Top of the Class – A Museums Association and Group for Education in Museums Seminar

In April, Phil Ainsley of the East Anglian Railway Museum attended this MA/GEM run seminar day looking at museums and schools. Phil was able to attend due to a grant from Essex Cultural Development. Here are his thoughts on the day:

I was immersed into a lecture theatre filled with representatives from all over England, including some heavy weights such as British Museum and Library – yet we all, big and small, have similar challenges to face. Maintaining school visits being one of them.

Museums have traditionally found a relatively easy connection between education and their ability to offer schools visits. Times have changed significantly recently, with schools adhering to the scriptures of a revised chronological curriculum. Museums need to maintain or increase educational visit numbers for income.

A disruptive disconnect had taken place through the process of change. Schools staff are pressed by their auditor (Ofsted) to satisfy up-rated professional standards.  Museum’s are being disadvantaged by the need to satisfy demonstrable learning outcomes.

Schools and academies are increasingly run by more independently,  it was widely reported no cosy relationship exists – anywhere!  New alliances will be built up on individual relationships, as they are re-established then these connections should be cherished.

Most educational advance is delivered without outside visits – it takes a leap of faith stepping outside and offering children a visit. Heritage learning has a big strength, as it links the visitor away from C21 life into unfamiliar territory, forcing a learning or enquiring mind set . As there may be a lesser number of electronic distractions this is a plus! Museums are a place where the young may interact with “inspiring adults” who can enthuse, stimulate thought, and demonstrate. Through unusual objects, show children a contrast to the familiar and everyday

Schools visits are almost exclusively undertaken a primary age children, while many might like to enthuse an older age range, is was universally accepted that is a tough nut to crack. So don’t fret and deliver what you are not comfortable with. Schools offerings should be delivered with consistency, so it was recommended that your collection must be the prime focus –  your curatorial task is to find the link between collection objects and educational goals (noted below).

A museum visit should have some outcomes, it may be it re-enforces what’s been introduced at school, or an opportunity to see new objects or see new activity that can’t be seen in a school building. You may want to pose a question at the beginning of a visit to be answered towards the end.

Visits therefore are more of a lifestyle choice of the schools teaching staff promoter (normally a subject co-ordinator) and the head to sanction the visit.

Best practice is to find historical themes that are not set in any one time period, as the recent changes teach history chronologically. Therefore sweet spots to concentrate on include:

  • In living memory
  • Local History
  • A significant turning point in history

Some school measures may include attention to

  • Spiritual, Moral, Social and British values
  • Heritage
  • Diversity

Which if demonstrated by your collection, will give the necessary specific curriculum value required back at school.

Post visit evaluation therefore is of value to ensure learning took place. Certainly a feedback form – what may be developed together make a stronger connection – even better a dialogue should take place – “How was it for you?”

An alternative approach is a form of outreach through use of loan boxes these can be promoted by web sites, or a link out to “Flickr” ( or any alternative photo-sharing website).

As children are our target audience, then their questions, thoughts and feedback is most important. Adult museum and teaching staff need to concentrate on their observations experiences and questions arising from the day’s visit.

Homework on schools.

Schools with the highest pupil premium may be good candidates for alternative methods of teaching away from the school building. You could read the OFSTED report on schools to identify good points and potential weakness. It can be the weakness you try and address – in this find a path to improve their score.

Normally there would be a named teacher leading in a specific subject area. School newsletters may report on previous visits – in all cases the first person to speak with is probably the school secretary – so never forget them!

Teachers time is a very finite resource, it is suggested any contact is in the “twilight hours” (immediately after lessons 3.00-4.30)

For details of forthcoming Museums Association events, visit their website. The GEM annual conference is in September and details can be found here.

If there is a training day or event that your museum could benefit from attending, but requires financial assistance contact your MDO to discuss potential funding sources.

#VolunteersWeek: Students, Graduates and Small Museums

Cater Museum

The “traditional museum volunteer” starts once they’ve retired and volunteers regularly for ten or twenty years. However, in 2015 many museums are finding it hard to find people who are able/want to volunteer in this way so are changing the way they think of the role.

