[re-post] Developing rich media for museums: a way forward?


Image: Michael Hugill c. Australian Museum

Rich media (i.e. video) is fast becoming a key way to present museum content both onsite, online and via mobile. How can this work in a manageable and structured way? 


This post was original published on the Australian Museum blog in January 2012. Given some other work I’m doing thought be good to re-post (with some updated data).


The amount of traffic generated by YouTube is phenomenal. According to this infographic, in 2011 YouTube had 490,000,000 unique visitors generating 92,000,000,000 visits each month! So, certainly rich media is something we cannot ignore. [the latest 2013 infographic is here and YouTube – 14,400,000 Unique Australian Visitors on YouTube in July – from SocialMediaNews.com.au]

Now that I have taken over responsibility for exhibition editing, working with my new team I have been thinking about how we can both develop and manage rich, digital content across all of our sites (that is online, physical and mobile), as well as meeting expectations of a range of internal stakeholders.

I’ve been thinking that there are three levels of or approaches to rich content: the quick; rapid response and the high-level. Think of the quick as akin to an iPad / smartphone movie – capturing a quick moment, event or visitor feedback. – for example this launch of one of our programs. The quick should take no longer than five minutes from capture to update, need little (if any) editing and minimal (if any) branding. Here‘s an example of a quick movie at the 2011 launch of Science in the City.

The rapid response idea is a piece that needs a little more editing work, but should only require a maximum shoot of around 10-15 minutes. These videos should be turned around in 24 hours or less and include a response to what’s in the news that day (for example this video on a sperm whale) or something interesting behind the scenes (for example this video on framing up an exhibition).

The high-level is a full-blown production – needing a storyboard, higher production values, budget as well as time and access to decent editing software. It would be akin to developing movies for a physical exhibition or a promotion, such as this fantastic Genghis Khan promo from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

We know that watching the moving image has always held a fascination for humans. Now, in the YouTube age, anyone can be a writer, director, producer as well as star. Reflecting on 2011’s top ten videos viewed on YouTube is rather depressing. Rebecca Black, a talking dog, and something called cone-ing made the Australian top ten. Museums can do so much better! The trick is to manage expectations and accept that some content may not be as polished as we’re used to, but at least it’s out there.

I’m hoping the the three-tiered system outlined above can help us manage this complex and fascinating area. Be interested to hear other approaches to developing rich media across your museum sites.


So, in 2016 my hopes about a three-tiered system are still top of mind, and now, with super-amazing smart phone cameras available, are even more achievable. Watch this space for some future smart phone film-making fun (Hint: think sf3…)!

Wayfinding. The issues aren’t new…

A 1906 V&A floor plan (McIlwraith)

Been dipping in and out of Medium recently as many bloggers seem to have moved to that platform, yet another one to grapple with (*sigh*).

Anyways, came across some interesting work by Shelley Bernstein looking at traffic patterns in a new and exciting way. Wayfinding our future introduces research the Barnes Foundation is doing into visitor movements and experiences, and the second post, What pop-up ice cream can teach us about pedestrian traffic patterns, is an inspired way to test out visitor pathways and flows. For those of us with large outdoor spaces this seems like a great (and yummy!) way to conduct research.

Some of the work I’ve been doing around visitor movements and wayfinding showed that they use a variety of methods to move around the museum’s site, meaning that multiple tools need to be offered – maps, signs, people. A side effect of these findings is that visitors who are curious will often use no tools at all as they rush to satisfy their curiosity! A study we did of our foyer movements also found that apart from the ticket sellers, the first museum person visitors encountered were the volunteer model ship makers, leading us to ensure that these staff members were ready and engaged to talk to visitors about what the museum has in the galleries, not just about ship models.
In my quest for a suitable image, I came across this delightful post, Best laid plans: mapping the V&A by Andrew McIlwraith, an historical account of guide maps over 140 years, prepared for the V&A. A great insight into this thorny issue that museums have struggled with for centuries!

As digital tools and mobile apps are becoming more commonplace for museum wayfinding, the lessons learned from these posts – observing visitors, talking to staff and visitors, thinking outside the box – are even more important to understand their needs, desires and behaviours when visiting a physical museum. Simple advice I know, but oft-overlooked…

Attracting Chinese tertiary students to museums: what does the research (and students themselves) say?


