Creating a new Museum-based Education Center: An Interview with Hillary Cook of the Art Institute of Chicago

Last March, when I was in Chicago for the Museums and the Web conference,  I ran around the city to meet with my colleagues in museums and libraries who were willing to share their youth spaces and how they’ve been designed to support digital learning. My first post offered a rapid tour of your spaces around the city. The second was my first of three related posts that highlight interviews with staff from those locations. Our first stop was the Field Museum (re: Morphing a Digital Classroom into a Museum Hangout: An Interview with Eve Gaus of the Field Museum). Now, for the next stop: Art Institute of Chicago!

Hi Hillary. Please introduce yourself.

My name is Hillary Cook. I work at the Art Institute of Chicago and I’m the Assistant Director of Youth Programs. I design, manage, and implement all of our programs for teenagers, specifically the one’s that happen in out-of-school time.

How many students come through these programs?

We serve about 2,000 to 2,500 young people throughout the year. We have workshops that we do throughout the entire year, a Teen Council Leadership program, and all other kinds of associated events and initiatives that happen around that.

And where are we sitting right now?

We are in one of the large studio spaces in our Ryan Education Center. The new Center opened in 2009 with the opening of the modern wing.

What did that mean for you and your work?

We were really excited and happy to be able to double our education center footprint. We went from having kind of one large studio space to having three huge studios with beautiful natural light, plus five classrooms, a new educator resource center, and a Family Room space, as well as a small interpretive exhibition space.

What role does digital media play within each of these spaces?

It was really thought of from the beginning, in terms of design, so every space has the capability for digital presentation. We’re also thinking a lot about other ways that digital media can be used in programs. We have a suite of laptops that we use in our education programs. We have cameras and iPod Touches. The idea is that in any program where we wanted to use digital media as a tool for art making, or creative expression, or as a way to facilitate other kinds of learning, we have the resources available for us. Continue reading

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When Teens Learn SciViz Techniques To Explore Impact of Hurricane Sandy and Climate Change

Last fall, high school students in the After School Program, Visualizing Climate Change, offered at the American Museum of Natural History, learned about the science of climate change through the filter of data visualization. This was the first climate change data visualization program to be offered to students at the Museum. It used our current exhibit, Nature’s Fury, and the work taking place the Marshall Islands by Jenny Newell, curator of Pacific Ethnography. The youth used CartoDB, a powerful online data visualization tool and Hurricane Sandy datasets to explore their own questions related to the impacts of Climate Change on New York City.

On the first day of class, very few students even knew what a data visualization was. But by mid-December they had the CartoDB menus and toolbars under their belts, with clear maps about the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on New York City to prove it! Continue reading

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MicroRanger Teaser – art, augmented animation, and minigames

This is the season.

After more than a year and a half, MicroRangers is getting ready to launch.

In spring, 2014, we held the first youth program, MicroMuseum, to see if this idea even had any legs, the idea of working with youth to create a prototype for a game about microbiomes.microSpec

In fall, 2014, we received funding from the Kellen Foundation to bring MicroRangers to full production.

In winter, 2015, we brought the team back together (like our app developer Geomedia), added some new players (like game developer Playmatics), recruited a new group of youth, and got to work.

In spring, 2015, we had a script and a design document.

In summer, 2015, we had a strong alpha to test with the public.

We start this fall with a beta and, by November, the gold will launch to the public.

Here’s a few teasers of what’s to come:

This is a short clip of Katie (who voices the microbial dispatcher) losing it in the sound booth:

Below is a beta test of animations for both the dispatcher (featuring her earlier “red pepper” design), one of the scientists, demo animations and mouth movement, and the coin trigger:

Below is a beta preview of the Bio-luminescence Diagnostic MicroGame (filmed, unfortunately, in my living room):

Below is a beta preview of the Coral Bleaching Resolution MicroGame. This has the earlier, more cartoon microbe designs:

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Where We Stand: A Decade of Digital Media and Learning

My post this month on DMLcentral asked readers to reflect on the first ten years of the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative, and reviewed in brief why it will be their last:

This October will mark nine years since the official launch of the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative, at an event held right down the hall from my desk at the American Museum of Natural History (yes, we offer a lovely room you too can rent out). At the time, I didn’t work at the museum, but the path that eventually lead me here was very much paved by the innovations in digital learning advanced by the foundation in the years that followed. And, I suspect that journeys like mine, which benefitted immeasurably from the DML wind in my sail, is far from rare (especially amongst readers of DML Central).

When the DML Initiative was first announced, the funding had already begun a year earlier (including our first work at Global Kids within Teen Second Life). So now, in 2015, we are a decade into the project, 10 years that have seen tremendous growth in areas of research, practice, pedagogy, public policy and more. And, this past summer, we learned the organizational requirements behind all these efforts has grown beyond the walls of the foundation. Julia Stasch, 
president of the MacArthur Foundation, and Connie Yowell
, director of education, posted the details in “A Note to Our Partners in Digital Media and Learning.”