Here Christine Brewster, Volunteer Curator of the Cater Museum and Katie Wilkie, a recent university graduate and Cater Museum volunteer, talk about the benefits to the museum and the individual of having volunteer opportunities for students and recent graduates:

Christine: “Here at the Cater Museum we have benefited greatly from the assistance of the High School, University and Post-Graduate students who have applied to us to do voluntary work experience.  Many positions in the current economic climate require applicants to have had satisfactory experience in one or more institutions.  So this relationship can be beneficial to both parties.

Having volunteers may place a strain on the already limited man-hours of most institutions because for the experience to be beneficial, guidance and supervision are required.  But at the Cater Museum we have been fortunate in that the students wishing to come for experience have been of a very high calibre, highly literate and numerate, hard working and dedicated to history and heritage.  We have had, at times, a waiting list of students wishing to join us.  Again, for the experience to be of value, the numbers must be limited to ensure proper supervision.

In each case, we have encouraged our students to create a project which can be proudly presented to prospective employers or graduate schools.  The museum, needless to say, has greatly benefited by the quality of those projects.

My one  reservation has always been that I may be unable to get a student the recognition they deserve in museum circles.  Having a forum or regular meetings for the students would be ideal, but many are under financial restraints and must also balance the commitment of studies and exams with their practical work.

Our young volunteers have carried out numerous projects, from cataloguing and creating a database for our coins to transcribing a First World War diary.  By their very youth, they can be far better at using the computer and search engines and linking us to the digital world.”

Katie: “I have been volunteering at The Cater Museum since 2012 and it was through my voluntary work that I was taken on as a paid member of staff. Through volunteering and the projects I am undertaking I have gained valuable experience and skills.  Not only this, I have seen how a small museum is run and have become aware of some of the issues that face the museum and heritage industry.

Many employees are looking for people who have worked or volunteered in the industry and many of these employees started out by volunteering themselves.  It is a great way to gain valuable experience for a C.V. and one project could provide a volunteer with a variety of skills; documentation, research, handling, preventative conservation, photography and using collection management software.

While it can be a hard industry to get into all of the people I have met have been quick to encourage me and hand out useful advice. Volunteering is a great way of connecting with people in the same industry and making your face known when it comes to finding a job; it may also help to narrow down a career path.

There are other benefits to volunteering; it opens up opportunities for professional development. Some organisations offer training or membership to volunteers as well as paid staff. This can mean professional development, free entry to museums and exhibitions, events and publications.

The benefits of volunteering are multi-faceted.”

The Second Grand Annual Training Needs Survey

Object Handling, Packing and Marking Training 2015

Last year, I asked the staff, volunteers and trustees of Essex about their training needs. This was so I could see how aware of current SHARE training opportunities people were, what barriers had prevented them receiving training and what training was needed.

Having collected my results, I went to work. Information was fed up to SHARE Museums East and helped them decide which training to place in our county during the 2014/15 training year. “Social Media Next Steps” wasn’t something being considered by SHARE until you told me you wanted it. I offered to run it (with the wonderful Hannah Salisbury from Essex Record Office) and the day was fully booked. SHARE weren’t able to offer Storytelling Skills training, which was the most requested training by Essex museums last year, so I booked TheWholeStory who came and delivered it in March. I’ve also hosted “Introduction to Documentation”, “Object Handling, Packing and Marking” and “Introduction to Accreditation”.

So you see, that survey has had a huge impact on what training and opportunities are available.

This year, I’m repeating the survey and I’ve expanded the remit to ask what training you have accessed outside of the offer from SHARE. Once again, the survey is anonymous but I do ask where in the county you’re based to help me place training where it is needed most.

To have your say on what training your museum staff, volunteers and trustees need, and to tell me if you find it awkward to access training, just fill in this short survey.

Our budgets for training go further when museums can give us their venues for free (and offering to host is a great way to make sure training happens locally to you!). If your museum would be able to host training in the future, please let me know by emailing me with information about capacity, ease of access and what facilities are available e.g. free/close car-parks, projectors etc. This helps us know which training will work well there, for example putting digital training in a venue with Wi-Fi.

Additionally, if there is a training course your museum would particularly like to send a delegate to but can’t, please get in touch. I may be able to help your museum secure funding or find an alternative closer to home.

The Training Needs Survey will be available on-line until mid-to-late May 2015.

