Text of Speech

When Ithaca College awarded me a $40,000 fellowship to complete my graduate degree in communications, the only requirement was to offer a public colloquium related to my specific interests within the field. Of course, I dreaded the thought of getting up in front of any large group and put it off as long as possible. Toward the end of the 1988 academic year I offered "Museums, Learning, and the Web," in which I offered my take on what museums were doing on the internet.

The speech examined how history and art museums, science centers, zoos and aquariums are helping to change the way we learn. The subtext was interactive learning; I talked about

-site design and information organization
--learner-directed interactivity
--potential of networked content
--navigation and mapping issues
--evaluation of how people use sites
--how technology demands new sense of the way museums are connected

My presentation, which ran about an hour and forty-five minutes, covered changing institution roles and new perspectives on the museum experience. Despite the focus on technology, I also tried to remind listeners of the mission of museums, which is "...to privilege the encounter with the original."

And I offered my thoughts about the role museums might play as we move toward a mode of lifelong learning directed, of course, by the learner. In addition to discussing my own research and showing my prototype interactive exhibit design based on Dutch genre art, I reviewed what I considered to be the "hot topics" at the fledgling international museum web designers conference. (I had just returned from an exciting week in Toronto at Museums and the Web, the second such annual gathering.)

Text below includes my notes for the speech, with references to the overheads and specific museum sites that I showed briefly to the audience on a live internet connection. I also offered a handout with URLs of the sites I recommended exploring in the presentation.

The colloquium actually went pretty well; professors, students and even a couple of townfolk came to listen to what I later referred to as "my $40,000 speech." And I discovered that if I know what I'm talking about--and get caught up in wanting to communicate something I care passionately about--talking in front of a group isn't really all that bad.

Museums, Learning, and the Web
Park Fellow Colloquium, May 7, 1998

Good morning! And welcome to the Park Colloquium on Museums, Learning, and the Web!

You know, I have to admit, I panicked when I learned that one of the requirements of being a Park Fellow was having to give a speech. I am, after all, a shy person. You may have heard me on the radio, Sunday mornings on WVBR, filling in occasionally as the host of Nonesuch, a program that features "folk music and music in the folk tradition"--but that's different: I don't have a roomful of people staring at me, waiting for me to deliver!

So I did something pretty unusual, for me, anyway--I asked my mom WHAT TO DO?

Now, my mom's not just ANY mom, I have to tell you--she is a prize-winning Toastmaster and saleswoman extraordinaire, having spent the better part of her 77 years working with my Dad at Craig Audio Lab, selling stereo equipment, what we used to call "Hi-Fi."

I figured she probably knew something about how to start a speech--so I told her--"Look, mom, my topic is Museums, Learning, and the Internet--I want to try and share some of the things I've been learning, and some of the wonderful stuff I heard and saw at the Museums and the Web conference I was at last week in Toronto. There were over 500 people from 30 countries, all talking about museums...and learning...and web site design...But how the heck do I open?"

So she offered me this:

[read poem]

Plan a visit to the Prada
When your travel budget's na-da.

It's no mirage...the Hermitage
...is at your fingertips!

Everything's within your ken!
And your feet won't get too tired

when the internet is wired
(But how your on-line bill will soar!)

The art world's offered on a platter
with pictures -- dialogue -- and data

Weather's no deterrent
(but DO be sure you're plugged to current!)

It's your ticket to explore
Stop by Florence -- Sistine Chapel
(via Macintosh or Apple)

you can do it in a day

Summon thoughtful dialogue
On flora/fauna; whale--or frog

As you sample this world's treasures
from the Isthmus to Bombay!

As savvy as Mom is at 77 about the Internet (I particularly liked the part about checking to make sure you're plugged in!), she couldn't, of course, help me organize this presentation! And there is a lot of information to cover!



What I'm going to talk about this morning--or bring you up to date on, anyway--is a little bit about what museums are doing now on the internet. I'd like to introduce you to some of the issues that lie behind their current approach and level of interactivity, and talk a little about what role museums might play, as we move toward a mode of lifelong learning--directed, of course, by the learner.