We learned that a new organization will launch in the fall, supported by the foundation, to offer a “new organizational model that can attract a more diverse set of partners and investors, explore alternative funding models and mechanisms, and accommodate a more entrepreneurial and innovative approach to philanthropy,” all with the goal of scaling “connected learning,” the term summing up these different efforts.

So, before we learn more this fall, I wanted to ask us to look back at the success of the past 10 years. What began as a commitment of $50 million over five years grew into an investment of more than $200 million in 10. And let’s begin with MacArthur’s own tally. In “Time For Change,” from their recent 2014 annual report, Julia Stasch details nine of their most prominent accomplishments:

  1. an entirely new field;
  2. an innovative pedagogy called connected learning;
  3. a new approach to young people’s civic engagement;
  4. support for innovative educators;
  5. new learning applications through competitions;
  6. new approaches to assessing hard-to-measure skills with video games;
  7. the Hive Learning Networks, bringing civic, cultural and learning institutions together;
  8. badges gaining currency as credentials that make learning more visible and valuable; and
  9. new schools and teen-endorsed facilities in libraries and museums that demonstrate connected learning in action.

If your professional (or personal journey) has been shaped by the DML Initiative, please take a moment to reflect on one of the nine accomplishments above and share how it crossed paths with your own. Let’s get personal! And, of course, please feel free to add to the nine, suggesting your own list.

To read what people shared, go to the comments in the original post here, and consider leaving your own.

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MicroRangers Back in the Studio

Earlier this summer, after a competitive audition process, we brought youth from across our Education programs into the AMNH sound studio to record audio for MicroRangers, our upcoming, Hall-based mobile game.

This is always an exciting time, as the project moves from the concept on the scripted page to the realities of the spoken word, as embodied and shaped by each particular youth. For example, who knew Dr. Polyp would turn out to be Scottish!

Each youth read their lines from within the soundbooth. Outside the booth, Hannah coordinated both the sound engineer and the audio director, Murray from Geomedia, Skyping in from Texas. Below are just a few examples from the recording sessions:

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The Robots Are Coming: An Interview with Jennifer Arseneau on Roaming Telepresence Robots

The robots are coming! The robots are coming! A year ago the Tate Britain ran After Dark, from August 13-17, which they promoted with the following offer: “Control robots roaming around the gallery from the comfort of your sofa.” A few lucky virtual visitors controlled the robots while the masses could virtually follow along.

Since then, these roaming telepresence robots have been popping up all over the place, including the season finale of last season’s TV show, Modern Family:

This summer I learned of the first museum that I’ve heard of putting one of these to work full time (and if you know of others, please send them my way).  So I called Jennifer Arseneau, the general manager of Education and Public Programs at the University of Alaska‘s Museum of the North, in Fairbanks, Alaska, to find out what they were thinking, and how they are using technology to bring people closer together, providing insight into one possible direction for the future of the museum experience.

Jen, welcome to Mooshme. To provide some context, please tell us about your museum. Continue reading

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Revisiting Past Practices through a Contemporary Digital Lens: NYPL’s Public Eye

If you’ve never been to the main branch of New York City’s Public Library, on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in a magnificent Beaux-Arts landmark building, you might not realized it also houses lovely exhibit spaces (free for all to walk in).

Yesterday I checked out Public Eye: 175 Years of Sharing Photography, a lovely exhibit they describe as their “first-ever retrospective survey of photography organized by NYPL.” Rather than frame the photos in their historic context, the exhibit uses contemporary social media practices, such as photo sharing, to view these photos as pre-digital antecedents. That’s an interesting twist – so rather than view a wall of Facebook profiles the exhibit highlights photos from the early day of photography that played similar, or related, social functions. It was a refreshing way to help visitors find meaning in past objects.

I was still disappointed that the exhibit didn’t include contemporary practices but, given those digital assets are outside the Library’s collection, I understood that said more about me than the exhibit. But the Library did go beyond their collections to include new digital interactives and opportunities for visitors to bring the exhibit into their social network.

UntitledAbove might be a challenging image to interpret. It appears to be a camera looking down at a couple (my wife and I, incongruously with an umbrella) standing next to a phrase and hashtag on the floor. In fact, my wife is the one taking the photo, on her phone, looking UP at a mirror slanted over head, the phrase and hashtag printed BACKWARDS on the ground (note the backwards EXIT sign behind us). In other words, as we entered the exhibit, we had to pass beneath a slanted mirror reflecting our image back to us, perfectly framed and titled for selfies and social media sharing. Very smart. And for those uninterested in selfies, the experience reflects one of the contemporary themes of the exhibit – in our era of pervasive surveillance, we are all always in the public eye. Check out the latest images posted by visitors here.

There were also two digital interactives in the exhibit. Unfortunately, both were broken. The good news is that both are available online:

On Broadway: “Representing digital traces of life in a twenty-first century city, On Broadway compiles images and other data collected along the thirteen miles of Broadway that span Manhattan.”

Stereogranimator: “View, create, and share 3D images from the stereograph collections of The New York Public Library and Boston Public Library. You can also stereogranimate your own photos via Flickr.”

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