Developing an educational strategy

We’re a core team of designers. We’re not trained educators. While each of us has had quite a bit of exposure to museums, from within and without, and indeed have taught, both kids and adults, with Museum in a Box, we’re trying to improve on a very old idea, of museums’ handling collections being used as learning aids. That’s meant a crash course in the vast landscape of education. Boy, is it HUGE.

Fairly early on, I came up with a matrix-y thing to illustrate what I think are the main segments that our boxes might fit into. You can see it’s a combination of finished or DIY boxes, in a classroom or retail environment.

So, you have a spectrum between a finished box and a DIY box, and you might find one of these in either a classroom, or a retail space like a museum shop.

finished box might contain objects and their stories that are very directly tied to a specific curriculum area and its learning outcomes. This box might be targeted towards younger students, or at least written/designed for a specific age group or key stage.

A DIY box might be used as a teaching device for slightly older students, perhaps high school age, who are starting to dive deep into design/tech subject areas. In this case, you might not purchase anything physical, but only digital and schematic things. Students would put together the entire thing, from configuring the Brain, to writing the content, to producing the content, to printing the objects, to making the container, etc. We like this approach because the kids could learn a thing or two about history or art or science as they’re constructing a product. It feels like great cross-pollinatory learning, and the teachers we’ve talked about it agree.

You could see either of these boxes also existing in a retail environment. We’d love to make a box to accompany an exhibition, so instead of that spectacularly unsatisfying experience of only being about to buy one or two postcards of what you’ve just seen, you could buy a box that lets you delve deep into every aspect of the exhibition, including perhaps even how it was made. You take it back home and can spend time. We also like imagining this type of box in a pre/visit/post context… maybe the box could be sent to schools before the students visit your museum, so they can be familiar with what they’ll see before they arrive. Once they’ve come and seen things, they could produce their own impressions of it all, and make their Museum in a Box play that instead of the Official Point of View.

Personally, I’m also curious about the collision of Museum in a Box with Design/Tech because, to me at least, it feels like lots of the tech projects out there suffer a little from a lack of content, or that it’s engineering for engineering’s sake? But, then you watch videos of kids making electric guitars with a  micro:bit and maybe that proves me wrong in an instant.

Each of these types of boxes and their associated activities and work leads me to a concept we bumped into in the course of last year. As we were working with Sara Cardello, Education Specialist at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, on a pilot partnership, we discovered the idea of 21st Century Skills. As I understand it, the general initiative was formed in 2002, as a coalition of the business community, education leaders and policymakers who were determined to:

[put] 21st century readiness at the centre of US K-12 education and to kick-start a national conversation on the importance of 21st century skills for all students.

Framework for 21st Century Learning

While there is certainly still emphasis placed on “mastery of fundamental subjects” like English or Maths, 21st century themes are introduced too, around information / media / tech, learning and innovation (and importantly, improvisation), and broader life/career skills.

It’s about setting students on a course to build muscles around things like cogent reasoning, evidence collection, critical thinking and analytical communication, all of which are surely useful when it comes to investigating cultural description and points of view generated in certain context.

  • You can see the skills outlined in the P21 Framework. There’s a ton of documentation on the site too. Lots to explore.

3D Museums: Tactile learning, greater access

Over the last year or so, we’ve also been steadily learning more about object-based learning, and we think it fits in especially well with the overall tenets of 21st century skills, combined with Museum in a Box. Object-based learning is used at the British Museum too, with school groups that come to visit. With thanks to Lizzie Edwards for sharing her knowledge in this area with us.

The main benefits of using objects in learning, according to UCL Museums and Collections, are that they:

  • provide a direct link with a topic or ‘the past’ and can really enhance young people’s interest in and understanding of a topic/subject.
  • encourage learners to use all their senses – especially touch, sight and smell.
  • help to develop the important skill of drawing conclusions based on an examination of evidence, together with an understanding of the limitations and reliability of evidence.
  • are ideal for generating group and class discussion.
  • promote the value of museums and encourage young people to visit museums and galleries with their families to further their learning.

