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Museums in the 21st Century

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Online courses have a role to compliment other ways of sharing artefacts and communicating ideas and views. Would a book or TV programme replace a visit to the museum? They are places to visit, to walk around, in company or alone. And to return to over and over again. Apps and MOOCs are no panacea, nor replacement technology. What is more I believe they will require refreshing far more often than the typical museum to hold people's interest. 

Family associations, variety and interactive. People clearly have an affinity to a particular space based on reasons of culture and personality. I like to be surprised, so the quirky matters, or evidence of a curator's choices. There might be a gem of world renown or a curiosity crested by a local artisan. Ancient and contemporary might sit side by side. Visiting the De La Warr for an exhibition of a designer's life story the end of the gallery had a vast open table strewn with magazines. There were pieces of card, scissors and glue. While listening to and watching a video documentary we were invited to create our own works. I went back five times with different family members. 

The most memorable, earliest and favourite museum visits as a child was to the Science Museum, as was in the 1960s I guess, in the Exhibition Park, Newcastle. Many of the exhibits operated with the turn of a handle or the push of a crank: it worked. You saw something happening. Was it self explanatory? Keep it simple. Museums go wrong when they make it too whizzy. 

The museum experience with a child, or as a child, reveals so much more - to play off their curiosty, mystery and mischevousness. You see everything with fresh eyes. (edited)

Fascinating as a visitor to museums, someone with an interest in e-learning and learning and with an editorial role in a 'museum like' website ... that perhaps needs a base in the real world. A case of giving the virtual bricks and mortar.

So what next? The virtual museum? How about converting a cruise ship into a museum any twking it around the world 'The Museum of the World.' It's a radio comedy but I love the chat show 'The Museum of Curiosities' because in a kind of way between the comedians and the academic guests a serious pint is made about treasuring ideas, the quirky and the personally chosen oddities. 

I found the Museum of London like this - multiple ways of interaction, a few discretely placed computer screens tucked away at the end of one gallery, but also a selection of tough information boards that you pick up and carry around. So you find your way to interact, to pick through the information ... being of universal appeal though is tricky. Curators have to let go of their egos and put the visitor first. 

I like the concept of architectural design and the building it produces as a 'conversation.' It makes me think of a heart too, of values with doors that open and close, with the flow of people through, around and out ... and back again. It matters, in my experience of museums, to become a friend of a place: to return to museums you visited as a child with your own children, to go their with friends to hang out for coffee and to eat, even to meet business colleagues to walk and talk around and with the exhibits. It flushes out the mind.

'Community Art' adds vitality, shows respect to the immediate community and gives that artist and others like them a necessary boost. I cannot help but reflect on the number of times over the last few years where the thing that has left the most lasting memory from a visit to the museum has been a piece of community or contemporary art produced on a theme from the host museum - it brings the thinking and imagination into the current moment. 

I've studied mobile learning and the web for a decade so this is music to my ears. It recognises too how contemporary forces have to be part of the dynamic that influences the design of a museum. As I thought, coming to this course, thinking about the modern museum will inform my views on what is required in the design of an effective learning website. It makes me wonder if something like Wikipedia, for example, is too fixed in its presentation that is book-like, catalogued and even linear. Like a modern museum information needs to be freed and offered in more of a carousel or kaleidoscope. In other words reflecting or mirroring the way the imagination functions in the human brain. 

Besides the invaluable process and community contribution, when, where even how else do curators, designers and trustees otherwise set aside so much time to think through what they plan to do first? This alone is of huge value. Thinking it through over an extended period of time with an emphasis on the lifeblood of the museum: its visitors. 

I can think of two occasions where different museums have very clearly set out to 'choreograph' the emotions: the IWM, London and the 'In Flanders Fields' Museum, Ypres. In the former visitors had to stoop down to look into a partially hidden cabinet that contained children's shoes, all in a heap, from Aushwitz. The act of getting down felt like getting on one knee to speak to a child. In the latter, entering a tall, vertical space masked from the rest of the 'gallery' you intially find blank walls, then you turn up to the roof and find a dozen, maybe 16 photographs of soldiers horribly disfigured by the war. Once again, the physical act of twisting to look up played a part in setting you up to feel 'off kilter'. 