We'll take a look--if technology cooperates--at some of the best examples of museum web sites, including some nifty "virtual galleries" that aim to totally immerse the visitor in the experience--and one prototype that could dramatically change the way museums offer information--as well as how the learner constructs his or her own experience. And I'll review some of the major issues museums are concerned with in this area, ranging from evaluation... to integrating web sites not only with large databases but with other interactive media in the galleries.

Finally, I'll show you a prototype I did for an interactive program that uses art to get at historical information--that kind of blurring of discipline boundaries, I discovered at the meeting in Toronto, reflects what's going on in the museum world.


You know museums are changing when even the USA Weekend section in the local paper has pieces like this--"The new public square--Culture is cool again."

Museums increasingly are reaching out to their communities, working with kids, training schoolteachers and holding classes on site, expanding evening hours for people to drop in at after-work events. Here in town at the Johnson, for example, you might have celebrated the museum's 25th birthday last week by attending a public extravaganza that included jugglers, magicians, music and dancing. Artists demonstrated calligraphy and Chinese brush painting, charcoal sketching with a live model, and more in a series of hands-on workshops where visitors had the opportunity to make their own art. Children explored the museum through a specially created scavenger hunt; adults could take an architecture tour to learn more about the museum's building, designed by I.M. Pei. As director Frank Robinson put it, "Art is fun, and it is for everyone, and that's what the afternoon is all about."

The growing number of museum visitors indicates the strategy of reaching out to community is working--for example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York counted 5.5 million visitors in 1996, up from 4.6 million the previous year. In the US, total annual visits to museums number 600 million--more than the combined annual attendance at professional baseball, basketball, football and hockey games.

Visitors are finding much emphasis on interactive education in the museums--and at museum web sites, which have sprouted up everywhere in the past several years. You won't be surprised to learn that almost every museum now has some kind of web presence. In many cases, it began as a promotion tool. When University of Toronto museum studies student Stephanie James conducted a survey on why museums were going to the web (Spring, 1997), she found the importance of promotion in the rationale for museum web pages. Based on her survey of 40 North American institutions:


But she also discovered museums are in the process of shifting away from promotion to


She also found over half--54 percent--were not testing or evaluating virtual visits, but of those that were, 14 percent examined the "hits" on different pages and only 9 percent did any kind of in-depth study of how their web sites were being used. In addition, the survey found, not surprisingly, that most museum web sites originated in technical services or marketing departments.

(3:45; 6 total)

Let's talk about the role of the museum for a minute. I'm so used to taking for granted that people understand it, sometimes I forget--I worked as a staff writer for both HISTORY NEWS and MUSEUM NEWS magazines. The first is a monthly magazine published by the American Association for State and Local History, down in Nashville, and the second comes from the American Association of Museums, the national nonprofit group in Washington, D.C. that serves as the advocate for museums of science, and art, and history as well as zoos, planetariums, botanical gardens--the definition of a museum is a broad one.

The role of a museum --no matter whether it's focused on art, or history, or science--is

(OH5)Statement of museum mission

not only to collect and preserve, but to interpret and make accessible its collections.

But as you know, there all sorts of constraints on accessibility--some are physical, others financial--did you know that most museums display less than 5 percent of their collections?

Museums are places in which very individual and sometimes powerful learning takes place. Learning in a museum is... studying the work of the French impressionists in the original... or making your own silkscreen print. It is finding out about the principle of combustion by watching it happen in a live demonstration...or tinkering with a hands-on science exhibit. It's watching costumed interpreters at a living history museum go about the tasks of daily life as it was lived 200 years ago, then taking your turn at the butter churn and realizing first-hand the effort that went into sustaining daily existence.

To learn in a museum means developing the ability to synthesize ideas and form opinions, to shape an esthetic and cultural sensibility. These intellectual qualities result from all kinds of learning--but I would argue they are the special province of museums, where objects and ideas are interwoven in an open process of communication that blends study and exploration, seeing and thinking, and in many cases, hearing and touching.

