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Archive for the 'Information Technology' Category


Sunday, January 8th, 2012

On June 10 last year I reported that the first part of Understanding Museums: Australian Museums and Museology, edited with Leon Paroissien, had been published as an e-book by the National Museum of Australia.

Late in the year the remaining essays were published. The complete e-book includes 25 separate essays covering everything from a review of the Pigott Report, developments since 1970 in museums generally through progress in art, science and history, education and touring exhibitions, digitisation and social media.

Following a consideration of the recent history of museums in Australia by Des Griffin and Leon Paroissien,  Anne-Marie Condé of the National Museum reviews the important Pigott Report into museums and national collections which reported ot the Australian Government in late 1975. Ian Cook, inaugural Director of the State Conservation Centre of South Australia (later called Artlab Australia) and colleagues describe advances in collection conservation, Tim Hart from Museum Victoria and Martin Hallett from Arts Victoria recount the revolution in technology in museums. Des Griffin considers the very recent advances in technology and social media.

John Stanton of the Berndt Museum writes on ethnographic museums and Bernice Murphy, presently National Director of Museums Australia discusses Indigenous art and art museums whilst Michael Pickering of the National Museum and Phil Gordon of the Australian Museum review repatriation.

Discussions of History and museums are provided by Peter Stanley of the National Museum, Tim Sullivan of Sovereign Hill Museums Association, Margaret Anderson of the South Australian History Trust, Kevin Jones of the South Australian Maritime Museum and Viv Szekeres, formerly director of the Migration Museum in Adelaide.

Daniel Thomas, one time director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, provides an overview of art museums. Caroline Turner, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Humanities and the Arts at the ANU recvounts the expansion in international exhibitions and independent consultant Anne Kirker reviews paper conservation in art museums.

Natural history museums and their challenges are discussed by Doug Hoese, onetime head of science at the Australian Museum. Michael Gore, foundation director Questacon in Canberra, and Susan Stocklmayer, director of the ANU Centre for the public Awareness of Science review science centres.

Regional Museums are considered by Margaret Rich, former director of the Art Gallery of Ballarat and by museum and heritage consultant Kylie Winkworth. Representatives of various regional museum organisations consider developments in many of the states of Australia.

Lastly, education and the visitor experience in museums, one of the fields in which there have been significant advances, is addressed by Jennifer Barrett of Sydney University who describes museum studies at universities, Barbara Piscitelli, researcher on young children and museums, who focuses on the relationship that children have with museums, Janette Griffin of the University of Technology Sydney who reviews school students’ learning in museums and Lynda Kelly of the Australian Museum who discusses family visits.


Monday, December 21st, 2009

Hoots No. 13 – 21 December 2009: “Co-producing” the Museum using social media; Education and “Radical Hope”: Noel Pearson’s essay on education and Indigenous Australians; an observation on the misdirection of attention on learning and teaching.

Co-producing the Museum – Social Media and Interaction with your Museum

On the Museum Marketing website  Jim Richardson has written a very interesting article about the communications revolution “coproducing the museum”. It is the text of a keynote address he gave to the Museum Association’s Social Media Day.

Amongst the things he has to say are these:

“Change in the internet has been clear for anyone to see, with the shift from static web pages to dynamic and sharable content and social networking. The internet is no longer just a place to find information; it is now a forum for collaboration, a place to create, curate and share content online. This has changed the way we work, influenced the way we think and adjusted our individual place in society forever.

The explosion in social media has created a socio-cultural shift; the way that people act is changing and audience expectations are snowballing both online and offline, and museums need to think beyond simply building a fan page on Facebook, writing a blog or starting to use Twitter to keep up with the change.”

He points out that people who use Facebook, iPhones, iTunes and Wikipedia, with its hyperlinks allowing users to “drill down” through information, find many of their interactions with museums, including their websites, to be unsatisfactory: static and difficult to engage with.

He quotes The Centre for the Future of Museums, “For Americans under 30, there’s an emerging structural shift in which consumers increasingly drive narrative. Technology is fundamentally enabling and wiring expectations differently, particularly among younger audiences, this time when it comes to the concept of narrative.

“Over time, museum audiences are likely to expect to be part of the narrative experience at museums. While the overall story might not change, how it is presented may change to allow visitors to take on a role as a protagonist themselves.”

