A neuroscience researcher, a Wuthathi/Meriam woman and a barista: what’s the thread here?

postit image 1

My slightly cheeky visitor journey map from MN2017

MuseumNext – that’s the thread.

MuseumNext comes again to Australia on 19-21 March, this time in Brisbane as a precursor to the World Science Festival.

With a huge line-up of impressive speakers, and plenty of opportunities for networking this is one of the best museum conferences going around! I’ve presented at two MuseumNext, and as a speaker it’s a great (but mildly terrifying!) experience:

And as a taster, check out this interview with the opening keynote speaker, Tedi Asher, who made headlines earlier this year when she took the role of Neuroscientist-in-residence at the Peabody Essex Museum. In her words:

“…the goal of the Neuroscience Initiative at PEM is to enhance visitor engagement. Toward that end, we draw on findings from the neuroscience literature to inform our design strategies for creating art experiences. As all experience is a product of brain function, we hypothesize that learning more about how the brain works will allow us to generate more engaging experiences of art and culture in PEM’s galleries.”

Tedi’s appointment is believed to be a first in the museum world and I can’t wait to hear what she has to say, and then think about how to apply it to my current work with cultural institutions.

And also as an added bonus, you can get discount accommodation – go here for more details.

But that’s not all!

vrf2017The day after the conference, Thursday 22 March, UQ Business School’s Tourism discipline, in collaboration with the Centre for Tourism Research at the University of Canberra, will host the ninth annual Visitor Research Forum (VRF) in Brisbane. This forum brings together those with an interest in visitor research in museums, zoos, aquariums, national parks and cultural heritage sites across Australia and New Zealand. At the VRF we share and discuss key research learnings from the year past. Here’s samples from prior forums as a taste of what to expect:

AT #VRF2018 you are welcome to present a piece of your own research, or simply come and learn from others. I will email EVRNN members with more details as they arise.

Meantime – I urge you to book for both MuseumNext Brisbane and mark the Visitor Research Forum in your calendar: two unmissable professional development events!


Being an #osherfellow @Exploratorium Part 6: the end…


‘albert’: one of my fave Explo exhibits!

This is my final post from my time as an #osherfellow at the Exploratorium, SF. A quick trip to Helsinki to a conference (!) and various other jobs and meetings got in the way, so apologies for the delay!


Question: What are the ‘big questions’ in our field?

Answer: I wondering  that maybe we spend too much time worrying about what we think are the ‘big questions’ and instead focus on the question What are we doing today to provide great visitor experiences to people in their own time and space? On reflection, I think the big questions are the ones I was asked during my Osher Fellow week – the issues museum folks are grappling with right now. I’ll leave discussions of other big questions for those more knowledgeable than me, and for what it’s worth these are (just some) folks doing the big thinking thing that are worth following:

And for ease of access here’s the complete list of #osherfellow blog posts:

Huge thanks to Claire and the Explo staff for hosting me, and to Liz and Sherry for the use of their lovely apartment – my fitness levels increased exponentially walking up all those hills and stairs!


Will technology save us? Gilman’s ‘skiascope’ #TBT #musdigi #museumeval #fma2017

Lubar_Figure_1I’m now at the the Finnish Museums Association meeting, Collections: storing and using of the metadata, and have been thinking lots about museums and collections. In the process have re-visited some pretty interesting historical works that have caused me to wonder whether we have learned anything from the past about catering better for visitors in relation to objects and collections, especially in the physical space?

In my wanderings around the literature, especially related to Benjamin Gilman (one of my all-time #museumeval heroes!), I came across his rather wonderful, yet slightly kooky, invention – the ‘sciascope’ via Steve Lubar, Brown University. His piece, Looking through the Skiascope: Benjamin Gilman and the Invention of the Modern Museum Gallery, is a fascinating glimpse into Gilman’s ideas and how they relate to modern art museums. In it he states:

Gilman believed that museums should be about direct engagement with the art, about paying attention properly. That brings us back to the skiascope, a device that would provide the means for that proper engagement, for seeing correctly. His background in experimental psychology, with its wide use of instruments, would have made him comfortable with this kind of apparatus. His appreciation of the role of the teacher in shaping the student’s attention transferred easily to the role of the curator shaping the visitor’s attention. His philosophical belief in the importance of the viewer would make a device, such as the skiascope, a reasonable approach to solving a museum problem. It made perfect sense for Gilman to invent a device to force museum visitors to look in a ‘correct’ way as an approach to solve the problem of viewing art in the museum.

MCN tweetThis got me thinking about the question in relation to collections: will technology save us?, and some of the work researchers have been conducting around digital experiences in physical sites. Lindsey Green, of Frankly Green and Webb made the point at the latest #MCN2017 conference (and I’m paraphrasing a tweet here) that ‘layering on more tech, especially apps and audio guides, adding more to cognitive overload and not helping’.

