Working with Youth To Design Museums of the Future – presentation at 13th Games For Change Festival

“As a parent, I hope this project is expanded. Our family looked at the museum in a different way and they now have interest in learning more about microorganisms!”

This Thursday I and two youth from our educational programs will present at the 13th annual Games For Change Festival.

Our 15-minute talk – Co-Designing Museums of the Future– asks the question: Can games and play create the motivation and mind-set for informal science learning?

G4CMicroRangers.001I will open with a quick overview contextualizing games as a form of museum visitor engagement, and then interview Alejandro and Brielle about their experience participating over two years in the creation of the game.


We’ll also showed a clip from the MicroRangers trailer:

I’d like to use the remainder of this post to highlight what we won’t have time for from the stage: What have we learned since launching MicroRangers?

After nearly two-years in development, MicroRangers received a soft launch on December 14, 2015. The following are some highlights of preliminary findings from our first 20 weeks of MicroRangers being live: Continue reading

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Skin in the Game: evaluating augmented reality in the Smithsonian Bone Hall

Last month at the annual AAM conference, this year in D.C., I had the pleasure to present on the use of augmented reality in museums with Diana Marques, who spoke about her research developing an app for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of National History, which put skins and movement on static bones exhibited in the halls, and explored the theoretical underpinnings of her research and app design. Afterwards, I grabbed her for a few minutes so she could share it as well with all of you.

Hi Diana. Welcome to Mooshme. Please introduce yourself.

My name is Diana Marques. My background is in biology. I did a graduate degree in Scientific Illustration, so I combined science with art, which is truly my passion, communicating the messages of science through animation and through illustration.

And you’re working towards a new degree?

I’m getting a PhD now, in Digital Media. The program is a collaboration between the University of Porto, in Portugal, and the University of Texas in Austin.  So, it’s a part Portuguese, part American program, and the research takes place at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, here in D.C.

Is there a particular hall that you focused on for your research at NMNH?

I worked on The Bone Hall which is a skeleton exhibition at the museum.  It has close to 300 mounted skeletons, it’s the oldest exhibition at the Smithsonian.  Actually, of some of the skeletons that are there on display, we have pictures in the 19th century, even before the Natural History Museum building was constructed.

So, this exhibit has had different iterations and the current design is from the ’60s.  The trigger to create this mobile app that is part of my PhD was to bring a new life to the exhibit, because we knew that it wasn’t meeting modern audiences’ expectations anymore.  You read the labels, they’re very specific; they are full of scientific terminology that’s just obscure.  So people were definitely having a great aesthetic experience – you see very large skeletons, very small skeletons, you take great pictures –  but the concepts of the exhibit were not carrying across. Continue reading

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Spider Goats, Sea Monkeys, and GMO Corn: a Museum of Modified Things – an interview


Photo credit to Stephanie Stasburg

In March, 2015, I read in National Geographic about a new small museum in Pennsylvania. Working at the American Museum of Natural History, I couldn’t help but jump up and take notice of their name: the Center for PostNatural History. Huh? What is PostNatural History? A few months later I found myself in their hometown of Pittsburgh for a gaming conference, and worked with the couple who run it, Richard Pell and Lauren Allen, to both give a public talk (on the Science of Seltzer) and interview them for Mooshme. We talked about Sea Monkeys, genetically engineered goats, and whether we think dogs were a good idea. I asked: what IS PostNatural History anyway, why does it need a museum, and how did they end up becoming the ones to launch the first?

Hi Richard and Lauren.

Lauren:  Hi.

Richard:  Hi Barry.

So where are we sitting right now?

Richard:  Well you’re in our kitchen, here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Which happens to be located directly above this museum, that we run here in town, called the Center for PostNatural History.

All right, hold on a second. That is a really interesting name for a museum.  So let’s break that down.  Why is it a “center”?

Richard:  Well, it’s a center because I felt like the bar was a little bit lower than a museum and we are just getting started here.

