It’s not often I bring an audience down. As an upbeat and excitable person – passionate about education and vocal about how digital can be an vehicle for innovation, I often find I have been scheduled to speak after lunch, to refocus postprandial brains and leave them smiling and open to new ideas.
However, this June at an event for museum educators, I think I might have made some people cry. Here’s why
(Note: this post is full of tasty links. While the main meal should be nutritious, please explore the deeper flavours available by following the hyperlinks to other healthy brain snacks.)
Digital Learning in Museums, hosted by the Oxford University Museums Partnership, drew a national audience of leaders and practitioners from across the country. There were awesome speakers, and conversations with attendees during the breaks proved to be as valuable as some of the talks!
I’d prepared a talk to bring some home truths to this nice audience and I didn’t hold back. To compensate, I smiled a lot, and talked fast – while struggling with an AV/IT issue which meant that I was running different versions of my deck on two devices.
You can see my talk here, thanks the OUMP team, and my deck is shared below this post.
Despite my attempts to make it palatable, some things needed to be said.
1 – Most edtech from the museum sector is failing to be found and/or valued by schools and learners.
This means that public funding is going to beautifully produced resources that very few people use. I’ve shared the research I worked on elsewhere, and some stats and recommendations made it into this talk for OUMP, (see slides below) and they are pretty shocking.
2 – Most digital learning products made by museums are not made for teachers and pupils, but for evidencing ‘public engagement’ with collections.
Of course public engagement is important – but unless a digital resource is made for the purposes of supporting learning, then it will not be useful for that prized activity.
Most education teams are still coming from a ‘We have a thing, let us show you’ approach – and few projects start with a design thinking, or agile development model. Given the costs of making a digital resource, and the platform and training requirements for users in being involved with a technology project – this is all but unforgivable.
3 – The GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Arts and Museums) and Heritage sector doesn’t have a robust or clear way to evaluate the impact of the work they do in education.
The vast majority of the museum education sector delivers ‘digital’ to schools via PDFs. While a PDF can be a powerful way to inspire learning, much of what museums offer is static and merely repackaging curatorial information with a ‘For Schools’ label.
Worse, as learning teams are dependent on PDFs as their digital offering for schools, they use the measure of ‘downloads’ of these files as evidence of engagement. Of course, these download stats mean nothing, as teachers have to download the pdfs to view them, but this is no guarantee of use in class or engagement with the institution.
4 – There is too little sharing – of what works and what didn’t!
At both this OUMP event, and others I have spoken at, I have found far too few practitioners sharing their stories or using open educational practices (which means more than just using OER). I was hugely impressed with both Andy McLellan, and Michelle Harrell, who both broke this pattern and told helpful stories of projects that didn’t go according to plan, and what they did to learn from that.
Events like the Teachmeet I helped run, after a Culture24 event earlier in the year, could surely help with changing this culture – as a safer space for greater ‘Openness’ to grow. If teachers can admit failings in the context of the accountability pressures they are under – then, surely, museum educators could certainly be braver.
Of course, it’s not all bad news. Lots of places are opening up to new ways of working and thinking. Coming from the commercial sector into the world of museums, galleries, heritage and culture – clients have come to me, keen to learn from how other parts of the education sector have made the shift from ‘product delivery’ towards ‘community engagement and service management’.
If you’d like to talk about how to develop educational resources that are found, used and valued by teachers and students, and make more impactful use of digital technology for learning, then please get in touch and let’s have a conversation!