Tag Archives: MW2013

HCLE At MW2014

The Museums and the Web conference returned, and we did too. (See last year’s report.) Museums and the Web is a good place to meet people who understand museums and technology – a good thing for a virtual museum. Small museums require networking, collaboration, and exposure – all things we got by attending.

Our raw notes were published via twitter
Our raw notes were published via twitter

The ultimate direct benefit from such an event would be to find enough funding to more than pay for the trip; but that is uncommon. Except for the vendors, it is doubtful that anyone achieved that goal. There were significant benefits but they are the valuable intangibles of ideas, contacts, and publicity.

A small museum has a better chance of succeeding when supported by the rest of the professional community.

This year was a refreshing escalation in our participation because we were included in the schedule. We gave a talk about our collaborative strategy, and how it benefits both party’s goals while keeping costs down. (So Glad Our Virtual Museum Is Not RealMW2014 Lightning Talk slide 5

We, via Liza Loop and LO*OP Center, took a leadership role by creating and hosting a professional online forum for museum professionals. (Museum Learning Central) The surprise was that there was no such place available for career development and mutual support for museum operations and brainstorming. (Email us at our Gmail account:  HCLEmuseum for an invitation.)

The barriers between the physical and virtual spaces are falling. A virtual museum is not seen as radical, though it is uncommon. We are maintaining a list of virtual museums so we can coordinate and collaborate without attending conferences so we encourage you to send us URLs for any that you know of.

One of the most heartening, and hardest to quantify, experiences was that we were recognized.

Liza at the microphone
Liza at the microphone

In addition to the talk, we participated by engaging in the discussions, Q&A, and breakout sessions that allowed for a much more active role than simply sitting in the seats. HCLE didn’t have to be explained as often. Conversations were about progress and advice instead of simple explanation. We even had an informal program plan review that affirmed our strategy and tactics. And we received a very detailed and impassioned description of the value of graph databases (via Post-its).

Paper, the original tech
Paper, the original tech

We haven’t decided if we will if it will be necessary to return in 2015. Unless HCLE has more significant funds we’ll be best served by attending a different conference, possibly an education conference. An education conference won’t provide as much useful technical advice, but it may connect us with people equally passionate about the history of computing in learning and education. Of course, the best course would be to have sufficient funds and time to attend conferences that cover each of our topics: museums, history, computers, computing, learning, and education. But we have a lot of work to do with cataloging, archiving, site development, exhibit creation, and a myriad of other tasks. We are certainly busy.

HCLE will be present at another conference in 2013, partly through convenience. The American Alliance of Museums holds a large annual meeting, and this year it is in Seattle, which means that our Project Manager, Tom Trimbath, can attend by commuting thereby dramatically decreasing the cost of lodging.

The true value of the conference will become evident as we follow up on contacts and ideas. We’re already received interest from universities in the UK, and of course established better relations with various museums in the US.

And if nothing else, our social media presence increased by about 20% simply through persistent tweeting (which also gave us an opportunity to comment on what we heard.) Speaking is important, but so is listening. Thanks for letting us listen.

Tom tweeting (from @HCLEmuseum)
Tom tweeting (from @HCLEmuseum) photo courtesy of Andrew Lewis (@rosemarybeetle)


Paul Trafford and His Sinclair ZX81

We were lucky enough to meet Paul Trafford at the Museums and the Web 2013 conference in Portland, OR earlier this year. We were also lucky enough to find his story, posted by him.

“Like many of my generation, I owe my first steps to Sir Clive Sincliar: initially, I started with a Sinclair ZX81, which my parents kindly bought for me for Christmas. With 1K of RAM, I was limited in what I could develop, though I was able to validate UK VAT registration numbers! Nevertheless, it was enough to introduce me to a new world and I could write my first programs – in Sinclair’s implementation of BASIC.”

It is amazing what a person can do, and learn, with 1K of RAM – if it is the right person.

HCLE At MW2013

The conference is over and I’m glad we attended. HCLE (Liza Loop and I) was at the 2013 Museums and the Web conference in Portland, Oregon. Days of tours, workshops, sessions, exhibits and demonstrations were overwhelming and useful; though the people and ideas may linger longest. I gained a new perspective on the size and need for our museum, and the state of the museum culture.

OMSI action shot – Tom and Liza (She’s the one in action.)

Museums are in transition. Digital technologies, whether they are the web or smartphones, are changing the way museums are managed and visited. Archives can be tracked more efficiently, and frequently must include room for digital artifacts. Visitors are more likely to begin their visit online where they decide when and how they’ll visit, and during their visit, are more likely to add to their experience by pulling out their smartphone and diving into details (even if those details come from uncurated sources like wikipedia.) This is a major shift for organizations that were built into massive structures, expansive halls, with complete control over the collection and its commentary. Digital technologies usurp some of the control, which sometimes means visitors create an unexpected experience, and sometimes mean they don’t feel the need for a physical visit. Challenges are opportunities.

Other industries are undergoing digital revolutions. To quote from another of my blogs;
Digital technology allowed independent movies to revolutionize Hollywood, garage bands to challenge record labels, ebooks to shock publishing houses, . . .
In each of those industries, new formats arose, surprised convention, and have since lived beside the earlier format; and both continue to change.

HCLE will be almost completely digital. (Details on the HCLE wiki.) The majority of our collection will be either scanned documents or heritage software. Our major physical exhibit will be a traveling show, a replica of a 1980s classroom computer lab. The other major element will be the story project where we collect people’s tales of how they learned and taught, about and with computers. We changed how we learned how to learn. We taught ourselves a new way to teach. It is appropriate that the museum is a new type of museum.