Fair enough.  And obviously there is a reference to natural history museums.  So what makes it a PostNatural museum?

Richard:  Basically we pick up where natural history museums leave off.

One of the things that I noticed in just traveling and looking at natural history museums, which I love, is that they almost all exclude life forms that have been shaped by human culture.  So domesticated life forms, for certain, but laboratory organisms, genetically modified organisms.  Pretty much really anything from domestication of dogs through agriculture rarely appear in natural history museums.

So we just decided to shine a light just on that, by picking up where they leave off, and create the PostNatural History Museum.

When did this all begin?

Richard:  I got started with this maybe nine years ago.  I learnt about a field that was just getting started called synthetic biology, which is kind of just a form of genetic engineering. It really surprised me because Continue reading

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Visualizing Climate Change, Take Two! Teens Use SciViz Techniques to Explore Threats of Sea-level Rise in New York City

Our youth program, Visualizing Climate Change, offered in the fall of 2014, was such a success that we decided to offer the data visualization program again, but under a new name—Mapping Disasters. This time around it was important to expand the focus of the course from disaster preparedness in New York City to the threats of sea-level rise. Because the temporary exhibit, Nature’s Fury, is no longer at AMNH, the course focused on the permanent Climate Change exhibit in our Hall of Planet Earth, artifacts from The Hall of Pacific Peoples, and the work taking place the Marshall Islands by Jenny Newell, curator of Pacific Ethnography. CartoDB, a powerful online data visualization tool, was once again a major component of the program. The youth used CartoDB and coastal flood zone datasets to explore their own questions related to the impacts of Climate Change and sea-level rise on New York City.

They explored how warming oceans, melting ice sheets and rising seas affect daily life around the world and in New York City while learning about different types of data, how to read data tables, and how data tables are translated into visualizations. Working in CartoDB allowed the youth to explore datasets that were of particular interest to them, stylize their own maps, and gain hands-on experience in what goes into making a useful data visualization versus one that is confusing or misleading.

For their final projects the youth worked in groups with 100-year flood zone and future flood zone data, to create stylized maps illustrating the effect of rising seas on major local infrastructure. In their final projects each of the groups focused on the infrastructures at risk and the challenges facing one of these six vulnerable neighborhoods in New York City: Coney Island, Rockaway Park, Red Hook, DUMBO, and the Lower East Side. Below are excerpts from each of their reports and the visualizations created using CartoDB.

According to the current and future 100 year flood zones, Coney Island is Continue reading

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Dancing with WONDER at the Renwick Gallery


When I think about “interactivity” in the design of museum experiences – something I desire as both a patron and as an educator – I tend to think about my desire to interact by touching or manipulating in some way (e.g. a robot arm, a computer simulation) an object or system. I also want to interact with objects I can’t touch through digital augmentation (e.g. augmented reality, text overlays, opportunities to participate through making my own creations).
Today, however, I was challenged to explore how my highly interactive visit to the Smithsonian’s Renwick Museum was achieved, even though I could neither touch the art nor experience it through a digital layer. It turned out the key here to interactivity was my body, and the challenge to keep it in a state of motion.


The exhibit is called WONDER. Each room features a single installation that evokes a sense of wonder (and an awareness of the materiality of the art). There were only 5 rooms (pieces of art) available when I visited. Words won’t do this justice, but in short, one room contains monumental towers of index cards that evoked shapes familiar to those who have visited southern Utah, the next offered an ethereal rainbow created through string, light and interference patterns, and the final room on the 1st floor filled with flowing willow branches shaped into something suggesting homes for tree-dwelling humans, with doors to enter and windows to look through. The second floor offered two overhead pieces – one was an orderly row of hung silver rods, in a grid, with lights twinkling on and off, up and down them, together creating the illusion of movement through shifting patterns, the second piece being a woven expression of a tsunami above a carpet filled with people lying down to view it.