Former Boston Children's Museum Director Michael Spock, now director of the National Zoo, describes what happens in museums as "landmark learning." Although every part of a museum will not have profound effect on everyone, each visitor is likely to be moved in a special way by something he or she sees. That becomes a landmark in the visitor's lifelong learning experience.

Learning in museums is a spontaneous, individual process. It is fundamentally different from schools. Museums stimulate imagination, sharpen powers of observation and enrich thinking. They encourage an appreciation of other cultures, other times, other world views, animal and plant life, and artistic expression.

Museums have many roles to play, ranging from storehouse of objects to Disneyworld of re-created experience.

(OH6 CHIN chart)

As our concept of what a museum is changes--driven in part by the vast stores of information and experience available over the net--it's becoming clear that very few museums can--or should--play all of those role simultaneously. I've borrowed this concept from Lyn Elliott Sherwood, head of the Canadian Heritage Information Network, who delivered the closing plenary at the Museums and the Web conference in Toronto. She contended that there are challenges within each role and that museums will sort themselves out according to which ones are best able to meet those challenges.

At its basic level, the museum serves as a storehouse to preserve artifacts: the challenge is to let the world know what's in the collection.

As a temple, it provides a direct experience, and can serve to "privilege the encounter with the original in an increasingly virtual world," as Maxwell Anderson, director of the Art Gallery of Ontario, referred to it in another address. The challenge here is satisfy the demand for knowledge and context.

As a community center, the museum engages communities in appreciation, outreach efforts, and so on--the challenge is to develop the museum's communities.

As open university, it provides advanced knowledge for scholars: the challenge is to enable deep access to complex information sources.

And as "Disneyworld," it brings to life context for the collections, situating objects in their own world through technical services and public programming.

(I remember how, as a little kid, I used to love to go upstairs in the Rochester Museum and Science Center to see the tableaux of an 1890s pharmacy, an early 18th century flour mill, and especially, the life-sized manikins of an Iroquois family with their birchbark canoe, outside the big loghouse, a papoose propped awkwardly near the fire as the mother sheared kernels from an ear of corn; I remember trying to build my own little dioramas--and dreaming about what it would have been like to be an Indian baby...I probably had at least as much fun going there as I would have at Disneyworld.)

The challenge here is to distinguish the museum from a theme park. What ultimately separates them is, of course, that museums have objects and deep knowledge--and making a profit is not supposed to be a guiding principle.

OK, so you've got an idea now about the roles museums see themselves as playing--and the wonderful opportunities they present as places of learning. Did you know, by the way, that in the US alone there are over 8,000 museums--and more than 700 million objects? We're talking huge databases of information here.

(5.40; 11 total)

The question of course, is how to provide access? Enter the internet--and the promises of technology--to make accessible those vast stores of knowledge.

As you can imagine, museums have over the past several decades moved increasingly toward collections management tools that are computer- based, and early on, they realized the necessity for creating a common language for cataloging. Standards-based information management strategies are critical. There's not much point in documenting a collection, after all, if museums don't think about what they're going to do with the information. That would be like having a bunch of 78 records with no wind-up gramophone to play them.

The fact is, a decade from now the content museums are making will be used by people through technical mechanisms we cannot now envision. But museums can make some educated guesses about the conceptual purposes for which it will be used--as well as what means of intellectual access will be required to locate the information. And they can create a common language to describe the items so that there is continuity from one institution to the next. (For example, think of the Florentine painter Giotto? Giotto di Bondone? G. diBondone? And think about issues related to paintings that may be known by different names!) International committees have been meeting for years to resolve differences, but it didn't seem very interesting or important to many people--until the internet came along.

Once the information is catalogued, it then has to be made accessible. Data, after all, is not information.

And that is where the web is making an incredible contribution.

