Thursday, March 28, 2013

Another Round of Technology and the Future of Education


Today’s guest post comes from Phil Katz, the Alliance’s assistant director for research and co-conspirator on many CFM research projects.

Tomorrow andBeyond
There’s nothing new about the prediction that technology is going to remake education, soon and dramatically: education reformers and tech entrepreneurs have been making this claim since at least the 1920s. Last week the Brookings Institution – a nonpartisan think tank based here in Washington, DC – joined the long march of predictions with a thoughtful and reference-packed report on Education Technology Success Stories. The report was produced by the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings with support from the Gates Foundation.

Brookings also hosted a public forum on the future of education technology last week, which you can watch at http://www.brookings.edu/events/2013/03/20-education-technology. (Make sure you stay tuned to the very end, so you can hear me ask a question and introduce the word “museum” into the conversation!) The focus of both the report and forum is formal education, mostly in classroom settings. But the key questions at stake – “How can educators incorporate the latest technologies to improve education and assess what proves effective?” – apply just as well to museum education.

The report features five “education technology success stories.” For each story, they could have added a museum variant:
  • Robot Assisted Language Learning (RALL), in the form of kid-friendly interactive robots already being used to teach English to some young children in South Korea. (South Korea is also the world leader in robot docents for museums.)

Robot teachers in Korea


  • Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which nearly everyone these days is describing as a disruptive force in higher ed. (Including the team here at CFM, in our new TrendsWatch 2013 report, which looks at MOOCs through a museum lens.)
  • Minecraft, a web-based “sandbox” game that students and teachers are using to create simulated worlds that model the laws of physics, chemistry and environmental science; the game can even be used to recreate historic sites. (The American Museum of Natural History has also used Minecraft to help high school-age visitors explore the science and politics of food.) 
  • Computerized Adaptive Testing, touted as the latest replacement for old-fashioned multiple-choice tests, a way to relieve teachers from the burden of correcting bubble sheets or even student essays, and a tool for self-paced instruction. (OK, I’m not sure what the right museum analogy is for this one — any suggestions, readers?
  • Stealth Assessments, i.e., formative assessments embedded in games, with no pressure on the players/students. At the public forum, Valerie Shute, an education professor at Florida State, described an experiment that used an off-the-shelf video game (Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion) to track problem-solving skills that are part of the formal curriculum. (How teachers will use the assessment information for student evaluation is an open question, and not every lesson can be turned into a computer game.) 

Gaming and assessment are two areas where the Brookings publication would especially have benefitted from looking at museums and building on the expertise of museum educators and evaluators (who have been tackling the problem of assessing relatively brief and bounded learning experiences for many years). Although the report begins with the traditional claim that “the next generation of education technologies is facilitating substantial change,” I think it makes a good case that the confluence of new presentation technologies, new assessment technologies and new technologies to recognize student achievement (like digital badges) could really amount to something ... well, new.

This became even clearer after the public forum, which still left me with two questions:
  • Why are (nearly) all the examples of education technology success stories drawn from STEM subjects? Where are the examples of education technology that improves historical understanding and sharpens moral reasoning? And how would you assess that kind of learning?
  • How do these innovations from formal education settings apply to informal learning? And does interactive technology make formal learning more “informal” (even museum-like).
Go to the videotape and watch the answers from the panel at the forum — but don’t get your hopes up. Can we provide better answers?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Museum in Every Community?

Accreditation Commissioner Bill Eiland recently stopped by my office to share his concerns about the hundreds of small communities in the South struggling to maintain their culture, identity and population in the face of economic and demographic tides. Bill thinks (and I agree) that community-based museums can be both anchors and engines for such small towns.

But museum culture is such that each of our organizations is unique, and singular in origin. It takes a driven founder, or visionary group, to figure out everything from how to incorporate as a nonprofit, to what it means to BE a museum, design exhibits, collect, preserve, etc. etc. If every museum is a one-off, it makes it that much harder for them to spring up where they’re needed.

