Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Treescrapers

#Treescraper #Architecture #Green #Sustainability
Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Coming Soon—the Smithsonian Learning Lab

 Many museums are retooling their digital resources to create more meaningful experiences for visitors—both local as well as virtual. Earlier this year we highlighted one example—the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Studio. Today,  Darren Milligan (@darrenmilligan), who leads strategy for digital outreach at the Center for Learning and Digital Access at the Smithsonian Institution, previews another digital “lab” and invites you to test it out.

The Smithsonian Learning Lab project is the result of a major rethinking of how the digital resources from across the Smithsonian's 19 museums, nine major research centers, the National Zoo, and more, can be used together, for learning. It is a big dream, an aspiration to make these resources more accessible and more useful to teachers, students, parents, and anyone on a lifelong quest to learn more. It hopes to ensure the Smithsonian is part of nationwide learning in ways that are joyful, personal, and shareable.

The Smithsonian, like many of our institutions, is in a period of change. The Smithsonian now receives many more digital than in-person visits, a trend likely to continue. We are committed to understanding and serving the needs of our diverse digital visitors and enabling them to access and use our content wherever they are.

Fig 1. Homepage of the Smithsonian Learning Lab.
 The Learning Lab is a platform for users to find and interact with Smithsonian digital content and learning resources. It is a place where users can:
  • Discover: Search from (and save for later) more than a million of the Smithsonian’s digital and digitized resources, including scientific specimens, artworks, historical artifacts, texts, as well as audio, video, lesson plans, activities, and more
  • Create: Adapt museum-created or user-created learning activities or create new personalized collections using the wide variety of resources available, or ones they upload or link to from other non-Smithsonian sources
  • Share: Share resources, collections, assignments, and quizzes with peers, colleagues, and students
The specific functionality of the Lab is based entirely on three previous years of user research conducted by the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access (SCLDA).  First, a two year audience satisfaction and definition survey helped us define who our current audiences were, their motivations for coming to our website, their activities while on the site, and where they found satisfaction, or not. In the second phase of our formative research, SCLDA worked directly with more than 100 teachers from across the United States to better understand how they use digital learning resources in their classrooms. Following targeted focus groups, we conducted three weeks of continually iterative prototyping with teachers representing a variety of grade levels, regions, and socioeconomic levels; developed a comprehensive literature review; and conducted a survey and analysis of industry best practices. This breadth of research (summarized in this 2015 Museums and the Web paper) aided us in the development of a prototype that demonstrated what might be possible on a platform built specifically to improve access to and usefulness of our assets for the construction of personalized learning resources.
Fig 2. Three views of Tabanus conius Philip, from the entomology collections of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.
The research-backed Learning Lab is designed for teachers and students but can be used by anyone who wants to explore their interests using Smithsonian collections and resources. It gives users access not only to the two thousand learning resources, but also more than one million digitized images of our collections, and thousands of videos and publications. More importantly, users can create their own collections (using the resources they discover within the Learning Lab, or by uploading and adding their own) and share them with others. Educators can build teaching collections by using tools such as hotspots, quiz-building functions, and more, and work directly with their students within the site to monitor learning and progress.

Fig 3. At left, a user generated 16 piece Learning Lab civics collection using images of Thanksgiving. At right, one of the components of that collection: a user-submitted Thomas Nast cartoon overlaid with user-generated quiz questions and highlights.

On October 29th, 2015, we quietly soft-launched the Learning Lab at  

The intention of this article is not to promote the site, but rather to ask for your help. The Learning Lab it is not yet finished.

Between now and mid-2016 (our official public/press launch), the team here at SLCDA (along with our collaborators: educational technology firm Navigation North; and product, web, and graphic design studio Codename Design) will be building model collections, adding functionality, developing how-to videos, and working to improve the user experience. We will do this (as we have for the past several years) by testing with teachers and analyzing the behavior of the site’s early adopters. Given the unique experience of readers of this blog, I would love to hear your perspective:

I invite you to check out the site, search for something you care about, and build a collection. Once your collection is ready, try to publish it for other users to find and use within the Learning Lab, or share it with your social networks. Mess around and see what you discover, and most importantly, reach out to let me know what you think: did you uncover bugs, were you confused by the user interface, was the site screaming for some specific missing functionality? Any and all feedback is more than welcome. We can take it! ;)

If you have colleagues or friends that you think might too have some insight, please feel free to extend this invitation.