UNSW’s winning Univative presentation

In 2015 China was Australia’s second largest inbound market, with 60% of these in New South Wales. The number of Chinese International Tertiary Students (CITS) attending university in Australia sits at around 34% of the total international student population. In 2015 there was an increase of 34,000 CITS in New South Wales, making it the state with the most enrolments in Australia (39%), growing by 17% from 2011.

The Australian National Maritime Museum is located in the heart of Darling Harbour, Sydney. While visitation is mainly from Australian-based audiences there are a significant number of tourists visiting the museum, with the Chinese market one of the strongest and fastest growing. The museum has a “China-ready” strategy in progress which includes:

  • developing educational programs specifically for Chinese school students visiting Australia
  • having key texts in most exhibitions and significant signage around the museum translated to simplified Chinese
  • Action Stations website available in Chinese
  • targeted campaigns aimed at tour operators to increase the numbers of Chinese-speaking visitors to the museum
  • research with Chinese audiences and operators
  • converting a marketing role to a tourism/marketing role

The project

While the museum reaches traditional audiences of families and adults with a specific interest in maritime heritage, as well as a substantial number of international tourists, there is a noticeable gap in attracting younger audiences to the museum, and especially Chinese tertiary students, many of who live and study within the museum’s geographic catchment area. To address this, the museum commissioned consulting work from teams of students across four universities in Sydney who were competing under the Univative program, an “… inter-university consulting competition, engaging with real organisations and working in small teams to solve actual business problems”. The task set by the museum was undertake research and provide ideas for a strategy to Attract Chinese tertiary students (aged 18-25) studying and living in the Sydney area to the museum.

Research findings

Three of the teams conducted studies with CITS (sample sizes of n=191 and 2 x n=100) finding that:

  • Trying new restaurants and eateries (21%), followed by visiting Australian landmarks/places of interest (18%) and going to the cinema (18%) were the ways they preferred to spend their leisure time
  • Conventional youth / backpacker activities (drinking, partying, clubbing, beach culture) do not appeal to CITS – more interested in sightseeing and nature
  • Avoid public transport in favour of car travel
  • 76% reported attending the Vivid Sydney festival
  • 74% attended an AFL game – this very popular activity is seen as a sport only available to go to when in Australia (find out more on the AFL here)
  • Being introduced by a friend (63%); an official website (27%) or suggestions by a social network (9%) were ways they like to find out about places to visit
  • CITS expect that their relatives and friends will visit at some time during their study period
  • More than 90% intend to travel beyond Sydney with family and/or friends
  • 61% had heard of the museum, of these 20% had visited and 40% intended to visit
  • Reasons to visit the museum are as a tourist attraction (40%); a learning activity (19%); a social outing with family and friends (18%) and involvement in a festival or event (16%). Only 7% would visit the museum to practice their English
  • CITS were most interested in food pop-up events at the museum followed by “explorative” events; historical exhibitions; special movies and social events hosted by their university societies
  • A visit to the museum was seen to be more attractive if there was a combined ticket with other attractions in the vicinity – cheap and discount tickets were very important to these students
  • Students wanted to be able to read both English and Chinese on texts, labels and signs in the museum (72%) followed by English only (29%)
  • When visiting the museum they would prefer to eat Australian cuisine (77%)
  • 88% were interested in volunteering at the museum

Social media platforms

The key finding across all studies was the prevalence of WeChat as a platform for social engagement (26%) by CITS. Some interesting WeChat stats:

  • 468 million monthly active global users
  • 46% use WeChat more than any other app
  • 63% have 50 or more contacts
  • 57% found new friends / reconnected with old friends
  • 86% say they interact more with friends due to WeChat
  • 73% use WeChat daily
  • Over 60% of users open the app more than 10 times daily
  • 80% follow official accounts (brands) primarily to get information
  • 86% of users are aged between 18-36 years

(SOURCE: Grata.co Blog)

[Addendum: Excellent piece from The Economist – WeChat’s World]

However many still use ‘traditional’ social media platforms – Facebook (26%), Twitter (23%) and Instagram (14%). Due to the majority of CITS having local friends, they find Facebook a better way to connect with their Sydney-based contacts. PokemonGO (which was all the rage at the time of the project) was acknowledged as a great way to engage with CITS, however all groups recommended giving associated discounts and offers so players didn’t just “loiter around the site”.

