MW2014 Provided Perspective

A week ago, Liza and Tom represented and presented HCLE at the Museums and the Web conference. Like many of the attendees, we published a blog post to collect our thoughts. This last week was a good opportunity to read posts from others to get a different perspective. Many of them are useful (search on #MW2014 if you want a long list) and one in particular struck a chord in ways the author probably didn’t intend. Thank you, Kati Price, for an inspiration and a reason for reflection.

Kati summarized the conference in “Ten Digital Lessons”. Taking the headings alone points out the similarities between technology entering the museum space and technology as it entered the classroom – decades earlier.

1. Digital transformation is hard – Change is rarely easy, and change that involves technology introduces change in capability, control, and complexity. If capability didn’t promise an improvement the change wouldn’t happen. While technology is potentially enabling, it also shifts some of the control to the computer, and the computer operator. That can be an uncomfortable challenge to existing authority figures. Computers make our lives simpler? Does anyone expect that, even with today’s mature technology? Imagine what it was like for a teacher in 1976 operating without support.

2. Measure what you value not value what you measure – We manage best when we can measure the critical outcome; yet, that’s always been an issue with education. Computers allowed data collection, but it wasn’t necessarily the right data. If it was, there’d be far fewer debates in the education field. The sooner the right measures are found, the sooner things improve.

3. There’s a load of brilliant free stuff out there – That wasn’t as much the case with the early computers, and yet, somehow teachers with very little budget found supportive companies and organizations that would open access to closed systems; or, with the right convincing, provide a machine or two. Software was free. All you had to do was write it up and type it in. Good luck, and celebrate the fact that it will be a learning experience.

4. Everyone loves a good metaphor – And metaphors were necessary as computers were introduced. Many administrators and others had no frame of reference from which to build an understanding of what was possible. A lot of good stories were told (and we’re collecting them for our museum.)

5. Modes and motivations are more important than segments and sectors – Much of human progress is driven by passion, curiosity, and necessity. Educators were motivated by a love of helping others learn; regardless of logic about markets and demographics. They aimed at a future that redefined segments and sectors.

6. Responsiveness is not just about devices – A common mistake in any technology introduction is to focus on the equipment. A lot of effort and expense may have been involved in acquiring it, so naturally it draws attention. But it is necessary to remember why the device was introduced. Hardware without software is useless; and software that provides solutions that have nothing to do with the problems is equally useless. Remember #2, what is truly of value?

7. There’s a fine line between content curation and creation – The analogy may not be as strong here, but we at HCLE have to deal with what to curate. What was truly created in a classroom in 1976: a piece of software, the beginnings of a network, a new way to learn and teach, or a group of educated students?

8. Work out your MVP – At MW2014, MVP was Minimum Viable Product, to distinguish if from Most Valuable Player; but for HCLE, Most Valuable Player is important to us. We are trying to identify and understand the influence of the Most Valuable Players that influenced the way we learned a new way to learn. See our Pioneers list for a start.

9. US Museums rock – This is true, and we are impressed. (We’re also impressed with their budgets, but that’s another issue.) As we develop our museum though we’re becoming that much more aware that our issue is global and that HCLE may eventually not be considered to be a US museum. The nature of a virtual museum means we may be sees as international, and necessarily multi-lingual and multi-cultural.

10. Museum digital folk are awesome – Yep. No argument there.

The question arises, “Why got to conferences?” HCLE lives at the intersection of so many fields (e.g. museums, history, computers, computing, education, learning) that the only conference that targets us would be one that we held, and it would be very small. But Kati’s post is a good reminder that the insights are powerful even if the specifics aren’t exact.

Thanks to everyone for their points of view. And keep in mind, the transition museums are going through now may be very similar to transitions that have already taken place. It is a good reason for all of us to look outside our own fields. (Which is something we are doing too, but that’s another story.

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