Transformative Learning in #STEM: a literature review

questacon3Following from my previous post looking at further work in Transformative Learning, I have been reading some research that specifically relates to TL in STEM, which follows on neatly from previous literature, also reported on here. Three studies I found useful are summarised below.

In this context, a useful definition of a transformative experience was defined as “… a learning episode in which a student acts on the subject matter by using it in everyday experience to more fully perceive some aspect of the world and finds meaning in doing so” (Pugh, 2011, p.111).

STUDY 1: Pugh, et al, 2010. Motivation, Learning, and Transformative Experience: A Study of Deep Engagement in Science

This study, with high school biology students, researched TL in terms of how it relates to deep-level learning, with the premise that there is little evidence that TL happens outside of the classroom. It also looked at an interesting idea around how students saw themselves in relation to their ‘science identity’. Previous research cited (Roeser, et al, 2006; Roeser and Peck, 2009) found that identity plays a key role in science learning and motivation, and if the subject is perceived as relevant to their identity, particularly their science identity, students are more likely to have a TL experience. These findings are also echoed in the museum learning literature (see, for example Kelly, 2010; 2013).

The authors define a transformative experience as:

“… those experiences in which students actively use science concepts to see and experience their everyday world in meaningful, new ways” (p.2), in a way that “… yields value and an expanded perception” (p.4), and that involves “… a meaningful integration of science content into everyday experience, they are likely beneficial to successfully overcoming misconceptions and for facilitating transfer among conceptual ideas.” (p.2).

TL occurs at the interaction of “acquisition of conceptual understanding” coupled with “participation in a science discourse community” (p.2-3), with deep engagement being “critical for addressing conceptual learning in science” (p.3). This engagement is intense, emotional, behavioural, affective and cognitive, with “A realistic goal for educators may be to focus on developing engagement so that it becomes more transformative over time” (p.5).

What did they find?

  • TL is a desired goal in education but is hard to measure empirically
  • Transformative experiences could be seen as a “… continuum ranging from in-class engagement to active out-of-school engagement” (p.17)
  • Students that identified with science and who were motivated to achieve mastery of the subject were “… more likely to engage in higher levels of transformative experience” (p.19)
  • “… as students apply the concepts they learn in the classroom to their everyday lives by engaging in transformative experiences, they become more fluid and agile in thinking about these conceptions” (p.20)
  • One key outcome is the idea of seeing TL / transformative experiences as a continuum of engagement, with the critical role of science educators, in particular, inspiring and encouraging a TL experience in how they engage students with the content

STUDY 2: Girod, et al, 2010. Teaching and learning science for transformative, aesthetic experience

This paper argues that although science learning is traditionally based on conceptual change via resolving discrepancies, there is also the need to consider the importance of “art, beauty and aesthetics” (p.802). These authors draw heavily on Dewey’s philosophies around the importance of aesthetics in TL and how applicable these are to contemporary science education and learning. They argue that:

“Key outcomes for teaching and learning from the transformative, aesthetic perspective include seeing the world differently, desiring to live and act differently in the world, seeing oneself differently as a result of new learning, as well as conceptual understanding of powerful content” (p.805).

These are all outcomes that easily translate to a museum / science centre experience, as previous work on TL at the Museum of Australian Democracy identified (see this post for more).

Girod, et al’s research compared two types of teaching styles – one with the goal of transformative / aesthetic learning and the other using a more ‘traditional’ cognitive / rational frameworks as below:

instruction styles table

What did they find?

  • “Students learning for transformative, aesthetic experiences reported higher levels of interest in science and experienced greater increases in efficacy beliefs about themselves as science learners” (p.819)
  • Those in the TL / aesthetics group were more inclined to see the world differently, continue to investigate the world using ideas learned in class, and retained conceptual learning over a longer time-frame

The authors did report that while the research has limitations and further research is needed, the study does offer evidence to “… consider refocusing science education goals not only around cognitive, rational outcomes like problem-solving and conceptual understanding but to also include teaching and learning for transformative, aesthetic experience” (p.820, emphasis added).

STUDY 3: Pugh, et al, 2017. Profiles of Transformative Engagement: Identification, Description, and Relation to Learning and Instruction.

