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Developing Electronic Educational Content for Museums

In February 2010, the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Arts convened a one-day think tank of museum education technology professionals to discuss the practice of educational content development for technology applications.  Think tank participants represented a range of experience in developing and managing both museum and community generated educational content, primarily surrounding the […]

In February 2010, the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Arts convened a one-day think tank of museum education technology professionals to discuss the practice of educational content development for technology applications.  Think tank participants represented a range of experience in developing and managing both museum and community generated educational content, primarily surrounding the practice of art museum education.

Invited participants included:
Willamarie Moore – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Tina Olson – Portland Museum of Art
Tim Svenonious – San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Marc Mayer – Art21

Local participants included:
Sarah Schultz – Walker Art Center
Susan Rotilie – Walker Art Center
Robin Dowden – Walker Art Center
Abbie Anderson – Walker Art Center
Sheila McGuire – Minneapolis Institute of Art
Treden Wagoner – Minneapolis Institute of Art
Kris Wetterlund – Sandbox Studios
Scott Sayre – Sandbox Studios

The following is the product of those discussions.  Think tank participants invite community comment, additions and refinements to these recommendations.

OBSERVATIONS: What’s different in developing educational content to be delivered via technology?
• Creator needs to understand the capabilities and limitations of the technology
• Creator needs to understand what is possible and what is not – controlling and expanding expectations
• Creator needs to select the most appropriate technology for the problem being addressed/content being presented
• Creator needs to understand the context(s) for use by the target audience
• The [changing] role of teacher as facilitator, mediator and catalyst
• Audiences ability to utilize and engage constantly varies by generation
• Information can be conveyed in multiple layers of non-linear, digestible chunks controlled by user interaction
• Content creation for technology applications allows for learning both by a specified path or serendipitously
• Informal connections and narratives can be dynamically generated through aggregation and query
• Flexibility of content can be thought of as being infinite
• Media-based storytelling can humanize content and make it more engaging
• Captured audio/video documentation to be delivered to a wide audience as a potential learning resource
• Platforms can be varied to adjust to learning style – read-it, watch-it, listen to-it, interact with-it
• Content and technology need to be addressed/attended to simultaneously

OBSERVATIONS: What does educational content via technology do well?
• Provides models that can be customized
• Provide a platform to illuminate and connect disparate teaching practices
• Sharing process, product and revision while integrating community feedback
• Breaking down physical and geographic barriers
• Providing dynamic and malleable content, not frozen as in print – nothing is ever “done”
• Providing an opportunity to blur between the “official” and unofficial – craft vs. capture, expert vs. amateur
• Involves a range of “people” as voices, characters, collaborators, contributors, evaluators
• Captures content (people, processes and events) with unscripted spontaneity
• A single product (e.g. a Web project like ArtsConnectEd’s Artist’s Toolkit), can support the learning styles and interests of multiple audiences
• Time is less of a barrier. When content creators are empowered to publish content directly to the Web they can serve audiences faster than other publishing models (see ArtsConnectEd and MFA Educators Online). The needs of audiences can be served shortly after those needs have been identified

OBSERVATIONS: What are some of the greatest challenges in working with educational technology?
• Hard to manage massive amounts of fragmented static content
• Greater distribution vs. loss of control
• Very difficult to classify and describe many multimedia programs because there are no widely shared definitions of modes of learning
• Generates new issues related use and reuse of resources
• Opens a much greater range of legal responsibilities
• No content is ever “set in stone”  and technology is ever-changing
• Sustainability of technological platforms, resources and hardware
• Persistence – users expectations that products will live on forever
• Engaging educators in iterative, technology-based work processes
• Content and technology need to be considered simultaneously during the development process
• User expectations that content creators use state-of-the-art, intuitive methods and technologies

RECOMMENDATIONS:
• Consider new models outside of your own discipline –  successful elements of reality television, and documentary film strategies that present multiple perspectives
• Provide context for how material is designed to be used (learning, audience, timeliness)
• Exploit the dynamic nature of electronic content to update, refine, improve and expand it over time
• Strengthen bonds and relationships that are made in person
• Pursue projects in time to capitalize on a passion or interest that addresses a real need or opportunity expressed by the visitor/user.
• Involvement of multiple stakeholders in the beginning – collaboration and buy-in from target audience
• Adopt more formal, professional work practices and protocols surrounding the development and support of technology-based products
• Museum educators need to create a stronger relationship with production of critical content
• Foster awareness for the resource(s) through marketing
• Incorporate end-user training on the related program and technology into a projects implementation plan
• Cultivate a community of learners
• Develop trust and respect for users as producers – foster and invest in crowd-sourcing
• Develop a soft criteria with guidelines and models for user created content
• Provide a context for the content being delivered
• Integration of other external supporting media – beyond your own, using any other tools/media the audience may have at their disposal
• Develop standards that better describe museum generated multi-media resources
• Design content to be sustainable and commit to maintenance with the needs of the end-user in mind
• Collaborate with internal and external partners and stakeholders
• Invest in technologies your institution can support, i.e. off-the-shelf or low-tech. Think of what you develop as an ongoing program not a one-time project, and build in ongoing resources (staff, money, support) accordingly

RECOMMENDATIONS: What roles can museums play in supporting the development of educational content?
• Adopt a broader definition of what our content is, embrace a more informal voice
• Recognize and value our role as a public content provider
• Provide a system for rapidly responding to opportunities to capture media (documentation)
• Develop standards for the craft of capturing content – interview processes, content and production standards
• Develop systems and processes for facilitating production, work flow, integration and access
• Develop technical knowledge within in-house staff to guide development, even if it is performed by external contractors
• Value the importance of collecting and archiving electronic media and documentation as much as accessioned items
• Build knowledge of best practices and uses of educational technology through staff, director, and board training

List compiled by Scott Sayre. The think tank outcomes were presented at the AAM 2010 Annual Meeting.