Eleven Questions Museums Should Consider Before Going Digital

Filed in: Museums

By Sarah Jackson


10.30.09 | When the Field Museum in Chicago thinks about the digital future, it considers eleven strategic questions, Elizabeth Babcock, vice president of education and library collections, told attendees at a recent brainstorming session on how museums can engage youth. The session, held at Princeton University, was convened by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative.

Behind the Research

Here are the questions:

1. What is the optimal mix of projects along a continuum of immersive/intensive (i.e. I Dig-style) to extensive/introductory (i.e. Animal Adventures on kidscom.com)?

2.  Which projects should leverage the synchronous “live” capabilities of the internet vs. “archived” digital media?

3. What is the right mix of digital media types to employ in executing our strategy, e.g., virtual worlds, online games, social networks, etc.?

4.  What are the assets (content or experiential) that make us special and that should serve as the foundation of any digital effort (e.g. objects, collections, scientists, etc.)? Which kind of asset should be leveraged for which kinds of projects?

5.  On which subject areas/content areas should we focus?

6.  Which “nodes” or learning moments do we want to target and prioritize, e.g. school, afterschool, work, home, travel, etc.?

7. Which audiences should we focus on first and to what degree, e.g. students, adults, teachers, families, schools? And for each of these audiences, how should we adapt our digital project to meet the diverse roles each assumes in different circumstances?

8. What is the optimum mix of “digital-only” vs. “digital + onsite” experiences for particular audiences and project types?

9. For which kinds of projects should we strive for scientific fidelity/accuracy and for which kinds of projects is representational accuracy sufficient, or even desirable?

[Field Museum’s Beth Sanzenbacher talks more about this here.]

10.  What is the appropriate per capita investment we should make for different types of projects? What are our expectations for return on investment in terms of use for different types of projects? What is the right mix of diverse ROIs for diverse project types in our portfolio?

11. What is the “natural” or desirable life-span of these digital projects? How will we know when to phase a project out? What should the duration of our investment be in particular digital projects?

Already, the Field has experimented with question #1 and tried both immersive and briefer approaches.

Its immersive efforts include an intensive, two-week summer program called “I Dig” that allows students sitting at computers in the basement of the venerable museum to virtually join an archeological expedition halfway around the world and collaborate with students in New York City via Teen Second Life. Check out the video of that experience here

The Field’s briefer approach includes Why Reef, a virtual coral reef in Whyville that allows young people to dip in and out online at will. They can dive deeply into the online world, spending hours counting fish, monitoring changes in the reef, submitting questions to the scientists who are manipulating changes, earning rewards and even writing articles for the Whyville Times about the destruction of the virtual reef. Or they can choose to do nothing more than log in occasionally to see what’s happening. Currently more than 16,000 students participate.

“Technology allows us to achieve things we have dreamed about for a long time,” says Babcock. “Virtual worlds speed up what would have taken weeks. We can create circumstances for problem-based learning, let kids create content and immediately present it to others.”

In short, it has allowed the museum to enhance its role as an informal learning environment.

Photo by: rickomatic



Leave a comment

Comments are moderated to ensure topic relevance and generally will be posted quickly.

Commenting is not available in this section entry.