New Learning Times Interview with… Me

I don’t always repost interviews others have done with me, but since this one is behind a user account, and they called me a “changemaker,” I wanted to share it here. The original was done by Kate Meersschaer and can be found on the New Learning Times site, a Columbia University webzine which describes itself as “a mobile publication about today’s learning landscape covering the latest innovations in education and learning.” Enjoy!

Barry Joseph is known as a changemaker who is passionately devoted to envisioning new ways digital media can “address significant personal and social issues.” Since 2012 Joseph has worked as the Associate Director For Digital Learning at the American Museum of Natural History. In his current position Joseph has created programming ranging from Digital Learning Week to an augmented reality-enabled museum guide (and many, many other initiatives in-between). From 2000—2012 Joseph was the director of Online Leadership at youth development organization, Global Kids, Inc. Joseph has also held roles in digital media and content creation ranging from writer to associate producer and was one of the co-founders of the NYC based Games for Change Festival. Joseph holds Masters Degrees in American Studies from both New York University and Northwestern University.

Question: How did your educational trajectory and past professional experience shape your current work?

Answer: My high school years were spent at a Friends School on Long Island. In Quaker schools education is dedicated to both academic learning but also developing students into engaged citizens who pursue and nurture a wide range of interests. When I graduated from college, people walked in alphabetical order by their major, so I walked first, and alone. My major was “ad-hoc,” as I had created my own, to focus on cultural studies. I also received a certificate in Integrated Arts, where we watched music videos, learned how to design in Hypercard – this is pre-Web keep in mind – and how to combine the visual, aural, and movement arts. When I speak about how I got to be where I am today professionally, I usually focus on my informal learning. But my formal learning deserves credit for teaching me to identify emerging patterns within digital learning, connect the dots, and explore, through practice, disruptive innovations.

Question: How do you hope your work will change the learning landscape?

Answer: Digital media holds the potential to transform a learner’s relationship with their own mind, with their own ability to strategize their learning pathways. It holds the potential to change when we learn, how we learn, where we learn. Whether our work contributes to our understanding of games-based learning, or mobile learning, or badge-motivated learning, or whatever, the hope is we can all better identify and understand the successful methods that advance this potential and increase the possibility space for such work.

Question: What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?

Answer: I don’t believe in the often used concept of the “digital native.” I think youth and children need thoughtful, informed adults to help them develop their abilities to effectively use new and emerging digital media – for research, for socializing, for developing ethical behavior, and more. But they have more to teach us about how we can enhance our lives through the effective integration of digital tools and media. That literacy, that ease, that expectation, that blurring of the line we often like to hold between the “real” and the “digital,” will shift the ground beneath our feet.

Question: What are you currently working on & what is your next big project?

Answer: Exploring lots of interesting questions. How can digital media create new, dynamic pathways for visitors to connect with museum content? How can youth collaborate with the Museum in the co-development of digital educational tools? How can games-based learning create new ways to engage youth with informal science learning and support those already engaged to go deeper? How can digital badges support a community of science-identified youth learners? What does digital fabrication afford for informal science learning within an object-based museum?

Question: Who are the most interesting people you are following on Twitter?

Answer: I have my Twitter account organized into the following lists, which are all public: AMNH, Big Thinkers, Digital Science Folks, DML (Digital Media and Learning) Advocates, Gaming, and Museum Advocates. Check them out!

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Designing Mobile Museum Experiences: Thoughts on the “Well-Played” App

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes
well you just might find
You get what you need
– Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

This weekend my 5-year old daughter taught me some important lessons about the design of the mobile museum.

When I say “mobile museum” I am loosely referring to any use of mobile technology to augmented a museum visit. For the past year, much of my days have been spent working with teens and professionals to develop prototypes using augmented reality, geolocative games, and more to support visitors to explore topics as diverse as pterosaurs, Northwest Coast Indians, Dinosaurs, Microorganisms and Neanderthals.

The user experience of each is as different as the science content, but all are united by a similar design goal: offer visitors a carefully crafted scaffolding that provides new and varied entryways to connect with the halls. We want to offer visitors something exciting and new, something they might not have been expecting but, once encountered, they will never forget. And over time their expectations will have grown to expect it, ideally to want it.

But I was reminded this past weekend the difference between what you want and what you need.

On Sunday, my family visited an exhibit at a local art museum (the Guggenheim) entitled “ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s.” After thinking through how my expectations for the mobile experience clashed with what actually occurred I realized the details might prove an instructive use case highlighting how, ultimately, the users – not the designers – define the mobile experience.

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The Year in Digital Media and Learning

For my final DML Central post of the year, I thought I would turn the mic around and ask my ever faithful DML Central readers what they thought about the past year in digital media and learning.