What the web enables museums to do is to place gathered collections--of art, history, or science--back into a context linking each object to others from its era, to background information, to commentary, to related objects, sounds, and even moving images. On the web, an object can be placed into an information context that would be difficult or impossible to reproduce on paper or in the museum itself. As the museum community get its act together, objects are being linked in totally new ways across institutions and continents.

The first museum web sites, as I indicated earlier, were promotional in nature. As they got more sophisticated, they tried to re-create what was in the galleries, often including floor plans and structuring web site navigation as if it was constrained by the same physical limitations as in the galleries. But museums soon realized the potential of the technology to organize information in new ways--and now, some are beginning to explore how they can to allow visitors to create their own structures.

This is as good a place as any to start our web tour this morning. First let's look a couple of sites that took awards in the Best of the Web contest, (judged by a panel that included 5 museum professionals, an artist and a poet, and a couple of students) and some sites I think are using technology to help us see relations between object, information, experience of others and our responses to our world in innovative new ways.

OH 7 and 8--Award Winners (you can pick up a handout if you're interested

(Show briefly list of winners--EMPHASIZE CRITERIA)

then run through sites selected, noting highlights at each)


Let's start with this year's winner for best virtual museum. What makes this site, located in Uruguay, unique is that it isn't really a museum at all. Raising funds for a museum in a third-world country takes a back seat to other priorities, yet there is all this amazing art work in private homes and businesses throughout Uruguay that the world has never seen. Very simple interface; doesn't require fast or sophisticated machine as some of the other programs we're going to look at later do.

[Then ODYSSEY, joint project between Memorial Art Gallery and the Carlos museum. Show Greece; everyday things, vessels shapes
then THE THINKER: maybe show Live Pic thing?show image data base
search RODIN, MONET, show TELL US WHAT YOU KNOW (Maybe under San Francisco)
then best overall: MOMA
show Chuck Close
Exhibit Stir Fry (China 17 Sept.)
Then "As museums band together," show Association of Art Museum director ExCalendar--NEW YORK; then Matisse]
(15 m; 30 total)


But museums on the web are not merely distribution systems for collections, nor are they cybermarkets. They should be based on museum values--especially that of interaction. As David Bearman, the originator of the M&W conference has written, "The challenge is how to make the facts of these objects sing to the virtual visitor? How can we enable them to have an experience? The first requirement is for museums is recognize that the networked environment is interactive and therefore can be user driven. It enables us to respond to the visitor rather than pump information at him. If used to its best purposes, the networked environment enables a user to construct an experience with personal meaning."

There are many museums working in participatory design and in the spirit of cooperative museology. (LA Culture Net--www.LACN.com-- is one.) The point is people understanding and participating in their community through culture and through the internet. If you were a roomful of museum professionals I would go on to explore the idea that museums may in fact be reconceptualizing their relations with people, groups and communities using the technology of the internet. But since you're NOT--let's look at an example of what I'm talking about, an exhibit that allows visitors to follow their interests and allows the curator to display objects in a variety of contexts. "Revealing Things" is an online Smithsonian exhibition devoted to material culture that combines objects from the collection with everyday objects contributed by visitors. It's a prototype designed by Razorfish and Plumb Design, for an exhibit that demonstrates the meaning behind everyday objects. The challenge was to show a group of objects, connected in a myriad of ways, and encourage people to explore. The objects are dynamically positioned, depending on what the visitor decides.

The result not only serves to link disparate objects in novel ways--but also entices people into the exhibit to explore. Because the Maplet (a Java application) is in constant motion, people are intrigued. What could have been a static exhibition becomes a lively, interactive learning platform, where visitors are engaged in seeing and contributing to their own learning experience.


This next thing is probably my favorite--it's an on-line precursor to a real museum that will open next year out in Seattle, called the Music Experience. Guitars/Basses/Paul Weller


But wait! there's more!

Beyond Interface (show "My boyfriend...")
and National Gallery's (with Live Picture,) which is the fastest loading best looking site I've seen.
(Perhaps show OH of Reality Studio?)

