Has the @CooperHewitt Pen Turned Museums into Libraries? A Visit to the Renovated Cooper-Hewitt Museum

If you haven’t heard about the new Pen at the renovated Cooper-Hewitt, it’s all the buzz in the museum world. It’s the tool that changed a traditional museum into a leading model for the digital age. As it turns out, the pen is just the tip of the disruptive iceberg (you can read more about the shape of that ‘berg here).

In this post I aim to describe my first experience with the Pen and then explore how that experience shaped my time within a new temporary exhibit: Tools: Extending Our Reach.



The Immersion Room often gets the most attention within recent press coverage, a room designed to put “wallcoverings back in context.” You’re not interested in wallpaper, you might say? (I know I did). But there I found myself, eagerly waiting in line to explore a database of design patterns. All thanks to a digital experience accessed through my Pen.

The pen has two ends – one is the stylus, for interacting with touch screens, while the other sends your identity to the screens. In other words, it’s like your memory – one is short term and the other is long term.

The experience begins with the identity end of the stick, so the table knows who I am. Then on the touch table I use the stylus end of the stick to drag patterns into my workspace or create my own from scratch. I hit the Live button and send my pattern to decorate the two walls around me. I can keep modifying my design – flip it, move it, color it – and watch the change kaleidoscope around me and those with me in real time.

A teenager makes a design then stands in front of the projector, wallpapering himself in the process. He hold out his arms and yells Continue reading

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Research on Using AI, AR, and Narrative to Customize Visitor Experience: An interview with Maria Roussou about the CHESS Project

At April’s Museums and the Web conference in Chicago, I heard a fascinating presentation by Maria Roussou, talking about the CHESS Project, a research study exploring how museums could personalize a visitor’s experience before they arrived and throughout their visit. The strong narrative component and use of digital media reflected many of the design elements we are incorporating in our upcoming Microrangers game, so I just HAD to learn more about what she’d have to say about the power of user-centric design processes, storytelling, and creating personas, and more.

 (Check out Maria’s slides from her presentation here)

Welcome to Mooshme. Would you please introduce yourself?

I am Maria Roussou. I have a company called makebelieve. We do interactive exhibits, mostly for museums but also for informal education. I also teach at the University of Athens, Human Computer Interaction in Computer Science, and Digital Technology in Museums in the graduate program of Museum Studies. I also teach User-centered design & Web Design at the American College of Greece.

And I am an evaluator and reviewer for the European Commission on research projects. The CHESS project, which I presented here at Museums on the Web, is one of these European funded research projects.

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So please tell us about it. Let’s start by understanding all the partners involved.

It’s a project that ran from 2011 to 2014. It involved two universities – the University of Athens (their Computer Science Department) and the University of Nottingham (their Mixed Reality Laboratory, famous for their human-computer interaction work); two companies from France, DIGINEXT, who developed the authoring tool, which allows authors to put together the narratives, and Real Fusio, who worked on the media content development – 3D models, videos, games, things like that. There was a research center in Germany, the Fraunhofer, who worked on Augmented Reality; last but not least, there were two museums – the Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece and a museum in Toulouse, France called the Cité de l’Espace (the City of Space) – it’s a science center about space and its conquest. 90% of the visitors at the Cité de l’Espace are children, so their education department was involved in this project.

Before we get into the details of what you all created, let’s delve into the main research focus of this project. What did you set out to learn?

The research focus was to enhance adaptive experiences in museums, adaptive digital experiences. In the beginning storytelling wasn’t so much what was sought – it was mostly personalization and adaptivity. So this was a computer science research project. The idea was to develop the tools, the artificial intelligence if you will, of the programs that would support such a cultural experience for visitors, one that is adaptive and personalized to their needs and wants.

So how might a visitor experience CHESS?

The visitor might begin by Continue reading

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Video Snapshots on Bron Stuckey and Me: On Minecraft, Augmented Reality and Digital Learning

Last Friday Bron Stuckey, from Sydney, Australia, led an unconference in association with last week’s Games For Change Festival called the EduGameMeet. We at the Museum were delighted to provide the space for them to hold this no cost, informal, collaborative experience for educators, indie educational game designers and students to explore how the work with games for change and explore their affordances in an educational context.

At the end of the event, Bob Greenberg, who produces The Brainwaves video anthology, interviewed first Bron on Minecraft (and what it means for learning) and then myself (on informal science learning in the digital age). I always love hearing what Bron has to say and I feel mine might offer a decent description of the connective tissue linking together our various efforts developing and implementing a digital strategy around informal science learning.

Please check them out below:

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On Beyond Gaming: Minecraft and The Future of Transmedia Learning

At this year’s annual Games for Change Festival, “transmedia” was a topic right out of the gate, first with the talk by Nick Fortugno, and then, following soon after, in one by Martin Elricsson. Later that first day I brought the topic up during the Minecraft panel, about the possibilities of re-thinking Minecraft as the prime example of transmedia learning.

Here is a new blog piece I wrote for my DML Central column tying it all together. I’d love to know what you think.

On Beyond Gaming:

Minecraft and The Future of Transmedia Learning


EPIC HEADSHOP: The Evolution of Minecraft

When my 8-year-old son typed “epic headshop at 31;65” into the command prompt, I realized the Minecraft I knew was dead. In its place something new had emerged. If I wanted to keep using it as a vehicle for advancing learning goals, it was high time for a serious reevaluation.