This paper addresses the question “Do science students engage with school content in their everyday out-of-school lives?”, and if so, what does that look like? The authors state that a “… positive relationship has been found between transformative experiences and levels of science learning” (p.7), identifying three essential characteristics of a transformative experience (p.5-6):

  • Motivated use – the application of school content in out-of-school contexts where application is not required
  • Expansion of perception – the process of successively seeing deeper layers of meaning as a result of using school content as a lens for viewing of ‘re-seeing’
  • Experiential value – the enrichment of everyday experience; specifically, the value attached in using science to see the world differently

It was surmised that the way students are instructed is critical to laying the foundations for a transformative experience. The instructional model used in this study was Teaching for Transformative Experiences in Science (TTES), which offers a useful way of thinking about how science-based programs could be developed in out-of-school contexts, being based on:

  1. Framing content as ideas
  2. Use of scaffolding and re-seeing
  3. Modelling transformative experiences

This study with sixth-grade earth science students in the US explored students’ transformative experiences under two different teaching conditions – one using the TTES and the other using conventional methods.

What did they find?

  • Instruction based on the TTES model (above) resulted in higher transformative engagement with science, and deeper learning
  • These students were also more likely to report seeking out opportunities to to learn more about a science-related topic both in-school and out-of-school
  • Students need some kind of scaffolding when applying content to everyday experiences and in seeing the world differently

Final thoughts

Taken together, these three studies reveal that encouraging a positive science identity (“I am a science-person”), coupled with addressing aesthetic experiences, and instruction based on an inquiry-based framework offer ways to think further about how to effectively engage students with science-based concepts, particularly in out-of-school contexts, like Questacon.




Transformative learning #reboot (and #STEM too!)

questacon2The Transformative Learning (TL) adventures continue.

I’ll be conducting a workshop with staff from Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, Canberra, to assist them develop a shared understanding of visitor learning in order to figure out what questions we then need to ask to uncover visitors’ learning experiences. The goal is for staff to be better able to design programs for visitors that promote learning within a co-design framework (more on that later…).

TL has been defined as “The process of using a prior interpretation to construe a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of one’s experience in order to guide future action” (Mezirow ,1996, p.162). And, “There seems to be no doubt that transformative learning is voluntary. People may not always deliberately set out to critically question their beliefs and values; many times transformative learning is prompted by an outside event…” (Cranton, 2016, p.6).

TL is an important concept for Questacon, given its focus on STEM education across a wide variety of audiences, and at this critical point in time where we need science more than ever, institutions like science centres and museums can be that ‘voluntary, outside event’ that triggers some deep change in visitors.

In the lead-up to the workshop, this post re-visits the TL desk research undertaken as part of work with the Museum of Australian Democracy in 2017:

Over the next few days will be posting more around TL and STEM, as well as some readings on co-design as we ramp up to next week’s workshop, so follow this blog to keep updated.

Penguins, Postcards, Pledges: visitors and a “call to action” #TBT #musdigi

Audience Research

Climate Change Feedback Postcard – Stop Crime

Throughout my long audience research career and, more recently, conducting research around Transformative Learning Experiences it’s always challenge to think about how to inspire visitors to take action after they leave an exhibition, an event / program, or another kind of encounter. A recent workshop with staff at the Museum of Australian Democracy generated a range of actions (measures) we’d like to encourage visitors to take after an interaction / visit to their site as outlined here.

In a climate change exhibition I worked on at the Australian Museum, visitors were asked to leave a postcard with their thoughts about what they will now do after seeing the exhibition as outlined here: What will visitors do about climate change?

Other work uncovered transformative learning experiences as reported by visitors, ranging from learning new facts, sharing ideas with others, to some change in or a questioning of deeply-held attitudes and opinions, and therefore, transforming themselves in the process.

Although some of the above provides clues into visitors’ post-visit motivations, without following up on their actual behaviours, whether in the short or longer-term, it is a bit difficult to track changes and actions. This issue was also identified in this blog post: How do museums help people to hold on to inspiration and act? on the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice blog.

Well, there is hope! For this #throwbackthursday post I’m reporting on two readings that address this very idea – the first, a research project looking at a conservation action campaign in a South African aquarium, and the second, an example of embedding practical ways to assist visitors take immediate action within an exhibition.