Just a couple more: this is a site from Germany, with streaming video

And Antarctica--arctic sounds--geese and paddling--live cam
(15; total 45)

If time, Exploratorium, Zoo, Aquarium (survey) and Texas.net (likely, just read from description--but have to do at least one science exhibit)


(12; 1 hour)

One of the most interesting people I met at the conference was Larry Friedlander, who works at the Stanford Learning Lab. He has a lot of ideas about what the web could become, and out at the Lab they're exploring a set of new tools and procedures to make learning more effective. These ideas are based on conversations with Friedlander as well as his presentation.

{OH on future potential}

--web sites can be used to foster communication and creative discussion via electronic forums between members of the public, as well as between museum professionals and individual visitors (peer-to-peer, novice to expert, expert to expert)

--visitors can form special interest groups and organize activities and projects on their own that connect to the museum

--web sites can be used to collect information about the public and to respond to special needs and questions

--museums can begin to track the visitor's relationship to the museum over time and help the visitor record and re-use museum experiences

--visitors can create portfolios of museum materials, together with notes, commentary, personal reflections

--museum uses of the web are supported by new kinds of learning spaces that integrate virtual and real activities (and allow the smooth integration of individual and group instruction)

OK-let's get a little more specific about future potential. Think about this for a minute. Walking alone through a museum can be a lot of fun--and educational--but have you ever had a curator walk around with you? What you take away can be really different. Let's say maybe you're more interested in the designers of the artifacts than in the materials--since the tour is designed just for you, the curator would talk to you at your level of expertise, focusing on your main interests, giving you as much or as little detail as you like. The curator also knows what you've already seen and can relate that to other objects--and suggest others you might be interested in exploring. Those are some of the ways of thinking that lie behind the design of museum exhibits these days----and I promised I'd show you a prototype I've been working on, one that allows the viewer to create his or her own path through the information, skimming or tunneling deep as the appetite allows. I think I can do it in nine minutes, if I talk fast.

I first became interested in the idea that paintings--in addition to being visually pleasing and emotionally stimulating--could also serve as a source of historical information back in the early 1980s, when I was assistant editor of History News magazine


and wrote a short feature on the subject: "Aesthetics Aside: How to Find Historical Information in Works of Art." (show)

It specifically encouraged local historical museums to dust off the so-so portraits languishing in a back room, drag out the less-than-Great-Masterpieces that had been donated and to look at them with a fresh eye. In the article, I suggested a broad range of questions that might be asked, as curators and educators began to examine how the artworks might spur new interest and illuminate historical understanding. (The piece was well-received; I was even asked to speak at a couple of professional meetings as an "expert" on the topic! Since I lacked the requisite expertise, I gracefully declined.)

Over the intervening years, I've grown increasingly interested in the kinds of connections one can make to create a composite picture of what the past was really like. With advances in technology, it is becoming easier to tie together information that crosses discipline boundaries. History is not just a series of dates, after all; art is more than pretty pictures on a wall. If we open our eyes to arenas of human experience that we never thought of as "history," we enrich our understanding of the whole human past--and ourselves. To do so means understanding that history is not simply a sequence of events--history is experience.

If you accept the argument that there is some value in understanding the past, then the best way to do that is through multiple sources of input--to understand the 1600s in Holland, for example, it is useful to have access to a timeline of some sort that allows you to put into place history and politics, literature and theater, music and visual arts, religion and philosophy, science and technology, and daily life. The concept is well illustrated--if not well executed--in a book called The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events.

OH 1776

Providing this information allows one to make interesting new connections: 1776, the year of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, was also the year of publication of the first volume of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, the year of the death of Scottish philosopher David Hume, the year Fragonard made one of his best-known paintings and when English landscape painter John Constable was born, the year Mozart wrote his "Haffner" Serenade, Cook made his third voyage to the Pacific, and Norway began holding military ski competitions. As for 1927,

(OH 1927)

The year Lindbergh flew the Atlantic, it was also when Trotsky was expelled from the Communist Party, when Show Boat opened in New York, when Sigmund Freud and Thornton Wilder published seminal works, when Pavlov did his work on conditioned reflexes, the German economic system collapsed, and the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team was organized.

