Research in Action

A guest post from Francine Clément, who writes about museums and technologies at Thot cursus, an online magazine dedicated to digital culture and learning. Also a professor in the Museum Techniques department at College Montmorency (Quebec), she will be coming to DC to conduct the next part of a research about development, production and management of projects using new technologies in museums.

Ending the (then called) Multimedia class was one of the options for our Museum techniques faculty’s program committee at College Montmorency, four years ago. We were convinced, of course, that digital technologies were of great importance for the museum world but we did not know exactly what and how our students could learn, practically, in one 15 weeks’ term, nor did the professors knew what and how they could teach them. We did not know either what skills would be useful to them in their future employment, most of them in smaller size institutions.

Versatility is the strength of our technical program graduates; during three years, students learn preventive conservation, documentation and exhibition, be it preparation and handling of artifacts, planning of storage space or production of exhibition signage and furniture. They use IT in more than one aspect of their training: creation of collection databases, digital image processing, CAD for exhibition models and plans, etc. How could we not transmit to them the great possibilities in openness and public outreach that new technologies, the web and social media offered the (museum) world? We decided that we would continue to include multimedia in the program and add digital and online content in its exhibition part.

Research and Findings

si 1

As the usual professor teaching this rapidly evolving class (firstly due to my film production background), I began researching, mostly online, about the use of digital technology in museums, taking some very useful online classes and workshops, writing about the subject for the international French speaking online magazine Thot cursus and sharing the newly acquired skills with students and other teachers. In 2011, with financial support from the College, I attended Museums and the Web conference in Philadelphia, which was as formative and inspiring as can be. Along with the exploration mentioned above, the learning gained at the conference served as base to our thinking about the recast of the class syllabus. It confirmed that it was possible to use simple, easy and low cost digital technologies and tools in a learning environment and in smaller museum settings. The major learning that happened there, though, was that use of IT in museums and the heritage world was very much exciting, full of promise and opened so many new possibilities (Social media! Mobile!). There was great creative richness and a kind of far west vibe at MW 2011. I learned from generous people attending the conference (“Like the idea? Have it!“), some from the most prestigious institutions in the world, that part of the learning process was to try things and that projects could be meaningful even if not completely successful.

In 2012, I was honored to be among the dozen of participants to attend the V-Must/ICCROM first International Virtual Heritage School in Paestum (Italy) to pursue the research about what we could implement in the classes; 3D imaging was an important part of it and the teachers presented some 3D low cost tools (an element always important to our department) that we will be able to test soon on our educational collection. Encountering people from Europe, from Asia and Near East, learning about their various ways and means for the heritage conservation and mediation, be it virtual or real, helped put perspective to my North American way of thinking about museums (like our department projects in Haiti do) and reaffirm the notion that essential projects can be done in a community even when the resources are scarce.

A visit to Brooklyn Museum in April 2013 was also a great source of inspiration for our remaking of the class program. There were a lot of examples about ways to use social media and the web in situ: access to related content on wikis via QR codes in exhibition spaces, tablet access to the collection database in open storage, asking questions/adding comments about exhibitions on tablets soundly placed in the rooms, etc. This visit became an integral and important part of the ongoing research.

si 2

More recently this fall, I attended the Museum Computer Network conference, in Montreal, not far from where I teach in Laval, thanks to a generous scholarship from MCN/Google. Again, this was a great learning opportunity. During the helpful workshop Metrics, Metrics, Everywhere, given by Elena Villaespesa (Tate) and Brian Alpert (Smithsonian), case studies and concrete analytic tools for the evaluation of museum websites and social media were presented. Another inspiring project, Connecting Teens and Art #atNGA, presented by speaker Dana Allen-Greil (National Gallery of Art), was also of great interest for our reflection, with its original low tech approach using social media and… paper. The importance of an institutional digital strategy, project’s sustainability, cross-departmental collaboration and the need for time to pause and reflect on strategy were mentioned more than once at the recent MCN conference, particularly during a panel on the Future of Museum Digital Departments where Carolyn Royston, from Imperial War Museums, rightly outlined the necessity of ongoing digital training for museum staff, presenting, as an example, the very interesting IWM Computer Club project. All these things learned will help pursue the remaking of the syllabus to benefit the class projects and the graduates in their future work environments.

In The Class

“Let’s try it” has become my leitmotiv in the new multimedia class with the students and I am lucky enough that the College and colleagues support my will to explore this transforming field by doing projects in the digital space. Small scale and simple projects have been experimented since 2010: intangible heritage websites, exhibition websites, online content access in exhibition rooms, use of social media during exhibitions. Analysis of exposeur SIdifferent uses of the web and social media, online and in situ, by international and local museums of all sizes, was included in the beta version of the syllabus. Changes occurred so that the students could learn about what was done in museums with new technologies and so that some of this learning could be applied and practiced in real exhibition/mediation settings.

Next: Researching Museum 2.0 in Action at the Smithsonian

The next step will be to study in situ and in action, in one institution, how the production, management and coordination of the work is done and by whom, with what tools and what resources. I would like to see concretely how museum 2.0 is being developed on the long term and how it is managed and created on a daily basis, by individuals as well as departments. I would like to hear about it from the persons who actually do the work and contribute to the fast development of the field. This new part of the exploration would help our department better grasp the roles that our graduates can play with the use of new technologies in museums. The Smithsonian, with its expertise and a large number of museums and galleries in one delimited urban space, is the perfect field for such a short study.

Invitation?

On that matter and thanks to financial support from Cegep International, I will be visiting the Smithsonian, next spring, to see in situ installations and conduct interviews with staff members working with new technologies in the institution. Nancy Proctor, Head of Mobile Strategy & Initiatives, had the generous and perfect idea to crowdsource the willing participants by writing this guest blog entry on Smithsonian 2.0. The meetings and visits will take place between February 26 and March 9, 2014. The results will be reported in writing (on Thot cursus and others, to be confirmed), with photos and eventually audio/video recordings when suitable and possible.

I would be interested to talk to people (and, if possible, to attend projects’ meetings) who, at the Smithsonian, develop, manage or do projects with:

-blogs

-social media

-websites

-games

-3D imaging

-databases

-mobile applications

-multimedia content

-installation of multimedia and online content in situ

-digital strategy

Here are questions I would like to ask and discuss:

-where and how did you learn what you do as a job now?

-how is your workload/time concretely divided, including the essential time to reflect on the projects?

-what are the tools you use and why those ones?

-how does the communication occur and how is the teamwork accomplished in your department and across departments?

-where do you get your inspiration, what models do you have?

-how do you continue to learn and cope in this fast pace evolving digital world?

-how is sustainability a part of your projects, or is it not?

-what role does your work play in the digital strategy/mission of the institution?

-how do you envisage the future of your job, of your projects?

It would be of great help and immensely appreciated if staff members who are interested in this research could take part in discussions and interviews (meetings’ duration at their convenience) about all things digital and IT in their work. They can leave a comment here or email me: fclementATcmontmorencyDOTqcDOTca.

Looking forward to meeting with you and learn more!

Thank you (and please forgive my approximate English).

Francine Clément

@clementfrancine

Photo credits : Open storage and label near tablet in exhibition room (Brooklyn Museum) cc Francine Clément / Screenshot of a website project by students from the Multimedia class: cc Design by Frédéric Lauzon and Pamela E. Witcher, Photography of artist Christine Larivière

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