Penguin Promises: encouraging aquarium visitors to take conservation action

Most wildlife tourism attractions have as their goal to encourage some kind of post-visit conservation action, yet there has been little assessment of how effective these are. Some research suggests that campaigns need to target specific behaviours, and that by making a ‘formal’ commitment or a pledge, people will be more inclined to change their behaviour.

This 2017 paper, by Judy Mann, Roy Ballantyne and Jan Packer, investigated a conservation action program at the uSkaka Sea World, South Africa, Penguin Promises, to look at this very issue: do visitors take long-term conservation action/s after a visit? At uShaka, visitors to two different exhibits (one with animals and one without) were encouraged to write a pledge on a postcard, and then contacted 12-18 months later about the outcome of their pledge.

The research found that “… 54.6% claimed they could remember their promise, and 50.3% claimed to have kept it. [and] … 49.4% of all respondents could give an example of something positive that they had done for the environment and that they attributed to their visit…” (p.7).

One key finding was that feeling an emotional connection with animals was a key influence on visitors. Interestingly in my work on visitor behaviour found that “… where available live displays are the most attractive for visitors” (Kelly, 2009). Coupled with this, work by Ausman, et al (2016) looking at wonder showed that “… wonder is strongest and deepest during interactions with animals or other human beings” (p.107).

So, why don’t people keep their promises? Again, the Mann, et al research suggested that while lack of time, money and knowledge were cited, most people just forgot, suggesting that some kind of post-visit follow up may be effective and useful for visitors.

Finally, the authors outline seven ways to promote the adoption of conservation behaviours (p.11-12):

  1. Encourage visitors to connect emotionally with the animals
  2. Focus on specific pro-environmental behaviours and provide suggestions on how to undertake them
  3. Provide opportunities for visitors to reflect
  4. Consider visitor motivations for conservation action – egocentric rather than altruistic reasons may be more effective
  5. Make them make an effort – encourage visitors to commit their behavioural promises to paper and provide post-visit resources to support behaviour change at home
  6. Use iconic, live animals as the focus for the action campaign
  7. Design experiences that help visitors make connections between their visit and their everyday lives

Overall, a really useful paper with a comprehensive bibliography, and it can be accessed via this link.

How do you inspire visitors to take action after they leave?

The ever-reliable Nina Simon reported on an exhibition at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, Lost Childhoods: Voices of Santa Cruz County Foster Youth and Foster Youth Museum, where they wanted visitors to “…. feel empowered to take action and know how to do so”. The great thing about this was the practical way that visitors could take something away to take action on – not big (often unachievable) ideas but a focus on what they termed “the little things” which they crowd-sourced from their exhibition partners. The final exhibit used business cards: “… the front of each card shares the action, and the back shares the contact info for the person/organisation to make it happen.”

A simple, yet more importantly, a trackable idea, that could also be applied across number of exhibition topic areas. More here.

Some final thoughts

Another take on this issue can also be found in the work of Ausman, et al, in a 2016 paper (summarised here) who suggested using the concept of wonder as a way to inspire visitors to take action. And finally, this (just in!) via Colleen Dilenschneider – Brain Wave Activity Reveals When Visitors Are Most Engaged With Exhibits – with data demonstrating what we evaluators have long-known:

“The average visitor is most engaged at the onset of the exhibit, … After three minutes, brain activity levels decrease to Beta-levels. Brain activity remains at Beta-levels throughout the balance of the exhibit, on average. … [Therefore, make] sure that if the exhibit has a critical takeaway, it is introduced at the beginning of the narrative experience when people are most engaged” (emphasis added).

Using a combination of the ideas outlined above will not only make our exhibitions more engaging for visitors, they provide the potential for a longer-term positive impact, via an achievable (for visitors) and a manageable (for museums) call-to-action.



Wonder, learning (and empathy) in museums

wonderWas reading an interview with the new CEO of Museums Victoria, Lynley Marshall, who talked about the sense of wonder and amazement that visitors can have at museums. Having witnessed this many times in my audience research career, I got to thinking about how museums could then design experiences that foster a sense of wonder and what that means for visitor learning outcomes.

