Monday, 27 April 2009

MW2009 #2 - one week on

Finally returned back to the UK a week after MW2009 after a holiday with my partner in Washington DC and then Boston which was lovely.

Before returning to work tomorrow, I wanted to take the time to write a second post about what I got out of MW2009 now that I've had time to read the proceedings and generally reflect on everything. It follows on from my previous post: Thoughts, ideas and plans from MW2009.

1. Think it's interesting to reflect on individual threads and themes that I saw in the conference as well as the 'intended' themes laid out in the proceedings. For me the key themes were:
  • A series of different perspectives and tips on project managing web projects: re-designs, e-Learning projects, games etc
  • The power of reaching existing web (or other similar) communities through museum web activity.

2. This reaching existing communities theme was evident particularly in the papers on the WolfQuest game (which reached out to an existing gaming community rather than the traditional museum audience) and on the Alternate Reality Game by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (which tapped into an existing community of 'hardcore gamers').

A more unexpected (but really nice one) came across from one of our wiki panel - the Quilt Index Wiki experienced difficulties, as others also did, with the community they wanted to reach lacking confidence with the technology, but where they had the advantage was that the quilting community are already familiar with the notion of collaboratively building something and that helped.

I suppose in a way this is also one of the powerful opportunities that the mini workshop on iTunes U demonstrated - getting Museum content out to an existing community looking for learning material on iTunes.

3. Lots of people have been reflecting on the explosion of Twitter activity at MW2009. I signed up to Twitter during and as a direct result of the conference. I think for me it allowed me to have a voice and to join in a conversation that can too often seem like a closed shop where the same names come up over and over again (rather as @clairey_ross and @miaridge were discussing about the UK Museums Computer Group listserv on Twitter last night).

I don't pretend that I had anything massively inspired to say either on Twitter, anymore than I do on the MCG list, but participating, and having people start to know me through that, gives me a confidence to feel that I can be part of those conversations. It sort of makes everything feel more democratic and inclusive.

4. Quick list of the sessions I got the most out of (in no particular order) and that I'd recommend reading the papers of (where there are papers) it you couldn't attend:

Again, a bit stream of consciousness but I wanted to record everything while I was still buzzing from the enthusiasm and new ideas.

Overall I got loads out of the conference not just because of the sessions that I went to but also because of the people I met, the conversations I had, the new networks we started to build and overall the time it gave me to take a step back from work and think about the bigger picture.


Friday, 17 April 2009

Thoughts, ideas and plans from MW2009

Just a quick post this time to sum up some of the things I've got out of MW2009 so far. They're a bit stream of consciousness but I wanted to record them whilst I'm still buzzing from the conference inspiration!

1. Interested to hear yesterday about a lady from the US (I'm sorry that I can't remember her name or her institution but it was to do with Egyptology) who uses Twitter in an interesting way to keep school children engaged. I've been wracking my brains since I started my e-Learning role to think of ways that social media can really work in a learning context (rather than a more general, promotional capacity for the museum in general). This organisation have a number of mummies that children discover when they visit the museum. When they leave, each child can adopt a mummy and that mummy has a Twitter feed. The mummies then keep the children in touch with what's going on in the museum that might interest them, in the hope that they come back with their families and teach them what they learnt in their school session.

2. Started a blog post already on 'tips for project managing e-Learning resources'. Hoping that if this sparks some discussion, I could maybe at some point set up a wiki which other e-learning museum people could contribute to so that we can build a really good centralised resource to help each other out with projects like this. All suggestions welcome!

3. Was interesting to hear about the American perspective on evaluation and how it differs from Inspiring Learning for All in the UK. I definitely want to think quite carefully about how I can apply some of the suggestions they made to future projects I'll be working on.

4. Really great to meet Sharna Jackson of Tate Kids yesterday and to hear about how she set up Tate Kids. I hope to be able to talk to Sharna again when I'm back in London as it would be great to pick her brains further about her experiences setting up this great resource.

5. Fascinating to hear about the different wiki projects in the session which I spoke in yesterday. It demonstrated really clearly one of the key points of my dissertation i.e. that it takes a lot of time and effort to foster these museum wiki communities but it was really cheering to see that paying off in some of the other wikis which have been around a bit longer than the BPMA Wiki and have been doing some really amazing stuff. You can read the other papers here: (Go to Wikis and the expanded museum community bit)

6. As I said in my previous post, it's just been really great to meet like-minded people and just take the time out of normal daily working life to think about what we do, why we do it, how we could do it better etc. It's really lovely to feel like a part of my brain that often gets stifled has a chance to breath!


Thursday, 16 April 2009

Top tips for museums creating e-Learning resources

This post is inspired by the workshop I attended at MW2009 by Carolyn Royston and Steve Gardam.

I love conferences for the way that they allow you to take time out of work and just open up your brain to ideas. It only takes a few minutes into a good conference session before my brain suddenly wakes from the deep slumber that is often induced from busy days responding to the ever-growing task list and starts to fizz with new ideas, thoughts and connections that aren't usually there.