To get their thoughts flowing, I asked my fellow DML Central columnists to weigh in with their own year-end observations. Please take a moment to review their reflections, then add your own, either here or at the original post.

You know what? Let’s not just look back but forward as well, making some predictions, and then let’s agree to meet back here in a year’s time and see how right (or wrong) we were!

The most interesting thing to me about digital media and learning in 2014 was…

Jade E. Davis (HASTAC@Duke | UNC Chapel Hill Department of Communication Studies): “The ethical turn. I think there’s always been an ethics to DML, but, like most things with technology, the promise tends to make us shy away from talking about the sticky stuff that at times can limit the promise. Between the wonderful conversations that were generated from the Trust Challenge, and the topic of DML2015 being equity by design, I feel like this is the year when DML jumped head first into really trying to get the conversation going about the ethics of doing learning digitally. What I love about how this conversation is happening is that rather than doing the thing where people focus on fear, we are trying, instead to have a conversation that comes up with solutions that design around ethical pitfalls in an attempt to make digital media and learning safe and accessible for everyone who wants to learn together.”

Howard Rheingold (, @hrheingold): Definitely the summer camp where we planned Connected Courses. Such a fantastic and inspiring opportunity to work with so many of my DML heroes.

Doug Belshaw (Mozilla Foundation): “The launch of the Connected Learning Alliance. The site — and related graphics — explain connected learning so much better than before.”

Monica Bulger (Berkman Center for Internet & Society): “I’m always inspired by the innovation and creativity highlighted in DML posts. In particular, Mia Zamora’s blog on paper circuitry fused writing, design, and engineering in an engaging and memorable lesson.”

Ben Williamson (University of Stirling): “It was interesting to see among the DML community a rising awareness of how the social media environments and where young people and ‘networked publics’ ‘hang out, mess around and geek out’ are deeply shaped by powerful entanglements of commercial and political interests. While learning certainly takes place in such spaces, it is important for young people to understand how the data they leave in social media might be mined, manipulated and used for a variety of purposes. Science and technology studies has long taught us that technologies are not neutral, but constructed according to the ideas and worldviews of companies, programmers, project managers, funders, etc., etc. Do we have adequate analytic tools in the DML field to understand the shaping of the technologies that (partly) structure networked publics and the connected learning they engage in?”

The most surprising thing to me about DML in 2014 was…

Doug Belshaw: “The death of Brother Mike. I didn’t know him personally, but everyone I know in the connected learning world and/or based in Chicago spoke highly of him.”

Monica Bulger: “I had the opportunity to interview colleagues working to enable digital learning in the global South. The practical realities of realizing technologies in classrooms are many, including logistics such as energy and broadband availability and cultural norms around women and learning, learning in general. It is not simply a matter of parachuting technologies into remote areas but, instead, a multi-layered, challenging effort.”

Howard Rheingold: “I was surprised and pleased by the enthusiasm shown by so many of the contributors to Connected Courses — people I had not previously known.”

The most disturbing thing to me about DML in 2014 was…

Doug Belshaw: “The increasing enclosure of open technologies and practices by technology companies. This is something we should push back against as a community.”

Ben Williamson: “There is a surprising lack of close attention in the DML field generally to new developments like learning analytics. While there are clear stated benefits to such technologies, it might be a good idea to raise a few words of caution in the face of claims emanating from companies like Knewton. Knewton claims it has more data on learners than Google has on its users — learning is the most highly data-mineable industry in the world, it claims. As a field, do DML researchers know how to study and analyze and understand how Knewton collects that data, what it does with it, and with what effects? Do we have any idea what Knewton means by ‘algorithmic assessment norming at scale,’ or what its ‘machine learning algorithms’ really do when they are deployed to predict students’ futures?”

Howard Rheingold: “How few educators signed up for Connected Courses, given the huge hype about MOOCs.”

If I could jump one year in the future, the thing I’d be most excited to learn about DML in 2015 would be…

Doug Belshaw: “The growth of connected learning around the world. From my perspective in Europe, it seems very much a North American thing at present.”

Monica Bulger: “I’m very excited about the practical realities of training and supporting teachers in realizing the innovative uses of educational technologies fostered by DML.”

Ben Williamson: “I’d like DML research to engage more with science and technology studies, and with the emerging field of software studies, to produce more innovative and insightful studies.

Jade E. Davis: “I am really curious to see what new technologies or forms of digital creation get adopted and mainstreamed into digital media and learning. I think we are still in a video moment in terms of mainstream forms of digital media and learning out in the world…. but, I’m still not convinced that has to be the way it is. I don’t have a clear idea on what the next thing might be, so it is the thing I am most excited to learn.”

