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Reflections on studying EE812: Educational leadership

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Saturday, 1 Jun 2019, 17:43

Some years back I went to Birkbeck College to study for a postgraduate certificate in higher education (PGCE in HE) for the simple reason that the OU didn’t have one of its own. Rather than having a PGCE in HE, the OU has a programme (called Aspire) which enables tutors to make submissions to become fellows of the Higher Education Academy (which was something that I had already achieved through an earlier pilot version of the programme). 

I enjoyed the Birkbeck PGCE in HE. I especially enjoyed the classroom teaching where the lecturers presented some really useful background information about the HE sector that I was missing (despite having been working in HE for quite some time). I also liked the fact that it introduced really useful bits of education theory that allowed me to make sense of the design of some of the modules and courses that I had been working on. To put it simply: I found it useful.

After finishing, I asked myself a simple question: what next? Or, what else could I study? 

I did a few internet searches and found some part time master’s programmes at nearby universities. The programmes I were looking at were about higher education and education management. 

There were a few reasons why I started to look into this area: I’ve found myself in a position where I’ve been doing more and more management ‘stuff’, and I felt as if I ought to get more of a thorough grasp of what I supposed to be doing. Plus, I was inspired by one of the tutors I have been working with who appeared to have formally studied both further education and higher education as a subject. Another argument was: more education is good, right? The stuff that I learn might be useful in my job.

One institution where I didn’t immediately look was the institution in which I work. After some investigation I realised it was possible to take the credits I had gained from Birkbeck and transfer them into an MA programme (I didn’t realise I could do this!) I then realised that I could study a 60 point postgrad module that had the code and title: EE812 Educational Leadership: exploring strategy, and then finish with a postgrad dissertation module.

What follows is a quick blog summary of how things are going. I’m currently mid-way through EE812 module.  There have been some ups and downs, and I don’t (yet) know how everything will end (since I’ve yet to complete the final tutor marked assessment and the end of module assessment). 

I’m sharing all this since it might be useful for someone (and also it will enable me to straighten out some of my thoughts about what I’ve learnt). 

Preparing to study

After realising that all the study materials were only available online (and we were not going to be sent any books) I decided to order a print on demand copy of all the module materials. I also realised that there was a ‘reader’ textbook that was connected to the module. Although all the papers and readings from that book were available through the module website, I decided to order a copy of the textbook, Education Leadership: context, strategy and collaboration, from a second hand bookshop so I could have my own copy (and underline stuff easily).

After getting these two things sorted, I realised that there was something else that I could do that might be useful. 

Preparing my Kindle

About ten years ago I was given a first generation Amazon Kindle by a family member who wasn’t using it. Over the years that I’ve had it, I’ve only used it a handful of times. I remember that I once used it to download some OU module materials, but after doing this as an experiment, my Kindle sat, unused and unloved on a shelf whilst I got on with other things.

After a bit of internet searching, I realised I could download all the unit materials from the module website to my PC and then transfer them to my Kindle by sending them to an email address that was linked to the Kindle. I found out what this was by logging into my Amazon account, and clicking around until I found a section called ‘manage your content and devices’, clicked on the devices link, and then clicked on ‘Kindle’ to find the email address (which ends with ‘kindle.com’).

You can download the module materials by clicking on the resources tab on the module website, and choosing ‘downloads’. This presents different types of documents that can be downloaded, such as PDF versions, ePUBs, Kindle versions and Word documents. To download all the Kindle versions, I clicked on the Kindle ebook link, clicked on ‘select all’ to choose everything, and then clicked on ‘download selected files as zip’. 

After I had downloaded everything, the next stage was to send everything to my Kindle email address. This isn’t, however, as easy it sounds, since there is a maximum limit of the number of Kindle files that could be sent in one go. To work around this, I emailed the Kindle files in batches of 10. If you Kindle is connected to WiFi, you don’t have to do anything further; in under a minute (with my internet connection), the Kindle received and installs all the Kindle files.