Bill's timing was extraordinary—on my computer screen at that moment was David Dewane's Kickstarter project, raising funds to launch the Librii community library project in Ghana. David plans to become the modern-day equivalent of Andrew Carnegie, spreading public libraries across the continent—except with an entrepreneurial business plan to create revenue-based organizations that meet acute local needs for education and for broadband access.

The Librii project tackles issues I think museums need to face: how to make museums scalable, replicable, easy to start and operate, and financially self-sustaining.

David proposes to solve this problem for libraries by creating a standardized template for architecture and operations that can be personalized for each community’s needs. Working with local partners, The Librii team finds a site, delivers and installs prefab modules grouped around a central plaza, provides trained staff, and works to make the library economically self-sufficient within 6 months of launch. Its strategy is to provide tools for a given community to tackle its own particular needs, rather than swooping in with solutions, as so many non-sustainable "aid" projects do.



I had a lot of questions about the project, and David obligingly provided answers in a recent exchange of emails.

What makes Librii a library rather than a computer lab?

There are several important differences. First, these libraries will have a variety of offerings beyond internet access, including access to physical books and educational programs. Second, while there will be some paid services to generate operating revenue, we will make every effort to maximize free offerings. Third, our libraries will be staffed by professional librarians whose job is to make sure patrons are finding the resources that are most relevant and beneficial to them.

Who are the librarians going to be? If they are hired from the community, how are you going to train them?

We've been working with the Ghana Library Association and the Ghana Library Authority since early on in the development process. We also have a strategic partnership with Librarians Without Borders to help us develop a training platform for the Librii staff. Recently, we've been in discussions with the Nike Foundation and some other NGOs about the possibility Librii being staffed fully by young women. There is a lot of data that suggests investing in adolescent girls produces powerful ripple effects throughout communities.

Does Ghana have a tradition of free public libraries? If not, how do you communicate about what Librii is to the local community? Is there any challenge of expanding awareness off the variety of resources and services provided in the pods?

I am going to focus my answer on Accra, rather than Ghana, because we are really targeting one metropolitan condition at the moment and not the whole country (or continent). In my own personal experiences, I have visited a number of public libraries and web cafes in Ghana. Both struggled with the same problem: providing up-to-date content. The libraries had a lot of outdated materials and limited and slow web access. Some web cafes had very slow service and hi-speed cafes were too pricy and lacked resources besides internet. What I did see on the street was a population that was surprisingly young and clearly hungry for progress. I saw daily examples of hard work and ingenuity that leads me to believe that as long as you provide tools, people will figure out how to leverage them to the greatest possible effect. That is what we are trying to do with Librii.

The project clearly has caught the imagination of many supporters: as I write, Librii has raised over $38,000 towards their 50,000 goal, and they have until April 4th to raise the remainder. I recommend you take a look—it’s a good example of a well-designed crowdfunding campaign. It presents a well-done video, a compelling case statement, attractive benefits (including updates on who is using the library, and how) and a clear timeline of how the funds will be used. And while you look it over, think about whether this model might have applicability to museums.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dreaming Big


When CFM launched in 2008, we were tasked by the Alliance board with being a "skunk works," idea lab and an incubator of possibilities. For someone such as myself, trained as a collections manager, schooled in the careful calculations of risk management, it took some re-tooling to adopt appropriate strategies. It was necessary to not only accept the possibility of failure, but realize that if I never fail, I'm not pushing the envelope far enough. That's scary territory, and I've kept my eyes open for fellow explorers mapping similar terrain. That's how I found today's guest blogger—Leah Melber, Senior Director of the newly launched Hurvis Center for Learning Innovation and Collaboration at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Dream big—throw limits out the window. That was the guidance my education colleagues and I were given during a recent planning retreat to determine our next frontier. The retreat ignited us to think long and hard about what niche we wanted to fill within the informal education field. Drawing from themes on innovation and risk taking as championed by the Center for the Future of Museums, it didn't take long to agree we wanted to launch a learning center using the zoo as a laboratory. We wanted to try program models that were unproven, but with the potential for great success. To make this risk-taking acceptable, we'd commit to robust evaluation and research that would prove our successes and make even failures valuable in the lessons they could teach.

