science in New York City. They are currently working with The Learning Network, an association of NYC-area museums and libraries that are collaborating on digital media programs in informal learning settings.
Erickson and Lawrence did a tag-team presentation that highlighted some of the affordances of digital media and their use in museums. They argued, as many do, that technology empowers students to take interests in different ways by hanging out, messing around and geeking out (Mimi Ito’s descriptions in the Digital Youth Project) without an imposed, fixed curriculum.
They also identified some place-based digital media projects underway now in New York including Eric Sanderson’s Mannahatta Project which aims to re-create NYC as it was an hour before Henry Hudson landed there in 1609; Seven Scenes, a mobile storytelling platform that helps you link your media to places, so you can create city experiences for anyone with a mobile phone; the use of QR codes allow users to link to digital information.
Erickson reaffirmed that young people can now be producers, not just consumers and that learning happens through participation and doing. This leads to the idea of citizen journalists, designers, and scientists who are now empowered with the use of mobile devices and the ability to publish easily to the Internet.