Open Access, Museums & Education

Life took me away for a few months, but time off allowed me to rethink my strategies on learning models and possible dissertations.

My goal is to look at the museum from a digital perspective.  The reason I’m doing that is because I’m interested in subject/object interaction, and museums are unique learning speheres in that a subject interacts with two distinct objects (the tangible artifact and that artifact’s societal meaning), so if you create an augmented or fully digital realm, you are adding more unique objects…one vase can become multiple vases (both through reproduction as well as through unique meaning).  I’ll get into the theory of narrative and shared meaning later, but the point here is that our perception of an object has multiple layers and multiple iterations, even though it’s the same object held by the stame institution.

I have ideas on how to create more dynamic tablet-based applications for museums, so that individuals can explore collections and ideas to greater and individualized depths.  Right now the websites and tablet-based applications operated and designed for museums do little more than provide what already exists at the museum.  This is not a unique problem in computing…it’s systemic to organizational and education computer use.  Devices are new and shiny, but everything about how the device works and the potential for innovation is stagnant, or even sacrificing creative opportunity for ease of use.  Computers and their subsidiaries are game-changing devices for education, yet we utilize them in very standard ways.  Seymour Papert wondered why computers were being used to do the same old thing in education…and that was 40 years ago.  Alan Kay, one of the pioneers of computer programming, wants to see the computer as a medium rather than a tool, and laments the lack of new ideas in computing since 1980 (tweet from Bryan Alexander on 16 April, 2012).  Jaron Lanier has expressed similar sentiments, upset that the operating system and the file protocol have not been questioned in nearly two generations, making such systems what he calls “locked in” and unable to change due to mounting workflow based off the unquestioned systems.

We keep doing the same old thing, but find a flashy trick or shiny device to do it with, and supposedly that will fix the problem.  It’s not just technology, but education too.  At the Education Innovation Summit last week, keynote speaker Jeb Bush both discarded pedagogical research and defined technology in the classroom as a way to transfer existing content rather than build new learning opportunities (tweets from Will Richardson on 18 April, 2012).  And this is the wave of the future…as tech blogger Audrey Watters put it:

The Innosight Institute’s Michael Horn has called [The Education Innovation Summit] education’s “Davos in the Desert,” a phrase highlighting that, to the participants at least, this was a gathering of the global elite – the financially and politically powerful – who are now turning their eye to education, with its public funding crumbling, hoping to seize this opportunity to remake it, high-tech it and of course profit (Watters, 2012).

Despite educational theories and models like cognition, constructivism, problem-based learning, experiential learning, communities of practice, activity theory and others, we’re building educational policy on behaviorist methods.  In a world of Big Data™, we like what we can plug in and measure, and it’s much easier to measure the results of drill and kill than it is to measure the results of an authentic learning environment.  The brightest optimist I met on a recent trip to Washington D.C. to discuss education and public policy hoped that in the next decade we might start to see a shift away from behaviorist methods and toward constructivism, believing 2019 or so to be about the time someone might put the theory into a policy action.

There is work to be done.  Resistance is not useless; it is imperative.  A tablet-based museum application for authentic interaction with a museum’s digital collection is an important topic.  But people are making tablet apps for museums as we speak, and there is some cool stuff going on right now, and perhaps some of the more unique iterations will spur museums away from only reproducing their real site in the virtual, and instead truly embracing open access to not only allow patrons search and manipulation of artifacts, but to embark on journeys with the information that the museum does not foresee but does support both theoretically and technically.  Creating authentic learning environments in schools, professional development workshops, online and real, and then translating those to the classroom for creation and collaboration of items and artifacts, that is the movement that should be happening.    The buzz is about open access at a time that SOPA and PIPA indirectly limited that movement.  More to come.

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