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.

An ‘ideas room’: visitors helping to shape museum programs and content #musdigi #museumeval

conversation lounge

The Conversation Wall, Seattle

Another week, another MoAD project! I’m currently working with the MoAD marketing team on how best to set up a room / area for testing out new concepts, exhibitions, merchandising ideas, marketing campaigns and so on. Together, we have generated the following list of requirements:

  • needs to be mostly unstaffed, sometimes staffed
  • need a way to easily collect responses without having too many instructions
  • and, then how to easily analyse the data
  • won’t get ‘messed up’ (too much)
  • fairly low maintenance
  • doesn’t require extra work from already stretched staff
  • gives a good spread of respondents, and finally,
  • considers the historic nature of the building with a ‘light touch’ (so no pens, textas, Blu-Tack) and limited things stuck on the walls


We have been looking at other museums that have set up these kinds of areas to see how they’ve done it and what we can learn (or steal!) from these.

idea loungeIdea Lounge – Penn Museum

The Idea Lounge is a place where staff share what’s happening in the museum and get input about upcoming exhibitions plus feedback on prototypes for future exhibitions. In their own words:

“Exhibit prototypes, temporary signs, test cases, or in-progress AV displays are all items that we plan to put up in the space. These displays are purposefully unfinished, and will rotate throughout the year as new elements are developed and improvements are made.

There will be surveys / feedback forms for visitors to complete, and sometimes other ways to give feedback (such as Post-it notes). Staff or volunteers will be in the space from time to time to speak with visitors in person about their ideas for how to make things better.”

Indianapolis Museum of Art

This paper reports on testing prototypes at the Indianapolis Museum of Art through a mobile station and a lab.

They have a

“… moveable cart to hold prototype materials for feedback. This mobile station approach has been used by audience research and evaluation staff as well as members of the interpretation team and occasionally the exhibition core team to carry out testing for various analogue and digital interpretive experiences with visitors on site. These stations are moved to various locations throughout the museum that are highly trafficked or where certain types of visitors could be found to test with a specific target audience (e.g., those with children, teens). With this approach to testing, staff are able to go straight to the desired user or wherever may be busiest in the museum, but are limited to testing one prototype at a time.”

Due to some constraints with the mobile test unit (mostly as only one idea could be tested at any one time) they developed a “Test It Lab” in two iterations, September and December 2015, based on availability of a suitable space and timing of projects to test. Again, in their own words:

“The objectives of Test It Lab are to: (1) test multiple experiences at once and (2) get quick feedback from stakeholders in a way that is both helpful to the museum and rewarding for the visitor (i.e., as a form of engagement for our audiences). These two iterations of the Lab were held in different strategic locations: one in a gallery space during a period between exhibitions situated on the first floor of the museum and another in a lounge area near the entrance to the galleries on the second floor. In both of these instances, the Lab was staffed by one or more researchers during a four-day period.”

Using prototypes and design thinking

These papers report on studies into how to use prototypes in testing ideas and concepts:

“One of the primary goals of prototyping is to get feedback before too much time, money, emotional energy, or institutional bandwidth has been invested. Prototyping can be used for external- or internal-facing projects, from designing a new website home page to modelling a new staff organisational chart.”

The Darby Silk Mill

Other useful references


rough design

MoAD layout for testing (really rough!)

This week we will be testing out a variety of ideas using a small corridor / alcove to get feedback, but mostly to see what may work best for MoAD testing in a dedicated area, and also as background for an eventual design brief for the space.

Apart from meeting the requirements listed at the beginning of this post, one of our other challenges is what to call this area / room. We’ve been tossing around some suggestions (but are looking for other ideas):

  • The Ideas Room (with a nod to the Penn)
  • Demo Lab
  • Test-bed @MoAD
  • #MoADbeta (with a nod to the ROM)

So, Canberra friends – if you’re in town this week (Wednesday 4th to Friday 6th) feel free to pop in to the museum, say hi and give us your feedback – it’d be great to have you involved!

“How can you create an exhibition suitable for children if you are not one?” Co-curation #TBT #musdigi


Shhh … It’s a secret: Wallace Collection

For this #throwbackthursday post I’m re-visiting a conference I attended in 2010 at the Science Museum, London, which looked at the issue of co-curation within the context of the public history of science. Some of the presentations were subsequently published in Curator and summarised below. Have also listed a further set of blog posts that address co-curation (including notes and reflections from the 2010 conference).