The final step was to sort all the module materials that have been transferred to the Kindle into some sort of order. I like to sort everything out into ‘collections’ (which is a bit like a folder). I create a new collection called EE812. I then move each bit of module materials into this new collection. After I’ve finished doing this, I turn the Kindle WiFi off (to save power), and I’m ready to get reading.

Sorting out my study files (and stationary)

When I started, I had one lever arch file for everything: the print-on-demand module materials, and all my accompanying notes. 

After about a month of studying, I realised that this wasn’t working; I needed a second lever-arch file that could be used to hold the printouts of readings that were referenced from the module materials and downloaded from the university library. I figured out that it was useful to write the activity number for every reading on top of every paper, so I roughly know what it was. 

Figuring out a study approach

When I first became an OU student, one of my tutors set an exercise that really got me thinking: take a blank piece of A4 paper, divide it up into days of the week on one axis, and hours of the day on the other. Cross out the hours on the day that you were busy, such as doing work, travelling to work, having dinner, and socialising. The hours that you have left could (potentially) be hours where you could fit your university study in. I remember realising that there was not enough time to fit everything in, and I had to stop doing something.

I managed to be pretty organised during my first time around, but this time I’m finding it difficult to find the time to read everything that I need to, and to think about how the readings relate to the things that I do in my day job (which is a bit part of the module). I tend to ‘snatch’ periods of study, but manage to find chunks of time on the run up to the TMAs. I’ve also developed a habit of carrying the reader textbook to most places, along with the Kindle so I can read on the train as I travel to and from meetings (if I’m not too tired, of course). 

Study reflections

There used to be (and, arguably, there still is) a part of me that can easily became somewhat grumpy if the term ‘strategy’ is mentioned in a meeting. 

I think my grumpiness stems from a perception that this is one of many ‘business terms’ (or terms that sound ‘business like’) that can be used to bamboozle or obfuscate. It can also be considered to be meaningless if used in the wrong context. I may also be grumpy since it presents hints of future change, and no one likes change. 

In some respects, I feel this grumpiness is in itself changing. I think it’s changing into a curiosity that is more rigorous than is used to be before. Whenever that word is dropped into a meeting, I now ask myself (and others) the question of: ‘what do you mean?’, and also ‘why is it important?’ 

In some ways, I’m not really the perfect student for EE812, but I don’t think that matters. The perfect student might be someone who is a deputy head or a subject leader at a primary or secondary school, or a senior manager at a further education college, or some other institution. This said, the discussions and readings that are presented, do still feel broadly appropriate for higher education.

One of the things that has been really interesting is that the module has sharpened my awareness of the different management and leadership actions that are happening around me. A part of this comes from the assessment approach that the module adopts. The assessments requires you use and apply your context to demonstrate your understanding of the module materials.

The module presents different perspectives about what management and leadership is all about, and I’ve recognised some of the approaches that some of the different leaders (both current and previous) have applied.

One really interesting consequence of the study is the reason for different institutional units or initiatives are now becoming clearer to me. The module talks about professional learning communities, and I can see that these do exist (in different forms) within the institution.

Like so much of learning, study can give you a vocabulary and a framework to both explain and understanding things. If it has sharpened my thinking, it has also sharpened my ability to see the good and the not so good.

There’s also another consequence: there is a lot of change happening in the university at the moment, and some of it can seem a little overwhelming on occasions. Unexpectedly (to some degree), I’m also a part of that change too. I’m using the study as an opportunity to figure out what some of that change might mean. In doing so, I guess I may become more prepared, and more able to speak about it too.

Unpicking the challenges

Other than studying for my PGCE at Birkbeck College I haven’t done any formal study of Education before. Education isn’t my ‘home’ discipline (Computing and IT is), which means that I’ve been a bit outside of my comfort zone.

One of the hardest things has been understanding the requirements of the assessments (and I don’t think I’m quite there yet in doing the kind of writing that is expected of me), and doing all the reading.