Re-looking at a body of research at the ANMM I proposed a classification of visitor called the worried visitor especially when it came to tech in the museum, for example:

  • what if I drop or damage [the museum’s device]?
  • What if I forget to give it back?
  • What if it’s Android and I’m an Apple user?
  • I don’t want to waste five minutes downloading something that I don’t know we’d like, especially when I’m with the kids
  • What if my tablet falls in the water?
  • Is there free Wi-Fi?

Yet, we still persist. I noticed, again at #MCN2017, that sessions on AR / VR were standing room only, so if we are to go down that tech path (and personally I think it’s exciting) how are we going to address those worried visitors and provide a seamless onsite tech experience? Something more to think about…

And, don’t you think the sciascope looks a lot like a certain modern headset?!


Learning in the 21C museum #TBT #fma2017


National Museum of Finland

This #throwbackthursday post comes to you from the Finnish Museums Association annual conference, Collections: storing and using of the metadata, at the National Museum of Finland, Helsinki. I’m one of the keynote speakers and presenting a paper, Are museum collections still relevant in the 21st century? (answer = it depends…) – more on this to come.

Travelling there reminded me of the last time I presented to this group in 2011 and am re-posting this paper (from the Australian Museum’s website) as some background for the 2017 conference.


This keynote paper, presented at the Open and Learning Museum Conference, Tampere, Finland, 12 October 2011, unpacks what learning looks like for museums in the 21st century.


Web 2.0, social media and mobile technologies are one of the defining issues for museums in the twenty-first century. Museums now need to operate across three spheres: their physical site; the online world (via websites and social media) and in the mobile space. What this means for how we engage our audiences in future is only beginning to be understood by museums across the world.

Given the rapid pace of change, access to new tools for learning and the subsequent focus on digital literacy, how will museum visitors learn across these three spheres? Drawing on latest research this paper will identify the key trends around learning in museums, and discuss what these mean for museum practice, not only in the education and interpretive fields, but across the entire organisation.


The paper can be downloaded here: LEM paper 12 Oct Kelly

You can follow along on Twitter – I’m using the hashtag #fma2017 for want of a better one!

Being an #osherfellow @Exploratorium Part 5: Visitors and difficult topics

ipsos 2Question: How can we find less intimidating ways for visitors to talk with staff, experts and each other about the ‘hard’ stuff?

Answer: I’m just posting a quick set of links here (mostly due to time constraints). I’m also in the midst writing up some separate research I’m doing into “calls to action”, so will hopefully post that soon:

Question: Are we better off trying to actively design an experience that encourages visitors to engage in dialogue, or do we just enable it to happen serendipitously?

Answer: I don’t know! I do know that trying to ‘force’ unnatural behaviour is never going to work, but this is a question I’ll think a little more about.

It’s my final day at the Exploratorium, but there are still a few more posts to come – follow #osherfellow on Twitter for updates.

Being an #osherfellow @Exploratorium Part 4: Evaluator as facilitator

VRE image

Some VRE reports and projects

Visitor Research and Evaluation at the Exploratorium has long had an enviable reputation as one of (if not the) best evaluation and research groups in our field. A culture of innovation and sharing, coupled with a keen interest in studying visitor learning, particularly within a #STEM context, meant I was very excited to meet old and new colleagues from the VRE team. We talked long and hard (and loudly!) across a range of topics, finding similar questions and issues facing us.

Question: What are the big trends in our field?

Answer: Well, this was more us tossing around ideas together, with these key points emerging:

  • Move from rigid quantitative methods to more fluid approaches through ‘different ways of seeing’ and of doing research
  • Shift to evaluating meaning making, rather than facts learned
  • Evaluator as organisation change agent / catalyst, and a facilitator
  • Broadening representation in our samples, with a focus on under-served communities and hard-to-reach audiences, as well as non-visitors
  • Community-based evaluation – doing research with, not on
  • Using social media as an analysis tool (specifically Twitter, but I think Instagram has great potential too)
  • How to research science learning and understanding through different ‘cultural lenses’ (as an example the GENIAL project with Latinos outlined below)
  • The need for rapid prototyping and agile methods of working

Question: How do you work with young people?

Answer: It can be tricky, but very rewarding. Here’s two Australian examples that immediately spring to mind:

Question: Should I (and how do I) use Twitter?

Answer: I’ve long been an advocate for Twitter as a professional communication and sharing tool. I’m an intermittent tweeter, mostly turning to it for following conferences, and participating in online chats (such as #museumhour run out of the UK and #museumeval which I have been using lots lately as an online archive). It is also a great way to connect with teachers, and as a potential evaluation tool (which @verogarcialuis from VRE is going to have a go at – good luck with that!). Here’s a Twitter 101 for those who need it. I also find Storify a great tool and resource for storing tweets which has helped a lot.

