Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Digital Learning Network

I've been meaning to blog about this for a while but keep forgetting, but now that I'm on a roll with blogging I thought I'd get round to it - have you heard about the changes to what used to be the e-Learning Group for Museums, Libraries and Archives?

Well, the e-Learning Group has now changed its identity and become The Digital Learning Network (DLNet for short). You can read their announcement about the changes, but basically it seems the drive behind it is to continue to provide all the training and events that they used to provide, but to shift the focus back to just providing a network for people to talk about using technology in heritage learning.

I think it's a great idea! When I started my current job I became very aware that I was in quite an unusual role that doesn't exist in a lot of organisations. I was fresh from a year of being the Web Officer at The British Postal Museum & Archive and during that year I'd built up a great network of contacts to do with museums and the web which I'd found really useful.

Suddenly, faced with a job which also used some of the skills I'd previously developed to do with museum learning as well as my web skills and was subtlely different to my previous role, I found I suddenly felt quite isolated again as I felt my way around my new role. I had found my network of contacts and all their blogs etc really invaluable in helping me get a sense of what key issues and debates in the sector were and I really missed this in my new role.

Anyway, a few months into my job, I met with Wendy Earle at the BFI and discovered that her role is, in many ways similar to mine. It was great talking to her about my job and the challenges and opportunities it provided and we both agreed that we needed more opportunties to network in this way. We petitioned Martin Bazley, the chair of the e-Learning Group, to help us in this endeavour and he organised what is now considered to have been the first London ThinkDrink (a key aspect of this new DLNet - basically digital learning people, meeting in an informal setting - a pub in this case - to chat about their work). I discovered other people in similar roles to me and it was great to talk through ideas with them.

A few months after that, at Museums and the Web 2009, I met the lovely Claire Ross, then an e-Learning Project Manager at Geevor Tin Mine Museum in Cornwall and we discovered that we had loads in common - both of us had come to e-Learning through a non-technical route and were both finding our way and trying to establish ourselves in a museum/web world which often feels a bit daunting for us non-geeks/semi-geeks.

Claire is now on the committee of the Digital Learning Network (I nominated her so I'm quite proud!) and is one of the driving forces behind these current changes which they hope will help people like us find and meet up with others to share experiences and ideas with other people working in digital learning. Incidentally, Claire has also blogged about these recent changes.

If any of this rings true to you, if you work in a museum, library or archive in e-Learning/digital learning, I urge you to do one or all of the following:

One last thing to point out - I've put loads of references to DLNet in my AMA plan. A big part of the AMA is about networking and building a network of contacts. You're also supposed to demonstrate what you've learnt in a number of ways including sometimes giving presentations/papers etc. I plan to discuss things with members of the London Network group at ThinkDrinks and in blog posts either here or on the DLNet site. If you're doing an AMA and have any aspect of digital learning in your job role then please consider using the Digital Learning Network to help you!

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, 8 March 2010

AMA support group meeting - Project management

Starting as I mean to go on, this is a very quick post (because I'm running out of lunch break) on an AMA support group meeting that I attended last week which fits in rather well with my plan because it was about project management.

We had a lovely tour of the new Medieval galleries at the V&A to start us off which was great - definitely need to go back and look at that. Then we moved to one of the learning rooms and had some great talks from project managers from the Natural History Museum and the V&A. I've had project management training in the past which I found really useful, but what I want to concentrate on in my AMA is practical application of those skills in the real world. The theory is great, but in my experience so far, it's sometimes hard to relate it to what you're actually doing when you're pushed for time.

Wanda Sheridan did a great talk about her work on the After Darwin: Contemporary Expression exhibition at the Natural History Museum. One of her points confirmed what I was already beginning to realise: that, despite it sometimes feeling like a superfluous waste of time, it's really important to establish the business case for a project and define its scope at the start, and make sure that everyone is on board. Sometimes this feels overly bureaucratic but I've certainly regretted not doing it in the past.

