Archives for May 2006

Girls and informal science learning

One subject that has long been close to my heart is the experience of girls in environments of informal science learning. I’ve conducted interviews and presented papers on the subject, as well as designed and taught an all-girls summer class at a science center.

I was excited, then, to listen in today on “Exploring the Impact: Informal Science Experiences for Girls,” a webcast and teleconference presented by Lynn Dierking of the Institute for Learning Innovation and Dale McCreedy of the Franklin Institute. Unfortunately, I had to leave halfway through the presentation, but the work presented to that point was definitely thought-provoking.

Dierking and McCreedy pointed out that most studies of girls and informal science learning are limited by the term of a single program’s funding, typically three to five years. In contrast, their research looks at longer-term returns on the investment in girls. The two researchers are catching up with participants in five key programs targeted at girls, including one program that began back in 1982.

The session was well-attended. At the time I checked out, there were more than 50 participants. I’d love to see more such (free of charge!) research and professional development opportunities presented live online. A big thanks to Dierking and McCreedy for sharing their ongoing research.

The program was recorded and should be made available eventually–good news for those of you who missed the entire program, and for me, too, since I’m looking forward to hearing the second half of the webcast. When I locate the recording, I’ll let you know how to access the program.

PSA from the Ad Council and Girl Scouts of the USA. For more information, see Girls Go Tech.

Nifty exhibition idea

It sounds like the DuPage Children’s Museum has a terrific upcoming exhibition: Animals in Artland. What a great way to mix art and science. Bonus points for going to the children themselves to see what they already know.

10 tips for improving your museum’s blog

1. Establish a single tone but offer more than one voice. Invite staff members, volunteers, visiting lecturers, exhibiting artists, and others affiliated with the museum to guest blog (or, in the case of staff members, to post regularly). Conduct interviews. (Use a Q & A format as it draws attention to the entry.)

If you’re nervous about establishing a voice for your institution’s blog or worry that you won’t be able to post frequently enough, hire a professional writer with blogging experience to do it for you. (We can help. Contact me for more information.)

2. Post at least three times a week. Visitors like fresh content, and regular posting ensures your site will be indexed more frequently by search engines. Having more content to search makes it more likely that people searching the web will find appealing terms and keywords in your posts.

3. Encourage interactivity. Turn on comments, and participate in the conversations within them. Hold contests. Encourage visitors to submit original photos relevant to your exhibition content and programming, and then post the best of them.

4. Provide RSS and XML feeds. IceRocket simplifies the process of creating and publishing feeds. Having feeds will attract repeat visitors because many people read the web through feed aggregators such as Bloglines.

5. Incorporate lots of photos into your entries to increase your blog’s visual appeal.

6. Provide reliable e-mail addresses for the primary bloggers on your site.

7. Provide special offers redeemable at the museum or the museum store (bricks-and-mortar or online).

8. Use traffic tools (such as Sitemeter) to monitor traffic to and visitor interest in your blog. Such tools help you determine how people find your blog, what they’re looking for, how long their visits last, how many pages they visit, and more.

9. Establish a blogroll where you link to blogs that may be of interest to your visitors. Link to these blogs regularly in your individual entries, and you’ll get the interest of their writers, who may in turn start paying attention to your blog and occasionally link back to your blog. (Of course, be careful not to link too heavily to those who compete for your visitor dollars.)

10. Have fun with your blog. Enthusiasm is infectious!

Museums and podcasting: explanation and resources

There’s been a lot of discussion lately on museum sites and discussion lists about podcasting. Podcasts are a fabulous tool for museums because they’re a simple medium that can be adapted to multiple audiences, from children to adults, and visitors to your website can listen to them at their convenience–they don’t need to sit at their computer as they do when viewing web pages.

First of all, what is a podcast?

Wikipedia provides this definition:

Podcasting is the method of distributing multimedia files, such as audio programs or music videos, over the Internet for playback on mobile devices and personal computers. Podcasts are distributed using either the RSS or Atom syndication formats.

The term podcast, like “radio”, can mean both the content and the method of delivery. The host or author of a podcast is often referred to as a “podcaster”.

Podcasters’ web sites may also offer direct download or streaming of their files. However, a podcast is distinguished by its ability to be downloaded automatically using software capable of reading RSS or Atom feeds.

Usually the podcast features one type of “show”, with new episodes either sporadically or at planned intervals, such as daily or weekly. In addition to this, there are podcast networks that feature multiple shows on the same feed. One can listen to a podcast either on a computer or on a mobile audio device (such as an iPod).