Thank you for your past thoughts and your future honesty.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Worldless Wednesday: Taking Attendance

Real or parody? Make your guess before you follow the link...

#Churchix #FacialRecognition #Privacy #TakingAttendance 

Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How Might Museums Make Future Learning Ecosystems More Resilient?

Happy American Education Week! To help us celebrate, Katherine Prince of KnowledgeWorks invites you to join her on an exploratory mission to 2025--a future of education in which museums play a starring role. You can review CFM's work with Knowledgework on this topic in the report Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem. Follow Katherine and KnowledgeWorks on Twitter and comment below to help build the next era of learning.

Let’s look ahead to possibilities for learning in 2025 and how museums might contribute to creating resilient learning ecosystems that help communities, individuals, and the education sector adapt to changing needs.  What if…

 …Public funding for community-wide learning venues such as museums, libraries, and parks were viewed as being an integral part of the investment in public education?

…The health of an education organization or system were measured by the strength of its relationships with varied partners?

Such changes could emerge from moving toward viewing learning institutions, including museums, as standalone structures, to treating them as interconnected contributors to flexible value webs comprised of many kinds of organizations and resources. In a vibrant learning grid or ecosystem, learners could move smoothly across such value webs, accessing the experiences and resources they needed when and in ways that made sense for them. And learning ecosystems would have greater resilience in navigating system shocks that are likely to result as people navigate increasingly volatile conditions resulting from the changing nature of work, growing income disparity, and increasing environmental volatility.

An Infographic from KnowledgeWorks' 3.0 Forecast Report....keep an eye out for 4.0 !

KnowledgeWorks’ forthcoming forecast, The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code, explores such possibilities for education in 2025 and invites each of us to consider what role we might play in shaping the future of learning. I think that museums could be critical in fostering new approaches to making learning ecosystems vibrant for all young people, both by bringing more learners to their buildings in more flexible ways and by surfacing their resources for use in other places.

Think way beyond traditional field trips or even today’s movement toward sharing museum assets as open education resources or creating city-wide networks of extended learning opportunities.  Think custom learning journeys that learners and their families craft with learning pathway designers and which many kinds of learning journey mentors help learners carry out. Think pop-up reality productions that immerse young people in learning, if only for a brief time. Think fluid school structures based around networks and relationships instead of fixed places.  Think community-wide competency maps that surface the resources available to support learning and help people understand how and when they might be used.

Some moves are already afoot to foster broadly defined, interconnected learning ecosystems. For example:

·         Cities of Learning is a national U.S. effort to surface and connect cities’ many resources helps youth of all backgrounds develop curiosity, resilience, and 21st century skills.  How might museums extend current efforts to link up learning across communities?

·         The Tiny Schools Project from 4.0 Schools supports entrepreneurs in testing new types of schools at small scale before attempting to extend their reach, with ten to fifteen students and their families giving high-frequency feedback on pilots that challenge fundamental assumptions about how school works today. What roles might museums play if school looked different?  When and in what ways could going to a museum be “school”?

·         Through Next-Gen Learning Hubs, six U.S. regions are building off cities’ assets and bringing together partners to create innovative student-centered learning ecosystems.  How might museums help make education more personalized and more passion-based?

These are just some developments emerging today. Looking beyond them to the promise of a vibrant learning grid of 2025, what might it take for museums to play a central role in making learning ecosystems more resilient? What might that mean not just for how museums operate but also for how they are funded and evaluated?

To explore such possibilities further, sign up to get alerted when The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code launches in early December.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What Museums Can Learn from the NYT’s Google Cardboard Project

 Lookie what I found bundled in with my Sunday newspaper:

It’s a free Google Cardboard device from the New York Times. I promptly downloaded the app and started watching the 3-D, immersive short films they have already released: a profile of three children living in refugee camp; a short documentary on the making of artist JR’s “Walking New York” installation; and two sponsored content films—a fiction adventure from Mini and an animated look at bio-mimetic industrial design from GE.  (If you don’t have a VR headset, you can view 2D versions on your computer monitor.) The NYT says it is “committed to VR storytelling” and promises to deliver more content soon.

This is a brilliant move to extend the reach and impact of an industry (investigative journalism) struggling to win new audiences and find stable financial models.  And I think it is an important example for museums looking for a new way to deliver content, cultivate member relationships and deepen engagement.