I am fascinated by the new thoughts making such juxtapositions can lead to. I am particularly interested in the interrelationship of music and art and history, and for this prototype, attempted to create a project that would intertwine the three in a multimedia format that encouraged the learner to explore connections. It is not designed to be a "knowledge test" but instead an interactive educational experience that provokes thought, one in which any assessment of what is learned is left in the hands of the learner.

(4 m)

The Project

Ordinary People, Everyday Lives is about life in 17th-century Europe, specifically, the Netherlands. It is designed to run in a museum-based installation, perhaps adjacent to but not in the galleries in which Old Masters art is displayed. (It may also be easily adapted to run in a hands-on activity room or on the internet.)

At least one computer kiosk station is required and ideally the program would be touch-screen sensitive since visitors would be standing as they used it.

The program is designed to run so that a brief "slide show" (consisting of approximately six different images) displays continuously, concluding with an invitation to begin the exploration. The sequence repeats indefinitely, holding on each image 5 seconds, with appropriate period music, until the viewer, intrigued, clicks on the screen to begin.

An explanation screen describes what is possible; if the viewer is indeed interested in "looking at old paintings in new light," he/she clicks on the funky lamp icon to continue

Let's begin


Having chosen an image, the viewer gets an expanded view, together with a brief paragraph about historical implications that poses (but does not answer) a couple of "thought questions." The viewer is invited to click on any area of the image that might be of interest. In the real version, brief questions--"Who do you think is...?" "What is that object...?" "When is the man going to...?" "Why do you think the artist...?" etc.--could float across the screen via animation, encouraging the learner to select an area of the painting to explore. Or, better yet, they could be included as a narration voice-over.

(The portion of the painting with the fiddler is hotspotted. Clicking on

the picture portion of interest brings up specific information, in this case about music and its place in society, and more choices. There is a sound sample from a period instrument and links to additional pages on instruments, pieces of the time, and dance. (This page might also eventually link to other art featuring musical subjects.)

This prototype focuses on genre art because it is so rich with historical information. It might include (but not be limited to) artists such as Breughel, Gerrit Dou, Jan Van Eyck, Frans Hals, Adrian Ostade, Jan Steen, Gerard Terborch, and Vermeer, as well as lesser Dutch and Flemish artists working in the 1600s. But it could easily be adapted for many other specific time frames; it could also be structured to provide information about many countries in a particular window of time by choosing artists from six different areas of the world. It might also be more art-focused, less history-based, so that if a learner was particularly interested in, say, Vermeer, the info pages would link to other works, a biography, even a map of the other locations of all Vermeer works in the world.

Learners will be able to explore paintings in a new way and make connections between art and history as well as music and other fields. They might choose to explore one painting or all six, depending on their time and interest. Additional links would allow them to follow up on special interests and it might be possible to even have them take part of the information with them by either printing out selected pages or sending them to a personal e-mail address.

The final program would have a total of about 250 screens, heavily graphic intensive. More than a third (or about 90) would include audio or video clips.

CLOSE: Maybe it's pretty simplistic, but it seems to me this is all about the idea of creating knowledge. What if, for example, l could go back and visit Vermeer in his studio, and watch him as he worked, maybe ask a few questions about why he did some things the way he, find out what he thought about that gave him pleasure, what gave him nightmares...the idea of having a conversation--not literally, but figuratively, is very appealing. Of course the conversation I would have would be very different from the one Gordon would have. Or you. Or Nick.

Just as with this Museums and the Web conference of course--it was terrific, to be together with more than 500 very creative, very interesting people--from 30 different countries. It was a great conference for a lot of us, but the way I organized my days was different from

(Hold up business cards)

The p.r. fellow from New Zealand, from the creative integrator, from the 18-year-old University of Chicago student I shared a room with who helped judge the best of the Net, the savvy sales rep from Thunderwave, the fellow from Mamibia who kept trying to get his e-mail via laptop. (Actually, the best part of the conference for me might be the beginnings of connections I made.)