There is a lot of reading: there’s the module materials, the set text, and all these papers, and we’re encourage to go find even more. Some of it can be pretty hard going, especially since I feel that (on occasion) I’m not especially well versed in the conventions of the discipline. There are two examples of this: the first is about what ‘theory’ is, and the second is about terminology and the use of language.

The term ‘theory’ seems to be used quite a lot. I came to the module with a scientific understanding of what is meant by theory, but I soon came to realise that ‘theory’ in this module roughly means: ‘an idea about something, or a way of looking at something’ which has been suggested by an academic or researcher. What we have to do as students is connect our own educational setting to the different theories that are presented through the module. There lies two significant challenges: doing the thinking (to make the connection), and doing the writing (to present the connection to your tutor).

One of the terms that appears very frequently is ‘normative’; anything and everything could be normative; it’s a word that seems to find its way into every unit of the module. Initially, I had no idea no real idea about what the various writers were trying to say!

A further challenge, and a fun challenge, is that we had to design and run a short pilot research project to study educational leadership and management. This bit of the module appears to begin to lead us towards the dissertation, and closer into the world of the different ‘theorists’ that are written about. In some respects, this bit of the module is all about providing us students with a bit of academic training about how to do research into this very specific field of study.

Closing thoughts

A few months ago I bumped into one of the module academics at an internal conference. I was asked whether I was enjoying the module. At the time, I had ‘module anxiety’, which meant that I was fretting about the second TMA, and this makes me fear that I might have come across as a little grumpy on that occasion.

As I move towards the third TMA, I read a paper in the reader text book which made me think: ‘actually, I quite liked that one… and there’s a lot in there that I recognise.’ Although I’ve got a long way to go before getting to the end of the module (and I’ve yet to settle into a regular study rhythm, despite having passed the half way point) I finally feel as if I’m settling into the module.

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HEA Workshop: Teaching and learning programming for mobile and tablet devices

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Monday, 3 Mar 2014, 18:44

On 25 June 2013, I popped over to the London Metropolitan University to attend a HEA sponsored workshop that was all about how to best teach the programming of mobile devices.  My role there was to present something about an OU module that I help out on: TT284 Web Technologies, but I'll be saying a bit more about that in a little while.

Yanguo Jing, from London Met kicked off the day by talking about the twenty credit MSc module that he leads.  Yanguo said that his module is strongly connected with industry and various technology vendors and important themes are that of innovation and enterprise.  Importantly, students have an opportunity to carry out research themselves, create their own projects, develop their own apps and present their own findings.  One way that they do this is by making their own videos (which is also a great way to create evidence which can be contributed to assessments).

Yanguo also mentioned something called the Wow Agency. One of the important points of having a more direct connection with industry is that students get more immediate exposure to demands from industry.  This was thought provoking stuff.

Teach the future, not the past: Blackberry 10 development

Luca Sale and Simon Howard gave the first of two vendor presentations.  I'll put my hand up and say that I know next to nothing about developing applications for Blackberry devices.  In fact, I don't think I've ever used a Blackberry device other than to scroll through a message, when a friend briefly gave me their device to look at!

This presentation was all about developing for a new device, the Blackberry 10.  I have heard bits and pieces about this, but the new device has a totally new operating system called Z10.  Interestingly, it is based on an operating system called QNX (Wikipedia) (which I had vaguely heard of before).  Basically, it uses a microkernal architecture (which means it has a way to enforce stronger separation between the hardware and the main operating system that runs a device), it's pretty small, and is used in a range of different embedded systems.

Apparently, there are number of Software Development kits (SDKs) which means that it's possible to take an existing Android app and port it to the Blackberry (and have it deployed to users via the Blackberry equivalent of an app store).  The SDKs that were mentioned included Qt, HTML 5, Blackberry native, Adobe Air, and Java Android Runtime.

There was a quick live coding demo of how to create apps using the HTML 5 framework.  Other languages that might be used to craft code included Javascript (in conjunction with HTML 5), C++, and Java (as far as I understand).  At the end of the presentations, Nafeesa Dajda described the Blackberry Academic Programme (Blackberry).