'Empathy,' opportunity to reflection, clearly signposted options ... the Holocaust exhibition at the IWM was closed to anyone under the age of 14 without an adult to supervise. The 'In Flanders Museum' piece was also making the point that the mutilated veterans were 'hidden' and kept themselves hidden. This relates also to the way artists respond to events, in these examples, to world war and violent conflict. I enjoy galleries as 'fringe events' alongside curated museum objects as it takes the museum artefacts in a direction where a curator dares not go. At the 'In Flanders Museum', even in the wee 'Talbot House' museum in Poperinge 'contemporary art' was shown to good and intriguing effect. It is after all our take on the past that 'populates' the public space that is the museum. 

 The world and how we behave in it keeps being shocking: nor is it confined to the safety and 'sanitised' past. Who would create a display showing an IS fighter beheading a Westerner? We have to face, feel and understand duch things if they are to be addressed. Like 'emotions,' 'controversy' makes you think. No museum would last, though some open, that bore the visitor. Do we remember things that bore us? On the contrary. These days, whilst my curiosity is very easily satisfied, I still like to be suprised. To be asked or be made to see things differently.

Does a museum even need to 'inform'? Is wonder and the motivation to discover more enough? I ask in rekation to a visit to the Design Museum, London in 2012. Wonderous and inspiring, with often text like tags rather than explanation and infirmation ... all of that you got from a website then, or later. Motivate a visitor and they read up on a thing. and then return? 

A fascinating point about the difference between an emotional response that evokes pity compared to one that evokes anger. I now wonder if the experiences I shared created the feeling of pity, but anger is what was required. These were images of the mutilated faces of combatants from the First World War in the 'In Flanders Fields' Museum, Ypres and a 'collection' of children's shoes in the Holocaust exhibition at the IWM, London. Ange might turn me into a pacifist ... or a politician. To want to do something, somehow, about the continual violence inflicted upon anyone: children, mothers, combatants ... Anger then would have required the 'presence' of, to use a term from storytelling, both the protagonist AND the antagonist. So, in the first case we'd need images of the weapons that caused such mutilations: shrapnel shells and machine gun bullets; while with the Holocaust exhibits we'd need to see Auschwitz guards/soldiers. i.e. there has to be somewhere to direct our anger, and then direct it further up the 'chain of command' to the leaders that caused these conflicts. 

We learn because we forget. We have to revisit what we are trying to learn if we are to remember it. We construct knowledge and understanding therefore by going back over things we have done or experienced. Frequent visits to a museum gradually allows some of what that museums says and contains to rub off on us and make its impact. 

 

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I'm once again loving an online course from FutureLearn. This time it is 'Behind the Scenes of the 21st Century Museum.' The parallels between the 'theatre' and 'community' value of the modern museum and vibrant websites are tangible: both want to attract, retain, educate and please a wide variety of visitors. Though websites don't have closing hours.

At the end of Week 3 and fascinating roundup of the week, including the myriad of comments, led to a discussion about the worth of a museum creating an emotional response: such as 'pity' or 'anger.'

I now wonder if the experiences I shared created the feeling of pity, but anger is what was required. These were images of the mutilated faces of combatants from the First World War in the 'In Flanders Fields' Museum, Ypres and a 'collection' of children's shoes in the Holocaust exhibition at the IWM, London. Ange might turn me into a pacifist ... or a politician. To want to do something, somehow, about the continual violence inflicted upon anyone: children, mothers, combatants ... Anger then would have required the 'presence' of, to use a term from storytelling, both the protagonist AND the antagonist. So, in the first case we'd need images of the weapons that caused such mutilations: shrapnel shells and machine gun bullets; while with the Holocaust exhibits we'd need to see Auschwitz guards/soldiers. i.e. there has to be somewhere to direct our anger, and then direct it further up the 'chain of command' to the leaders that caused these conflicts. 

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Reflecting on the 21st century museum and what this tells us about web design and e-learning

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 11 Jun 2015, 05:41

Museum of Liverpool

I've studied mobile learning and the web for a decade so learning about the way the new Museum of Liverpool was conceived is music to my ears. It recognises how contemporary forces such as the Web have to be part of the dynamic that influences the design of a museum.

As I thought, coming to the FutureLearn online course on 'Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum,' thinking about the modern museum will inform my views on what is required in the design of an effective learning website. It makes me wonder if something like Wikipedia, for example, is too fixed in its presentation: it is too book-like, catalogued and even linear.