She also stressed the importance of sitting down with each person on the project team face-to-face to make sure that they understand their role on the team and what they need to do by what point. I find this difficult, partly because I'm someone who likes communicating by email, and email is so much faster than face-to-face to each individual, but also because for the kinds of projects that I manage (i.e. not large scale exhibitions, but small-ish projects to develop e-learning resources, it feels like overkill) it feels overly formal. I asked a question at the end of Wanda's session about how she manages to get people to stick to the timescales that she's established etc, and she stressed again the importance of this face-to-face initial meeting in doing this. So it's something I'm going to have to try. It certainly sounds promising.

She also emphasised the importance of not dismissing a project as soon as it's completed but making sure that it's fully evaluated. This is a trap I could very easily fall into. Especially at times of the year like this when I'm finishing a number of projects before the end of the financial year and it would be so easy to just breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the month and forget the projects forever. Wanda also evaluates not only the final product but the project is evaluated internally as well. This is something I'd like to do more of because it'll help me improve my project management skills if I can get people's feed back on how I have managed a project (although I might have to toughen up to criticism a little!)

She suggested a useful tool for this post-project evaluation: Red, Amber and Green - Red - for what should we stop doing in future projects, Amber for 'what do we need to consider continuing or perhaps stopping?' and Green for 'what did we do well that should be imparted to others?'

She identified things to be aware of in a project:
  • Scope creep - make sure you stick to the objectives you originally defined
  • Lack of role definition for team members - clearly define who does what at the start
  • Dependency on one person
  • Unclear objectives
  • Incomplete plan
Wanda's talk was followed by Anna DeJean from the V&A who came in towards the end of the development of the Renaissance and Medieval galleries - sounds like she really had her work cut out but I admired the way she sounds like she stayed so positive!

Anna emphasised a lot of the points that Wanda had mentioned but some of the key messages she talked about were:
  • Don't underestimate logistics
  • Make sure you have clear communications channels
  • Be prepared to escalate issues
  • Carry a mobile phone charger!
  • Trust your team
  • Have a contingency plan
Lastly, we had a talk from Ella Ravilious, Curator of Documentation & Digistisation in the Word and Image department of the V&A. This was a really interesting insight into a completely different kind of project - the digitisation of prints and drawings - which has no defined endpoint and is managed in many ways very differently from those described above.

We ended the day with a tour around the V&A's Theatre and Performance galleries which I DEFINITELY want to go back and take a better look around on my own, along with the Flower Fairies exhibition.

Overall it was a really interesting day despite the fact that I wasn't feeling very well, and as ever it was brilliant to do something different for the afternoon, chat to other AMA-ers, and just open up my head to new ideas for a bit. Many thanks to Carmen and Kristian who coordinate the London AMA support group for organising it!

Labels: , , ,

My AMA begins

Right, I've just sent off my AMA CPD plan so, providing it gets accepted, today is the official start date of me being able to log activity towards my AMA. This will therefore, hopefully, give me stuff to blog about again after a rather long silence.

For those of you that don't know, the AMA (Associateship of the Museums Association) is a continuing professional development programme run by the Museums Association. It basically encourages you to look at what areas you work in now that you want to improve on and where you want to go in the future and then guides you through how to get there and improve your skills. It's basically what you should be doing anyway to improve your career but within an organised framework that employers recognise and that hopefully gives you the structure to keep it going when time is tight (that's the theory anyway!)

I have aims to use my current role to improve on my skills in the following areas:
  • project management
  • people management
  • evaluation
  • web accessibility and standards
  • e-Learning theory and practice
  • strategic development
In terms of future aspirations, I want to keep my options open. I'm still in my late 20s and I'm in a job that's quite specific and that doesn't exist in a lot of museums. I feel like I don't want to shut any doors, so I want to try and keep my finger in as many other 'museum pies' as possible as well as e-Learning. A lot of the skills in my role are quite transferable so that's good, but I also want to work on my subject knowledge and keep my hand in with writing and research and exhibitions. Lastly, I want to finish my AMA with a better idea of what jobs are out there and what skills I need to work on to move up to them.

Throughout my AMA I'll be reading books, attending courses, interviewing people in more senior roles and I have to keep a log of it all. I'm hoping to use my blog to do that so if you're interested in Museums, in e-Learning, and in project and people management, then please add me to your RSS feeds and help me through!

Labels: , , , , , ,