Big Issues Explored in AMNH’s Digital Learning Week

Tomorrow begins four days of non-stop action at the AMNH, and I couldn’t be more excited. We have spent months trying to plan these four day-long programs to take advantage of NYC high school youth being (largely) free during Regents Week. Each day was designed to explore a different participatory digital tool, different museum halls, and bring the two together with museum educators and scientists, curators, and/or department heads. Each has their own unique educational goals, but also a number of common questions underlying their design that makes each a particularly interesting prototype for us to implement.

Screenshot of Foodcraft (in development)

But first, the differences:

Follow Me: Hall of Pacific Peoples (an AMNH Youth Audio Guide Program)
Digital Tool: AudioBoo
Hall: Exhibits in the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples
Product: A prototype of a youth-produced audio guide

Virtual Wonder Cabinets
Digital Tool: VoiceThread
Halls: Different animal diorama halls (like the Hall of African Mammals)
Product: A multimedia tour of a virtual museum using real AMNH objects

Digital Tool: Morphobank
Halls: Different mammal halls (like Extinct Mammals, and Primates)
Product: An authentic project within Morphobank

Digital Tool: MinecraftEdu
Hall: Our Global Kitchen

I suspect we will learn all sorts of things from each day. In fact, we’ve learned a tremendous amount just putting them together (more on that after the fact). But a number of questions are most pressing for me, the ones that get me most excited when I think about the programs starting tomorrow:

How can digital media create new pathways for visitors to form personal connections with permanent halls? Follow Me, for example, takes one approach by using a social media tool to add a dynamic layer of diverse perspectives on top of the permanent collection.

How do we develop new partnerships required to support innovative and effective digital programs? Externally, it has been excellent working with the good folks in England at Audioboo, in NYC with TeacherGaming (who own MinecraftEdu), and internally at the museum with the scientists behind Morphobank. With each one we have had to negotiate a different set of opportunities and constraints to implement their tool within our program, and the lessons learned will be invaluable in the design of future programs.

How can we enhance a visitor’s connection with physical objects in a digital age? A museum like ours prioritizes its collections, the physical objects that can be displayed. How can we use digital media to democratize access while increasing pathways to form connections with the original? A program like Virtual Wonder Cabinet might provide us a taste of the discussion to come, as the youth take photos of museum objects then link them together within a new evidence-based scientific narrative.

What roles can digital games play to extend the reach of an exhibit? Is the goal to reproduce the content from an exhibit or its overall experience? Should the game be designed to teach the material on its own, using the language of gameplay, or create a “need to know” that drives the learner to the exhibit? Is the ideal method through game play or game design? There are many more angles to this wonderfully rich topic, and the day of Foodcraft will help move us in this direction.

How can a digital badging system support informal science learning? Youth across these four days will be invited to participate in a prototype for an AMNH digital badging system. Each day will offer up to three badges they might choose to pursue, each badge aligned with a different educational objective for the day. It’s only a tiny sample, over a short period of time, but I expect we will learn a lot about what the youth thought they learned this week and how effective we were in teaching them meta-cognitive skills about those lessons.

Some Digital Learning Week Badges

As the AMNH undertakes this exciting set of new programs to understand how students learn science with digital affordances, the programs also explore how young people can interact and learn in different ways in a research and collections science museum. We hope at the end of the day to gain new understanding in how youth bring their own capacities in digital media to learning, how key concepts in science are conveyed in new game-type narratives, and how we can extend this work.

Tomorrow, it all begins. Wish us luck!

About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
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One Response to Big Issues Explored in AMNH’s Digital Learning Week

  1. Lynn Baum says:

    I think this work can provide great models for the future. I will be interested to know if the students who participated come back on their own with friends to show them their work.

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