Continue reading

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Digital Engagement at the Postal Museum

Yes, that’s right – I’m talking about the postal museum, a museum about those places we hate to go, with those long lines, to weigh boxes and ship them back to Amazon or something, whose name has turned into a noun which often means (according to Wikipedia) “becoming extremely and uncontrollably angry, often to the point of violence, and usually in a workplace environment.” I’m talking about the museum in Washington, D.C., dedicated to everything postal.

And yes, I had absolutely NO interested in going there. I could care less about stamps. Which is precisely why I went.

At work I was challenged with going to a museum about a topic I cared little about to observe how the digital interactives facilitated my experience with the content and potentially generated an interest. Today, while attending the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Conference, I walked right past the Postal Museum. And in I went.

Long story short: I loved it! I could have seen spending 2-3 hours there, with my whole family. The three videos below, highlighting different digital interactives, show how an experience was created that, in each instance, generated a seed of interest in me.

The first interactive, geared towards families and children, invites you to browse a collection of stamp images – photos of real stamps – to create a virtual collection.

I found this interactive effective in part because it asked me to do what people do who love stamps – personalize a collection that reflects my identity and/or interests – and then, upon opening the email once I returned home featuring images from my collection, reading the encouraging “Now keep going! Start a physical collection by acquiring real stamps with personal meaning.” It was a nice arc from in-museum to at-home experience.

The second one – geared for adults – is a form of open collections, which can be experienced directly on one’s own (for the more adventurous) or starting with the digital interactive.

Unlike with the child-oriented virtual stamp collecting, this interactive is ALL about connecting me with the original object, ones I cared little about before entering the room but, after exploring their digital replica, made me quite interested in seeking out and finding the original. I experienced something similar – in the gems and minerals room – at the Yale Peabody Museum: there’s an interactive that asks three fun questions and then reveals a rock or gem in the room (with instructions on how to find it). Digital interactives can work well when they generate a need to go connect with the original on display.

The third exhibit was for families and children, like the first. Rather than ask the visitor to replicate the actions of stamp collectors, now the visitor is asked to step into the role of a real postal employee, using their digital tools of the trade. Role playing is fun, as is using real tools (albeit simulated ones).

So I entered the Museum not caring much about stamps or the postal delivery service. I left fascinated by what I learned and, equally so, by how I had learned it.

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Live at the Museums and the Web Conference: 4th Episode of Object Oriented Podcast

This episode of Object Oriented recaps our experiences at the Museums and the Web (MWXX) conference. It includes short reflections on what we did at the conference, who we met with and what we’re thinking about.

This podcast is hosted by Rik Panganiban (Senior Manager of Digital Learning at the California Academy of Sciences), Barry Joseph (Associate Director of Digital Learning at the American Museum of Natural History), and Eve Gaus, (Digital Learning Manager at The Field Museum), .

—x—x— segments —x—x—

00:00-01:29- Teaser – We’re all together at Museums and the Web!
01:29-01:54 – Introduction
01:55-09:30 – Data, privacy and surveillance
09:31-11:30 – Understanding & designing your audience
11:31-13:35 -What is digital today?
13:36-19:20 – Getting out: museums we explored in L.A.
19:21-24:45 – Pop-up Museum at MWXX
24:46-33:33 – News of the Future, with Elizabeth Merritt
33:34-35:31 – Follow us online

popup sign

—x—x— show notes —x—x—

Resources mentioned:

Dispatches from the Future of Museums: Sign up here for their weekly email, and see below for links to this episode’s stories:

  • Carnegie’s Innovation Studio (link)
  • IMA Lab (link)
  • Cooper Hewitt Lab (link)
  • Met MediaLab (link)
  • MIT Media Lab (link)

Blog: Twitter: @ooriented

Follow the hosts individually at @gauseve, @mmmooshme, and @riktheranger.

Subscribe to the podcast on Stitcher and iTunes.

[PHOTO INFO: Pop up Museum sign at MWXX. Credit: R. Panganiban]

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