Microsoft devices and services

Lee Stott continued the vendor specific part of the day by making a Microsoft themed presentation.  Microsoft, of course, has been investing significantly into the mobile devices space.  Not only do they have Windows phones, but they (of course) also have their Touch PCs.  So much so, that their new operating system (Windows 8) aims to create an experience specifically for tablet devices.

Lee talked about software eco systems and mentioned that services (as well as devices) are important too.   Services can also be thought of in terms of cloud services, and we were told that the cloud was becoming more and more important.  Since data is stored elsewhere, users have the potential to move between different devices and still have access to their documents and data, thus enhancing the user experience.  

One of the most interesting part of Lee's talk was where he spoke about the Microsoft Azure services.  I have to confess that it's been quite a while since I've been a Microsoft developer (in the intervening years I've done some PHP and coding using open-source frameworks), so it was useful to learn what the company has been up to and what services they are offering.

One of the challenges that I've always puzzled over is if you run your own tech company, how you might go about running and maintaining your own servers and databases.  System administration is a necessary, important and essential evil: getting to grips with real kit and devices is important, but is a detailed technical specialism in its own right.

If I've understood this correctly, Microsoft can host a virtual server which then can host your own database.  I'm also assuming that if you want, you can also write your own web services to do whatever magic stuff you need to do, which can then be consumed by users of mobile devices (or any other kind of client).  Customers of this service are then billed per minute of processor time.  I can see the benefits; server plant depreciates quickly and keeping them maintained is always going to cost money.  I find this approach to hosting and consuming data really interesting, especially since it offers an approach to devolve risk to a third party.  Of course, there are a number of competitors (Wikipedia) in the cloud services arena.  This whole area seems to be a new subject in its own right.

Just in case you're interested, here's a couple of links I've gathered up: the main Microsoft Faculty pages, the UK faculty connection blog, and a link to the Azure education blog.   Another link is DreamSpark which seems to be about giving students and institutions access to some of the latest tools and technologies.

TouchDevelop for Windows Mobile 8

The next talk was by David Renton, who is a lecturer in Computer Games Development.  David introduces a platform called TouchDevelop (Microsoft website) which used to be a Microsoft Research project. TouchDevelop is a programming language that has a graphical feel.  Programs that are created using it have an appearance of a textual language, but elements of code can be created using a series of menus (as far as I can understand).

The software that you can create using TouchDevelop can be run on different mobile devices.  In some respects, TouchDevelop occupies the same space as Scratch (MIT website).  David makes the point that it's difficult to create good games in Scratch.  I can (personally) neither confirm nor deny David's assertion, but my own view is that Scratch is a fun and useful environment which allows users to escape from the tyranny of syntax, whilst at the same gradually introducing users to different (and essential) programming constructs.

What was really interesting was that TouchDevelop contains cool stuff, such as a physics engine.  By providing such a facility, I can certainly see how and why such an environment could be particularly interesting and engaging.  Again, for those who are interested, David has a blog called Games4Learning.  A final interesting point is that TouchDevelop runs in a web browser, so will work on different platforms.

Shorter presentations: Lua and Corona, Digital Summer Camp

Ian Masters gave a short presentation entitled, 'teaching cross-platform mobile development using Lua and Corona'.  Corona (website) is a software development SDK and Lua (Wikipedia) is a programming language.  Like TouchDevelop, Ian demonstrated the use of an integral physics engine.  During the follow on discussion, there was quite a bit of talk about the Unity Engine (Wikipedia), which I've heard mentioned at a number of other HEA gaming and mobile events.

Martin Underwood talked about Digital Summer Camp which is an event where universities, colleges, industry vendors and other organisations have come together help to inspire young people who are interested in technology.  The Open University is also one of the 'digital skill leaders'.

iPhone game development at Robert Gordon University

Gordon Eccleston has been teaching the development of apps for quite some time.  He gave a short talk on what works and what hasn't worked.  Gordon introduced a new term: a flip classroom!  I hadn't heard this term before, but apparently this is where students do some preparatory work at home to prepare for tutorials (I think I've got that right!)