When the news came we received a leadership gift of $3M from the Hurvis Charitable Foundation to make our vision a reality, we began to discuss a name for the center. It would need to articulate our commitment to innovation and the importance of partnerships with others. A very messy white board and several lists later, The Hurvis Center for Learning Innovation and Collaboration was born. I laugh now when I remember what a challenge I considered that process. Just months later, I know that was a piece of cake.

As with any new initiative, especially one committed to not following an established pathway, challenges are simply part of the territory. There are the kind that you leave at your desk at the end of the day and the kind that wake you up at 3 am. There are the kind you discuss with a trusted colleague in hushed voices and the kind you ask your team to brainstorm on during a department meeting. All of them keep my team and me on our toes.

For example, it wasn't long before my color-coded, carefully crafted, multi-year staffing plan went out the window. Things like unexpected maternity leave, relocation time for a new hire, and a sheer underestimation of the workload took us quickly from Plan A to Plan B. I’m already aware that Plan C is likely lurking just around the corner and I’ve learned not to get too attached to beautiful charts.

We worked incredibly hard to complete as our inaugural product a free iPad app that lets learners use technology to study animal behavior (ethology) just like a researcher would and in any location convenient to them. I was thrilled when Apple approved the Observe to Learn app and made it available in the App Store only days before a related presentation and training on the product. I was less thrilled 5 minutes later to hear a shout from down the hall "It's not WORKING!!" as I was tapping my self-congratulatory email announcement to our CEO. I quickly deleted THAT email and set to writing our app developers instead. A week later, an update was launched and the problem solved, not before the presentation, but well in time for the training.

For me, a key challenge is finding time for reflection so I can maintain a broad view of our field and the Center's commitment to innovation within it. Days can easily be eaten away by the tasks on our to-do lists. But it's the center’s commitment to working outside the box that reminds me I need to have the same expectations for myself. Reading that latest blog, pondering a journal article, or calling up a colleague to talk about their newest initiatives are not 'extras' to fit in when I have time. They are at the heart of what I need to do to move our center forward and keep us open to all possibilities, ready to detour at any step. For a natural planner, and list maker, this might be my biggest challenge of all.

I am wise enough to know the challenges will keep coming, some hitting harder than others. I am not however wise enough to always predict from which direction they will come. So rather than try and anticipate every possible challenge, I've chosen to remind myself that the very process of overcoming challenges IS a significant part of the what the center was established to explore. Our job is simply to meet them when they arrive and see them as the learning experiences they are.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Curation, Community and Cat Videos

Last year, as I travelled the country talking about museum innovation, pop-up culture and other trends, the most popular story I told was about a project launched by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. I received so many follow-up questions about the Walker’s first Internet Cat Video Festival that I’ve invited Scott Stulen, artist, dj, curator, and programmer of Open Field at the Walker Art Center, to tell us more. (You may remember Scott as the orchestrator of the Drawing Club’s activities at the Alliance’s conference last year. 



It’s not just about watching Internet cat videos; it’s about watching Internet cat videos, together. 

On a warm August evening 10,000 people gathered on a large green space next to the Walker Art Center. The crowd covered the field, spilling out into neighbor’s yards and stopping traffic on the nearby freeways. They didn’t come for an exhibition opening or a rock concert, but to watch a juried compilation of Internet cat videos. The first Internet Cat Video Festival (#catvidfest) attracted unprecedented media attention for the Walker and sparked interesting dialog about audience, institutional relevance, curation in the age of YouTube and (of course) cats.

Perhaps an Internet Cat Video Festival was inevitable, but what made this event significant was not only that it was the first, but also that it was presented in the context of a respected contemporary art center. The implication was that the Walker was indirectly giving Internet Cat Videos value or approval, thus elevating the form to “art.” But ten thousand people didn’t just come to see just cat videos that can be easily found on the Internet, they came to connect.