One of the diagrams I found in my research is a handy glanceable thing to help you quickly understand that object-based learning is about asking interesting questions of an object, from lots of different angles… This diagram has been recreated — mostly so it fitted in with the colour scheme of a presentation I was giving! — from the superb report (in PDF format): Learning Through Culture: The DfES Museums and Galleries Education Programme: A guide to good practice (2002)

I presented these rough ideas in Brussels in late November at the Faro’s “Heritage, virtual and augmented” conference. Here are the slides (or a version with presenter notes):

Bright Lights

We continue to research and look to leaders in innovative learning around the world as we ourselves try to learn more about how Museum in a Box can actually help museum educators and teachers, and not hinder them,

We find ourselves studying systems like:

  • diy.org – “DIY is a safe online community for kids to discover new passions, level up their skills, and meet fearless geeks just like them.” Who says education can’t co-exist with creativity??
  • Technology Will Save Us – We’ve been especially impressed by the generosity of the TWSU Education folks. All their stuff in published online, and let me tell you, we’ve been studying it! 🙂
  • AltSchool – “creating a 21st century work environment for our educators”, “supporting, rather than disempowering, with technology”.

There’s a long way to go, but broadly speaking we’re liking the feel of a framework that blends object-based learning and 21st century skills as our starting point.

We’ve already written a job description for an Education Producer – we know it’s a gap – but happily learning about this new, huge environment in the meantime. If you know of a good group or person who might be interested to fund a position like that (maybe a contract to the tune of £10k?) then please tell us who we should talk to!

 

#3D4ever

Last week, whilst George and Tom were attempting to reach #VHNIreland I was having slightly more luck arriving at the Wellcome Collection for the ‘3D4ever: building three dimensional models to last’ conference.

The conference focused around the long-term durability and accessibility of 3D models and scan data for future uses, uses which as we discovered in some of the talks may not be immediately obvious. I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on a few thoughts and favourite take-aways.

Having a good understanding of photogrammetry (primarily by probing Tom for tips and tricks) I opted to skip the workshops and stick with talks for the whole day, it was intense but informative and an eye-opener into a community that I didn’t even know really existed! So… a few highlights:

Stuart Jeffrey from the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) discussed a use-case where an old 3D model of the GSA Mackintosh Building which suffered severe fire damage in 2014 provided evidence that a substantial lean on the West gable wall was historic and had not come about as a result of the fire. Members of the GSA Digital Design Studio produced a second model the day after the fire to compare the lean and save a large portion of the building from demolition an impressive feat and one which illustrated the importance of making good data accessible in the long-term.

Stuart Jeffrey from GSA

Anthony Corns from the Discovery Programme talked about his experiences of archiving and reusing 3D data as well as the steps and software involved in the creation of a model. One slide showed a standard software stack consisting of about 12 programmes which was somewhat surprising, working with Tom to process various models I am slowly but surely becoming aware and familiar with the wide range of tools out there.

Anthony also spoke about using scan data to asses pressure on different sites his example being Skellig Michael which has witnessed a surge in tourist numbers since Luke Skywalker decided to hang there in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This also demonstrated when are where it may be appropriate to sell 3D data such as to film/production crews.

 

Chris Moran who heads the Wellcome Trust legal team gave an insightful talk on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) an area where people often become a little tangled. I was listening from a design perspective so it was interesting to see examples where cases had been argued and won based on the potentially loose definitions of what constitutes something as an ‘original creation’ or even a database, his example being a newspaper’s website. Star Wars references were also utilised here in the form of the IP rights of a Stormtrooper’s helmet… I sense a pattern developing.

IP Rights with Chris Moran

Vincent Rossi and Jon Blundell of the Smithsonian appeared via Skype to discuss their work on digitisation and also show off their amazing work on the Apollo 11 command module ‘Columbia’ check it out here.

Vincent Rossi and Jon Blundell all the way from America

I had the opportunity to ask a question to our speakers from across the pond which was kinda cool!

Finally perhaps the most insightful moment was the final ‘Round-up chat’. Here following a panel chat the audience were invited to reflect on: what is to be done and how to address the gaps in our knowledge?

A final panel chat

It was clear there was a desire for good collaborative practise and several rousing speeches were made, there was a great deal to get off the chest! A key agreement was that to work with better tools and formats, instead of trying to create new ones, complain about a lack of essential features, and live in fear of formats going extinct, why not establish a line of communication with the developers and those behind the existing platforms. The software stack slide that Anthony showed sprung to mind and it became apparent there was a need for openness and better communication between all parties involved in 3D work not just in the short term and not just for individuals and independent organisations but the community as a whole.

What a day, mind blown!

C