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Ebrill 2008

Explore the Sea Floor blog

Postiwyd gan Lara Murphy ar 17 Ebrill 2008
Welcome to the Explore the Sea Floor blog!

Marine scientists here at the museum have been studying the sea bed around the UK (and in other parts of the world as well!) and you can now see why and how it is done and what we have found. If you would like to ask a question to a marine scientist why not post a message on the blog and we will try our best to answer them.

Have you ever wondered what a marine scientist does?

Have a go at the activities on the Explore the Sea Floor web pages or request a free copy of the CD-ROM to become a virtual marine scientist.

Here are a few photos of museum scientists at sea and working in the laboratory.


The museums of Montreal

Postiwyd gan Chris Owen ar 12 Ebrill 2008

Museums & the Web 2008 has been a lively, interesting conference. As I'm still digesting all the knowledge from the many sessions, I'd like to talk how about how it all started: with a tour of the city's museums. This was a great day and I wish all the talks could be delivered from familiar surroundings, as staff talk about their projects in such a relaxed, off-the-cuff way and can actually show you the galleries that they're so proud of. Of course, with museums represented here from all over the world, Powerpoint has to suffice most of the time.

The first stop on the tour was the McCord Museum, which is a museum of Canadian history in downtown Montreal. They started by talking us through the new personalisation features on their web-site, coming under the banner of My McCord. These allow users to choose their favourite works, to tag them, annotate them (including annotating areas of images) and more.

These are features we've been considering for Rhagor, so it was also useful to see another implementation of this critiqued by experts in the Crit Room yesterday. It's a difficult thing to get right from a usability point of view, but the most compelling reason to do it is that it isn't an end in itself. If a user can register on your site and get access to new features, the possibilities extend to exhibitions and events that haven't even been planned yet.

They were also doing some interesting work with tagging. One of the problems of tagging is actually getting users motivated to go in add a bunch of tags to your collection. They achieved this through an interactive game which pitted taggers against other taggers (or the computer), the aim being to enter keywords that matched the other play. I wondered how the competitive nature of the game would affect the type of tags that users submitted, but it seems to work, and the difference in uptake between this and traditional tagging was a huge argument in its favour.

The next stop on the tour was the Science Centre. The highlight was a fantastic interactive lab where children put together short news items on topics such as genetic engineering or drugs in sport. They not only get to engage in a science debate, but they're simultaneously learning the basics of video editing, presenting their own news items and about how the media shows different sides of an argument. Really intuitive software too - impressive.

The final stop was the Canadian Centre for Architecture, where they talked us through their new collections management system and how they've made it work for them. The basic system is The Museum System, or TMS, and this was a piece of software I kept hearing about this week. I'll be mentioning TMS and an open-source solutions called OpenCollection in a later entry.

Designing with Teens

Postiwyd gan Dafydd James ar 12 Ebrill 2008
ArtPad is an online of presentation of Glenbow Museum's contemporary arts collections, geared towards young people. The idea was to get teens to explore more about the context, content and the artist of a piece of art - but delivered in a less curatorial and formal manner. 

Early evaluation of ArtPad challenged some assumptions of the project - which meant a change in the delivery of the information. The teens weren't interested in some of the project coordinators' ideas, for instance they thought a podcast of an artist was a boring concept - stating that they would never bother to download it to their iPod!

The Danish national Gallery, Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK) targeted a teenage audience through the creation of their u.l.k website (Danish abbreviation for Young Peoples' Laboratory of Art). 

With a starting point of 90 teens (which were hired) they created an online art community for teens aged 12-20, making sure that this was an experiment for both parties involved. The website now has 500 active users that can discuss art in a safe (and Danish!) forum.

And finally the guys at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis worked closely with their teen program to redesign their 'WACTAC' website. They researched into the most popular teen activities online, and created a site that combined both institution and teen driven content effectively - through using a 'draggable' vertical screen to swap between both types of information.

As with the Milano Romana Tecnologica project (see last blog) the emphasis here was on the process. Including the teens from an early stage made this a learning experience, and the Walker saw this as more of an educational program than a marketing exercise.