~Amy Cotterill

Curator of the Future: Part 1

Curator of the Future

On Monday 13th April, I attended the annual British Museum National Programmes Conference. This year’s topic, “The Curator of the Future” prompted some lively debates. Here are my thoughts and notes from the first part of the day.

I have attended several of the British Museum’s previous National Programmes Conferences, and have always been impressed at the quality and range of speakers. This year’s conference did not disappoint and Katy Swift from their UK Partnership’s team did an excellent job in bringing the day together.

  • The Role of the British Museum in Supporting Curators

The conference began with a presentation by Jonathan Williams, Deputy Director of the British Museum. The BM views itself as a “museum of the world for the world”, and takes its responsibility in supporting other museums very seriously. They do so both by acting as a “lending library” for objects but through knowledge sharing, running subject specialist networks, traineeships, work-shadowing schemes and developing touring exhibitions. They are responsible for the Portable Antiquity Scheme, which has just recorded its millionth find from metal detectorists.

However, their ability to supplement local exhibitions and displays is important. Over 2700 objects from their collection were out on loan to other museums last year. Through these displays, more people saw items from the British Museum in locations outside of London than in their site in Bloomsbury. Mr Williams asks of “Tell us what you want and where you want it”.

  • The Curatorial Survival Kit

Four presentations were made by a range of speakers about what skills curators need now and will need in the future.

Maurice Davies of The Museum Consultancy compared museums to marketplaces and curators to the traders who work there. He feels a curator’s role is to present the expected and also engage customers with the new and unexpected. The key is communication skills – they need to be able to share their knowledge of their collection with the audience. Maurice feels that specialised roles within museums such as documentation, conservation and learning are positive because they have raised the standard of delivery, but is concerned that the role of “curator” is now made up of the left-over bits. He also raised concern that in some institutions, exhibitions designed by committee without a strong lead and vision from a curator have resulted in dull displays with clear theme or story.

Timothy A. M. Ewin, Senior Curator at the Natural History Museum , presented passionately on the Campaign for Good Curatorship. He cited Museum Association research from 2013 which found that over the past ten years the number of Natural History specialists working in the sector has declined by over 35%, Art curators by 23% and Human History (archaeology, social history and world cultures) by 5%. The Campaign believes “that great museums need good curators and that delivering public benefit is about balancing community engagement and expertise in the objects which represent that community’s heritage”. The inference being that many UK museums are emphasising engagement so much, that collections knowledge is suffering and said engagement is shallower for it.

(I thoroughly recommend visiting the Campaign’s website and reading their manifesto. Mr Ewin mentioned that they are recruiting committee members if you are interested in getting involved).

Bill Seaman, Museums, Arts and Culture Manager for Colchester and Ipswich Museums (CIMS) spoke about the need for change in the sector due to austerity and cuts in funding. There isn’t one solution to this problem, as differences in collections, local needs, politics and funding levels all have a role in finding a solution that works for you. For example, in their recent restructure, CIMS have merged the different specialist curator roles with learning and engagement posts to create general “Collections and Learning Curator” posts.

Bill also raised the issue of new graduates from the many Museum Studies courses being run in the UK. Are students being training in the right skills to fit the job market as it stands now? If so, how can museums and educational institutions work together to remedy this?

Vicky Dawson, Chair of the South Western Federation of Museums and Art Galleries talked about their museum development offer (the equivalent of SHARE in our region). In particular, she talked about training for mid-level curators who’ve found that the skills they need for their current roles, as well as to move up, have changed. While agreeing with previous speakers that communication skills are important, Vicky stressed that “collections are central to a museum but they don’t look after themselves”. After all, what’s the point of being a museum if you don’t have well-cared for, well-interpreted collections?

The speakers Q&A session which followed became quite heated, both in the role and in comments made on Twitter by the attendees. There is much debate as to the correct balance of collections care/research and audience engagement. Can one person really have all of these skills or do we need specialists? How do we encourage diversity in a sector which already has too many people for too few jobs? Many museums have ceased to have entry-level positions, relying on volunteers, interns and trainees – does this make it harder for people to get onto the employment ladder?

While many of these debates have been raging for a long time, particularly around diversifying the workforce, it seems that no single answer has been found. I find the passion with which people argued encouraging, because it shows how much we all care about the future of our sector.