We will be using these findings, as well as other work we are doing, to continue being China-ready both as a museum and as a key destination in Darling Harbour.


I would like to acknowledge the hard work of the teams from the University of Sydney; University of Technology, Sydney; Macquarie University and the University of NSW (the winning team!), as well as the University of Sydney Careers Centre staff who have coordinated the museum’s involvement in Univative for the past three years.

It’s a dog’s life!


Image: Stephen Cooper, Daily Telegraph

Now for a little bit of lightness. If, like me, you’ve been getting lots of posts recently about how museums need to be more this, more that, coupled with a bit of doom and gloom for the sector, then here’s something a little bit out of the box, and a surprising addition to a museum.


Bailey Haggarty, the newest Maritime Museum staff member, is shaking up how we see working at a museum. Sure, there are bring your dog to work days, and some museums (such as the Exploratorium in SF) do encourage staff to have their dogs at work. But, the difference here is that our dog actually works at the museum!

While Bailey’s official title is Assistant Director, Seagulls, responsible for containing the museum’s burgeoning seagull poop problem, we are finding that he’s a great addition to our visitor experience, as well as a real morale booster for staff, plus a great news story as you can see below:

To keep up with Bailey’s hectic job follow him on Facebook and Instagram (@anmmbailey), and there are semi-regular updates on the museum’s blog. I’ll certainly be taking a closer look at how Bailey can add value to the experience by bring happiness and laughter to our many museum visitors.

Here’s to the wonderful joy that is having a dog!

#MuseumEdOz #NatSciWk #STEM

museumedozNational Science Week 2016 is upon us again and this year a great array of programs are on offer, including a re-vamped Sydney Science Festival. In the lead-up we are hosting a special #MuseumEdOz twitter chat on all things #museums and #STEM.

There were a great couple of articles in most recent The Weekend Australian addressing a variety of issues around #STEM in Australia that are worth a read. The one that caught my attention was Start Young & Prosper, by Tony Peake, PwC Australia, who started by noting that:

“In a world that’s becoming increasingly complex, where success is driven not only by what you know, but by what you can do with what you know, it’s more important than ever for Australians to equipped with the fundamental knowledge and skills required to solve complex problems.”


“One thing that can be guaranteed: unless we enhance or dramatically change the teaching of mathematics and science we are unlikely to attract more students to venture inot and stay in these domains.”

Peake makes an interesting point that perhaps the focus on secondary students in STEM may be the wrong approach, stating emphatically that “… we need to start with our primary schools” with the observation that “…less than 3 per cent of total primary school teaching time is devoted to science in Australia” compared to 9 per cent in Western Europe for example.

This is where museums can play a role. There is a strong evidence base for the proposition that museums contribute to educational outcomes, particularly with children (Falk and Dierking, 2000; Freeman, et al, 2016; Kelly, 2007), and good evidence that museum programs positively contribute to early childhood development and school readiness (Dockett, Main and Kelly, 2011). We also know that positive museum experiences in childhood positively correlate with museum attendance in adulthood (Falk and Dierking, 2000; Groundwater Smith and Kelly, 2009). In addition, learning on museum field trips have been found to be a valuable supplement and addition to classroom instruction and a way to prepare students for future learning (DeWitt and Storksdieck, 2008; Kelly, 2011). Digital learning offered by museums has also grown substantially in the past two-three years, providing museums with new ways of reaching huge audiences, both at national and global levels.

Many museums are also taking a broader STEM focus in their programs. As Peake observed there should be better collaboration between business and universities so that “… they can secure the workforce they need.” I would also strongly argue that cultural institutions in the broadest sense (including science centres, zoos and parks) are also valuable sources of STEM learning opportunities, with much to offer students and their teachers.

My question is this: As key providers of STEM education how can cultural institutions be at the forefront of these conversations?

Something to think about and reflect on in tonight’s #MuseumEdOz chat – we hope you join us!