Going to be digging into this topic further over the next little while so feel free to add any examples you have in the comments or tweet me @lyndakelly61.

Co-Curation Workshop publications

Boon, T. (2011). Co-Curation and the Public History of Science and Technology. Curator: The Museum Journal. 54, 4, pp. 383-387.

  • Reports on the 2010 workshop and sets the context for the next set of papers
  • “Co-curation and similar techniques gathered together under the umbrella of ‘participation’ describe a range of practices in which lay people work to develop displays and programs within museums.” (p.383)
  • Audience research as a form of co-curation – and now how do do this within the digital context
  • Visitors do engage with history in their own time and space – think watching historical documentaries, visiting historical sites, reading historical fiction [and doing family history]
  • Museum spaces have always been participatory – visitors use exhibitions according to their own interests and make sense of them drawing on their own life experiences [as we well know!]
  • “Visitors will always be ahead of us in following their knowledge, tastes and proclivities. And, importantly for us, this provides an opportunity for us to move our collections and storytelling closer to them.” (p.385)

Bryant, E. (2011). A Museum Gives Power to Children. Curator: The Museum Journal. 54, 4, pp. 389-398.

  • Reports on an exhibition, Shhh … It’s a secret!, co-curated with 12 children over one year at the Wallace Collection
  • Co-curation is a journey of discovery, and making it up as you go along!
  • Give audiences the power and they will rise to the challenge
  • Staff are also changed and get satisfaction for the co-curation process [we also found this in our work with the Coalition of Knowledge Building Schools]
  • Don’t assume what children like and want from museums [hence the title of this post – a direct quote from one of the child ‘co-curators’]

Denver Community Museum

Kopke, J. (2011). Denver Community Museum. Curator: The Museum Journal. 54, 4, pp. 399-402.

  • Reports on the work of the Denver Community Museum (DCM) – a pop-up exhibition operating for around one year in Denver
  • Their experience found everyone was an amateur and a professional at the same time
  • DCM provided the platform and the opportunities
  • “Our world is based on shared information where everyone has become a contributor. The result is that audiences are expecting more than simply being told a story: they are looking to be part of it.” (p.401)
  • “Staff can use their expertise as a starting point to launch the conversation.” (p. 402)
  • “Museums must shift from being content providers to being context providers – by linking their collections to the outside world and offering ideas on how this knowledge is relevant and can be applied to visitors lives.” (p.402, emphasis added)
  • “Museum staff help create the link between collections and community, using their expertise.” (p.402)

Chitty, A. (2011). London Re-cut: Reclaiming History through the Co-curated Remixing of Film. Curator: The Museum Journal. 54, 4, pp. 413-418.

  • Reports on a digital project – London Recut – that used archival material to remix London’s film history
  • “Digital co-curation projects can develop relationships with audiences that many institutions find difficult to engage” (p.413)
  • Communities that share a passion will reach out to each other and to institutions and share archival material in new ways
  • Need to hand control [and trust] over to the user
  • “Our role as curators or technologists is to open the doors and provide them with the tools to start.” (p.418)
  • The users decide what to create and what opportunities to take

Pauline Gandel Children’s Gallery

Other Co-curation References / Resources

What does it take to create a great education program?

Here’s a really useful post from Rebecca at Museum Questions. Some good advice for all museum (and other) programs, not just educational ones. #musdigi #museumed #museumeval

Museum Questions

As we plan for 2018 at the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum, we have decided to reduce the number of programs we offer, holding workshops and home-school programs monthly instead of semi-monthly, and cultural festivals bi-monthly instead of monthly. The goal is to leave more time to ensure excellence of programs, and to build strong systems that might then allow us to build up more effectively.

This has left me thinking: What does it take to create a great education program? What are the things that we often forget, but which are critical to enduring excellence?

Below is a list of 10 statements about programming which I believe to be true and important. Each of these statements in turn leads to its own sets of questions. I welcome readers’ thoughts – are there items here that are new to you, or which often go unconsidered? Are there things I…

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