Howard Rheingold: “That the community that emerged from Connected Courses has continued the work of supporting educators who want to experiment with this pedagogy.”

Okay, now it’s your turn! Please share your comments and reflections below or at the original post.

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The Sound of Project-Based Informal Science Learning

I was just at our 22nd session within our Neanderthal Next Door program – in which the high school seniors are developing an augmented activity guide about Neanderthals for use in our Halls – and I began to listen to the room.

The teens were working in small groups developing activities for Museum visitors that each incorporated science content, a learning activity, a role for a print guide, a role for digital app, a role for a facilitator, the space in the Hall and associated learning lab, and much much more.

And yet, what the room sounded like, was a cocktail party. They all seem so relaxed, engaged and present. And I thought, this is what good project-based informal science learning sounds like. And it sounds good!

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“People need a change in lighting because they walk to the right” – Using Design-based Learning with Museum Teens

Point-of-View MadlibA couple of weeks after shifting to more of a design focus in the Neanderthal Next Door program, we tried an ideation activity with the youth called a “Point-of-View Madlib.” (Remember Mad Libs?) Taken from Stanford’s “Bootcamp Bootleg” deck of design-thinking cards, this activity is meant to help a group reach a point-of-view (POV) that can “[reframe]… a design challenge into an actionable problem statement that will launch [them] into generative ideation.” Or, in slightly less jargon-y terms…

We asked students to fill in values for the following categories: “Users,” “User Needs,” and “Surprising Insight.” The raw material for these values was to be taken from the observations that students had been doing of visitors to the Hall of Human Origins over the past few weeks. Here’s the values the class ended up with:

old people change in lighting or guide most visitors tend to walk towards the right
most people interactive social media (like Instagram) where they can share their photos the DNA panel is romantic
people younger than 30 who like taking photos something to direct their attraction to the scientific concepts presented they like taking selfies
tourists the left side needs to be more interesting than the right people are very interested in the brain panel
college students a guide in a different language they only look at pictures
teenagers deeper methods to create comprehension they like diorama(s)
young adults/teens purpose, higher-level engagement strategies people like being on their phones!
parents with children things they can relate to themselves children often come with facilitators
parents with children interactives self-absorbed
parents with children info to relay to their kids parents often relay inaccurate information


Once we had at least half a dozen values for each category, we asked students to do some Madlibbing with the results by filling in values for the following: “[USER] needs to [USER’S NEED] because [SURPRISING INSIGHT].” Here are the statements some students came out with:

  • “Most people need a change in lighting or guide because they walk to to right.”
  • “Parents need interactives to relay info to their kids.”
  • “Young couples need something to direct their attraction to the scientific concepts presented because they are self-absorbed.”
  • “Young adults and teens need to something to relate to themselves because they are self-absorbed.”
  • “People younger than 30 who like taking photos need purpose, higher-level engagement strategies because they’re self-absorbed.”
  • “People younger than 30 who like taking photos need something to direct their attraction to the scientific concepts presented because they only look at pictures.”
  • “College students need purpose, higher-level engagement strategies because they’re self-absorbed.”
  • “Young adults and teens need purpose, higher-level engagement strategies because they’re only interested in the brain panels.”

Pretty interesting, I think, that this group of 12th-graders ended up Madlibbing so many statements that depicted young people as self-absorbed! (Do such observations count as metacognition?)

Ultimately, we didn’t end up with a huge variety of POVs, unfortunately, but the activity did seem to work as a way to bridge the empathy-generating work of the hall observations with what we were planning to have the group start thinking about next–developing a design vision for their project.

With just a minute or so left in the time we had allotted for this activity, I wanted to have students respond in a less serious-minded way. (They’re called Madlibs, after all!) Almost before I finished getting the sentence out of my mouth asking the group to give me their most ridiculous-sounding statement, one student student came out with :

“Old people need a change in lighting or guide because the DNA panel is romantic.”

If we ever do this POV Madlib activity with a program again, maybe we should take a good five minutes for this take on the process…!

Combining this activity with a number of other design-based activities, the group came up with an impressive list of Design Principles. In the sessions since we have often found ourselves returning to these Principles to keep us on track:


One series of activities they based these on were observations of people in the Hall. For example, the youth followed visitors and mapped movement through the room while writing down things they overheard or observed:


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New Science Gaming Programs: Killer Snails, MicroRangers, & Playing with Dinos (oh my!)

In 2015, within the Museum’s Youth Initiative Winter offerings, there will be three (count them – three!) different science programs that explore science-based games in completely different ways.