Like a modern museum information needs to be freed and offered in more of a carousel or kaleidoscope. In other words reflecting or mirroring the way the imagination functions in the human brain.

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23 ways to a FutureLearn fix

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 6 May 2015, 08:56

The courses I've done with FutureLearn over the last 18 months.

  1. World War 1: A history in 100 Stories: Monash University
  2. Medicine and the Arts: The University of Cape Town 
  3. The Mind is Flat: University of Warwick 
  4. Understanding Drugs and Addiction. King’s College, London 
  5. World War 1: Changing Faces of Heroism. University of Leeds 
  6. Explore Filmmaking: National Film and Television School 
  7. How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham
  8. Start Writing Fiction: Fall 2014. The Open University
  9. Word War 1: Trauma and Memory: The Open University 
  10. World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age: University of Birmingham 
  11. World War 1: Paris 1919 - A New World: University of Glasgow 
  12. How to Succeed at: Writing Applications: The University of Sheffield 
  13. Introduction to Forensic Science: University of Strathclyde, Glasgow 
  14. Shakespeare’s Hamlet: University of Birmingham 
  15. Climate Change: Challenges and Solution. University of Exeter
  16. Managing my Money: The Open University
  17. Community Journalism: Cardiff University
  18. Developing Your Research Project: University of Southampton 

Those I'm on or have pending

  1. World War 1: A 100 Stories: Monash University
  2. Start Writing Fiction: Spring 2015: The Open University
  3. Monitoring Climate From Space: European Space Agency
  4. Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum: University of Leicester
  5. Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales:  The Hans Christian Andersen Centre
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Design Museum

Near Field Communication

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 27 Feb 2014, 17:14

Where have I been the last coupld of years to miss Near Field Communication ?

Certainly over the last six months I've been reflecting on the desire for some kind of situation-based, intuative, just-in time information-tailored system for applied learning ... and more recently for use in museums anf galleries. I have kids. I go to museums and galleries. The last time I looked we were still being invited to buy audio-guides.

Maybe that explains it. Does a museum or gallery want to diminish the value of its own paid-for services, even to reduce the likelihood of the purchase of a guide or any other sundry books or postcards if you're getting a suitably rich record of your visit for free?

NFC, QR codes and the ubiquitous Smart Phone must in time give way to wearable technology, the wrist band with a chip in it that I got at the 'In Flanders Fields' museum Ypres is the first step towards something bigger and brainier. The wrist band with a memory stick embedded in it from the University of Birmingham was a lost opportunity too - it should have been loaded with a 'good bag' some software, a piece to camera from the head of department and maybe an eBook to get us going. 

In the past, and still, pen on paper, sometimes with coloured felttips, is the main form of 'user generated content' for students - apt as they will be assessed by writing and colouring in. This needs to be replaced by UGC that uses the devices they have in their hands - their images, typed in text (or voiced) with annotations and mash-ups. 

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QR codes and NFC

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 27 Feb 2014, 17:12

Fig.1. YouTube video for the Museum of London's NFC initiative in 2011

Having picked through links that came to a dead end in a fascinating paper on the variety of technologies and tactics being used by museums in relation to mobile learning I started to see and read more and more about the use of QR codes (those matrix two-dimensional barcodes you use with a smartphone) and NFC 'Near Field Communication' which is becoming an industry in its own right.

Having been kept awake at night about a need for 'constructing knowledge' rather than being fed it I knew that visitors, students especially, need to engage with their surroundings by somehow seeking and constructing their own views.

Without QR and NFC the simplest expression of this is taking notes, and or photographs of exhibits - not just selfies with a mummy or your mates. Possibly doing bits of video. And from these images cutting/editing and pasting a few entries in a blog, Prezi or SlideShare. QR and NFC feed the visitor controlled and curated bite-size nugets, so more than just a snap shot, you can have audio and video files, as well as more images and text.

Fig.2. South Downs Way QR Code.

Successful trials mean that these have spread. Funny I've not noticed them living in Lewes and walking the dog most days on the South Downs. I'll take a look. NFCs have been used extensively, for 90 exhibits, at the Museum of London - so a visit is required. Though I won't be ditching my iPhone. Apple does not support NFC believing that the technology is still in its infancy ... like Flash, like Betamax and VHS, and all that stuff, a battle will be fought over the NFC benchmark.