Gordon spoke about how things have changed.  These days students invariable have their own devices.  One difficulty is that vendors are always changing their devices, which means that lecturers face challenge in terms of an inability to control in their own environment.  This said Gordon does have access to some iPod Touch devices, allowing code created using the XCode platform (the environment used to create iOS applications) to real devices.

Gordon also mentioned that the school had access to the Unity3D engine.  This gave way to an interesting discussion about the difference between games programming versus games design courses.  I've also made a note that when it comes to submission of course work, submission to an apps store represents one judgement on quality.  When it comes to further assessment by the lecturer, one approach is to ask students to create a screen cast.  Assessment, I seem to recall, is a perpetual challenge (especially with the continual changes in technology), as is how to provide both teaching and resources through a web based environment.

Mobile apps development: enhancing student employability

Sally Smith and Scott McGowan, both from Edinburgh Napier University gave a short talk and presentation on the importance of employability skills.  Sally, who is the head of school, said that employers value relevant experience, want to see applicants who have a relevant degree, and have good soft skills. 

Faced with the necessity to demonstrate employability skills, it was argued that it would be useful if students could create something (say, an app, or some other related project) that can be both added to a CV and talked about in an interview.  Sally also talked about the importance of industrial experience and how her institution and school tackled this issue.

Teaching and assessment strategies in mobile development

David Glass teaches mobile development to second year undergraduates at the University of Ulster.  Students can create apps for the Android platform with Java using Eclipse.  Important parts of the module that I've noted down are subjects such as user interface design, data persistence and networking.  There is also a period of self-study where students are to gain an overview of mobile devices.

Challenges include teaching of programming and understanding what to assess and how.  The assessment approach that David mentions sounds really interesting.  Students are required to address legal, ethical and social issues.  They are then required to develop a basic app before moving on to creating something that is more advanced.  A basic app might be something such as a simple calculator or a measurement converter.  

Interestingly, a more advanced app might be something called a 'my run tracker' app.  David made the important point that the task of creating apps lends themselves to more open-ended assessment and group work.  Taking this approach has the potential to encourage creativity and help with motivation.

Design designers, don't program programmers

Lindsay Marshall, from the University of Newcastle, gave an impromptu talk that described his own ten credit postgraduate module and connected with many of the earlier debates.  At the end of his module, students are required to submit a portfolio.  Relating to the challenges of assessments, students were allowed to choose whatever platform they wanted, and choose whatever problem they wished to solve.  Students were encouraged to produce a design log and to present some kind of demonstration.  Moving forward this may take the form of a video presentation or recording.

Lindsay made the important point that it is also important to take the time to look at the code, as well as the final product.  Another component is the writing of a reflective essay, to describe what was learnt during the project.  Interestingly, there are no lab sessions.  Instead, Lindsay mentioned the importance of crit sessions, which is an important technique used in design.

What was really struck me from Lindsay's presentation was something that was also pretty obvious: that there are significant connections between the design disciplines and software development.  Both are fundamentally creative subjects, and both require people to understand the inherent nature and characteristics of problems.

Web technologies

And finally, it was my turn.  During my slot I spoke about a new Open University module called Web Technologies (TT284, Open University website), emphasising the point that there are so many important technologies that underpin the use of mobile technologies and devices. 

TT284 is interesting in a number of different ways.  Firstly, is uses a set of case studies of increasing size.  Students move from understanding how to create an app for a small club or society, through to understanding what might happen as a part of a software development company.  Students are then introduced to 'software in the large' (or sites that have incredibly high volumes), and what practical issues might need to be addressed.

When it comes to mobile technologies, drawing on a case study, students are asked to create an app for an Android device using MIT App Inventor (MIT website).  App Inventor is a graphical programming language, where code can be moved to real advices.  One of the challenges for any module that aims to either teach mobile technologies is the way that technology changes so quickly.  A really good aspect of this particular module is that it also addresses a good number of fundamental and really important standards and technologies.