Question: OK then, what is Storify?!

Answer: In their own words “Storify 2 gives you the tools to create the best evergreen and live blog stories, uniting traditional storytelling with engaged audiences” – and the best thing? It’s free! I use it to store tweets from conferences, workshops etc by saving the hashtag thread (which is why having an agreed, and then rigorously used, hashtag at a conference is absolutely critical). Here’s an example of a story I did while attending a natural history conference earlier this year (and while you’re there check out @BrytheFlyGuy!).

My question to the VRE team: What are you working on?

Answer: Way too much (aren’t we all!). Here’s some of my highlights, and I do recommend you tool around their whole site, Learning About Learning:

And, as you check these out, marvel at their wonderful knack for the acronym!

Thanks VRE team, looking forward to an ongoing connection with you all via Twitter.

Being an #osherfellow @Exploratorium Part 3: do 20% different, not 20% more…

mblobbyMet with a range of digital folks today – forgotten how much I enjoyed that time in my career (and working with extremely talented people at that time only made it better and heaps of fun). But, here’s my reading of today’s questions from our various chats.

Question: How do we get more of our staff to blog / add content to our website?

Answer: Getting digital done can be hard. Staff often see it as an unnecessary “impost” on their precious time and yet another chore to their already busy schedules, especially when it comes to blogging. Here’s some examples from work at the Australian Museum:

And finally, if two busy CEOs can find time to do digital, why can’t you? Check these out:

Question: Any tips on a website redesign?

Answer: Read anything by Shelley Bernstein, Barnes Foundation, on Medium , plus search Museums and the Web papers as there’s a lot written about this topic. And some other lessons from a website re-design I worked on, Our website redesign, with links to other learnings about front pages etc. Main tip – do your research and have fun!

Question: What about apps?

Answer: I loved building apps, but the first question is why, then who, then how and which platform. I happened across a presentation I gave last year specifically on apps – you can download it: Kelly apps presso for Explo and that’s probably all you need.

Question: What about selfies?

Answer: Visitors will take selfies whether you want them to or not. Advice is to not be seen as a try-hard and ‘force’ visitors to do this a certain way – they won’t! Here’s a post about #museumselfie day and some thoughts around wayfinding and digital that is also relevant here.

Question: How do we promote our app / website / program / etc, etc?

Answer: It’s all in your roll-out strategy!

Finally, this paper, Digital @austmus contains my lecture notes from when I taught Museums and the Digital at Sydney University – it pretty much has all the links you’ll need.

Question: Who is Mr Blobby?

Answer: Well, that’s a blast from the past. Here he is (or actually, was), and a story on the CFM blog, Natural History Specimens as Social Media Celebrities. You can follow museum mascots on Twitter #MuseumMascots – lots of fun, but a learning experience too.

Phew! One more day to go and a million blog posts floating around my head – more tomorrow.

#osherfellow @exploratorium Part 2: Education is the new ‘black’

multi platformQuestion: How do I reach more teachers, especially through digital outreach?

I’m now beginning to think that, for museums, science centres and galleries, teachers are the new big thing – everyone wants them, and everyone wants to know how reach more of them.

Answer: I’ve done lots of research in this area and have learned the following:

  • Teachers are the ultimate “multi-platform” visitor – there are so many different platforms that different teachers use that, for us, means we inevitably need to be on them all (or at least keep a watching brief)
  • Teachers are big users of Facebook (especially subject-specific groups), Twitter and Pinterest, so you need to be on these platforms at least, as much as you may not want to
  • Set up a specific education / learning department Twitter account – I know that many places don’t want too many accounts (and having managed social media in the past, completely understand the reasons), but you need your own presence and to be able to follow different accounts and promote your programs to a specific audience
  • Follow Twitter “super-users” from your teacher community and participate in Twitter chats – for example in Australia it is #aussieed with tweets by @aussiEDchat, and a very supportive and generous community they are too (I’m looking at you @MRsalakis and @madgiemgEDU!)
  • Follow other museum education / learning accounts and hashtags – you can then participate, learn and share. Here’s some of my favourites (note slight Aussie-bias here!):
  • Teachers are notoriously seen as very busy, but then aren’t we all? Persistence is the key, and findability of your offerings (especially on Google) is critical – continually Google your programs as a teacher would (at 10pm on a Sunday night!) and see what happens
  • Host #teachmeets and PD days at your institution and go to them via teacher conferences / workshops / PD events
  • Do your research – find out what tech they are using at school, what platforms they use, what they are looking for in both your onsite and digital programs

Further research and resources:

The final piece of advice is to just get stuck in, be patient and it will happen! And, if anyone has more resources and ideas to share please do so via comments below or via Twitter using hashtag #museumed.