I will be posting a follow-up blog on the rest of the Conference soon.

~Amy Cotterill, Museum Development Officer

Museums as Learning Spaces

Museums as Learning Spaces

On Monday 16th March, SHARE Museums East ran “Museums as Learning Spaces” at the Museum of Power. Sophie Stevens, Collections and Learning Curator at Colchester and Ipswich Museums shares her experiences of the day:

In my new role as a Collections and Learning Curator at Colchester and Ipswich Museums I am building on my experience as a specialist curator to learn more about museum learning. The SHARE course ‘Museums as Learning Spaces’ with Judith Carruthers sounded like a good place to start.

Museum of Power

Exploring the Museum of Power

The course was held at the Museum of Power near Maldon so it was a great opportunity to visit this fantastic museum. The staff were really welcoming and open about their experiences of delivering learning at the museum. The session began with an introduction from Judith and a ‘classifying objects’ activity. This was a great start and helped the process of thinking about objects in more creative ways. This continued with a ‘questioning mystery objects’ activity in which we looked at the type of questions we would ask to discover more about an unidentified object.

Having been a specialist Curator; looking at an unknown was a great way of recreating how many visitors might feel in our museums. How can we help our visitors discover more about our collections? How can we better support parents and other carers in exciting our young visitors about these objects?

This linked well with finding out our personal learning style. The VAK Learning Styles Self-Assessment Questionnaire categorised us as Kinaesthetic, Visual or Auditory learners. Most people are a mix of these styles but it is interesting to note that not all people learn like we do. Catering for these different learning styles is important to make our museums effective learning spaces.

Judith Carruthers

Working with Judith Carruthers

We then looked at a variety of trails from museums and historic houses and soon formed ideas about what makes a good one. Being clear and concise and not trying to do too much is key. Using photographs of museum objects rather than generic images is also important. A good museum trail should enable the child to take the lead and stimulate discussion, and shouldn’t involve too much writing. Trails are a great way of adding value to a visit, highlighting objects and even directing footfall to less visited parts of a site. The need to focus on one audience when developing a trail is important so that you cater for particular needs or interests of your visitor.

Following lunch we had a demonstration of the fantastic steam engine ‘Marshall’ and explored the museum as different types of visitor including grandparents with children and a wheelchair user. Looking at the displays as these visitors might was a valuable exercise which highlighted some simple changes that would make a big difference.

We finished the day looking at family learning ideas. These included mystery objects, feely bags and tools to encourage creative exploration of museums such as torches, magnifying glasses and role play. One museum has a toy lion that is hidden somewhere in the galleries. Visitors are challenged to locate the lion and find a new place to hide him. Activities such as these help make children feel comfortable in museums which can then lead to learning. This was the main message I took away with me – making our visitors feel welcome and comfortable in our museums is so important. Without this our museums cannot be effective learning spaces.

Collections Trust Seminar at Colchester Castle

Alex Dawson presenting at the Collections Trust Seminar

Alex Dawson presenting at the Collections Trust Seminar

Jennifer Brown, Collections and Interpretation Officer at Braintree District Museum, shares what she learnt at this recent training day:

On Wednesday 18th March 2015 the newly revamped Colchester Castle Museum in Essex hosted a Collections Trust Seminar for the eastern region. The seminar was led by Alex Dawson, programme manager for standards at the Collections Trust, and offered a thought-provoking and varied range of talks and open discussions. Key themes that emerged throughout the day were the importance of placing audiences and communities at the heart of collections management; the importance of making collections the heart of all museum activities (and consequently the importance of all museum departments working closely together to achieve this); and updates on the practical advice, support and frameworks available to help review where we are at, where we would like to be, and what we will need to get there.

Below are some of the key topics and points that emerged during the course of the day:

Update on Arts Council England by Isabel Wilson, Senior Manager Quality & Standards

The sessions started with a useful update on Arts Council England. Two schemes were particularly highlighted:

  • The Designation Scheme celebrates collections of national and international importance not housed in national museum, helping to promote these collections. The scheme is currently being reviewed by ACE and the next round will open in April 2015. More information can be found on their website.
  • The Government Indemnity Scheme is again aimed at helping museums of all sizes. This scheme helps smaller museums to loan items from collections around the country and even the world by arranging government underwriting of loans to avoid high insurance payments.  It is possible to make just one gallery space eligible for the scheme, rather than having to revamp a whole museum. More information including the criteria can be found on-line here.