Reflections

I learnt quite a lot from the vendor presentations and it's always useful to hear about the industrial perspective, particularly in a field that is moving so phenomenally quickly.  Whilst it's great for academics to learn what industry is getting up to (and you might argue that this is a thoroughly essential part of the job description), the presence of vendors links to an implicit battle for the hearts and mind for developers.  Users choose devices and technology that allows them to do cool stuff.  Cool stuff is created by developers.  Developers, in many cases, come from universities.  Taking this even further, developers are employed by industries who ultimately want people to be skilled in using particular software infrastructures and ecologies. 

Things have changed since I first started to go to these mobile technology events.  There are now many more devices than there were before.  The devices themselves have changed - they have more memory and power, and on the horizon there is a new generation of faster mobile networks.  By the same token, there are, of course, new tools, development environments, frameworks and libraries.  Educators are faced with the challenge of what to teach.  Some educators choose particular platforms, whereas others leave this decision entirely up to students.

When it comes to pedagogy, project and group work appears to be fundamentally important, particularly when it comes to developing employability skills and creating artefacts that can be presented to potential employers.  Keeping things open (in terms of either platforms or the problems that can be solved by the application of mobile technology) can present some challenges when it comes to assessment.  There seems to be some consensus in terms of asking students to produce videos of their working apps might be a good approach.

Making a decision about what platform to use or to develop for isn't an easy one.  When I was a student I was once told by a faculty member that 'you really need to know how to use all types of technology'.  His point was that you will more readily be able to move between one platform and another.  In doing so, you'll gain a degree of flexibility that will allow you to appreciate how things might be done in different ways.  This is a perspective that has stuck with me and one that is important since the platform that you're using now will eventually become obsolete in a couple of years' time.

When it comes to mobile technology, everyone is trying to figure what things we should be teaching and what the best approaches for teaching might be.  When we're dealing with an industry that is moving as quick as it is, these kind of events can be useful in terms of making connections and putting a marker in the ground whilst saying, 'this is how we do things today'. 

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Personalising museum experience

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Wednesday, 21 Jul 2010, 17:48

Thyssen-Bornemisza museum, Madrid

 Last year has been a fun year.  At one point I found I had a number of hours to kill before I caught an onward travel connection.  Since I was travelling through a city, I decided to kill some time by visiting some museums.

I have to confess I really like museums.  My favourite type is science and engineering museums. I really like looking at machines, mechanisms and drawings, learning about the people and situations that shaped them.  I also like visiting art museums too, but I will be the first to confess that I do find some of the exhibits that they can contain a little difficult to understand.

Starting my exploration

I stepped into the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum (wikipedia) with mild trepadation, not really knowing what I was letting myself in for.  After the entrance area I discovered a desk that was renting audio guides.  Since I felt that I might be able to gain something from the use of an audio guide (and since I was travelling alone, it could offer me some company), I decided to rent one for a couple of hours.

With my guide in hand I started to wander around the gallery.  The paintings appeared to be set out in a very particular and deliberate way.  The gallery designer was obviously trying to tell me something about the history of art (of which I know next to nothing about).  The paintings gradually changed from impressionism, to modernism, through to paintings that I could only describe as thoroughly abstract (some of which I thoroughly liked!)

Extending my guide

I remember stopping at a couple of paintings at the impressionist section.  The disembodied voice of my guide was telling me to pay attention to the foreground, and the background: particular details were considered to be important.  I was given some background information, about where the painter was working and who he was working with.

On a couple of occasions I felt that I had been told a huge amount of detail, but I felt that none of it was sticking.  I didn't have a mental framework around which to store these new facts that I was being presented with.  Art history students, on the other hand, might have less trouble.

What I did discover is that some subjects interested me significantly more than others.  I wanted to know which artists were influenced by others.  I wanted to hear a timeline of how they were connected.