ON BEYOND GAME: The Rise of Transmedia Learning

“Minecraft is not a game.” If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that since first learning of the worldwide phenomenon in Spring of 2011 at the Games For Change Festival… well, I’d have enough to run my own Minecraft server. My wife asked me, when she saw me writing this, “Isn’t it just like Legos?” I see her point. Legos are not a game. They are a toy. Minecraft offers little in the way of points to earn or levels to beat. You can’t really lose. It can look to an outsider like a giant digital sandbox. So yes, I get how understanding Minecraft as a toy can be of value, even accurate. It’s just less useful.

Calling Minecraft a “game,” however, seems to be a useful way to conceptualize the experience, not just for me but for the world at large. For those who monetize it, it’s a game; it’s listed as the No. 5 top-selling video game of 2014 by Forbes. For those who report on it, it’s a game; when Microsoft bought it in September for $2.5 billion in cash, the New York Times described Minecraft as “the world-building computer game.” For those who use it for teaching, it’s a game; the educator’s version of Minecraft, called MinecraftEdu, is the primary product of a company called TeacherGaming. In using Minecraft to teach everything in recent years from the power of poison to global injustice, in both libraries and museums, I’ve always understood it as a form of games-based learning. It’s not just that it was created by a game designer (Markus Alexej “Notch” Persson), or sold through a video game company, Mojang; understanding MInecraft as a game has been the most effective way for me to conceptualize what Minecraft affords within my informal learning communities.

Not any more. When the history of the 21st century is written, 2014 won’t be remembered as the year Microsoft bought Minecraft. Instead, it will be understood as the beginning of the wider understanding that Minecraft is more than just a game. Yes, it CAN be played like a game, it relies on technical components similar to games, it supports a user community around it in a manner similar to other games… but, the metaphor of “game” is no longer useful. It misses the bigger picture. It distracts us from the broader disruptions it is causing in the social fabric. So now I, too, will join the quiet chorus saying Minecraft is not just a game.

What then will I say?

This: Minecraft is our first look at the future of transmedia learning. Continue reading

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Maybe Bad Breath Isn’t So Bad!

Hi Everyone, Eric again with my report on the most recent Lang class we had to develop a card game about gut microbes.

We were excited for Susan Perkins (AMNH scientist and curator of the upcoming exhibit explored by this game) to join us and elaborate further on the science behind microbes and the gut microbiome, to share with us details about the upcoming exhibition. We then proceeded to introduce 2 variants of our card game (currently titled “Flora”) and challenged the students to create the cards for each of the two decks and then play both variants in order to critique them.

Susan joining a group as they played Flora

Susan joining a group as they played Flora

There was much fun and laughter to be had as the students started to disrupt each other’s microbiomes, playing cards like “Kiss” and “We Are Family”, thwarting their opponents’ well laid plans. Before the class was dismissed for lunch, they filled-out feedback forms, and I was quite surprised at some of the comments. Especially noteworthy was their favorite card, Bad Breath, which sounded fun to them and protected their hand from tampering. Fecal transplants and food poisoning made the cut as well.

No you are not getting any of my microbes!

No you are not getting any of my microbes!

We are glad that the students had so much fun with these initial versions and look forward to developing the game with them in future classes!

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Reclaiming Culture Through Game Design: Sneak Peak at Our Games For Change Panel

As an original co-founder of the Games For Change Festival, I am always excited to both attend the annual event and also bring new voices to this important forum. In past years that has often looked like bringing teenagers to the stage.
This year, inspired by my work at the American Museum of Natural History with the indigenous communities of western Canada, I proposed the following panel to bring indigenous and minority voices to the stage, exploring how game development can be part of a process of cultural reclamation:
Meg Jayanth, writer of Time Magazine’s game of the year, 80 Days, and Amy Fredeen, a leader on Never Alone’s development as CFO at E-Line Media and EVP of Cook Inlet Tribal Council, will speak with Barry Joseph from the American Museum of Natural History about amplifying the voices and stories of indigenous and marginalized peoples through games. Hear how two of the top games of 2014 not only provided remarkably engaging experiences but also inspired empathy for and piqued game players’ interest in under-represented cultures.

In recent years I’ve had the opportunity to cover both of their projects for my blog, Mooshme.org, about the intersection of digital media and museum-based learning. After falling in love with 80 Days last summer, I was delighted when its writer, Meg Jayanth, was willing to talk with me about its development, which you can read here. A year earlier I first learned about Never Alone, when its development had just begun, and we brought it in beta to the Museum as part of our annual Margaret Mead Film Festival (and you can read a related interview promoting it here).

So if you are at Games For Change this year, please make sure to join us this Thursday at 2:30pm – 3:00pm at NYU Skirball Center for Performing Arts.

[Addendum from after the presentation]

Below is the Twitterfall from during the presentation. Always great to see what people took away (or misquoted).

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The Draw and Appeal of Virtual Gel Electrophoresis

As someone who has spent much time walking past gel boxes of various shapes and sizes, a gel electrophoresis kit is not the first item that would draw my attention in a room with touchable casts of hominid skulls. But a single gel box, to my surprise, drew the attention of visitors to the Sackler Educational Laboratory this past Sunday, where four of our student interns were facilitating the new interactive experience, CSN: Crime Scene Neanderthal for the first time.

Gel electrophoresisRight off the bat, one of the first things were learned this weekend was that visitors are drawn to equipment on a table, wanting to know what the gel rig was used for and how.

But that was not the only thing we learned. In fact we noticed several other interesting things: Continue reading

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