It all started with a simple idea, proposed by program fellow Katie Hill, to screen a few Internet Cat Videos from YouTube at the end of the summer. Katie and I turned this suggestion into a formal program and posted a call to nominate your favorite videos via an online form. The event went instantly viral. Ten thousand nominations came pouring in and after countless hours of screening and careful editing, a final cut of 79 cat videos was compiled. The screening was augmented with a complete festival experience including local animal resource nonprofits, artist projects including a giant cats cradle, a local band playing Cat Stevens and Cat Power covers and food and drinks. All contributed to create a spirit of community, collaboration and spectacle.

The Internet Cat Video Festival is one of the most attended and covered events in the history of the Walker Art Center. However, the 60+ inquiries from all over the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Europe to re-stage the event was an unexpected outcome. Officially the “catvidfest tour” started last fall with smaller events at UMASS Boston and The Museum of Photographic Arts San Diego. The spring tour kicked off at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, a presentation at SXSW Interactive in Austin, Tex., and upcoming events in Oakland, Portland, San Francisco and Chicago. Interestingly, all of the inquires have come from other museums or cultural non-profits, not commercial entities.

Creating a Platform for Possibility


One of the frequent questions about the festival is how did this program emerge from the Walker. The answer is Open Field, an ongoing initiative that turns an adjacent green space into a collaborative programming platform for artists, the institution and the public. The Internet Cat Video Festival shared several goals with Open Field including crowdsourcing content, placing it in a new context, flattening perceived hierarchies and creating a platform for social interaction. The Cat Video Festival was just Open Field on steroids.

From the beginning our task was to frame the festival in the appropriate context within the institution. For a program like the Internet Cat Video Festival to thrive it needs a platform like Open Field for support, and a bit of distance from the museum.  Without this slight separation there can be conflict. For example, the Walker’s film and video department, internationally known for curating daring and experimental work, weren’t involved with the Festival. For curatorial departments this program, viewed in the wrong context, could be perceived as serious threat to their serious work. Open Field provided the perfect environment for the Walker to the embrace the program, and its risks, appropriately.

All Audiences are Equal


The audience for Internet cat videos is surprisingly complex. Submissions were received from all over the United States, Japan and Russia. The international appeal speaks both to the universal nature of the content and the reach of the Internet. The festival attracted everyone from young families to full-on “furries,” hipsters, to retirees. It was a combination of a very dedicated niche audience as well as a curious general public. I feel all audiences are equal and valuable, both the traditional museum going audience and the cat video audience. The cat video audience found value, and even pride in the Walker as a part of their community. Many attendees had never been to the Walker prior to the festival and through their positive experience the institution gained value and became accessible.

It's About Connectivity and Sincerity


There are aspects to an Internet Cat Video Festival that are pure silly entertainment. It is cats jumping off tables, smart-ass voices overs and cats in boxes, but there’s a more critical view as well. What does this type of content, that is undeniably popular, mean for society? What does it mean for cultural institution/museum to be relevant and to reflect what’s happening in contemporary life? What impact does the universal availability of the tools of production and means of distribution mean for both artists and museums? At present, everybody who has a blog or a Pinterest board is calling himself or herself a curator, and everybody that has a cell phone can produce high-definition videos which can be uploaded and viewed by millions of people—without any intervention from a curator of museum. It changes the possibilities and also how we must engage our audiences.

I am not going to call cat videos high art, but I am also not going to call them meaningless. Within the videos selected for the festival, there is a full range—from Cory Arcangel, an established contemporary artist, to Will Braden, a trained filmmaker who won our “Golden Kitty” award, to people who randomly captured a moment on a cell phone. In the realm of the cat videos, these are side by side and presented with a flatness. There is no distinction or hierarchy.  The ongoing popularity of Internet cat videos is evidence that it isn’t as simple as it may appear. Internet Cat Videos are doing the things compelling art should: they raises questions, challenge assumptions, anger people, creates emotional connection and in the case of our festival, are a vehicle to create a real experience.