Podcasting’s essence is about creating content (audio or video) for an audience that wants to listen or watch when they want, where they want, and how they want.

Museums can place podcasts on their websites to:
– share audio tours with audiences that are distant from the museum’s physical location;
– provide audio tours that visitors can download to their personal mp3 players before their visit to a particular exhibition; and
– perhaps most importantly, provide content to supplement exhibition content and museum programs. Such content may generate visits to the museum as well as repeat visits to the institution’s website.

Peter Samis and Stephanie Pau of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art provide a must-read account of the lessons learned during their first year of podcasting. They list the following characteristics of their podcast model:

– informality and spontaneity of tone
– inclusion of multiple voices and dialogue
– rapid response, “zine format that blends structure and flexibility”
– “A movement from the Museum out into the community, and from the community back into the Museum”

At the end of this article, there are several museum podcasts to explore. If you’re unfamiliar with podcasts, feel free to scroll down and listen to a few before continuing. (Chances are you already have software on your computer or plug-ins integrated into your web browser that allow you to listen to them.)

How to podcast:

There are multiple ways to produce a podcast. The production process is similar in all of them, but varies depending upon the equipment and software you have on hand or are willing to purchase. I haven’t tested all of these; you’ll need to find the one that best meets your level of technological comfort and your audience’s needs.

Ken Dickson of Ontario Science Center, Canada has provided an excellent walk-through of podcast production on the Museums and the Web 2006 site.

Odeo Studio allows you to create podcasts online.

Podcasting News shows you how to produce a podcast with the gear you already have.

Scrapability offers a podcast tutorial aimed at scrapbookers, but the tips apply to new podcasters in any field.

Instructions for recording to a Macintosh hard drive.

Mansfield University’s podcast series on podcast production: Search for “Podcast Production” episodes; Episode 3 discusses hardware and software.

Yahoo! is sponsoring a Podcast Academy in Santa Clara, California, in June.

Legal issues

Musical interludes add much to a podcast, but much musical work is copyrighted, so you need to be sure to use music that’s podcast-safe. Podcasting News provides a list of links to podcast-legal music.

In addition, all podcasters should read the podcasting legal guide from Creative Commons, which addresses legal issues within the U.S.

Marketing and distributing your podcast

On promoting podcasts, Samis and Pau of SFMOMA write,

Publicity in the mainstream media is fine, but it is also important to tap alternative, ‘viral,’ channels: blogs, e-mails, and Web sites. Podcasts have introduced SFMOMA to a totally new paradigm for spreading information. The ‘Blogsphere’ is far more effective in promoting this medium than are traditional press releases or expensive print advertisements. In this digitally driven community, influential blogs such as SmartMobs, Anna Conti, and BlendedEDU spread word of our podcast project These Web sites were then extensively reblogged so that within a matter of days our podcasts were listed in no fewer than thirty locations on the Web. Downloads and subscriptions went up commensurately.

photo by P.B. Rage

Remember, in producing podcasts, you’re aiming for an audience that is relatively digitally savvy. It makes sense, then, to promote your podcasts on your museum’s blog, on relevant listservs, via RSS feed syndication, and by alerting the podcast indexes listed below.

Of course, you can also make your podcasts available in the museum as traditional audio tours. Make available simple business cards with the web address where patrons can access your podcasts from home.

Podcast indexes

Many of these resources duplicate one another, but I’m including them here so that as they develop larger lists of podcasts, you can check for updates and decide which site best meets your needs.

MODE’s list of podcasts produced by museums

NetSquared’s list of museum podcasts

The museum podcast directory at

Global Museum’s podcast index


PodTrip’s list of museum podcasts in English

Odeo’s list of podcasts tagged “museum”

Podcasts of note

The Wells Fargo History Museum’s Guided by History podcasts “highlight exhibitions and treasures from the corporate archives, as well as interviews with museum visitors, curators, and educators.”

Podcasts from the California Academy of Sciences”

The Kansas Historical Society’s “Cool Things” podcasts–including Mickey Mouse undies

museRadio, from the Bronx Museum Teen Council

Alternative tours

SFMOMA is holding a contest that challenges patrons to create “artcasts” inspired by the museum exhibitions.

Slate produces audio tours that claim to offer “the commentary museums don’t want you to hear”. I really like this approach, as museums could–as SFMOMA is doing–use alternative tours created by visitors to encourage other visitors to tour exhibitions several times, each time with a different audio tour.