Each draws from science topics of interest to the Museum, explores how games-based learning can enhance both our after school programs and Museum visits, and builds on our previous explorations collaborating with youth to create Museum-branded educational products (such as Pterosaurs: The Card Game).

And each program is offered for free to interested high school students (registration opening shortly).

In short, youth will have the opportunity to collaborate with scientists, science educators and game designers to create:

  • MicroRangers, a site specific, augmented reality game about microbiology for Museum visitors to play within our halls. (This will be developed through a two-day a week after school program, running from February until the end of the school year.)

Registration status: Open. Register here.

  • Killer Snails, a Pokemon-styled deck building card game that will be distributed by the Museum to teach about poison and the surprisingly deadly Cone Snails. (This will be developed through an intensive February break camp.)

Registration status: Open. Register here.

  • Playing with Dinos, a prototype for a new way to engage Museum visitors with our Halls (specifically our dinosaur Halls) and each other, inspired by Tiny Games.

Registration status: Open. Register here.

By the end of this school year, we hope a wide range of youth will have learned a lot about science (microbiology, killer snails, and paleontology) and educational game design while helping us develop:

  1. a prototype for Playing with Dinos,
  2. a Killer Snails game that will be on the Museum store’s shelves, and
  3. a strong early draft of MicroRangers that, after further iteration, will be released to the public by the end of the calendar year.

It is going to be an exciting (and playful) season and we look forward to meeting all the youth who will be joining us on these adventures.

Below is more detail about each program.


Last spring we offered the MicroMuseum program, which was dedicated to exploring life at the microscopic level and how the complexity of microbiomes affect all life at the human scale. Working with AMNH scientist Susan Perkins, a prototype for MicroRangers was produced, which turns a microscopic eye on the Museum’s permanent exhibits, such as the brain coral in the Hall of Ocean Life. Within the game, players take on the role of MicroRangers – like Park Rangers, but working on the microscopic level to keep the fictitious microbiomes WITHIN our Hall exhibits healthy and diverse.

Six months later, we are excited to share that, with support from the Kellen Foundation, we now have the funds to develop the prototype into a final product. Participants in the upcoming MicroRangers program will play a key role in that process, developing content for the game, learning how to iterate its design, and more.

To learn more about the prototype developed last Spring, and what the youth co-developers learned in the process, you can watch this video from their final presentation:

Cone Snail Shells, Poison ExhibitKiller Snails: A Game Development Program With a Deadly Touch

Did you know that something as small and beautiful as a cone snail is also a silent assassin of the sea? In this week-long program in February, high school students will learn all about the wicked and deadly punch of cone snails from AMNH Research Associated Mandë Holford. Then, working with a professional game designer, the youth will develop a card game that will be distributed by the museum. Below is the latest promotional language:

Watch out, Pokemon! Move over, Magic! Here come… the Killer Snails!

Come join AMNH Research Associate Mandë Holford and a professional game designer to create a new game about cone snails (Conus), beautifully small marine packages that have a wicked, deadly punch.

Cone snails are silent assassins of the sea, using venom delivered through a hypodermic needle-like tooth to attack its prey. Their nerve toxins are so powerful they can rapidly paralyze a large fish—or kill an unwary person. Yet in a surprising twist of nature, deadly venom toxins can become life saving drugs! Toxins from cone snails have already yielded a useful pain drug.  Future cone snail medicines could potentially be used to fight epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Last year Cone Snails were featured in the the Museum’s special exhibit, The Power of Poison. Now, you can help develop their next role, starring in an “intoxicating” card game to be distributed by the museum. During this 2015 Winter Break week long full-day program, learn about venom toxins, game design… and killer snails.

You learn more about Cone Snails and Mandë in the following video (starting at 2:48!):

Playing with Dinos

MicroRangers is a digital game. Killer Snails is a card game. Playing with Dinos is something else, something in-between. Inspired by Tiny Games (see video below), our new mobile app will help a group of visitors quickly, and playfully, learn a fun game they can play WITHOUT the app. The game should help them have fun while learning something about the dinosaurs around them, and possibly the people they are with. And when they are done, the app can help them find their next game as they move through our Halls, playing with dinosaurs. This program will run for three days during the last week of January, during the Regents break.

Here is a video about Tiny Games, before the app was released (you can now get it here):

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Digital Instruction in MicroWorlds Investigate Lab

This is my final of three posts based on my trip last month, at the annual ASTC conference in Raleigh, to the North Carolina’s Museum of Natural Sciences. In this post we go to their MicroWorlds Investigate Lab.

UntitledChristie Flint was kind enough to give us a tour. I was particularly interested in how they used a simple pdf on an iPad to scale their hands-on instruction for room visitors. It looked too simple to be effective, but they said it worked. Go figure!


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