Designing for Young Children

Postiwyd gan Dafydd James ar 12 Ebrill 2008
The paper presented by the Saint Louis Science Center (SLSC) examined their efforts to engage teens in the community through employing them to research  in the labs and facilitate sessions with younger children. The idea was to make a more meaningful experience for younger people without it just being a tokenistic exercise.

The School and Community Partnerships Department of the SLSC is mostly centered on it's Youth Exploring Science (YES) programme, and the social networking technologies proved useful in the teens' development within the programme. Blogging was particularly useful - it seems as the blogs developed the teens became more confident of their online persona and were more aware of their audience. But even though the practice seemed to empower the you local community, the SLSC senior management still had issues with how it was affecting the organisation's brand!

Next Paolo from the Milano Romana Tecnologica project gave us an insight into a classroom based multimedia project, where pupils visit a cultural institution to collect media to develop their own online presentation.

The pupils got to work with different kinds of media, and research online to find any resources they could to create their "multichannel hyperstory". It was clear the the children and not the teacher led their projects, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Even though they got to enter their presentation into a competition, the emphasis was clearly on the learning process. 

Being Critical

Postiwyd gan Dafydd James ar 12 Ebrill 2008
Yesterday I shared a lot of my time between the Crit Room and the Usability Labs. 

In the Crit Room websites are volunteered in advance for analysis by MW2008 delegates, and then ripped apart by a panel of experts! It was interesting to see how the experts saw flaws from different angles - design, usability, and access were the main approaches.

In the Usability Labs websites are submitted for testing, with certain scenarios devised so that a randomly selected user (that has never used the website) has to navigate their way to a certain area, or find information. The presenters, users, and the audience then discuss problems. This is very helpful to see where the website is flawed - it's often difficult to see basic issues when you are so close to a project.

I also went to a workshop by Gail Durbin from the V&A Museum, who have clearly done a lot of work into developing and researching social networking sites. 

It was interesting to hear how they were inundated with comments on their Kylie Minogue exhibition website, and had to change the wording to refine the information and feedback they were collecting. But it's important to keep the comments online as long as people contribute within the rules set down by the institution.

We also had a challenge to develop two web 2.0 tasks - one verbal and one visual, which was difficult to feed back on due to the number of people in the session! We were also showed the V&A's fantastic World Beach Project, I look forward to doing further research on the website when I have some time.

A very brief update on new media

Postiwyd gan Chris Owen ar 11 Ebrill 2008
It's great to be back at the international Museums & The Web conference. The last conference helped shape a lot of the work we've been doing in the last year, so now seems a good time to update you on a few of those developments.

Around this time last year we launched a new blog area. If you haven't seen it yet, click 'refresh' and you're here! Since then we've expanded the feature and published over 70 blog entries. Similarly, we launched our first podcast in October of last year. There's more work to do here and in the short term, you'll see an overhaul of our blog pages and, of course, lots more content.

Tying a lot of things like this together is our new collections site, Rhagor. The goal behind Rhagor was to open up our collections and stories to the public in ways that weren't possible before, and really engage visitors with our collections.

The creative process and technical challenges behind our work is sometimes unseen in the final product of an exhibition or an event. We'd also often like to tell you the interesting stories behind our objects without filling our galleries full of text. For me, this really enriches the experience of going to museum for real. We're going to be doing a lot more work to tie our blogs, podcasts and Rhagor features into our visitor pages to give a fuller picture of the work we do.

This is all part of a wider plan we're working on and an evaluation of everything that goes into our site. As always, feedback is welcome. I'll keep you updated as this work develops, but like this time, I'll try to keep it short and sweet!

Beyond Single Repositories

Postiwyd gan Dafydd James ar 11 Ebrill 2008
The Peabody Essex Museum in the USA have been working on several web projects collaboratively through the ECHO project. The project is a mix of Native and non-Native institutions within USA and is funded by Federal Government grant.