He gives some really interesting examples of museums which have grasped change in the way they use social media to allow active interaction by virtual and physical visitors. Some of them are:

Tate Modern released songs, initially exclusively inside the museum, to which visitors could listen through listening posts and later on the Tate Tracks microsite, then invited the public to participate in searching for an additional track. The invitation potentially reached up to two million people. Young musicians were invited to compose a piece of music inspired by an artwork in the museum and the public were invited to vote for their favourite submitted composition.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art launched a project – “It’s time we MET” –  asking people visiting the permanent collection to photograph their experience and using Flickr enter it in a competition to star in a new advertising campaign. Almost a thousand pictures were posted; a panel of judges selected two winners and five runners up.

N8 Audiotours asked members of the public to create their own audiotours about items found in venues around Amsterdam.

Brooklyn Museum launched 1stfans. “1stfan membership is an interactive relationship with the museum that takes place online and in the museum. Part of this relationship is through websites like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr where private members’ areas contain content for 1stfan members. The content in these areas includes artists composing tweets, members sharing pictures, exclusive videos and access to an active online community.”

The V&A in London used a skillfully designed web page to lead people through webpages containing clues to which interested bloggers responded. “The bloggers received further cryptic messages over the next few weeks and 7thsyndikate also entered their real lives with graffiti planted near their homes and adverts placed in newspapers. This all ended with an instruction to dress in a hat and sunglasses, and with a newspaper under the left arm, these spies were to meet a man wearing a tan mac, bowler hat and dark shoes at the Albert Memorial in London. From here he marched them single file to the entrance of the V&A and the exhibition “Cold War Modern”. In total, 35 bloggers made it to the special preview of the exhibition.”

Education: Noel Pearson

Those who read this blog will know of my interest in learning. I wrote a response recently to the Quarterly Essay, “Radical Hope” by Noel Pearson, director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership. The response was kindly posted on the “Save our Schools” site by Trevor Cobbold.

“Radical Hopeâ” traverses very important issues in respect of the education “gap” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, maintaining cultural identity on the margin, the nature of learning and indigenous rights including responsibilities of governments on the one hand and individuals on the other.

As Mr Pearson shows there are extremely significant findings from educational research relevant to the education of Indigenous students. Education in the western tradition of the dominant society in Australia does not by any means require suppression of Indigenous identity: in fact quite the contrary. Maintenance and strengthening of identity is fundamental to survival for almost everyone, a fact suppressed by advocates of assimilation. Diversity of identity strengthens society!”

Quarterly Essay 36, “Australian Story” by Mungo MacCallum includes a series of responses to Pearson’s essay by people such as Fred Chaney (a director of Reconciliation Australia), Peter Shergold (Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet 2003 to 2008) and Peter Sutton (University of Adelaide and South Australian Museum and author of “The Politics of Suffering…”).


While the world is crying out for creativity and innovation the attention, at least of the media and business and politicians, is focused on league tables, judging teacher effectiveness by student test scores and performance pay. All these are significantly flawed and little evidence of positve contribution of them is available. The studies of learning and education show that early childhood is the critical time for intervention and that well qualified and highly regarded teachers are what make, in the long run, the greatest difference to educational achievement and a life lived, along with encouragement at home and a strong sense of self worth.

It’s rather like the major issue of now being the personal behaviour of golfer Tiger Woods, as economist Paul Krugman observed in respect of global climate change and the COP15 meetings in Copenhagen in his debate with Bjorn Lomborg.

A recent contribution to On Line Opinion by Peter Vintila observed that “Most of us believe that climate policy aims to protect an endangered planet from a badly-ordered human economy. Now listen to just about any politician or industry spokesperson and you soon hear something different: the point, all of a sudden, is not to protect the planet but to protect the human economy from the planet.”


Monday, May 25th, 2009

OWL’S HOOTS NO. 7 – May 25th, 2009

Early childhood education, the importance of teacher quality and training to students’ gains from schooling. Museums and schools and the impact of the digital revolution: those organisations which have failed to take advantage of the revolution have “withered where they stood! And do directors of Art Museums know what they are talking about?

More on education, learning and schooling: (I have been reading extensively about this topic. The literature is extensive, the research of the highest quality and the notice taken by many politicians and the media of the findings has been less than impressive.)

Here are excerpts from some of the papers.

