Digital devices in museum programming – an anecdotal piece

bwattBy Bethany Watt, Queensland Museum

The Queensland Museum boasts a tradition of successful school-children and holiday programs. We have excellent learning resources and loans kits, an amazing ‘makerspace’ called INVENTory and a team of skilled and experienced Learning Officers. There is also the celebrated Sciencentre – a place of discovery that I and many of my peers remember fondly from our childhoods (the 80s). We are well practiced in incidental education and people are still getting their ‘science fix’ from a day at the museum.

But we work hard to stay relevant. Literature tells us that young people suffer from severe FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. Okay, I am telling you that young people have FOMO. It is why they cannot leave their mobile phone in their locker and why they have to receive a solid number of ‘likes’ before they invest in a new outfit or truly enjoy their soy latte.

I think museums are going FOMO loco too. Institutional leaders (like the Smithsonian and MONA) have programs steeped in digital. Queensland Museum’s closest neighbours (QAGOMA, SLQ) have long embraced the digital trend and indeed, the whole precinct is going digital (cue roll out of iBeacons).

Recently, we added 10 iPads to our swag of programming tools and our ‘digitally native’ visitors seemed surprised to find them here.

During my previous life as a high-school teacher, I taught in schools rich in digital devices. The struggle is real – how can we purposefully use devices to complement instruction and improve learning outcomes? Do we really trust people to be on task when they are programmed to multi-task/ be off task?

I think most of these concerns have been addressed on this blog, and the rest will never, ever be answered. I thought I would synthesise the perks and challenges of digital devices, as we have experienced so far. We have used the iPads for a school holiday program called Prehistoric Studio, a merger of the moving image and prehistoric narratives; Museum Challenge, a program for the National Youth Science Forum; and Creative Lab, a Professional Development event for educators [more on QM events here]

Perks:

  • iOS devices are intuitive – if, like everyone else, you own an iPhone or iPod
  • ‘Digital natives’ problem solve by upgrading the tasks – we wanted Museum Challenge participants to use the ‘Camera’ function to create a presentation. Next minute they are including video and downloading image editing apps to make vibrant productions
  • Significantly decreased paper trail – although children still love to colour/ cut/ glue all the things, Prehistoric Studio gave our printers a rest
  • Instant outcomes – exporting an animation from iMotion is a lot faster than rendering and exporting from Adobe Premiere (I love you Adobe) – straight to your image library!
  • Apps make projects ‘easy’ – if you eliminate parts of the construction process you can focus on considered design and content. In Prehistoric Studio we told stories of adaptation, food-chains and evolution.
  • Free marketing – just a tap to share dinosaur memes or Museum snapshots via social media #lookatme

Challenges:

  • Antisocial behaviour – iOS does not talk to PC, and devices need to be connected to WiFi and Bluetooth in order to use the ‘Air Drop’ function. I wish they would add a USB port to iPads!
  • Backup plans – you need one of these in case of technical issues, and when you need to implement one, it can often be disappointing for all. “So children, you can image if we had a working MacBook we would just key out the green screen and you’d be running from a dinosaur! Magic!”
  • Expensive equipment – keeping a constant headcount of devices is an intense mission – we are working on a plan to bolt them to the tables
  • Alienation of digital immigrants – what on earth is a meme? Where is the concrete evidence of a ‘making’ activity?
  • Finding balance between sharing skills and supplying tech – when are the iPads token and when are they actually complementing the programming?

Clearly I have identified more perks than challenges, and after fronting the bill for our devices, they are not going anywhere.

Bethany Watt is the Community Engagement Coordinator at Queensland Museum, and works on the Life Long Learning team. For the record, she’s a proud new owner of an Apple Watch, and thinks it is great that she never has to be disconnected again. Connect with Bethany on Twitter (@2015_Bethany).

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