Not everything is for everyone. The truth is that if you are serious in attempting to create a genuine experience, you can’t please everyone. The Internet Cat Video Festival is not ironic. It’s not making fun of anyone or anything and this is why it works. People crave real, un-ironic and genuine experience and they are starving for moments of joy. The festival provided a simple platform for this affection to be shared and people responded accordingly. Authenticity and transparent good intention is uncommon in contemporary art, and in society for that matter. The Internet Cat Video Festival provided an opportunity to sit on a hill with strangers and share in a moment of levity through something as unexpected as a viral video. So in the end it’s not about us, the museum, or even the cats, it’s about creating the opportunity to share something together.

The 2013 Internet Cat Video Festival planning is already underway, this year at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand Aug. 28. For more information visit www.walkerart.org/catvidfest

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Students in the Museum: From Inside the Ivy Covered Walls


We’ve featured a series of posts on this blog that explore the Campus Art Museums in the 21st Century report issued last year by the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago. Looking back, I realize that we have heard from directors, staff, educators—but not from students. This week’s guest blog rounds out our commentary with a post from Zoe Mercer-Golden, a senior at Yale College who has spent the last three years teaching in the Yale University Art Gallery.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been interviewing students in Yale’s junior class for membership in a student social society that I will soon age out of. Each interviewee is asked a few questions, one of which is: If you had a free afternoon, what would you do with it?

Ancient Art Sculpture Hall, Yale University Art Gallery
A disproportionate number of the responses we received this year had to do with the Yale University Art Gallery, which reopened in December to rave local and national reviews. Students on Yale’s campus know that they should be going to the museum—after all, The New York Times told them they should—but many of my classmates have yet to set foot in a museum that cost $135 million dollars and took more than a decade to improve.

Moreover, many of the students I interviewed knew little or nothing about the art gallery’s history or extraordinary collection of objects. Unaware that I work in the gallery’s education department and have given more welcome tours than I can count, interviewees happily told me things about the gallery that aren’t true.

As I listened to their glib answers, I felt torn: happy that they wanted to visit the art gallery, but concerned as to why they hadn’t, and even more concerned about their misconceptions. Their excuses for not visiting included busyness, school work and activities, but the museum is open for many hours a day, six days a week, and is totally free. Surely they could have found a half-hour somewhere in their busy lives to stop by? Going to a museum seemed to rank somewhere towards the bottom on a long list of priorities topped by napping—a sad state of affairs. 

These students’ responses are symbolic of the larger problems associated with integrating university art museums into mainstream campus culture—a problem that exists not only at Yale, but also on campuses around the country. Thanks the generous support of alumni and donors, university art museums often have world-class collections of objects that are beautifully preserved and thoroughly studied because of their proximity to cutting-edge technology and innovative scholarship. Yet students rarely make use of these collections unless formally taken to a museum for class or required to visit in order to complete an assignment. The few that go willingly and often are usually, like myself, majoring in a field directly tied to museums (art history, anthropology, archaeology, classics) or are student employees.

Over the past three years, I’ve watched my mentors and teachers at the gallery struggle to bring students into the building: do we extend hours? Give specialized tours? Host free events? Reach out through teachers, deans, dorms? How do we balance being a museum for the local community and the world with being a museum for our campus and students, our chief constituents? Is it enough that we bring students in for classes—or should we re-frame ourselves as a great hang-out spot, a place for conversation, dates and free afternoons?

Right now the Yale University Art Gallery is actively pursuing instructors and administrators, while largely trusting that students will discover the gallery in their own time. Thus far, the strategy has had only moderate success: Few students I’ve talked to are even aware that the gallery offers resources above and beyond its collection. They don’t know that the museum staff is full of many of the best teachers and most thoughtful bosses at Yale; every curatorial department is bursting with research materials, much unpublished, for assignments; staff will drive students to off-site storage to look at many objects; lectures and events are occurring all the time at the art gallery, and students are welcome at almost every one.