I’ve pointed out in the past how museums could harness 3D printers in a similar way: create a member benefit that provides the opportunity to buy a printer at cost (or below cost) to members and follow up with a members-only “3D scan of the month.” (This also opens up opportunities for co-creation: members could vote on their favorite museum object to join the 3D queue; the museum could hold scanning and printing classes to help people create scans to add to the roster of 3D offerings.) The hitch here is that 3D printers are still pretty pricey (from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on quality, speed, reliability) and have a steep learning curve for use. Also—the printer is pretty much only good for one thing.

There are work arounds to the costs (encourage people to use printers increasingly available at local copy shops, send scans to online firms for production, hold maker workshops where people can use the museums’ own printers). But still, the adoption barrier is pretty high, even though the costs to the museum to produce and distribute the scans can be pretty low. Some very good tools that can be used to create 3D scans are free or low cost, and many use the camera on a smart phone or tablet. (For more sophisticated scans, the supporting tech can be a lot pricier of course.)

Cardboard flips the economics of pushing out engaging, multisensory digital content. Nearly two-thirds of Americans own smartphones, and the NYT VR app is free. That figure is probably even higher among NYT subscribers, and museum members. Even if you aren’t a NYT subscriber, you can buy Google Cardboard from a number of vendors (Google open sourced the specs) for under $10. That makes for a really low barrier to consumption. On the other hand, producing the content is expensive, and many museums will need to look for partners (financial, technical) just as the NYT did to pull this off.

Consider the potential pay back. An article in Wired yesterday called virtual reality an “empathy engine” and having watched the films, I agree they grip the heart (and in some vertiginous moments, the stomach) in ways the print stories do not.  

Here’s some museum-based VR experiences I would value:
  • Sneak peeks of exhibits about to open (which would also encourage me to come see the real thing!)
  • Behind-the-scenes looks at the cool happenings most people never get to see: uncrating a new acquisition; conserving a painting; rigging and moving a big specimen or sculpture; an on-site look at field work (archaeology, dino digs, biological exploration)
  • “Sitting in” on a prototyping session to see how exhibit elements are designed and tested

I think it would even be a great medium for an annual report from the director—looking her in the eye (and snooping around her office), while I get the inside skinny on what’s up at the museum in the coming year.

The big take away is this: museums should keep an eye on emerging technology—Google Cardboard, 3D printing, and soon sophisticated augmented reality equipment like Hololens and Magic Leap—and figure out how to use these devices to insert themselves more deeply into people’s lives. Let big companies spend the big bucks developing, testing, marketing and deploying the underlying technology—our opportunity is to use them for compelling storytelling, and as ways of expanding our reach beyond the museum’s walls.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Monday Musing: Social Impact Bonds

Monday musings are my way of sharing "brain blorts": brief, off-the-cuff thoughts about something I have read recently, both to help clarify my thinking an in the hopes of generating discussion and response. I give myself 15 minutes or so to jot down a summary of the article(s) stuck in my brain, and outline why I think they may be important.

I came across this article in the NYTimes last week:  

Success Metrics Questioned in School Program Funded by Goldman

and want to put it on your radar as an example of a rare but intriguing form of financing called social impact bonds.

I'm keeping an eye on this form of financing because it just might prove to be a new (and more sustainable) source of support for some of the work museums do. 

Many unfortunate things in society--homelessness, crime, unemployment--have a concrete cost. Focusing on numbers, rather than values, may help vault communities past political roadblocks. So while people may disagree about the role of personal responsibility, or the effects of entrenched inequality, they may come together on the desire to improve the bottom line. Historically nonprofits have been on the front line of mitigating the damage of these big social problems, and these nonprofits in turn asked people for, well, charity, to support that work. But this approach often creates a patchwork of programs that have insufficient or unreliable funding, and lack capital to take their work to scale.

Social impact bonds provide an alternate model of supporting groups dedicated to producing social good, one that appropriately values the financial impact of that work. A government (municipal, state) identifies a change it wants to effect in society--such as lowering the rate of homelessness, decreasing recidivism among ex-felons, reducing the dropout rate--and works to pair a social impact investor with an organization (frequently a nonprofit) that promises to deliver a measurable result.

The social impact investor provides the start-up funds for the service provide (and applies stringent screening in selecting that partner, since they want their money back!)

The service provider does their thing--designing, delivering, measuring results of programs that produce the desired the result

If the government entity is satisfied with the program's metrics, they pay back the investor (with an appropriate rate of return), and signs a contract with the service provider to pay an ongoing fee to continue to deliver the service, which is still a better deal (financially and morally) than managing the direct and indirect consequences of homelessness, etc.