And great information (although it surprised me that I had on my own found the Smithsonian and Live Picture Gallery just surfing)

But then, I'm a curious person by nature. Anyway--my point is that we all experienced something a little different. But there also was, I should point out, a common database--the proceedings were available on CD (and on-line, too).

(Hold up CD)

Last year--the first year of the conference-they were printed--and cost more--

(Hold up MW book)

There's so much more I wanted to get into--about what's going on in Scandinavia (which is in the forefront of changes in museum ideology) and about New Zealand, working with varied cultures to tell the story of many peoples..about new partnerships between museums and schools, especially in England...too much for one colloquium!

I hope I've succeeded in at least opening your eyes to some of the issues, whetting your appetite, so maybe you'll check out some of the exhibits...there's some really cool stuff out there, just waiting to be explored.

So the great irony of this morning's presentation, of course, is that while it focused on interactive learning, I didn't really interact with you guys. That's partly because I scripted a lot of it out (because I was afraid I'd forget the most important things) and, while I think maybe I know some things about creating online interaction, I'm not very good at achieving it in the moment.

] In hopes of making this presentation a little more interactive--I open it up to you. What do you think about all this? Are there questions?



(One thing I'd like to run past you: change in ways I seek information on the web, the way I use bookmarks. You, too?)

"Hot Topics"

Site design and information organization/presentation

--visitor needs to be able to SKIM and also TUNNEL down
--should site re-create reality through "virtual museum"--or organize info in way that utilizes capabilities of medium?
--importance of intuitive interaction
--providing low tech/hi tech options
---providing multiple channels (audio, video, text) for learning
--creating new learning spaces that integrate virtual and "real" activities
Learner-directed interactivity
--think of visitor as "partner in conversation"
--visitor as participant in the making of meaning
--Smithsonian site as example of exploring new concept of what an exhibit is
---robotics (remote control over via internet of a live cam in museum)
--visitor-created "portfolios"/tracking methods to help visitor structure next visit
Potential of networked content and integrated info
--linking data bases to web sites (z39.50 apps)
--integrating the web and interactive media
--interconnected museum web sites
Navigation and mapping issues
--how to find data
--how to get back to it
(one person's metdata is another person's content)
Evaluation/analysis of how people use web site
--formative design testing (get feedback first before thoroughly develop site)
--track not only hits but pathways selected
--how will it affect actual museum visits?
Technology demands new sense of how museums are connected
--museum community must band together to avoid being "handmaiden" to corporations
--freestanding silos of information not very useful
--community needs to decide how to use XTML as knowledge management tool (explain)
--intranets (their use within institution and within larger community)
--future groupware technologies;
--Computer Supported Cooperative Museology
Changing institutional role
--can--or should museums fundamentally be transferred to web?
--from "come and get it" to "seek and ye shall find"
-- museums remain the "trusted guide"to things visitors wish to know
--ultimately, application of this technology may fundamentally change idea of what museum is
--museums may reconceptualize relationship with people, groups and cmmunities
New perspective on museum experience
--about meaning and knowledge building based in the visitor
--about peoples' experience of the museum rather than about objects, information and data transfer,, p.rr and sales junk
Remembering museum mission: to privilege the encounter with the original
--Education is the end, "tourism" is the means
Other talking points during HOT TOPICS

Site design

--I think audio is most overlooked (and potentially most inclusionary) tool; it's the fastest way to get people interested and gives sense of, "Gee, I'm here!" (movement keeps interest too)

--SAMI stands for Synchronized Access Media Interchange and what it allows is instantaneous translation of all kinds of materials. It's a beautifully simple JAVA script that can be inserted into all kinds of applications. I wanted to show you how the Holocaust Museum is using it but it's not yet available on web. So imagine you've got a presentation on-screen with a woman whose first language is not English--let's say it's Yiddish. There's a video of her talking; you want to put subtitles under to make sure people understand her broken English. You can do that and have the text scroll, keyed to what viewer is hearing. You could also scroll it in any other language (that you had previously translated it into)--or key it to bring up a window with specific still images of things she was referring to as she referred to them.