Visitor meaning making: #TBT

Was at a planning day this week when the question was asked: What is meaning making? So, for this #throwbackthursday post I revisited Chapter 2 of my doctoral thesis that discussed meaning making within the context of constructivism, where prior knowledge and experience form key conditions for learning.

Jeffrey-Clay (1997) pointed out the relationship between prior knowledge and meaning making:

“Constructivist theory holds that prior knowledge is of primary importance. Rather than learners being empty vessels into which information can be poured, they come … with a wealth of knowledge already organised. It is upon this knowledge structure that learners hang new information, creating new links to their pre-existing knowledge. To learn meaningfully, a person must integrate new knowledge into his or her conceptual structure.” (p.3).

Hein (1995) stated that learning is the construction of meaning and argued that meaning making is an essential part of constructivism. Falk and Dierking (2000) suggested that meaning making is an innate mammalian response that constructs order out of chaos through finding patterns in nature. Meaning making has been described as making sense of complexities by building understanding through an individual’s own experiences (Rice and Yenawine, 2002), in a constant and iterative progression of remembering and forgetting (Silverman, 1995). Meaning making is achieved through “… the stories we tell ourselves … In that sense, the individual viewers or learners are the ones who are best equipped to make their own meanings.” (Rice and Yenawine, 2002, p.292).

Meaning making can also be shared through a

“… process of negotiation between two parties in which information (and meaning) is created rather than transmitted … influenced by the social and cultural norms, attitudes and values that surround the communicators.” (Silverman, 1995, p.161, emphasis added).

As well as a social process, meaning making also occurs through engagement with cultural tools and materials exchanged and modified in conjunction with others, as evidenced in the work of Stevens and Martell (2003).

Silverman pointed out that visitors’ meaning making strategies are based on behaviours that are basic to most humans. She also urged us to see museums as more than just educational or learning environments, but as places that meet basic human needs:

“… visitors to museums may seek to fulfil the need to reminisce, to have a social experience, to express their individuality, to feel part of a community … Museums in new age can become places that actively support and facilitate a range of human experience with artefacts and collections.” (1995, p.167).

Silverman concluded that the challenge for museums in providing constructivist learning experiences that facilitate meaning making is that:

“… the more personal and subjective ways in which visitors make meaning (such as through life experiences, opinions, imagination, memories, and fantasies) are at best ignored and more often invalidated in museums, where they tend to be regarded as naïve and inappropriate.” (p.165).

Given that museums are primarily social experiences, and that visitors make their own meaning based on prior knowledge, interests and life events, this is a good argument (as Silverman also points out) for the critical role that front-end evaluation plays in developing programs, coupled with a re-focus from being providers of information to being facilitators of meaning making through delivering opportunities for visitors to make personal connections with objects and collections, whether in the physical or digital realms.

Some final points from Silverman: “… museums must clearly incorporate human needs into exhibit goals and institutional missions” (p. 167) and the “… future of museums lies in realising how museums can meet a variety of human needs and learning how best to do so” (p.169). In 2016 (21 years later) how have museums progressed in facilitating visitor meaning making and meeting human needs? Given that we still are asking the question, perhaps it is time to re-visit how we have (or have not) incorporated these ideas in our work practices?


Pokémon GO, Virtual reality and museums

pokemon GOYes, this blog post had to come. After two weeks of lurking and reading I was inspired to finally formalise my thoughts on Pokémon GO and what that means for museums. Is it just a fad? An annoyance (for those mums, like me, with sons who were obsessed in the early 2000s)? A game changer? Or something else??

We know from many years of audience research that museums are primarily social experiences (Kelly, 2013), and one of the strengths of games such as Pokémon GO is their social facilitation. As noted by Brown (2016):

“Pokémon Go is a social game – it thrives on interaction. For example, outside of the office where I work is a Pokestop. Yesterday there was a group of six people outside, swiping away as they tried to claim the hidden items inside. After talking to them I found out these people didn’t know each other and in fact Pokémon had brought them together. Six complete strangers were now friends as they discussed tactics and where they found their rare Pokémon.”