[PS: I acknowledge this work done at the Australian Museum; the Australian National Maritime Museum; the State Library of NSW and the Museum of Australian Democracy – I salute you and admire your work!].

Being an #osherfellow: Part 1

name badgeAs you may know I’m spending the week at the Exploratorium as an Osher Fellow. Part of my brief is to meet with a range of staff, chatting and generally answering questions (and learning lots as I go!).

What I decided to do, dedicated blogger and (over) sharer that I am, was to blog these Q&A sessions with relevant links for people to investigate themselves, otherwise they’d be spending way too much time on various blogs trying to find stuff.

So, here goes – notes, links, Q&As from my first two days as an #osherfellow.

Question: Exhibition topics – how do you evaluate them?

Answer: This question came from the brown bag lunch with staff and I re-visited the joys (not!) of my many topic testing studies. I wrote a blog piece here on this topic, and re-iterated the main findings: a topic appeals if people know just enough about it to intrigue, but not too much so they see there’s more to learn and if it makes “sense”, being a natural fit for the organisation.

Question: What sample sizes do you recommend?

Answer: It depends – on the aims of the study, the resources you have available, the time frame for the study and the questions that need to be answered. Here’s a piece about sample sizes, with the main point being: you don’t need to eat a whole pie to taste the pie! We also discussed the need to be agile, especially when testing out quick ideas and concepts, and that an ideas room / space may be a good way forward.

Question: What kind (if any) of digital experiences do visitors want before, during and after a visit?

Answer: This is a thorny one, and the answer is probably not as much as we think, or hope. These three posts explain more:

Question, (well more of an observation): We’re getting good traction from attracting young folks to the Exploratorium through our adults-only membership and late-night programs. Do you have any research around this?

Answer: Excellent work and yes, I do. Start with this blog post, and also check out the work done at the Australian Museum around their incredible successful and ground-breaking Jurassic Lounge program (and kudos to the museum’s @mattravier):

Question: Can social networks be effective in raising awareness of science centres or increase propensity to visit?

Answer: It depends. Colleen’s blog, Know Your Own Bone, is a must-read in this area, especially this post, Top Information Sources for Likely Visitors to Cultural Organisations By Generation. And, therefore, the answer is yes, for many (or, in my experience, for most). Some other useful readings:

We also had an interesting discussion about social media generally, and I recalled how difficult it was back in the day when social media was in it’s infancy, regarded suspiciously by staff and pretty hard to do with the digital tools available at the time (ummm, have things changed much?!). This oft-cited 2008 Curator paper, Participatory Communication with Social Media (Russo, Watkins, Kelly and Chan) reports early thinking around this area.

I’m looking forward very much to talking more with various Explo teams across the next 2.5 days – so watch out for more posts over the next few days (and probably weeks given the amount I’m learning!).

Transformative learning and #STEM (and an #osherfellow too!)


The Giant Mirror @Exploratorium

Over the past few weeks have been beavering away on the topic of transformative learning (TL) both as a general concept and within a museum context (see the list of posts and references below).

This year, I have the privilege of being offered a stint as an Osher Fellow at the Exploratorium, SF which I’m taking up next week. Having a think about what value I can add, coupled with my adventures in TL, I’ve decided to do some research both here in Australia and at the Exploratorium under a project I’m calling Transformative Learning and #STEM (with a little #GLAM thrown in!).

One interesting paper I found developed a quantitative survey instrument to look at potential strategies that will foster TL across a range of contexts (Stuckey, et al, 2103, reported here). Having contacted the authors, they have kindly allowed me to use their instrument to measure TL experiences with a focus on #STEM learning. I plan to follow this research through when I am based at the Exploratorium to chat to staff (and maybe visitors too) in order to unpack what a TL #STEM experience might look like within the science centre / science museum environment. In this I will draw on the work of Kroth and Cranton (2014) and Pugh, et al (2017, 2010), along with any other research I may uncover. Am also reading K.C. Cole’s book too, Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens, (nice review here) which is providing further insights TL experiences at the Exploratorium.

In this first phase I am seeking interested people to complete a short(ish) online survey to tease out TL indicators for #STEM learning. Results will be shared via this blog and no individual will be identified to ease any privacy concerns. The survey is hosted by a group of researchers in Pennsylvania (Stuckey, et al, 2013) and uses their instrument developed over a number of research projects. The advantages are two-fold: the instrument is a tried and tested survey with reliability and validity issues sorted, and we can compare our findings with their larger database.

You can take the survey here – select the group called STEM Learning.

So, thanks to all participants in advance and look forward to sharing this research with you and to continue the #STEM / #GLAM transformative learning conversations.


And, in case you missed it, you can take the survey here – remember to select the group called STEM Learning.