The most positive lesson I learned was that many of the tasks before HCLE have been solved for similar situations. Massive databases of digitized information are becoming the norm. The task remains as large as before, but it is encouraging to know that others have completed similar projects. Maybe none have exactly the same set of tasks, but that isn’t a surprise. And, if there isn’t a museum example, there may be other examples in other industries. As one attendee put it, (pardon me as I paraphrase),
If you think your database is large and potentially slow, go to amazon.com and search for something, anything. Their search will sort through millions of items and an amazing array of possible search terms and deliver a comprehensive result within seconds.
Somewhere starting with spreadsheets at one end and amazon’s monster solution at the other lies what most museums need. As for user interfaces and academic access, Disney has probably solved the one and the Library of Congress has probably solved the other.

I also had my mind opened by a gentleman from Qatar. Without intending to, he made me realize that the history of computing in learning and education is international and multi-lingual. I’ve known that, but a personal conversation can have much more impact than an abstract consideration. Others, without realizing we were focusing on the earliest years of classroom computers, extended the concept to insights into modern day MOOCs (Massively Open Online Classes) and distributed synchronous learning. Our job may have just gotten bigger, again.

Throughout the conference, I was reminded by a role model. Every time I walked outside, I saw OMSI across the river. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry sat across the Willamette River from our venue. Liza and I have mentioned them in previous posts. They served as a reminder that change happens, and the easiest way to adapt is to accept it early and positively.
OMSI and solutions

Now it is time to sort through the program, my notes (available on twitter @tetrimbath and #MW2013), a stack of business cards and pamphlets, and memories to allow the key solutions to become clear. We have a big task. It could be a lot bigger. But, now I know that there are solutions to problems, and one thing the conference was good for was finding solutions. (Besides, who would want to go to a conference looking for problems?) Thanks to everyone who made it happen. I hope I see you next year.

Tom Trimbath, HCLE Project Director

(For a more personal take on the conference and especially the city, you are welcomed to read my post on one of my other blogs.)

OMSI Watches Computers Grow Up

First, barely a mention. Next, a short meeting or two. Within a few years, labs, field trips, seminars, workshops, and pages of possibilities – and then barely a mention. So went the integration of computers into the psyche of OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry). OMSI was one of the first organizations in the country, and maybe the world, that paid attention to what many considered a fad. And now, computers don’t generate as much attention because they have been so well integrated that we no longer shine spotlights on them. The people at OMSI helped their members then, and they are helping HCLE now.

HCLE’s founder, Liza Loop, and I are in Portland, Oregon attending the Museums and the Web conference (MW2013). Being within walking distance of OMSI was definitely a bonus.

OMSI was nice enough to let Liza Loop spend hours (I helped a bit) sifting through decades of records. The staff had even found a volunteer to collect newsletters and quarterly catalogs back into the sixties. Then, four of the staff offered their conference table as a temporary work space. Hours later, dozens or hundreds of photos had been taken to document OMSI’s public relationship with computers.

I was intrigued by what I found. Every time we found a mention of computers or programming, especially if education was specified, we took a photo of the page. In the early sixties there was very little. Flip through a lot of aging paper before setting them aside to be photographed. In the seventies, the mentions were more common, once or twice per newsletter, usually for a recurring meeting or class. There were enough pages to photo that it just made more sense to work standing. By the eighties, there were classes for kids and adults. Instead of a 1 1/2 hour class about computers, there were drawn out courses on specific programming languages. Assembly was taught to adults. Graphics programs were taught to five year olds. OMSI - Science Scope newsletter The course listings went on for pages and my camera’s batteries ran out. But I noticed that it didn’t seem to matter. Within a short while there were fewer photos to take. OMSI had ridden the wave from everyone’s a novice, to crowds dividing out of crowds to specialize in programming versus usage versus general interest, to where we are now.

Now, most people use computers without knowing binary math or assembly. Few have to deal with compilers and motherboards. We know the computers won’t work perfectly, but rather than debug and fix, we leave the diagnostics to experts, who may also not know the fundamentals of the situations they are asked to resolve. We rely on trust, perseverance, and sometimes acceptance of imperfections to get the job done. We’re trusting the computers to the point that, from at least one perspective, we’ve put them in control.

We’ve come a long way in a short time.

OMSI does pioneering work; and, they save their history. By building HCLE’s archive and database with such resources, we’ll be able to better understand how people and organizations adapt to rapid change. Rapid change is now the norm. Looking back at the history of computing in learning and education it becomes obvious that we, as a society, passed through phases; and, that we’ll pass through similar phases in other fields.

OMSI and HCLE use the past to help others adapt to the future. I thank OMSI for their help. They’ve provided a wonderful example of how a few documents can provide rich insights. We worked through dozens of folders. The HCLE collection contains about ten thousand artifacts. We know that many times that is out there in corporate archives, people’s garages, and even in other museums. Many are only stored in people’s minds. We look forward to your stores and stories being added to the HCLE database, and we look forward to the experts who will know the right questions to ask of such a resource.

For now, I’m glad I found some spare batteries, and that leafing through so many old records refreshes my memories of learning FORTRAN, the first time I used a terminal instead of punch cards, and why I was so glad that inkjet printers were so much quieter than the chatter of fan fold and dot matrix.