Virtual reality (or augmented reality) was identified in the most recent NMC Horizons report as one of the key technologies for education in museums, with an adoption framework of the next two-three years: “Museums realise that audience expectations are evolving and many people have already begun to embrace VR as an opportunity to experiment with new methods for engagement.” (Johnson, et al, 2016, p.42). This is made even more possible as 360 degree cameras are getting cheaper and the software needed to edit and create VR is easier to use and more widely accessible: “YouTube, Steam, and Facebook are just a few of the platforms that currently support VR, giving content producers the key ingredients to facilitate an accessible ecosystem for VR development.” (Johnson, et al, 2016, p.42).

We also know from many years of trying to keep up with the latest in technology and up-skilling staff that it is a never-ending battle to either get them interested or comfortable, and maybe easy games that tap into pop culture, such as Pokémon GO, can be a practical way of achieving this:

“… there is another layer to the game. For a vast majority of players, Pokémon GO is their first exposure to an augmented reality experience. … The game will cause AR experiences to blossom and will open the door to devices (like better versions of Google Glass) that will serve up AR to average people already comfortable with it via the game.” (MacPhail, 2016).

A recent Sydney Morning Herald article, The best augmented reality apps that aren’t Pokémon GO, listed a number of other useful, interesting and easily available AR applications. The one that stood out for me was IKEA – not just as a fun home décor app, but with potential application in designing museum exhibitions and other physical spaces which could be then tested to see whether they will work for visitors, not only saving considerable time and money, but providing better social learning experiences for visitors.

To answer my original question, I think Pokémon GO is the ‘something else’ – the intersection of the digital and physical via gamification (also a key trend identified in the Horizons reports) through using a popular game to have deeper conversations within our institutions about technology, audience and possibilities. As my colleague @jim_croft observed on Facebook:

“This is where it starts to get interesting … imagine being able to point your phone at part of an artwork or cultural object or scientific specimen and have that part elaborated and explained. Or having a landscape or streetscape annotated, crowdsourced Wikipedia style.”

So, off you go – Gotta catch ‘em all (or, if you’re Apple Gotta catch some cash)!


VR / AR in museums readings



Art of Change: Innovating in our National Collecting Institutions

qr codesAs part of Innovation Month 2016, the Department of Communications and the Arts, Canberra, is hosting (and live streaming) a seminar next Thursday 21 July, from 10:30-11:30.

What is this all about? In their words:

“These days, it seems that everything is becoming digital and moving online. For galleries and museums, whose works of art have traditionally hung on walls or been displayed as exhibits viewed by visitors to their buildings, this poses new challenges in attracting and engaging audiences. However, times are changing, and our National Collecting Institutions are creating new ways to connect our extraordinary national collections with audiences.”

The first forum features speakers from the National Library of Australia (Sarah Schindeler), the Australian National Maritime Museum (yours truly!) and the National Museum of Australia (Robert Bunzli) about their vision for the future of museums and innovation.

My talk will focus on digital visitors, digital teachers and digital students, highlighting two of our innovative and (relatively) new museum programs:

The Department has made live streaming available for the event. To view, go to the Department’s webstream page on Thursday 21 July from 10:30-11:30. You can also follow us on Twitter:

I haven’t been live streamed before so am very much looking forward to participating (but not the cold Canberra weather…). Hope you can follow along!




MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses


Image from the On Their Own travelling exhibition produced by the ANMM. Photo courtesy National Archives of Australia.

Massive Open Online Courses (aka MOOCs) present an opportunity to reach a huge amount of adult learners for a modest investment of time, budget and re-purposing of already published content:

“A MOOC is a model of educational delivery that is, to varying degrees, massive, with theoretically no limit to enrolment; open, allowing anyone to participate, usually at no cost; online, with learning activities typically taking place over the web; and a course, structured around a set of learning goals in a defined area of study”. (Thompson, 2013).

In the museum space, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, was a pioneer in this area, running a series of art-based courses using the Coursera platform. The inspirational story behind the establishment of Coursera is outlined in Daphne Koller’s 2012 TedGlobal presentation, What We’re Learning from Online Education.

