February 17, 2014

Exploring Digital Media and Museum-based Learning

Category: Edtech
people walking around museum walls covered in animals and insects

As part of my efforts to explore the intersection of digital media and museum-based learning, here is list of items I’ve recently tweeted. I start with the most general and drill down to my specific area of work — informal science learning at the American Museum of Natural History.

Envisioning the Future of Educational Technology (infographic)

This infographic by Michell Zappa of Envisioning Tech envisions emerging technology impacting learning through 2040. The specific tools are interesting to explore, such as games and badges, but of more interest to me is how they are organized to examine a broader argument.

Three columns identify sites of learning: the traditional classroom, the studio (defined as peer-to-peer learning environments facilitated by teachers), and virtual learning environments. According to Zappa’s predictions, studios have a constant impact over the next three decades, but the current dominance of the classroom model is replaced with the virtual model, where learning is distributed and project-based.

Six emerging trends underlay all of these changes, trends in evidence now which Zappa is predicting into the future: gamification, the opening of information, digitized classrooms disintermediation, tangible computing, and virtual/physical computing. These trends are organized to address what Zappa defines as the central problem of learning in the digital age: how can schools prepare students for anticipated real-world skills when the rapid state of technological change keeps those skills in flux? The entire infographic is designed to show how educational technology flowing from his identified trends will get us, by 2040, to a world in which “education becomes a continuous, interconnected effort, allowing students to cope with a perpetually changing world.”

I have all sorts of issues with his framework — such as the absence of informal learning spaces like museums — but I think this is both an interesting document to debate as well as an interesting framework to help us each identify and map our own future trends in digital media and learning. What trends do you see today that you can predict out over 30 years, what technologies will emerge from them, and what collective impact will they have that may resolve contemporary challenges?

New Opportunities for Interest-Driven Arts Learning in a Digital Age (report)

This 2013 report from the arts-oriented Wallace Foundation speaks directly to the point I raised about what I saw missing in Zappa’s infographic: the role of informal learning. The report, written by Kylie Peppler, assistant professor of the Learning Sciences Program at Indiana University, argues that while arts are increasingly scarce in public schools one finds a “strikingly different landscape” outside school due to digital technology which offer youth new ways to engage in the arts based on their own time and interests.

The report “gives a rundown of scholarship in the areas of arts and out-of-school-hours learning; offers a framework for thinking about interest-driven arts learning in a digital age; examines young people’s media consumption; provides a survey of youths’ creative endeavors online and elsewhere, along with a look at the proliferation of technologies that young people are using in the arts; and concludes with thoughts about challenges and possibilities for the future.”

The roughly 100-page, very readable report (where you can learn all about deviantART, The Computer Clubhouse Network, and krumping) concludes with discussion of five challenges and opportunities for interest-driven arts learning in the 21st century: (1) conceptualizing interest-driven arts learning in new media; (2) changing adults’ perceptions of youths’ interest-driven arts activities; (3) promoting equity in interest-driven arts learning opportunities; (4) designing interest- driven arts learning social networks; and (5) inviting, sustaining, and supporting participation in arts activities. Whether you care about arts education, this report offers an instructive look at how yet another foundation interested in education is broadening its scope to investigate how digital media is transforming out-of-school learning.

Considering the Museum of the Future (blog post)

Michael Rush, founding director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, recently posted a fascinating thought piece asking us to imagine that museums weren’t a nearly 200-year-old institution. What if, instead, the learning experience we now associate with museums was created today, in the 21st century? Would we still design them based in physical buildings, built around collections of physical objects? He isn’t asking us how museums can adapt for the digital age but, rather, to consider what the museum experience might be if designed from the start with the full power of digital media at hand. He writes to challenge the museum community to “take the future as seriously as Google [and] Amazon,” asking what a museum might be if one could experience it at a bus stop, in a video game, in body implants, or projected from satellites.

How Much Is Too Much Technology? (article)

This article from Dimensions, the magazine from the Association of  Science and Technology Centers, invited leaders at museums around the world to respond to the questions: “How much is too much technology in a science center or museum, or is the sky the limit? Does it engage or distract?” An edited version ran in print but the full version with replies appear in the online version, starting off with a response from yours truly:

Good examples of technology gone bad can often be traced to poor design. Does the design of an interactive cause visitors to isolate from others, or does it support social engagement? Does the design of a mobile app focus visitors’ attention away from an exhibit, or does it deepen the awesome moment of that particular time and place? We can never escape the potential for digital media to engage or distract. That struggle is unavoidable, especially when visitors can carry in their own devices. But we can support visitors to develop an intentionality in their use of technology and support them to mediate their visit in ways that connect them with the exhibits and the social and physical spaces around them.

The Digital Marina Abramovic Institute (game)                 

Speaking of intentionality, I had to struggle not to put this at the top of the list, as it is just so…unusual. It is most certainly the strangest video game as advertisement for an anticipated museum I’ve ever seen. Have you heard of Marina Abramović? The performance artist gained (relatively) broad awareness of her work due to a 2010 show in NYC’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) where she sat immobile in the museum’s atrium while spectators were invited to take turns sitting opposite her for 736 hours and 30 minutes (with celebrity visitors like Lady Gaga). The static, silent piece, was later reproduced by Pippin Barr, in a game with the same name as the exhibit, The Artist is Present (as I wrote this in the evening I couldn’t play the game because, of course, MoMA is closed). Now, Abramović is designing a 33,000-square-foot space where visitors will “undergo mind and body cleansing exercises devised by Abramovic.” Can’t wait for it to open? Then, go play the game now. You can join a virtual crowd to watch Abramovic (or at least her 8-bit avatar) perform a piece in which she walks up and down a ladder while nude or head off to the exercise chamber, where you will need to hold down the shift key throughout to “show that you are awake and committed.” Experience slowly walking up a ramp (again, in 8-bit art) or slowly drinking a cup of water (if you don’t, you will fall asleep and not be able to wake for an hour — something which I experienced when I decided to take a phone call during the game). Or, try No Photos, Please pitting two players against another in an art gallery, one a visitor trying to take photos and the guard trying to stop him/her.

Digital Initiatives in STEM Education (infographic)

I started with an infographic so I thought it appropriate to end with another. This one takes us back 200,000 years to show how contemporary human use of technology and tools to adapt and survive is nothing new…and a great reason to play the new Smithsonian Science Education Center’s new web and mobile game: Shutterbugs — Wiggle and Stomp. I wrote a review on my blog of the app, entitled, “A Critique of the Zoo App Shutterbugs, or On Second Thought, Maybe This App Doesn’t Suck.” I reported how I was too quick to judge and learned a lot from my children about how I might frame a deeper understanding of educational mobile apps. When I first saw the app I thought it was too simple to engage my children. What I learned, however, was not to judge an app out of context. It needs to be evaluated within the ecology of activities and relationships it will insert itself, and only then through user testing and iterative design. And it left me wondering: How did the design of Shutterbugs support (or discourage) my daughter’s creative exploration of the content, both within and outside its digital confines? And, How did its design support (or discourage) interactions with her brother or parents?

Banner image credit: Charles16e