I didn't just want my guide to tell me about what I was looking at, I wanted my audio guide to be a guide, to be more like a person who would perhaps direct me to things that I might be interested in looking at or learning about.  I wanted my audio guide to branch off on an interesting anecdote about the connections between two different artists, about the trials and tribulation of their daily lives.  I felt that I needed this functionality not only to uncover more about what I was seeing, but also to help me to find a way to structure the information that I was hearing.

Alternative information

Perhaps my mobile device could present a list of topics of themes that related to a particular painting.  It might display the name of the artist, some information about the scene that was being depicted, perhaps some keywords that correspond to the type under which it could be broadly categorised.

Choosing these entries might direct you to related audio files or perhaps other paintings.  A visitor might be presented with words like, 'you might want to look at this painting by this artist', followed by some instructions about where to find the painting in the gallery (and its unique name or number).

If this alternative sounded interesting (but it wasn't your main interest) you might be able to store this potentially interesting diversion into a 'trail store', a form of bookmark for audio guides.

Personalised guides

Of course, it would be much better if you had your own personal human guide, but there is always the fear of sounding like an idiot if you ask questions like, 'so, erm, what is impressionism exactly?', especially if you are amongst a large group of people!

There are other things you could do too.  Different visitors will take different routes through a gallery or museum.  You might be able to follow the routes (or footsteps) that other visitors have taken.

Strangers could be able to name and store their own routes and 'interest maps'.  You could break off a route half way through a preexisting 'discovery path' and form your own.  This could become, in essence, a form of social software for gallery spaces.  A static guide might be able to present user generated pathways through gallery generated content.

Personal devices

One of the things I had to do when I explored my gallery was exchange my driving licence for a piece of clumsy, uncomfortable mobile technology.  It was only later that it struck me that I had a relatively high tech piece of mobile technology in my pocket: a mobile phone. 

To be fair, I do hold a bit of fondness for my simple retro Nokia device, but I could imagine a situation where audio guides are not delivered by custom pieces of hardware, but instead streamed directly to your own hand held personal device.  Payment for a 'guide' service could be made directly through the phone.  Different galleries or museums may begin to host their own systems, where physical 'guide access posters' give users instructions about how visitors could access a parallel world of exploration and learning.

Rather than using something that is unfamiliar, you might be able to use your own headphones, and perhaps use your device to take away souvenirs (or information artefacts) that relate to particular exhibits.  Museums are, after all, so packed with information, it is difficult to 'take everything in'.  Your own device may be used to augment your experience, and remind you of what you found to be particularly interesting.

Pervasive guides

If each user has their own device, it is possible that this device could store a representation of their own interests or learning preferences.  Before stepping over the threshold of a museum, you might have already told your device that you are interested in looking at a particular period of painting.  A museum website might be able to offer you some advice about what kinds of preferences you might choose before your visit.

With the guide that I used, I moved between the individual exhibits entering exhibit numbers into a keypad.  Might there be a better less visible way to tell the guide device what exhibits are of interest?

In museums like Victoria and Albert and the Natural History Museum, it takes many visits to explore the galleries and exhibits.  Ideally a human guide would remember what you might have seen before and what interests you have.  Perhaps a digital personalized guide may able to store information about your previous visits, helping you to remember what you previously studied.  A digital system might also have the power to describe what has changed in terms of exhibits if some time has elapsed between your different visits.  A gallery may be able to advertise its own exhibits.

Challenges

These thoughts spring from an idealised vision of what a perfect audio (or mobile) guide through a museum or gallery might look like.  Ideally it should run on your own device, and ideally it should enable to learn and allow you to take snippets or fragments of your experience away with you.   In some senses, it might be possible to construct a museum exhibit e-portfolio (wikipedia), to store digital mementoes of your real-world experiences.

There are many unsaid challenges to realise a pervasive personalized mobile audio guide.  We need to understand how to best create material that works for different groups of learners.  In turn, we need to understand how to best create user models (wikipedia) of visitors.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges may lie with the creation of a standards-based interoperable infrastructure that might enable public exhibition spaces to allow materials and services to be made available to personal hand held devices.

Acknowlegement: image from Flickr by jonmcalister, licenced under creative commons.

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