So 60% penetration of smartphones in the population ... most of all of which can use a QR code, but less using a early version of NFCs. My experience?

Fig.3. QR Codes at the Deisgn Museum

Last year a visit to the Design Museum I found the 'Visualizing the mind' exhibition littered with QR codes.

They didn't work. Just as well they had ample computers. How often do organisations jump on the IT bandwagon only for a couple of wheels to fall off further down the road?

Fig.4. Evie

Meanwhile I'm off to walk the dog .. then using a trip to see Gravity at the Odeon Leicester Square with my kids to include an educational tour to the Museum of London (always handy to have a teenager around when using mobile technology).


REFERENCE

'REPORTING RESEARCH' 2013, Interpretation Journal, 18, 1, pp. 4-7, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 10 November 2013.

 

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H818 Activity 1.5: LISTEN: a user-adaptive audio-augmented museum guide.

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 27 Feb 2014, 16:10

LISTEN: augmented audio-augmented museum guide

Andreas Zimmermann, Andreas Lorenz (2008)

This is a paper presentation at a conference of a museum visitor guide system that uses a combination of tracking/observation and audio-artifacts to create a personalized visitor experience. The paper reveals the extent of trials, tests and adjusts as well as evluation which in turn offer ways that a proposal might be in the form of a presentation of the platform or a workshop that might assess how visitors are profile at the start of their visit.

I had in mind some kind of open, mobile personalized learning for use by visitors to military museums, perhaps national trust properties and even battlefields. Each of these offer very differ user experiences and expectations though. A literary research reveals that the planning for visitors to an exhibition, collection of curated events or gallery is complex and the history of using technology to support visitor experiences is lengthy.

The research for conference papers is approached from  two directions: the standard approach through the OU online library using terms such as ‘museum’ ‘elearning’ and ‘augmented’, while also drawing on personal knowledge of the many digital agencies based on the South Coast (profiles of these companies are available from the regional hi-tech association ‘Wired Sussex’). Cogapp have been producing digital content for museums since the mid 1980s. These and other agencies often present ‘papers’ at conferences, though the quality, in academic terms, of these presentations is sometimes questionable - is it promotion or is this the presentation of valid research? I can also draw upon a personal interest in musuems, galleries, and other visitor attractions from national trust properties to battlefields all, or some of which, come with some kind of ‘guide’ - traditionally as a leaflet or guide book (Picaso Museum, Jean Miro), often with an aduio guide (Alcatraz, Muir Woods, Royal Academy: Van Gogh, Bronzes), though increasingly from online resources with some attempts to use modern mobile devices (Design Museum) or to personalize the experience (In Flanders Fields, Ypres). (Great North Museum)

There are major, global conferences on e-learning, some with an orientation towards, or significant presence from the museum sector. Over the last decade there has been considerable interest in improving, through personalization, the visitor experience.

The attraction of this paper, although it is limited to an audio platform whereas I had in mind something visual, the narrative from conception to testing, delivery and evaluation is thorough. It is insightful on studies of the museum visitor experience, curator relationships with artifacts, use and potential of audio and tracking/observation technology - both hardware and software (Zimmermann and Lorenz, 2008:391)

  • motion-tracked wireless headphones

  • current position

  • head orientation

  • individualized and location-aware soundscape

as well as content preparation and feedback on an iterative process.

These approaches will become increasingly sophisticated, discrete and effective for different visitor ‘types’, even reflecting how a person’s behaviour may change during the course of a visit. It is insightful to discover the degree of sophistication for understanding perception types (Zimmermann and Lorenz, 2008:391)

  • self-perception

  • visual

  • tactile space-perception

  • acoustic space-perception

And visitor types:

A definition of personalized (Zimmerman and Lorenz, 2008:394)

  • Adapts

  • Layers of information

  • Increasing levels of involvement

Pedagogical (Zimmermann and Lorenz, 2008:400)

  • increasing knowledge

  • increasing comprehension

  • considering the social context

McCarthy and McCarthy 2005 distinguish four types of learners:

  • imaginative

  • analytical

  • common sense

  • experimental

Gardner 1993 identifies seven:

  • linguistic

  • logical-mathematical

  • musical

  • bodily-kinesthetic

  • spatial

  • interpersonal

  • intrapersonal

Veron and Levasseur 1983 determined visiting styles based on observstions of animals (Zimmermann and Lorenz, 2008:404):

  • ants (following the curator's path)

  • fish (holistic point of view)

  • butterfly (interest in all exhibits without following the curator's path)

  • grasshopper (interest only in specific exhibits)

leading to the Macke Laboratory outputs of:

  • sauntering: the visitor is slowly walking around with an excursive gaze.