Once again I feel frustrated, because I have made use of all the resources listed above, and they have immeasurably improved my time at Yale. The art gallery is my community, my refuge, my intellectual home. But relatively few students can say the same.

This problematic reality may be the gallery’s fault, for hoping students will find their way in on their own, or it may be a fundamental problem with the way that students see art and museums—as a nice diversion but not an essential part of their lives and educations. I hope that the newly re-opened spaces at Yale will signal a shift in the way that students on our campus view and interact with art, and that the art gallery will be as much a home for other students as it has been for me. But I worry about a future in which the art gallery continues to be an activity for only (non-existent) free afternoons, instead of an essential part of a liberal arts education and a quintessential part of the Yale experience.

I think, for their own sakes, campus museums across the country need to reach out to students and convince them of the importance of museums as reservoirs of knowledge and places of personal enjoyment and discovery Traditionally, the cultural elite, educated at these very institutions, have been the most generous and consistent supporters of museums. A future without the support of these soon-to-be alumni and donors is a frightening prospect for campus museums, one that I hope will not—but worry will—come true. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

CFM Returns to the Future with TrendsWatch 2013

The Alliance has just released TrendsWatch 2013: Back to the Future, CFM’s second annual watch list of important emergent trends.

If we’re right, and the trends we’ve tagged this year shape the evolution of museums, a museum visit in the future may go something like this:

  • On the way in, a staff member asks if you want to borrow a “digital disconnect” pouch for your mobile device, to help you go offline for a stress-free visit;
     
  • But you decide to opt for the fully immersive digital experience. You authorize your mobile device to track your progress through the museum, pull information from exhibits as you approach, synch with your bio-monitor wristband to assess your reaction to the experience and suggest what other galleries you might enjoy;
     
  • Feeling a bit tired, you take a break to visit the museum’s lounge—a popular gathering place for residents of the many “micro-apartment” developments that have popped up in the surrounding neighborhood;
  • In the lounge, you kick back with your tablet to complete an essay you’ve been writing on the current temporary exhibit, which earn credits towards your digital badge in Art History from the museum’s education department;
  • Having submitted the essay, while you finish your latte you bring up the museum’s website to check the dashboard metrics on the teen art lab project you are supporting. You are pleased to see that the museum has documented a decrease in school absenteeism and an increased graduation rate among the teens participants;
  • On the way out you stop at the museum store to pick up a print-on-demand miniature reproduction of your favorite sculpture (having texted your order to the shop’s 3-D printing center on your way through the gallery).
Each of the elements in this story builds on one of the six trends highlighted in the new report—trends that CFM’s staff and advisors believe are highly significant to museums and their communities, based on our scanning and analysis over the past year. For each trend, we provide a brief summary, list examples of how the trend is playing out in the world, comment on the trend’s significance to society and to museums specifically, and suggest ways that museums might respond. There are also copious links to additional readings.

We hope that TrendsWatch (in addition to being a fun read) is a tool you can use to invigorate your museum’s planning and implementation. How about holding brown-bag lunches, putting “TrendsWatch” agenda item on the board meetings, even planning your very own forecasting workshop? Or instigating conversations on these trends in museum studies classes or professional conferences?

As you read the report, ask yourself the following questions:
  • How are these trends playing out in your community, state, region or country?
  • Which trends are likely to have the greatest effect on your organization?
  • How might your museum take advantage of the opportunities or avoid any risks these trends present?
And please, in the coming year, keep an eye open for news and opinion pieces illustrating how these trends are playing out. When you see a news item that supports our trends picks, please send it along. When you read an item that suggests we backed the wrong horse, send that to us, as well. We’ll share these links periodically via the Blog and our free weekly e-newsletter, Dispatches from the Future of Museums, and at the end of the year, assess how well we picked!

If you'd like to chat online with me and my co-author Phil Katz about TrendsWatch 2013, register for the Alliance Town Hall that will take place online March 27 at 2 pm EST. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fuel Your Futurist Imagination: 6 Artistic Visions of the Future

The BBC is running a contest, encouraging people to enter stills or video/animation depicting their personal visions of the future. They kicked off the "What If?" project by inviting six artists from around the world to seed the process. 