Audiences and Collections

This was the subject of our first talk by Alex from the Collections Trust but audiences featured in so many other presentations during the day that I have grouped many under this heading.

  • Understanding Audiences – Alex Dawson, Collections Trust

Collections are here for our audience’

There has been a growing realization within the museum sector over the last 10 to 15 years that people are at the heart of our collections, and that our audiences need to drive our collections’ policies. Some key ideas that came out of Alex’s talk were:

  • We need to identify and work with communities to enable the development and care of our collections
  • We need to make sure we are regularly communicating with our communities, exploring the possibility for community curators, and looking for partnership opportunities with local businesses.
  • The collections world needs to take on the ‘language of business’. To be resilient for the future we need to think about strategies and policies, our skills and targets. This will not only help keep our future collecting policies and our collections care focused, but it also makes our work more understandable by those in other sectors. This helps to empower the profession.
  • We need to think about audience segmentation and the different generations that use our museum collections now, and will be using them in the future. What are the character traits of each generation? How will they want to access the collection and what will they want to gain from this?
  • We need to think about the user journey in museums – pre-visit, during visit and post visit. How can we keep them interested in the museum, its collections and its work?

2) Collections Management Competency Framework – Alex Dawson, Collections Trust

This is a framework produced by the Collections Trust to help us look at the skills and behaviours we need to develop, manage and sustain collections. There are four main areas of competencies – technical knowledge and contexts (ethical, legal etc) are those more traditionally associated with collections management. The other two hark back to the importance of audiences and communication – they are ‘customer focus’ and communication skills. More information is available on their website.

  • Museum Accreditation – Alex Dawson, Collections Trust

This session offered some useful tips on working through the accreditation process. In particular, don’t panic if you have a collections backlog. Look at developing a realistic operational plan for dealing with this and for future collections care. However, this should be guided by visitors and which parts of the collection are most likely to be actively used by our audiences. Ask your local police for security advice, they are often happy to help. Local Museum Development Officers are also going to be working more closely with Accreditation advisers in the future and may be able to give you more locally relevant advice.

Learning and Change in Your Museum

‘Good collections management is about change’

This session emphasized the importance of flexibility and managing change, and the importance of integrating learning throughout the museum with the management of collections. Some specific points included:

  • There are 3 models of change in any context – internal bottom up change; internal top-down change and change caused by an external trigger
  • To create a culture change in an organization start small, somewhere progress can be made, and get buy-in from staff at all levels.
  • Strive for managed and purposeful change
  • The importance of the museum’s mission statement, make sure everyone in the museum is aware of that statement and embed it in every aspect of the museum’s work.

One particular case study of successful change came from the Imperial War Museum, where they moved from a risk adverse to a risk aware strategy to copyright and making their collections available online. This resulted in a massive increase in interest in and use of their digital collections. Carolyn Royston from the IWM discusses this in a video available on YouTube

Practical Help and Useful Documents

A number of sessions looked at the advice and frameworks provided. These included:

  • PAS 917 and the framework produced by the Collections Trust. Helpful summary factsheets on each area are provided. Refer to these before going to PAS 917
  • Investors in collection – This is a new service that is being reviewed by the Collections Trust but not launched yet. This would involve the Trust providing a collections consultancy service for museums to help us review our current strengths, identify areas for development and improve our resilience. More information is available here.
  • Collections Trust Standards Toolkit to aid with policy and planning
  • Presentation on the new digital interpretations at Colchester Castle Museum by Tom Hodgson. It was interesting to hear about the new digital strategies used, and the talk reminded us of the scale of historical and archaeological research involved, the amount of material you will need to provide digital companies with to produce reconstructions, games etc.
  • Discussion of the importance of digital being a method to achieve a learning aim, not the aim in itself
  • Presentation on the work of Museum Development Officers with a particular spotlight on Essex from Amy Cotterill. Local schemes included: training and networks provided by SHARE, the forthcoming Heritage Watch scheme and digital learning resources available to hire 

Developing a Digital Strategy

This session introduced the concept of COPE – create once, publish everywhere. We looked at ways to increase access to the research and content we create with minimum labour.