  • goal-drive: the visitor displays a direct movement with the gaze directed towards a specific artwork.

  • standing, focussed: the visitor is standing with the gaze directed towards a specific artwork

  • standing, unfocussed: the visitor is standing or sitting with an excursive gazs

(Zimmermann and Lorenz, 2008:409):

  • fact-orientated - putting a high eight on spoken text
  • emotional - prioritizing music pieces and sound effects
  • overview - focusing mainly in short sound entitites

REFERENCE:

Zimmermann, A, & Lorenz, A 2008, 'LISTEN: a user-adaptive audio-augmented museum guide', User Modeling & User-Adapted Interaction, 18, 5, pp. 389-416, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 28 October 2013.

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Information Overload or Cognitive Overload which is the problem?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 27 Feb 2014, 07:59

Fig.1 Exhibit A. Vital to any museum. A place to crash, reflect, nod off ... then pick yourself up to do some more.

This is going to read like an excuse to visit yet more museums.

As I reach the end of my Open University learning journey my final task is to write an EMA in which I propose a piece of research on e-learning. My inclination, with 12 days to go, is to look at the use of mobile devices in museums and how the visit experience can be enhanced by personalising the physical journey. It appears the the two problems to deal with are information overload and cognitive overload. There is too much of everything. Whilst I will always applaud serendipity there needs to be a balance between the stuff that you want to stick and the stuff that can be ignored or discarded.

Too many museum visits earlier this week has me wishing I had electric wheels and a pair of Google Glass that could take it in and edit.

  • Museum of Contemporary Art - Barcelona
  • Picasso Museum - Barcelona
  • National Museum of Catalonia - Barcelona
  • Joan Miro Foundation - Barcelona

As I prepare this assignment I plant to queue to get into the Bowie at V&A and try Google WebLab at the Science Museum and possibly the RA and Design Museums too. At least I'm within an hour of London.

My interest is, as I take teenagers to these things, to wish I could get them to that artefact or story about the artifacts creations, or the artist/creative that it will so intrigue them that they are inspired to put some heart into their art or DT.

Two years ago my late mother took her granddaughters around the RA when the Van Gogh exhibition was on. My daughter was treated to my mother, gentle and informed, guiding her then 14 year old granddaughter from quite specific letters, paintings and sketches - pointing things out, talking about technique and the thinking behind it. This was as personalised and as intimate as it gets.

I can understand how Picasso, showing interest and talent, must have been guided by his father who taught art at undergraduate level.

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Hang on lads, I've had a great idea!

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 18 Oct 2012, 13:30

IMG_3487.JPG

Fig. 1. 'Hang on lads, I've had a great idea!' Richard Wilson at the De la Warr

If curation is the way forward to facilitate learning online then the next step will be for each of us to draw on our experiences as a visitors to countless museums and galleries, houses and castles - from the mishaps of a rainy day to the inspired and repeated visits to museum events.

Does this become a journey through your mind?

Is it any wonder that people who demonstrate extraordinary feats of recollection do so by pegging images to a journey through a familiar space?

Might a way to prepare for an exam to create a temporary exhibition of your own?

Where have you been that is worth forgetting or remembering?

For me it should be 'The Tank Museum' in Dorset. We only went because after five days of rain on a 6 day camping holiday we were running out of places to go. Another on the same trip was 'Monkey World'.

Both trips were memorable, 'The Tank Museum' because they had rigged up a First World War Vicker's Machine Gun to a video game so therefore the first time I personally placed my hands exactly as my grandfather would have done - explains why he had thumbs like a Spoonbill's beak.

As for 'Monkey World' - whatever that male monkey was up to on his own up a tree but in full view of visitors took some explaining (or not explaining) to a 10 and 12 year old.

Perhaps the most 'rubbish' trips are the most memorable for that very reason?

Where do you suggest NOT going?!

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