Early childhood: Early experiences have uniquely powerful influence on the development of cognitive and social skills and on brain architecture and neurochemistry; both skill development and brain maturation are hierarchical processes in which higher level functions depend on, and build on, lower level functions and the capacity for change in the foundations of human skill development and neural circuitry is highest earlier in life and decreases over time. These findings lead to the conclusion that the most efficient strategy for strengthening the future workforce, both economically and neurobiologically, and improving its quality of life is to invest in the environments of disadvantaged children during the early childhood years.

“Economic, neurobiological, and behavioral perspectives on building America’s future workforce”, Eric I. Knudsen, James J. Heckman et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences vol. 103 no. 27, p10155″“10162 (July 5, 2006)

This is an incredibly important paper bringing together neurobiological, behavioural and economic perspectives from studies of humans and other animals which make it absolutely clear that failure to invest significantly in early childhood development makes cognitive development in later life more difficult and more expensive. It also makes clear that health of the mother during pregnancy and involvement of the mother in early years of the child’s life is critical!

A wealth of research makes clear that these issues are particularly significant for families at the lower socio-economic levels of society. Early childhood intervention is not child minding but must involve qualified early childhood educators. Think of parental leave and the costs of good support in early life, the experiences of urban settings of high rise apartments and the lives of “minority” families which are portrayed time and again in TV police dramas.

What matters is the quality of the teacher: Whereas students’ literacy skills, general academic achievements, attitudes, behaviours and experiences of schooling are influenced by their background and intake characteristics ““ the magnitude of these effects pale into insignificance compared with class/teacher effects. That is, the quality of teaching and learning provision are by far the most salient influences on students’ cognitive, affective, and behavioural outcomes of schooling ““ regardless of their gender or backgrounds. Indeed, findings from the related local and international evidence-based research indicate that “˜what matters most’ is quality teachers and teaching, supported by strategic teacher professional development!

“The Importance of Teacher Quality as Key Determinant of Students’ Experiences and Outcomes of Schooling”, Kenneth J. Rowe (Australian Council for Educational Research), discussion paper prepared on behalf of the Interim Committee for NSW Institute of Teachers (available on the NSW Institute of Teachers web site).


Teacher training and teacher effectiveness: Measures of teacher preparation and certification are by far the strongest correlates of student achievement in reading and mathematics, both before and after controlling for student poverty and language status.

“Teacher Quality and Student Achievement: Review of State Policy Evidence”, Lind Darling-Hammond, Education Policy Analysis Archives vol 8 no. 1, 2000

And again:

Teachers’ effectiveness appears strongly related to the preparation they have received for teaching.

“Does Teacher Preparation Matter? Evidence about Teacher Certification, Teach for America, and Teacher Effectiveness”, Lind Darling-Hammond et al, available here.

(This paper refutes the proposition that teachers don’t really need training in how to teach, what they need is strong background knowledge of content. Young people with degrees in various subjects were recruited as part of the “Teach for America” program in the US and given few weeks of training and then sent to schools where the majority of students were from “minority” backgrounds.)

Museums and Schools: the digital revolution and its consequences. This was one of the papers delivered at the Museums and the Web conference in Indianapolis earlier this year. link to the site for that conference takes you to the video of talk by Maxwell Anderson, now director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

The past fifteen years of the digital revolution have seen transformation of cultural content and experiences through the use of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as the Web. These technologies have radically changed the types of content that are created and how it is distributed and used. The chains of connection from originating source to end user have been remade so as to be completely different from those of less than generation ago.

The effects of these “˜disruptive technologies’ has arguably been most profoundly felt in the cultural and informational industries: news, entertainment and education. In the publishing, broadcasting and recorded music industries, the landscape has been completely reworked by the new digital supply chains and the business models that they enable. Those content producers and providers that have not embraced new models for distribution on-line have been usurped or have withered where they stood.

“Building Digital Distribution Systems For School-Based Users Of Museum Content: New initiatives in Australia and Canada”, Darren Peacock, University of South Australia, Australia; Stuart Tait, The Learning Federation, Australia; Corey Timpson, Canadian Heritage Information Network, Canada, In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2009: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2009.

Museums and Audiences: challenge: Thomas Campbell, the new director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, says that engaging visitors who don’t feel comfortable is one of his primary challenges. “There is an enormous potential audience that simply isn’t coming here,” he says. “They come for school trips, but it wouldn’t occur to them to come again. Without sacrificing standards, we need to remind people that coming to the museum is not big deal. You’re not taking test. You don’t have to prove you know about the artists. It’s just fun.” Extract from “Reshaping the Art Museum” by Robin Cembalest in Art News June 2009

Advancing Museums and Organisational Change

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

There are several new items on museums as organizations and achieving change. Firstly, I have recently come across some excellent pieces relating to teamwork.