While working in the US last year I came across this chapter, From Indifference to Activation: How Wonder Fosters Empathy In and Beyond Informal Science Centres (Ausman, et al, 2016), which contains some useful ideas about how informal science centres and museums can play a role in invoking wonder through hands-on, interpretive and social experiences, while also fostering critical thinking, empathy and activism. In their words:

“… wonder is an innate human response to the world, … an emotional state of mind … [uniting] us as thinking and feeling beings. At its core is curiosity, for without being curious, one cannot succumb to wonder. When people experience wonder, they respond emotionally. As wonder is an emotional response, and empathy relies upon sharing another’s emotions: these two are inextricably linked” (p.93).

The authors talk about wonder as being “… no longer merely an object at which to marvel; instead, it is an experience that motivates and inspires” (p.94). They report on research at the Carolina Raptor Centre and the Discovery Place that examined the impact of wonder using observations, focus groups with front-line staff and staff surveys, asking the question “When [staff] observed wonder occurring, what did it look like?” (p.96), and also what were visitors then “doing with that experience” (p.97, emphasis in original). Their conclusion was that “… igniting wonder is much like igniting a fire” (p.97) and they developed the Wonder Triangle, a very useful, and usable way, to think about how to incite wonder, as per the figure below.

wonder chapter

Ausman, et al, 2016, p.97

The triangle contains:


  • Fuel = content + capacity to capture and keep a visitor’s interest
  • Heat = emotional wonder – the Wow moment when visitors reactions are both visible or audible [also known as that Ah-hah moment] + prior knowledge, experience and personal connection
  • Oxygen = cognitive wonder to allow the fire to keep burning, the How moment when visitors ask a question or makes a supposition, creating a deeper investment in the subject which they then share with others

Another interesting idea was around the definition of wonder, with one of them being ‘to doubt’. Again, in the research they found that ‘doubtful’ visitors are more likely to experience wonder, as they need to establish a personal connection and move through doubt to curiosity to wonder to awe and become more likely to then share their experiences, leading to a potential activist mind-set.

Wonder and empathy (and activism)

There has been lots written lately about how museums need to be more empathetic and encourage action (see for example, Mike Muraswski, The Urgency of Empathy and Social Impact in Museums), and the authors have linked the idea of wonder with empathy (and then activism) in a way I had never really thought about before.

During their observations looking at wow moments, they found that these mostly occurred when another “… human was there to make or share that connection with them” (p.102). This led the authors to link wonder and empathy together: “… [the] connection between wonder and empathy is natural. When you experience a wonder moment and then share it with others (empathy), you are moving up the wonder scale to activation”. (p.106). Empathy takes wonder to a higher level as the sharing of experiences and reactions with another person can result in some response, followed by subsequent dialogue about the experience: “Taking the risk of sharing one’s wonder with another person is a vulnerable position, and yet it is a key element in the cycle of wondering and learning.” (p.106).

They conclude that:

“… when our visitors feel they are empowered with the knowledge and wonder to question and debate the science issues that face our society and our world, their collective voices are louder and stronger. We hope that in those moments they will recall the wonder they experienced as learners at our informal science centres and channel that wonder into a positive impact on our collective future” (p.111).

And isn’t that a wonder-ful thing to aspire to!


Some Empathy Readings

Looking forward, looking back #TBT #musdigi

Happy-New-Year-2018-Images-1For this, the first #throwbackthursday (and blog) post of the year, I want to wish everyone a productive and fun 2018. Have been collecting a few 2017 wrap-ups and 2018 trends I thought I’d share as background resources when thinking about challenges and issues for this year and beyond.

McKinsey & Company Top Ten Insights

An interesting set of the top ten most read articles on the McKinsey & Company blog for 2017 and, unsurprisingly, digital is still the topic of most interest:

“This time around one dominant theme stands out: the application of digital technologies across the business landscape, and the pressing need for companies to retool everything from operating models to roles to corporate cultures.”

Something to bookmark and read on the way to work (or for me down in the paddock while shelling beans!).

Ten Most Popular Articles of 2017 for Cultural Organisations, Know Your Own Bone

Colleen needs no introduction, and here she lists the most read Know Your Own Bone blog posts for 2017 along with some trends and reflections:

“… overall, this challenging year was very important for cultural organisations. We had to ask hard questions. And it was done during a time when cultural entities weren’t necessarily at the top of the public’s mind, but when they also may arguably have been needed most.”