Recommended reading/viewing for this Friday: scoping out the What If? artists page, and scoping out the three paintings/drawings and three videos they contributed.
Estimated time (total) for reading & viewing: 8 minutes
Japanese artist Koji Yamamura creating his vision
  • Japanese illustrator and film-maker Koji Yamamura reinterprets Pieter Bruegel's Tower of Babel. 
  • The Play Collective, based in Buenos Aires, imagines the chaos engendered by a toddler grabbing the family remote, 300 years from now.
  • Glenn Hatton, from Australia, animates three cities of the future.
  • Abdoulay Konate, director of the Conservatoire of Arts and Media in Bamalo, Mali, contributes a vision of a future created by respect for the environment
  • By contrast, British artist and author Levi Pinfold draws a dark, arid future based in scarcity (to me, it looks like a group of refugees from one of China Mieville's novels landed in the deserts of Tatooine).
  • While Chema Madoz, from Spain, fears that resources may simply run out in 50 years time, resulting in "The End." 
And the contest doesn't close until tomorrow, March 8--so you have a brief window to submit your entry...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Open Enrollment: Digital Badges for Museum Futurists


When was the last time you looked at your resume? Pull it up on your screen and take a good look—it may be on the verge of becoming an anachronism.

Here’s an opportunity for you to explore the resume of the future by earning some 21st century credentials in strategic foresight (a.k.a. futures studies) as applied to museums. CFM is launching a pilot project to explore the credentialing systems than may underpin the resume of the future. You can volunteer as one of our “test pilots,” and sign up to work your way through an online curriculum of futures-related content in order to earn a digital badge issued by the Alliance.

Digital badging is one form of “micro-credentialing”—granting credits for learning drawn from a wide variety of sources, which can include a mix of face-to-face classroom learning, on-line coursework, self-administered exams and real-world experience. CFM is dabbling with digital badging for two reasons:

  •  Micro-credentialing in general, with digital badging as one example, is a trend that may change the landscape of education by destabilizing the economics of traditional degrees. In the process, it creates new economic opportunities in the educational ecosystem, opportunities that museums may be particularly well-suited to exploit.
  •  Museum professionals and professionals-in-training are struggling with how to obtain and maintain relevant, credible training in a manner that is affordable and gives a good return on investment. Our members have been telling AAM for years that they want us to provide credentialing for individuals, not just institutions (i.e., accreditation). To respond to this need, we have to find a way to provide training in a way that can be scaled to serve the entire museum field in the US, and potentially an international audience. Digital badging might fill the bill.

The trend towards micro-credentialing is important to you, personally, because:
  • If you are looking for your first job in a museum, you need credible ways to distinguish your c.v. from those of the other 300 people applying for any given position;
  •  If you are a current museum professional, you need ways to keep your resume fresh and up to date, even though you may not have the time or money to go “back to school” for yet another degree;
  •  If you are a manager or HR specialist, you need to learn how to assess the resumes of candidates who are embracing new forms of training;
  •  If you are an independent professional or work for a consulting firm, you can benefit from adding to the suite of knowledge and services you can offer clients.
This trend is important to museums because micro-credentialing programs are hungry for content, and museums are all about content. The resources your museum provides—face-to-face training programs, including workshops and internships; digital learning assets including images, video, fact sheets, study guides or curricula—are ripe for incorporation into a micro-credentialing program, whether the program is offered by your museum or another organization. 

What is driving the rise of fragmented, distributed credentials? Take a look at these two sobering statistics about the economy of higher education:
  • Young Americans are graduating college with an average student loan debt of nearly $27,000. Between 2004 and 2009, only thirty-seven percent of federal student loan borrowers made timely payments without postponing payments or becoming delinquent. 
  • Fifty-three percent of recent college graduates are unemployed or under-employed (i.e., in a job that doesn’t actually require that expensive bachelor’s degree).
Add to this the fact that, depending on the field in question, the specific knowledge imparted by a given course of study could be obsolete soon after a student graduates, and the traditional four year degree starts to look like a really bad ROI.