Most of the examples of social impact bonds I've read about so far have deal with recidivism, so I was very interested in the Utah preschool experiment the NYT article addresses. (I know of some, but not many, museums that help former inmates reintegrate into society, but far more that deliver educational services.)

Starting in 2013 Goldman Sachs funded The Utah High Quality Preschool Program, an expansion of the Granite and Park City School District's existing program. The goal (and metric) was to decrease the use of special education and remedial services in elementary school. Goldman was to received a payment for each child that successfully avoided special ed. 

From a story in Republic 3.0 on the Utah experiment

Now the first results are in and (as the Times article reports) people are arguing over whether the gains the program measured are plausible (or possible), and whether the basic assumptions underlying the assessment (for example, that every kid who scored low on a particular test would have ended up in special ed without the preschool intervention).

And yes, it is going to be messy coming to agreement on how to measure cause and effect, and quantify the size of that effect. But with governments struggling to foster important social goods like employment, successful education, self-sufficiency, experiments with social impact bonds will probably proliferate. I'm waiting for the first example of a museum filling the role of service provider--let me know if you spot that before I do.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Futurist Friday: It's ByoLogycal

Your Futurist Friday assignment, watch this 5 minute video, and tell me whether you are willing to try the drug it touts: ByoRenew, a synthetic virus introduced in 2012 with the promise that "you might never be sick again."

What about it? Are you willing to tinker with your very genome in the interest of health?

Sorry to have gotten your hopes up, but the drug's developer, ByoLogyc, is the futurist equivalent of the Museum of Jurassic Technology.* And this ad campaign is the21st century equivalent of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds broadcast--likely to scare your pants off until you notice something is slightly off. But unlike WoWW, ByoLogyc was designed to do more than entertain. 

Created by The Mission Business and playing out over the course of 2012-2013,  ByoLogyc was a distributed, immersive look at a highly plausible disruptive event: Earth's first synthetic pandemic, arising from the cleverness and greed of one ambitious biotech company.

Besides the fact that the project is immense fun (you can still peruse the website and videos online) I'm putting it to you for Futurist Friday because I think museums can learn a lot from the format. 

As described by its principle instigator, Trevor Haldenby, ByoLogyc is a form of "pervasive storytelling." It infiltrated the world via interactive theatre performances, websites, online video series, social media campaigns on Twitter and Facebook, physical mock-ups of the company's products, a black-tie design awards ceremony, sessions at professional conferences, and a TED talk set in the year 2025. As Trevor explained last year in this "April Fools" reveal,  

"ByoLogyc’s rise and fall was designed as a warning that would surface across media platforms, and come to life all around the people engaged in it. By the time the BRX Pandemic hit full stride in November of 2012, more than 3,500 members of the public, the academic community, and the private sector had engaged with the ByoLogyc story through live-action experiences, with another 40,000 engaging online through the consumption and active creation of content that brought the dystopian scenario to life."

What particularly caught my attention was Trevor's comment that ByoLogyc was designed as a compelling, high-impact alternative to "written scenarios, inaccessible white papers, and policy recommendation PowerPoints." ByoLogyc, like SuperStruct (the Institute for the Future's Massive Multiplayer Alternate Reality Game that played out in 2008, and was one of CFM's first futurist collaborations) is a format sometimes known as tangible futures, or experiential scenarios. This approach is playful, immersive, tantalizing and compelling. It's a way to recruit a mass audience to engage in exploring potential futures, and priming them to take responsibility for how the future plays out.

Some museums have been creating great immersive games (like SAAM's Ghosts of a Chance) based on storytelling and challenges--some of which play out both on the web and in meatspace. But I've not yet seen a museum launch a full-blown Alternate Reality project--like ByoLogyc, or SuperStruct--to inspire the public to action. Seems like a good fit for any museum that sees its mission as tackling issues that challenge our future--climate change, health, tolerance, education. 

Elaborate? Yes. But high impact, as well, and with immense potential to reach an audience wider than a museum's current audience. And, Trevor notes, while most of the content was free, people were willing to pay premium prices to participate in some of the live events--so maybe there's a viable financial model for such projects as well. 

So browse Byologic's website and archive, when you have a chance, and think a bit about how this kind of immersive storytelling might be harnessed, on a small scale or large, to engage people with issues you care about.

*Not to spoil MJT for any readers unfamiliar with this genius museum-spoof, but once you step through the door of David Wilson's "cabinet of wonder" it's up to you to figure out what's true, and what's not.