  • How can it be easily pushed out to a range of different digital and web-based platforms?
  • What format/location will we need to store the original in to make sure this process is simple and not time-consuming?
  • Think about the budgets to maintain all these digital mediums in the future, whether gallery interactives or other systems.
  • Seek advice from those with special needs

Overall the day was very helpful, providing a wealth of information and also offering the chance to take a step back and think reflectively on where we are going with collections management, what we want to achieve and how we can get there. Colchester Castle Museum was a great venue, and it was lovely to get the opportunity to look round all the new displays and interactives.

~ Jennifer Brown, Braintree District Museum

If you’ve recently attended a training day or delivered a project that you’d like to write about, please send me an email at amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk 

SHARE Reaching Different Audiences

On Friday 13th March, Francesca Pellegrino from Epping Forest District Museum attended SHARE Museums East’sReaching Different Audiences” training. Here are her thoughts on the day:

“Within my role as Audience Development Officer for Epping Forest District and Lowewood Museums I have had to really think about the audience that the museums currently work with and carefully considering which new audiences we would like to engage. As I am sure many of you are aware we have to be selective in order to put the best efforts into our audience development work and ensure both audience and museum has a quality experience.

With this in mind I was really looking forward to hearing from museums working with different audiences and the best ways to approach this and again SHARE delivered a useful and informative day.

The day took place at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge which was a great location. We started with a fantastic session from Jacqui Strawbridge from the Fitzwilliam learning team and Fran Bailey from Wintercomfort talking about their partnership working to provide sessions in the museum for homeless individuals. The best part about the session was that we visited galleries in the museum and in groups thought about the museum as an environment. For us as museum professionals we are often very comfortable in a museum environment so it was great to get us all thinking about people’s emotions, thoughts and feelings when entering a museum gallery.

We also heard from Kevin Daniells, Senior Social Worker at Norfolk County Council and Ruth Farnan from the Stories of Lynn project about working with looked after children. Both emphasised that everyone has the right to visit museums and that we probably already offer activities and events that would be great for this audience but foster families may not be aware of our work.

Another session focused on autism. Robert Pritchett, Director NAS Autism Accreditation and Ellen Lee an Education Officer, focused on autism and the Autism Access Award. Here we heard about the awards and how museums could self-assess themselves to see how autism friendly they are. Ellen emphasised that museums can’t do anything but little changes can make a big difference.

Finally Steph Parmee, Learning Officer at Gainsborough’s house and Juliet Lockhart, Artistic Director at Art in Mind gave us a chance to get hands on. Gainsborough house has been hosting art sessions inspired by museum objects for people experiencing mental health. Juliet and Steph led activities where we got to try out some of the sessions they used within their staff training.

There were some very clear points that came out of the day which I will summarise below:

  • Partnership working is essential. This ensures skills sharing and that museums are supported by workers who know the individuals and can assist in sessions
  • This encompasses a lot; from training all staff, to having pre visits with workers from partner organisations and having plans a,b and c for possible situations, patience and willingness to understand.
  • As mentioned above as museum professionals we are comfortable in this environment but a lot of these different audiences and the public more generally have never been to a museum before.

The key thing that encompasses all this is that everyone has the right to visit a museum and to enjoy their experience. What we need to provide are fun experiences that are separate from the audience’s day to day life and access to usual services. This may enable them to create new memories away from their past and therefore enrich their futures”.

For information details of future SHARE training events, visit their on-line training calendar.

Digital Learning Day at the Museum of London

Digital Learning Day

SHARE and the Museum of London’s Digital Learning Day

On 14th January, SHARE Museums East ran a Digital Learning Day with Paul Clifford and the Museum of London. Yvonne Lawrence, Learning Services Manager at Chelmsford Museums, shares her experiences (and images) of the day:

“… A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention …”.

One of the scarcest resources of our age is attention; we are bombarded with instant information and images, hyperlinks and choices.  Working with artefacts, we encourage people to slow things down, focus on the object, give it full attention and use all five senses.  How does this low-tech approach fit with increasing uses of digital technology today?  And how can we vary the use of digital technology between formal learning and informal learning for families?

