Museums Australia Conference Day 3

Thursday at the Museums Australia Conference – a summary

The day opened with two Keynote presentations that showcased the innovative use of technology to preserve and protect at-risk cultural heritage. The speakers were a very inspiring way to begin the day.

The first keynote was by Sarah Kenderdine who spoke on Cultural Data Sculpting. She outlined international projects where they were using technology to create interactive visualizations in virtual models of restricted heritage sites. The models were something I had never seen before and were quite mind-blowing in their detail, complexity and possibility. Sarah talked about ‘reforming the narrative in the digital context’. You can read more about some of the projects here. Sarah also mentioned the upcoming Future Cultures + Museums and the Web Asia Conference in Hong Kong – it looks like a great forum for learning about the cutting edge use of technology in museums.

The second keynote was by Victor Steffensen from Mulong Productions. Victor spoke about his work using film to record and preserve living knowledge in Indigenous communities, both here and overseas. In his work he recognized the importance of what he called the knowledge triangle: what it is, how it works and how to use it. What I found particularly profound was how he was using his work in education. He supported the communities to create their own exhibitions as a way of teaching the knowledge they’d captured on film, but he also spoke about using the films in schools and the successes of the media in engaging the students and also in supporting the living culture by strengthening kinship lines and the environment by preserving knowledge of sustainable practices. I really loved the idea of traditional knowledge having a place in the formal education system to make it more relevant for the students and wider community. You can view some of the videos here.

Following this I attended a very popular and interesting parallel session on Mobile access to collections. Firstly Angela Casey and Catherine Styles from NMA introduced their mobile education game The Museum Game. I was really keen to hear and see more of this game having read a bit about its development on their education blog. The game requires users to photograph two seeming disconnected objects and find connections between them. The relationships they suggest are then rated by other players with winners determined by the highest score. They are looking for other wifi-enabled institutions to trial the game in their venue. In response to a question they also said that they did have the potential to mine the data from all the relationships the users create.

Next was Jonny Brownbill from Museum Victoria who gave an overview of what our audiences are using mobiles for and what the sector is currently doing with mobile technology. It was a very useful overview. Some particularly relevant points he made were that: visitors aren’t using mobile devices to look up collection items; the value of responsive web design (as an alternative to developing different websites for different devices, eg. The Australian Museum); and simply the importance of telling your audience that you have mobile content available.

Nicholas Earnshaw from the Powerhouse Museum presented some ideas to consider when developing mobile content, including: mobile web allows users immediate access without having to download content; native apps should make use of the features of devices (eg. maps/compass); and the importance of thinking about the situation of the user (eg. a mobile user on a bus is going to have a different purpose from those on desktop at home).  You can view his presentation on Slideshare.

Lastly was Jareen Summerhill from Museum Victoria.  She shared some of her experiences engaging with the Museum’s audience (and sometimes others online who were not their visiting audience) on social media.  Jareen spoke about dealing with negative comments online and referenced Laurel Papworth’s 8 ways responses to criticisms in online communities.  She also shared some of the things she learnt from her experience: don’t forget the silent majority when responding to the vocal majority; social dynamics can influence who posts and who remains silent, and; don’t overreact to negative feedback.

After lunch I gave my presentation on Learners, Digital Resources and Museums.  Following me were Allison Russell and Mandi Dimitriadis who spoke about their work with Mallala Museum and local schools to create learning experiences that aligned with the Australian Curriculum: History.  They focussed on the big – and transferrable – ideas that flow through the new curriculum to allow them to create a model that could adapt to different teachers needs.  The last presentation was from Sally May who gave an honest account of what they had to do to overcome when a digitisation project had resulted in unusable data.  It was a good reminder of the importance accurate and complete data, and the time it takes to achieve this.

The conference ended with a closing keynote from Amareswar Galla who outlined some interesting projects he had worked on for collecting Intangible Cultural Heritage: living history.  He discussed the challenges of defining ICH and reminded organisations that the definition could be malleable.  He reminded us that as living history ICH is constantly changing and that when collection ICH organisations need to work with communities, groups and individuals respectfully.

The main conference was then closed and next year’s conference was introduced – How Museums Work: people, industry and nation – to be held in Canberra in May.  All in all I found the conference a very valuable professional learning experience and say thanks to all our museum colleagues from around Australia (and international guests) who shared their experiences and expertise.

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