A Peter Day program on the BBC (which incidentally includes stuff about the Cambridge Boat Race team) featured amongst other people Professor Lynda Gratton of the London Business School. On her website there is a link to a podcast by her dealing with teams. The BBC piece is extremely interesting. Of course one of the reasons I liked it is that yet again it demonstrates what we can learn from other people and other organisations, in this case from the mobile phone giant Nokia and the University boat races on the Thames.

By the way, a recently broadcast piece on the ABC Radio National program “All in the Mind” dealt with apes and it would be a challenge to work out what one can conclude from that about how human groups work.

In the recently started ‘ning’ (an online service where you can create, customize, and share your own Social Network) deals amongst other things with achieving organisational change and there is a post there which may be of interest.

Before finishing, a recent appointment to directorship of a large museum in Australia and the reaction to it highlights some of the challenges museums face. This is also dealt with in Museum 3.0.

Last, A paper entitled “Advancing Museums” has just been published in Museum Management and Curatorship.

Here is an extended abstract of the paper.

In the last 40 or so years museums, like many other nonprofit organizations, have focused to a greater extent on the demands of a market (or “rational”) economic model, adopted by most developed western countries – business and government alike – as a governing paradigm. Financial efficiency, restructuring, downsizing, outsourcing and fixed term contracts for senior staff have been major corporate developments. Boards have come to see their main role as oversight of executive management. Museum executives have been encouraged to be more entrepreneurial. Performance indicators have been introduced to show that museums contribute value for money.

Simultaneously, there have been substantial and vitally important advances in understanding of the learning experience in the museum environment, an experience which depends significantly on prior knowledge and contributes to individual identity and. Dramatic developments in information technology have also led to a great increase in public accessibility to knowledge about the collections.

A review of high performance forprofits and nonprofits and the most effective museums shows that best practice involves understanding the ‘industry’, a challenging work environment and attention to recruitment. Strategy for the executive leader means creating and communicating a vision encompasing unique deliverable value and appropriate organizational values. In all high performing organizations there is great attention to recruitment and to training and development.

A revised agenda for museum boards and executive leadership is developed and some other challenges are identified. Boards and executive leaders must seek advances in strategic issues which only they are responsible for; performance indicators must reflect that focus, not operational issues.

Visual Velcro and Interpretation in the Museum

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

In an article in the November/December 2007 issue of Museum News published by the American Association of Museums (p 57-62, 68-73) entitled “Visual Velcro: Hooking the Visitor”, Peter Samis, associate curator of interpretation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) develops a very interesting metaphor to describe the way visitors to museums engage with art. The article contains an excellent summary of the latest thinking about interpretation, especially the use of electronic devices such as audio guides, PDA’s and mobile phones.

A Velcro patch (originally inspired by a burr caught in dog fur or velvet’s fuzzy surface) consists of a strip of tiny loops. Samis asks us to imagine that the visual impression an artwork creates is like Velcro. Unless “it has a hook that can fit into one of the loops on your specific Long Term Memory (LTM) “patch,” it will glide right by and be forever forgotten. If there is something in the artwork, however, that strikes you—a figure, a vivid color, a bodily sensation resulting from the artwork’s massive or minuscule scale, a memory trigger or implied narrative connection—then we can say that artwork has “Visual Velcro.” It has hooked into your cognitive structure and stands a chance of remaining in your memory.”

Samis goes on to summarize how technologies can help the hooks of artworks engage with the loops of our LTM. It is well understood that interpretive plans have to acknowledge not just who the visitors are – their identity – in terms of background and entrance narratives. In using the increasingly common analog and digital devices it is essential to understand what each kind of device delivers and what the visitor expects. (As he says in his concluding comments, this does not mean that text on the wall is not useful.)

Samis sets out to answer the questions about state-of –the-art interpretation, to what end various devices would be used, how visitors respond and how the visiting experience can be augmented most meaningfully and at the same time least intrusively. Very interesting examples are given from many different art museums. According to Samis, the watchword in planning would be “Design for Experience, Not for Hardware”.

Continue to article.