Art Mobs “remix” MOMA

A note of caution

Much of the discussion in this post has addressed providing podcasts to audiences online. However, podcasts may, of course, also be used in exhibition spaces–after all, audio tours have been around for a long time. However, before we get too caught up in bringing new technology, such as handheld devices, into museums, Nik Honeysett of Museumatic asks

Who asked the audience if they wanted more gadgetry for their visit? Sure, there have been evaluations, but they seem to be of the variety: “We’ve got this handheld now what do you want it to do?” Instead of asking “What would you like in the museum to make your visit more engaging?” Maybe they want a personal tour by a person? Did anyone ask?

Social tagging and museum collections

The clearest, most interesting consideration to date of how social tagging and folksonomies apply to museum collections may be found here on the Museums and the Web 2006 site.

Museum Uses of Virtual Anthropology

This week, Trendwatching reflects on the usefulness of virtual anthropology to market researchers. Trendwatching describes virtual anthropology as the process of collecting data, and especially visual artifacts, posted to the web by consumers. The author explains:

As consumers around the world pro-actively post, stream if not lead parts of their lives online, you (or your trend team) can now vicariously ‘live’ amongst them, at home, at work, out on the streets. From reading minute-by-minute online diaries or watching live webcam feeds, to diving into tens of millions of tagged pictures uploaded by Flickr-fueled members of GENERATION C in Mexico, Mauritius, Malaysia and dozens of other countries.

Why now? Look no further than many of the consumer trends we’ve been discussing for the last two years, with at the core a massive shift from consumers being members of the audience to active participants. Consumer generated content and rampant collaboration have created a web of insanely valuable content and context. There is now the web of organizations, and the web of people.


For the first time in the history of our still evolving consumer societies, tens of millions of consumers are pro-actively telling and showing each other, and you, what they’re feeling and doing in the broadest sense of the word, all in a centralized online arena, in real time (it has never been easier to upload your LIFE CACHE), whether it’s on (mo)blogs or on picture and video sites. They want to connect, to share, to create, to show off. Add to that a slew of new search engines helping you navigate through Web 2.0 (there, we said it), and the ability to link postings to personal profiles (TWINSUMERS) to put things in perspective, and what you end up with is a completely new way of observing, of keeping a finger on the global pulse, of inspiring yourself. Regardless of whether you’re a CEO, a researcher, a planner, an entrepreneur, a designer, an MBA or MFA student, or a fellow member of GENERATION C.

Check out the article for some excellent examples of how virtual anthropology works.

Museums and other repositories can also use these cyber-artifacts to their advantage. Three uses that come immediately to mind:

1. Gauging initial interest in a potential exhibit or program topic. Thinking about doing an exhibit on toys? There might be some interest in it, considering there are 44,000 photos tagged with “toy” on Flickr (and more than 184,000 if you search tags, titles, and descriptions) and more than 3,500 Yahoo! groups related to toys, including ones specializing in wooden toys and girls’ toys from the 1980s.

Members of these groups, of course, also may serve as excellent resources in locating artifacts and other resources for your exhibition. Yahoo! groups are free of cost, and most of them allow anyone to join and listen in on conversations among aficionados of this or that.

2. Incorporating into an exhibit a slide slow of related virtual artifacts, updated frequently. Take, for example, an exhibition of children’s toys from the 19th or 20th centuries.

(photo by Jason Mouratides)

Such an exhibit could be accompanied by a stream of toy photos. (You can search Flickr here. Better yet, search at FlickrLilli to ensure you’re only using photos licensed under the appropriate Creative Commons license. Be sure to give credit where it’s due through appropriate attribution.)

(photo by toybot studios)

3. Encourage visitors to your museum’s physical site and to your website to share their photos related to your current exhibit. Simply ask them to use a Flickr tag unique to your institution, such as “Museum-Of-Anytown-Toys”–and then provide a direct link from your museum’s blog or site to this tag search. Flickr is neat because users can leave notes about their photos, even selecting sections of a photo to highlight and caption. In addition, other users may comment and start a conversation about the objects in the photo.

You should, of course, draw further attention to the exhibit by selecting the best of these photos and commentary to repost on your museum’s blog. Pair users’ photos with photos of related items in your exhibit.

I’ve used Flickr for my examples, but there are other Web 2.0 services that also may prove useful to museums. Check out the Trendwatching article to learn about other searchable user-generated content.

Thanks to Skillful Minds for bringing the Trendwatching article to our attention.