[Also worth checking out her most recent post on admission charges…]

Five most popular posts, Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice

The Coalition, run out of Canada, is a loose consortium of folks around the globe interested in climate action and how museums / other cultural agencies can make change. It is a good resource for climate issues, scientific references etc, and they have a pretty active Facebook group. In their words, the most popular posts from 2017:

“From the practical to the philosophical, from the local to the international, from big to small museums of all types, the first six months of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice Blog are full of promise. Here are the top five most visited blog posts

Interestingly, number one is a simple summary of ten steps to green your museum – well worth a read and something to action in 2018 perhaps?

Dexibit’s 2018 global perspective for cultural attractions

Angie Judge, an analytics and digital guru operating out of New Zealand, takes a look at what’s in store for our sector based around tourism trends, reporting that:  “… cultural and tourism attractions are in for a booming year ahead, with tourism growth and new builds set to delight the industry.” She also summarises museum developments in 2017. Some good news here!

Blogging in the New Year, AEA

The ever-reliable American Evaluation Association (AEA) published a useful post about blogging, with some trends and tips to help “blog-in the new year”. The AEA also publishes an evaluation tip-per-day (AEA365) and you can subscribe here. An incredibly useful resource for evaluators, and those who use/rely on evaluation and research.

What Google Learned About Employees, and what that means, Washington Post

A nice piece that challenges our ideas on skills needed by students (and also employees I would argue…) via Google:

“The conventional wisdom about 21st century skills holds that students need to master the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — and learn to code … turns out that is a gross simplification of what students need to know and be able to do.”

So, what are the required skills? Their research found:

“… seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.”

Although not necessarily new ideas (think Peter Drucker’s writings in the 40s and 50s about knowledge workers, neatly summarised in this HBR article plus some prior thinking and writings about skills needed in the cultural sector) still worth re-visiting.

Junior’s Annual Trends Booklet Museum 2018+

Junior is a design / R&D consultancy for the cultural sector operating out of Milan, Italy. They have put together a well-designed, easy-to-read booklet on museum trends for 2018 and beyond under three themes:

  1. Moving from collections to understanding the audience
  2. Museums going ‘out of the box’ and out of their buildings
  3. New museum business models

and with ten essential issues in the cultural realm:

  1. Serendipity Learning
  2. Embracing Diversity
  3. The Rise of Digital Engagement
  4. The Intelligent Tech Realm
  5. Rethinking the Social Voice
  6. Humanised Data, Humane Institutions
  7. The Imperfect Museum
  8. More than a visit
  9. The Meaningful Digital
  10. Tweaking the Museum Business

It’s a good overview, and even viene fornito con una versione italiana – brava! You can download the booklet via their website.

osher6 attraction technology trends to watch in 2018, Blooloop blog

A neat summary of technologies coming into play for providing great visitor experiences at attractions, including museums and galleries (and it even explains the difference between VR and AR which has always confused me!). Something to investigate further and play around with in 2018.

And two bits of sad (and unexpected) news about two online resources I used a lot – the sudden closure of the New Media Consortium and the scaling down (i.e. also closing!) of Storify.

There’s some updates about the New Media Consortium (NMC) on Bryan Alexander’s blog (start here with relevant links, etc) which I’ll also be keeping an eye on. There is also a nice Medium piece from Jonathan Nalder, Beyond Horizons?, reporting on some future-thinking around how to at least continue the community that has grown around the NMC reports and events. Interestingly (and somewhat puzzling) there’s no mention of any of this on the NMC website, so maybe that’s a good sign? Watch this space I guess.

As to Storify, here’s a post from the Web Science and Digital Libraries Research Group’s blog that has some good tips and advice about what to do with your Storify stories (thanks Deb Sulway for the link!). I guess the best advice is to archive as many stories as possible and hope that something else comes along. Such a shame as this was a great platform heavily used across many sectors.

But, to end on a positive note, why not have your say about the future of museums by joining the #FutureMuseum project via Museum-id? Be keen to read this collection next Spring (which I guess is Autumn for us Aussies?!) and see what emerges. There is already some interesting essays uploaded. Their 2018 Museum Ideas conference also looks super cool (and relatively affordable!).

Finally, have an awesome 2018 and see you online, and hopefully in person somewhere (MuseumNext Brisbane and Museums Galleries Australia annual conference are two events that spring to mind). And meantime, if you have any 2017 wrap-ups / 2018 trends feel free to tweet links (use #musdigi) or add in comments below.

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. Lubar’s 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.