It struck me that it would be good to start a blog post on things to remember or tips for creating e-Learning resources based on my own recent experiences and also on what Carolyn and Steve had to say on Wednesday. I'm hoping that if this works it can become a growing and evolving post and a conversation between others who may have other experiences and tips to add to it. It's far from being an exhaustive list and I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who would like to add things to it or change bits. Who knows, maybe we could draw on my wiki experience (see my MW2009 paper on wikis with Frankie Roberto) and turn it into a wiki some day (let me know if you think that would be a good idea).

1. Test, test and test again

This is actually also partly influenced by the second MW2009 workshop I attended on evaluation.

At the start of any new e-Learning project, however small, there should be some form of user testing and evaluation. This could be as simple as running your ideas past the target audience, be it teachers, children of a certain age group or whatever. It will allow you to get an idea before you start spending any time or money about whether your idea will work. It might give you really important pointers about how you should go about your project, or suggest things that you didn't think of putting into the brief.

There should also be formative testing whilst the project is happening. It might be tempting to wait until you have some kind of usable version of the resource already built before testing it, but it's probably also worth paper prototyping (i.e. sketching out what your site will look like and testing the navigation and how pages link together on paper or with simple wireframes) much earlier than this. This is backed up by what Steve and Carolyn did, by the evaluation workshop and also by a conversation I had with a developer I was working with recently.

If there are important functionality issues that come out of testing, it's best to spot them early on and iron them out before complicated code gets written that will take time to correct at later stage. This kind of testing needn't try too hard to get a representative sample of the target audience testing it. As Kate and Jes pointed out yesterday, if you get a handful of people who don't have a clue what you're trying to achieve with your resource then that's enough to tell you that you need to make changes!

You should also evaluate your project at the end as well, even if, by that stage, you're just glad it's over. If there's scope to still change things then remedial evaluation can work but even if it's just to learn some lessons for the next similar project you do, or to share your findings with others so that they can learn from it too it is a valuable exercise.

2. Think carefully at the outset about who you need to involve in the project and what each of their roles will be

In the National Museums Online Learning Project this was particularly important because they were working across 9 big national museums with different structures, different skills, different amounts of experience etc. Carolyn used Basecamp to communicate with everyone involved in the project and it sounds like this worked really well.

From personal experience as well I would say that it's particularly important to remember that you will need considerable curatorial input into any e-Learning project. In the early stages of a project, it can be easy to concentrate on the people who will be directly managing the project. Even if the content is to be created by educators, and the technical side built by technical people, it is the curators who need to approve every aspect of factual content and the historical accuracy of any illustration etc in the resource. Getting a curator involved in the early stages of a project and making sure that project timing is planned around curatorial workloads as well as those of the departments directly creating the resource could save a lot of time further down the line. In addition, curators may be able to suggest items in the collection or subjects that an educator might not have thought of. The same is also true for other departments in the organisation. Consider for instance whether you will need to use images, and if so, what the copyright implications are and who you need to talk to in advance of the project starting about this.

Also from experience I would recommend establishing roles and levels of authority to sign things off at this early stage of a project and make sure everyone is aware of it and agrees with it. This way, if difficulties arise later on then it will be easier to resolve them. I would also advocate having a fairly formalised sign-off process which establishes an order for people to sign things off (and involves an actual signature on paper) to ensure that those with ultimate sign-off see any iterations last so that they can also approve/challenge everyone else's comments and changes.

3. Plan your resource

Steve and Carolyn stressed the importance of establishing their aims and deliverables at the start of the project. This is particularly important in a multi-partner project like theirs because it's imperative that everyone is 'singing from the same song sheet' from the start and knows what the project is trying to achieve.

I was initially quite sceptical when I was first introduced to Inspiring Learning for All but the thing I find the Generic Learning Outcomes (GLOs) particularly useful for is forcing you to anchor your project in what you want people to take away from it at the end. From a quick glance it also looks like the new Inspiring Learning website is a lot easier to use than the old one and it's much easier to find the GLOs quickly.

Steve and Carolyn suggested some key questions to ask yourself/things to remember at this planning stage:

1. be really specific about your target audience.

2. Are you genuinely meeting an audience need?

3. What do you want to achieve with this resource?

4. How is the project funded and when does that funding end (and how will the project be maintained once the funding is no longer available)?

5. Who is writing the content?

6. How will you produce content appropriate for your audience?

7. How will you make sure that your content maximises the potential of the web?

8. How will you transform raw content into an online resource?

9. How will you manage your quality control?

10. Do the people have the right skills to handle the content?

I'm going to leave this post there at the moment. As I say, it's far from being an exhaustive list. I'm hoping that it's just a start and can be something that can be built on and can continue to grow. Please feel free to comment with suggestions and I'll try and update the post as and when I think someone has added a good idea.