What’s the alternative, though? What would your resume say if it didn’t lead off with “B.A., Major Prestigious University, cum laude, 2010; M.A., Yet Another Major Prestigious University, 2013 (thesis title “On the Metadynamics of Museum Interpretive Dialectics and Gendered Power Structures”)?

In the future, your digital resume may look something like this:



Each “badge” on this resume would link to a description of the skill or accomplishment it represents, and documentation of what a learner did to earn this micro-credential. One badge might represent your completion of an on-line course on collections management. One might represent your packing and shipping skills acquired via a workshop you took at the last museum conference and an internship. Yet another documents the projects you completed as a volunteer at the Major Prestigious Museum.

Museums are starting to experiment with digital badging, encouraged by the resources being provided by organizations such as the Mozilla, Gates and McArthur Foundations, and the encouragement of the US Department of Education. I recommend this recent guest post by Ed Rodley for an overview of some of the museum badging projects underway now.

This CFM project is a chance for you, and your museum, to learn more about digital badging, and how it might work for you. It is also a chance for you to give feedback to the Alliance about whether this is a good way for us to provide credentialing to the field on this and other subjects.

If you want to learn more about the project, read this description. If you want to participate as a test pilot in the project over the coming months, email Vanessa Jones, project coordinator. Participant slots are limited, and will be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.

I look forward to the chance to help you add a “museum futurist” badge to your resume.

This project is made possible by the generous support of LearningTimes, which is donating the use of its BadgeStack for our pilot project, and by an innovation grant from the American Society of Association Executives.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Futurist Friday: Apocalypse for One

Yesterday Stuart Candy, on his Skeptical Futuryst Blog, drew readers' attention to a dark, elaborate scenario that played out on UK television last year. "Derren Brown: Apocalypse" is a two-part special that Candy describes as "Orson Welles' 1938 Radio Play War of the Worlds meets The Truman Show." Brown leads the hapless "star" of the special to believe that the end of the world has arrived--faking Armageddon to make one complacent and somewhat self-centered individual more appreciative of his real life. 

I'm interested in the show (which I have queued up to watch this weekend) as an example of an immersive scenario--an experience engineered to bring potential futures to life in a way that written stories can't. As Nina Simon laments on the Museum Two blog this week, museums rarely use their skills to create immersive, compelling, in-depth stories, even though such experiences can have the deepest and most lasting impact on the audience.  I've been thinking about how to design and present an such a scenario through CFM--perhaps staging a museum conference taking place in 2035, or inviting people to attend an open meeting of a museum's board taking place 20 years hence. So I'm studying examples for tips on how to make such experiences  practical, credible and effective. 

Whether or not you watch Brown's Apocalypse, I recommend Candy's post for his commentary on the production (thought warning--he gives plot spoilers). His post includes a thoughtful meditation on the nature and power of storytelling, a theme we will explore at the Alliance conference in Baltimore this May. Who is being deceived in Apocalypse--the protagonist or the audience? Does it matter? Does it matter if the audience knows they are being gamed? 

I've long thought that some of the most compelling stories flirt with us, being transparently ambiguous about their orientation as truth or fiction. This approach to audience courtship made me lose my heart to the Museum of Jurassic Technology. And I wish I could see this new installation by Mark Dion at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which creates in loving detail the office of a vanished curator (who never existed). 


Nina observes that museums too often settle for broad generalizations rather than delving into specific narratives. I think another thing that weakens many museum narratives is a ponderous insistence on authoritative truth. I find stories more compelling (and engaging) when they invite me to use my critical facilities, attention and maybe some research skills to challenge the narrative they present. I like a exhibit that I can disagree with, question, or even suspect is an outright fake. Sometimes uncertainty keeps life, dating, and museums more interesting. 

Anyway, here is episode 1 of Darren Brown's Apocalypse. Care to watch with me?