Even though ECHO is challenged by different educational standards at state and national level, they continue to work to engage young people and children in local communities. They also mentioned some cross-cultural design issues, though some issues have been successfully overcome with their interactive map and artists' gallery on newtradewinds.org.

We also listened to a Flickr representative talking about a new project called 'The Commons' (flickr.com/commons), which they developed alongside the Library of Congress. It's a more formal way for institutions to increase access their photographic collections through Flickr. The number of tags and comments added are unbelievable - in two and a half days the Library of Congress' online collection had 20,000 tags, and have had 4,000 comments so far. And some of the feedback has been added into their records, which means it's a good way for the public to contribute knowledge.

Mobile Computing

Postiwyd gan Dafydd James ar 11 Ebrill 2008
The first session in Mobile Computing was about the Heritage 2.0 project based in Belgium by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Flemish Institute for Cultural Heritage, Belgium. The two main aims of the projects was to build a 'communication layer' on top of existing heritage databases and to distribute this content on mobile devices in Flanders. 

They decided to bring in some international experts in to find out about the issues of mobile heritage presentation - and the outcome was that Flanders was not ready for handheld devices. The project could open up heritage to a larger audience, though the experts concluded that they should focus on content and not just use PDAs for the sake of it.

In the following presentation our fellow countryman Tom Pert from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) showed some of the GPS-based handhelds projects he has been working on for the last couple of years. 

In 2005 he built an e-trail for Ruthin using some customised GIS software and had some input from local Welsh Baccalaureate students for content design (which was mainly text and images). 

Due to the success of the project he has won funding for another project in Blaenafon, which launches on the 18th April. I'm looking forward to testing these devices, which have predefined zones that trigger (or stop) media files depending on your location. He also mentioned the possibilities of using KML with Google Maps on your mobile.

Engaging Museum Audiences

Postiwyd gan Dafydd James ar 10 Ebrill 2008
Today's sessions at Museums and the Web kicked off with an interesting opening plenary by Michael Geist, from the University of Ottawa. He looked at where we were 10 years ago in relation to internet policies, as well as current trends on the web, and looking towards the future for current policy approaches.

The session I attended this morning was about engaging museum audiences, with the Brooklyn Museum impressing again as they showed why they are one of the best at utilising familiar social networking technologies. They've had some interesting developments since last year including a Facebook application (Artshare) and a YouTube-based video competition. They also approached 10 photographers that posted on Flickr to photograph their collections in a different way. These images were much more dramatic than their current library, as the photographers seemed to give the objects much more character (presumably due to a free rein).

Also in the same session the Australian Museum showed some of the work they had been doing to classify their users, which was much different from the normal demographic data. They created characters to try and understand why people engage in certain behaviours, which allowed them to see how certain types used the internet.

Keeping the Focus on Learning in e-Learning

Postiwyd gan Dafydd James ar 9 Ebrill 2008

 

Today I went to a workshop that drew on the National Museums Online Learning Project (NMOLP), which was presented by staff from the Tate Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A).

The project is the development of an e-learning resource for students, teachers, and lifelong learners. There are nine museums collaborating on this project, which will use all of the partners' online collections. It is a three year project that will launch in March 2009, funded by the UK Government.

The exercises for schools are called 'WebQuests', which are task-based lessons that draw content distributed across the partner museums' websites. For lifelong learners there is more of a social media portal, which uses an open source technology and although it is hosted by each partner museum it is continually updated via RSS feeds.

The workshop was interesting from a project management perspective, stating the importance of knowing your target audience and what you want to achieve. It's also important to establish who is leading the project, who needs to be involved and what the implications are after the funding ends.

They showed how they used wireframe sketches of the interface to shape the final product - testing their ideas with children and other stakeholders before starting web development. The project coordinators also gave templates to content producers to standardise the information supplied for WebQuests. I look forward to seeing the final result!

Chris and I will be blogging throughout the week about the sessions held at this year's Museums and the Web conference.
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    Sain Ffagan

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    Big Pit

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    Amgueddfa Wlân Cymru

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