I’ve long felt that MOOCs will shake up the way higher education is delivered (Kelly, 2013) but up until this stage had wondered how this might work for museums in a sustainable way. Attending the MWXX workshop run by @debhowes (formerly of MoMA) and @Ajay_Kapur, from Kadenze, opened my eyes to a platform and process that I realised could make this a reality. Ross Parry, et al’s paper, also presented at the MWXX conference, Why MOOCs matter: the consequence of Massive Open Online Courses for museums, universities and their publics, gave interesting insights into MOOCs as a great learning platform for students and as a tool for organisational change:

“The last two years have seen an extraordinary expansion in the number of massive open online courses (MOOCs) around the world. MOOCs … flip the traditional university [OR museum learning] model. Rather than managing student numbers, MOOCs potentially accommodate a simultaneous learning cohort of thousands—if not tens of thousands. Rather than place the learning experience behind a pay wall of tuition fees, MOOCs instead can open up their teaching for free. Rather than maintaining admission criteria (built around prior academic attainment and experience), MOOCs are open to all with an internet connection”. (Parry, et al, 2016).

Two particular MOOCs I have been looking into are the Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds, from the University of Southampton, and the Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum, a massive open online course developed by the University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies in partnership with National Museums Liverpool, both using the FutureLearn platform. The latter course used an Australian National Maritime Museum travelling exhibition, On Their Own, Britain’s Child Migrants, as a case study, opening the museum to a whole new audience that was never anticipated when the exhibition was first built.

So what can MOOCs do for museums (and vice versa…)? As MOOCs now put the power of education within the hands of the consumer, they open up a range of opportunities to people to take courses in areas of their own interests without the need to apply to enter an academy, as noted by Parry, et al (2016). They also provide a suite of opportunities for museums in distance education with potential to reach a massive audience, in a formal, yet also informal, learning environment. As Greenfield (2013) observed: “MOOCs present educators with opportunities and challenges as we adapt and mould them to fit multiple learning styles along with different types of museum education programs”.

MOOCs also provide museum staff with ways to think about providing online learning experiences, through active participation in a MOOC – video lectures combined with notes, online and email discussions, Facebook, Twitter, hangouts, etc (Bowan, 2013). It is this kind of democratisation of education that theorists and activists, such as John Dewey and Paolo Freire, were championing decades ago, and we are now coming closer to achieving their dreams.


Museums and climate change


Audience Research

Feedback Postcard


One of the more refreshing aspects of the Museums Australasia conference was hearing from one of our sectors leading thinkers, Robert Janes. I was very excited to be meeting him again (the last time would have been in the early 90s when he was the director at the Glenbow Museum in Alberta, Canada). However, this was not to be as he gave his talk via video choosing not to travel as a stand against climate change and consumption – what a statement that was!

During his address there was plenty of chatter on the Twitter back-channel about what museums can, and should, be doing about climate change. Over the years I have done quite a bit of work in this area and the three observations I have always made are that visitors:

  1. want museums to be addressing this issue
  2. want to know simple things they can do to help
  3. are looking to museums to provide this information and be a sensible voice in the “debates”

However, I personally believe that museums have got this a bit wrong. Inspired by Janes, the issue for me is how can we legitimately talk to our visitors about climate change when we encourage / model practices that support (needless) consumption? Here’s some example across our sector that I could think of:

  • Printed materials that visitors don’t want or don’t use (think what’s on programs, exhibition flyers and posters, paper invitations, etc, etc)
  • Magazines that continue to be posted to people who will be happy with a simple digital version
  • Building expensive exhibitions out of non-reusable materials that are disposed of at the end of the show’s run
  • Sponsorship / funding from organisations with a poor record on climate change. Certainly BP’s sponsorship of the British Museum is coming under fire for just this very reason…
  • Wasteful materials used in cafes and shops. And while we’re on the subject, do museum shops only source from ethical suppliers, while cutting down on packaging and cheap plastic items??
  • Education and learning materials printed out when digital versions will do

And I could go on. So, what to do? Perhaps the answer is as simple as thinking about our everyday practices and taking steps to combat the above, just as visitors would be expecting (and hoping) that we will do.

Wondering if anyone knows of museums who are exemplars in this area??

And, to finish, some background resources on museums and climate change:

Something to think about…