We sat around a packed conference table to discuss the use of digital technology in museum learning.  It sounds like a paradox – after all, isn’t the unique selling point of what we do that we use real objects to engage and inspire?  How can we make digital technology do more than we can with objects and paper?  Is blended learning the answer – mixing real experiences with digital technology? Some people actively seek out non-digital experiences (not everyone wants to live life through a lens).

Digital technology is not a magic fix.  Paul advised us to think about overall learning objectives rather than starting from the perspective of ‘what can I add digitally to this?’  You need to consider costs and security; logistics – storage and charging of equipment; copyright issues with apps, software, and the finished product – who owns what?; creating, sharing and deleting finished projects; and last but not least, who has the time to manage all this?

MofL iPad in a sturdy case

A Museum of London iPad in a sturdy case

The Museum of London uses 10 iPads for school visits with free or almost free Apps that are very simple to use.  These include ‘Photomontage: Photo Layers’ to allow people to ‘greenscreen’ themselves into an old photo; ‘PuppetPals’ to create animations and soundtracks illustrating historical events such as the Great Fire of London; and ‘Popplet’ mind mapping software, good for exploring uses of an artefact and sorting ideas.  Children use these Apps to create digital output they can send back to the classroom to use in follow up work, adding motivation and value to the learning experience.

A MaKey MaKey

Using a MaKey MaKey

The practical afternoon session explored technology such as the £50 MaKey Makey, described as ‘an invention kit for the 21st century’.  Deceptively simple to look at, and not much bigger than a credit card, this is a very simple circuit system that can be hooked up to a PC to create some stunning effects – similar to a programmable Raspberry Pi.  If you have ever wanted to make a printed image interactive with different outcomes when someone presses different areas, this is for you!

Yesterday the teacher in our ‘Stone Age to Iron Age’ session asked if he could use his iPhone to record the gallery tour.  I agreed and have been inspired to record our own version to use with schools: my first attempt at blended learning to help teachers get the most from their self-led gallery visit – hopefully without stopping them from booking another school session!

Want to know more about Raspberry Pi, Makey Makey and other digital learning tools? A variety of these are now available for Essex museums to borrow. Read more here.

#FundingWeek: Starts Monday 26th January 2015

#FundingWeek

Money makes the world go round – and there never seems to be enough of it! Grants, endowments and other forms of income-generation can give us all headaches.

Next week will be a funding-themed week on the blog. Five guest bloggers will be sharing ideas, experiences and tips about funding for museums. It doesn’t matter if your organisation is large, small, volunteer-led or local authority run, there will be something relevant for you.
The bloggers will be:

They will be posted each morning from Monday to Friday next week and in the meantime have a look at these useful links:

~Amy Cotterill, Museum Development Officer

What is a Tweetup?

Tweetup (Noun)


“a meeting or other gathering organised by means of posts on the social media website Twitter”

– definition by Google

You may have noticed in the events listing that I organise a quarterly tweetup for “museumy people” (including staff, volunteers and students). They are free to attend and you don’t need any experience or knowledge of social media.

Tweetups are very informal affairs. The ones I organise take place in The Ale House, which is just outside of Chelmsford Station. They start at 5:30pm, but you can join in whenever you turn up. We sit and chat about museums and our experiences, ask each other’s advice and share ideas. Along the way we discuss different digital platforms, including blogs, Facebook, Pinterest… and of course Twitter, and how we can use them in museums, but that is only part of what these sessions are about. They’re really just an informal way to get to meet other people from all different levels of the sector.

The next museum tweetup is on Monday 26th January, and we’re being joined by museum bloggers “Ministry of Curiosity” aka Terri Dendy, Collections Information Officer at the Science Museum, and Kristin Hussey, Assistant Curator at the Hunterian Museum. Their blog has been featured in Guardian Culture Pros, Art Industry Magazine Online and the Museums Journal. At the 2014 Museums Association Conference they ran a discussion session which led to the creation of a Social Media Manifesto.

If you’d like to come along, enjoy a natter and meet new people, you’d be very welcome. If you register on-line here, it helps me know how big a table we’ll need in the pub.