It's a marvelous tool, just came out and offers terrific opportunities for multi-channel learning. If you're interested, there's a presentation on how to do it on the web, or I can put you in touch with Jim Blackaby.

Learner-directed interactivity
--The museum experience occurs in a social context. That means it challenges the sender-receive linear one-way communication model transmission of intended meaning. Visitors value reminiscing, associating personal experience, recognizing their individual taste, expressing their identity--museum practitioners must reflect this updated view of a more interactive, democratic, responsive visitor/museum relationship in all their works.

--The importance of user participation in museum meaning making:

(Peter Samis, San Francisco MFA
"What we're really after is the ability to share in a story, to share each other's stories around the planet, and attach those stories to the things that have become, for one reason or another, our symbolic power objects."

(see Remembering Nagasaki at the Exploratorium)

Networked content

If we can think of HTML, the language web pages are written in, as a display tool, then we can think of XML as a knowledge management tool. The web is in the process of changing from essentially a two-tier structure to one that will have 5--or more--tiers.

(OH on traditional structure)

In figure 2, you can see the classic means of providing access to a remote database through the web;

(OH on XML access)

Take at look at what XML is moving us toward.

(Return to original HOT TOPICS OH)

Essentially what you need to know is that XML allows the user to get past an authored page--and create his or her own "thing" from the database. And it, of course, brings up big questions about the museum as trusted guide, in fact the whole of issue of structuring a visitor's path--or not.

--Web now is like a massive yellow pages, but we're moving away from that model

--One of the problems of "putting the collection on-line"--that is, offering direct access to the existing information base-- is that the data is not necessarily very interesting to the general public. If you want to know, does this museum have (Monet's Water Lilies..an 18th-century wood planer...a moon rock....you'll get an answer (if you ask the question right). But what's the point of organizing content in an object-centric manner? I think it's quite likely people don't so much care if the museum has have a certain painting, artifact or specimen as they are fascinated by all the context, the history, associated with it.

In other words, what people want to know is not the What as much as Who Where, When, How, and Why.

The learning applications on the web that I find most interesting in many cases are leading not with the object but with the story of the culture, historical context, important people and places, associated with the objects. They tell engaging stories with objects woven in. And they are doing so via entertaining paths than can lead the visitor lightly by the hand, encourage curiosity, exploration and serendipitous learning.

Technology Demands New Sense...
--some museums are concerned that they are basically working as unpaid "stringers" for profit-making businesses like Expedia and the like; there is concern that if they do not band together as a community their content will be swallowed up, and spit it out--with others making profit on museum's web work

Changing role
--One way of thinking about the changes taking place is that museums are beginning to shift their operative metaphor for organizing and displaying on-line public access information away from listmaking toward storytelling. Museums have been doing that for the past 100 years--through exhibits, publications, marketing materials, instructional curriculum but little if any of this content finds its way into a management system. And that's crazy, since producing those materials--historical narratives, chronologies, biographical profiles, images, video, audio, graphics--is so labor-intensive.

The web is forcing the issue of content management. And, consequently, the museum information system paradigm is shifting from collections management to content management systems.

--one example of how museums are building an on-line collaborative community is STEM, at a science museum in England. (www.nmsi/uk/education/stem) They're encouraging students and teachers to develop their own perspectives, projects and educational resources related to the museum. The project explores how students and teachers can be motivated and supported through the medium to reflect and reinterpret the experience---really begins to raise some interesting questions about institutional authority

Remembering mission
Mass media (especially TV) has created an unquenchable desire for experiences as events, for authenticity and identity, which TV is unable to satisfy--that puts museums in a unique situation. Remember, the museum boom has emerged at precisely the same point at which electronic technologies became the basis for discussions about the information society.


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