Monthly Archives: January 2012

Boston Museum Tech meetup 2/2, 7PM

Come join us for Drinking About Museums, Boston

Drinks by Flickr user The Vault DFW

Our next meetup will be this Thursday, February 2nd, at 7PM. As we have for the past few months, the meetup will be at the Cambridge Brewing Company in Kendall Square, Cambridge. I’ll be there a bit before 7 and I think I’ll even reserve a big table, so check your calendars and let me know! Our topic is new rationales for digital interactives.

And in solidarity with our peeps in Denver and DC, I’m going to use the #drinkingaboutmuseums BOS hashtag from now on, so update your filters.
Directions:

New Media Consortium retreat – Day Two

Here’s the final part of my impressions of the Future of Education retreat held by the New Media Consortium in rainy Austin, TX.  The first part can be found here.

The final day of the retreat felt different to me, more intense. After a giddy first day of throwing ideas around and throwing them up on the wall, the tasks of synthesizing, identifying and ranking metatrends was more of a slog. Our brains were tired, and it’s hard work. The discussions and statements got more heated, especially when people felt that their idea might not get heard before it was too late. By the end, I was worried that we might get bogged down and not finish our task, but Larry Johnson, Lev Gonick, and David Sibbet are great cat herders and never seemed to tire of reminding us one more time to stay on topic. Great facilitation is like gold, and credit for getting any usable result from the event will rest firmly with them in my mind.

from Britt Watwood's "Learning In a Flat World" blog

I came into the event still processing one of the small group discussions I’d had yesterday about the dueling dyads of Vision & Leadership and Desire & Will and how they should inform one’s work. Discovering your passion and deciding what is to be done are big issues, or maybe Big Issues. There’s still more to unpack there.

In one of the morning small groups (I’ve lost track of how many I was in overall. It was a lot, though.) we were charged with identifying metatrends. The conversation turned, as it did so many times, to how resistant academics were to the perceived loss of their privileged position as “authorities”. It occurred to me that I’ve had this conversation countless times in the past several months now. The “they” changes (directors/curators/academics), but they’re always the people not in the room. I wonder what they say about us at their conferences?

In the course of this, we touched on visitors/students ongoing need or desire to have ways to make sense of the superabundance of information that’s now available. I think you can view the whole app phenomenon as a manifestation of this desire, the move away from surfing around to get what you want to having an app that just gives you a tiny slice – a snack as opposed to a smorgasbord. People still want and value guidance, they just want “a guide on their side instead of a sage on the stage,” as Zoë Rose put it.

Curation
How many buzzwords has the museum sector given to popular culture? The only one I can think of is curation; the act of finding and gathering objects and information to tell stories. Do a web search on “curate” and you’ll find all kinds of thing being curated that have nothing to do with museum practice. It must be galling to many curators to have their highly-specialized craft abstracted to the point that you can now curate your clothes, your music, and, worst of all – content, whatever that is. I choose to look upon this as a mark of esteem that people value this skill so much that they want to identify what they do with what curators do. I’m working on being more of a “glass half full kind” of guy this year.

I also see it as our great opportunity in this emergent era of digital plenty. We may not be Google, or Apple, or Wikipedia, or ______, but if there is one thing we know better than anyone else, it’s curation and we already have the people and the repositories of information to tell the important stories, the universal ones, the ones that last. I think it’s no longer a question of technology or budget. What museums need to do to be the kinds of institutions that are vibrant and relevant to rising generations is essentially a question of vision and leadership, desire and will.

Final thoughts
As one of the last to leave to event, I had plenty of time to think about what I learned from the retreat to take forward with me.  I was rueing the fact that I didn’t get to spend more time talking to Liz Neely about careers. Seb Chan and I started talking about the lack of magic in science museum exhibits and how to capture more of that. Zoë Rose and I both work for large institutions that use the term “learning journey” and struggle to understand exactly what that means. And the list goes on… I decided that the sign of a good professional event is that it generates more dialogue than there is time to finish. I can’t wait to continue these talks online and off, and see where they lead.

A much-enjoyed beer afterwards

Themes from the NMC retreat

The New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report 10th Anniversary retreat has been going full swing all day and night, and I’m exhausted. All this thinking and trying to take on the abundant inspiration coming at us from all sides has been hard work.  Just check out the Twitter feed at #NMChz to get a flavor of the torrent.  I tried to live tweet a bit, but the conversations were too stimulating, and I decided it was more important to be present than to capture it.  Luckily for us all, there are several hundred tweets, videos going up already and all will be catalogued and served on the NMC site.

The following are some of the ideas a and inspirations that I have to get out of my head before I can go to bed and rest up for tomorrow.

Notable quotes:

Lev Gonick started with an Eleanor Roosevelt quote that she saw her mission being, “to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the  comfortable.” This appeals to the troublemaker in me no end!

David Sibbet said,

“You need communities, but you need leaders, too.”

Øystein Johannessen said,

“To innovate, you need a solid base of knowledge.”

U.S. Army War College coined the term VUCA (VUCA=Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) to describe the present and its since spread into teaching strategic leadership and other areas. It’s a VUCA world. And getting more so all the time.

Susan Metros, talking about leadership, asked us to think about “What do you value?” and “What influences you?” and find answers to those questions. She then recommended three books:

  • Edward de Bono, Lateral Thinking
  • Amos Rappaport, House Form & Culture
  • Mary Catherine Bateson, Composing a Life

Look at the lay of the land and where you want to go and bushwhack your “desire path” to it.

A desire path is the term used by architects to describe those dirt paths that people wear into lawns because the paths the architects put down go in funny directions, so people just cut across the lawn to get to their destination, creating these unofficial paths.

Marsha Semmel, talking about informal education, stating that the big challenges are; Recognition, Research, Resources, Leadership, and “radical” collaborations. Yes, ma’am!

Some general themes that arose for me:

Living in Uncertainty
I love the idea of the VUCA world. It meshes with a lot of things happening in other discussions about museums. Rob Stein has been talking about the same idea at least since the last Tate Handheld conference. The MCN 2012 Program Committee has been wrestling with how to define this issue and how we should respond to it

Leadership
The “L” word came up a lot today in almost every discussion, and it was both comforting and distressing to see how much people felt that they had really limited agency to affect transformation. Leadership was needed, and of course, the people who needed to display it weren’t in the room. In museum settings, this would usually involve complaining about curators or directors “Not getting it” whatever the “it” was. After today, and hearing about the challenges my colleagues in formal education face, I will try very hard never to complain about lack of leadership. Our afternoon discussion group had a great discussion about leadership and vision and how neither of these are the exclusive domain of those in charge. Shifting all of the onus of leadership onto the leaders is a self-defeating proposition, and one that lets practitioners off the hook.  It’s certainly easier for established leaders to exercise them, but we all have some ability to lead and look ahead, if we choose to exercise those abilities.

Learning
How surprising that learning should be a theme, right? Not very, but hearing it applied to us, instead of the “audience” or “students” was very heartening to me. I’ve been thinking a lot about what lifelong learning means for practitioners, and the idea that as educators we need to learn about the things we expect/predict/guess are going to be important to our audiences is critical. How will we need to transform our work environments and processes to make this kind of learning a natural part of the culture?

Communities of Interest
The whole day was a great example of the powers of communities of interest as opposed to communities of practice which is how we usually assemble. We employed this methodology in a project we worked on a couple of years ago, and it helped us conceive of how to work with outside and why in new and better ways. See Gerhard Fischer’s works, like “Communities of Interest: Learning through the Interaction of Multiple Knowledge Systems”  

Can’t wait for tomorrow!