28 April 02004

Mobile information appliances for museums

Earlier this month, the UK's National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) announced its support for a project to develop hand-held, touch-screen, wireless computers that will 'offer a host of relevant information including text, video, pictures and sound' when pointed at a museum exhibit.

The breathless stream-of-buzzwords tone is probably just par for the course in press releases, which invariably concentrate on technological fetishism rather than boring old human behaviour. This project is interesting for showing what's technologically possible; but it's unclear how much attention will be given to the ways in which people's habitual and preferred behaviour in the social space of a museum will affect use of the technology.

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23 April 02004

Cultivating unprogrammed learning

There are some intriguing observations in Measuring the Outcomes and Impact of Learning in Museums Archives and Libraries. For example, "Not all museums, archives and libraries see themselves as places that should primarily on the learning experiences of their users," and apparently many of these organisations do not know why people use their materials and what they learn from them.

On the one hand, this is counter-intuitive: what would you use use an archive for if not to find out stuff and learn from it? On the other hand, it's clear that, confronted with the totality of any library or museum, no-one could anticipate the learning outcomes that any one user would take away.

The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council has set itself the challenging but worthy task of helping organisations "anticipate and respond to many of the wider social challenges by developing socially and culturally relevant opportunities for learning."

In formal education and training settings the learning outcomes are specified and learning experiences can be programmed and engineered to that end. In the less structured settings of museums and archives, the challenge is to create environments where learning can happen: gardening provides a better metaphor than engineering, as the aim is to provide fertile resources that enable users to germinate new understandings.

15 April 02004

Online art review

The Furtherfield web site is an online platform for the creation, promotion, criticism and archiving of adventurous digital/net art.

I've joined the team of reviewers, and you can read and discuss my first review — of Linda Duvall's Stained Linen.

9 April 02004

Learning to serve God online

Something with a vaguely Easter flavour. Never mind that Alanis Morissette wants to use her ordination as a minister to marry gay couples and spite George W. Bush (laudable though her intent may be); what caught my attention was that she became ordained via an online course.

Last year I cited some critiques of e-learning that contested there are limitations to what you can learn online, particularly when it comes to some skills that arguably have to be learnt and practised in situ. I'm sure it's possible to learn the mechanics of conducting a marriage ceremony in a few hours, but is that all you expect from a minister: to say the right things by rote at the right time?

I did some quick research-by-surfing to find out what these online ordination courses offer.

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8 April 02004

Defining cultural learning

I'm interested in how to explore the learning potential of cultural archives and collections — without slipping into semi-animated-catalogue syndrome — so I was grateful to Martin Bazley yesterday for pointing out a useful inclusive definition of learning from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council:

"Learning is a process of active engagement with experience. It is what people do when they want to make sense of the world. It may involve the development or deepening of skills, knowledge, understanding, awareness, values, ideas and feelings, or an increase in the capacity to reflect. Effective learning leads to change, development and the desire to learn more."

This definition isn't particularly concerned with e-learning, but it is nevertheless useful for it — especially when trying to capture some of the more subtle learning that can come from engaging with cultural materials.

The MLA site also has further useful resources connected to its Inspiring Learning for All initiative. I may report further on these when I've had a chance to absorb them more fully.

Martin was speaking at an excellent e-learning seminar in Cambridge, and there are many instructive examples of cultural e-learning resources linked from the seminar web page. [Update, September 02004: the seminar page has unfortunately been removed, but the links included the British Museum's Ancient Egypt site, online resources at the National Maritime Museum, and Hopping down in Kent].

7 April 02004

E-learning metadata British Standard published for comment

Last year I worked on the drafting of British Standard BS 8419 Interoperability between metadata systems used for learning, education and training, as a member of team including Futurate, Knowledge Integration and Seb Schmoller.

The standard is in two parts: Part 1 is Code of practice for the development of localized metadata systems; Part 2 is Code of practice for the development of interoperability between metadata systems .

Both parts are now available from BSI as Drafts for Public Comment, with a deadline for comments of 31 May 02004. Subject to the scope of comments received, the final standard will be published later in the year.

6 April 02004

David Byrne and the (bogus) PowerPoint art debate

Last autumn there was a flurry of comment spurred by Wired pitching Information Design guru Edward Tufte against artist and musician David Byrne on the pros and cons of Microsoft's PowerPoint software. Tufte argued that PowerPoint is Evil for "elevating format over content", while, in Learning to Love PowerPoint, Byrne said "I soon realized I could actually create things that were beautiful... and use [PowerPoint] as an artistic agent."

The gist of Tufte's argument is easy to grasp for anyone who's sat through interminable slides of bullet points. But David Byrne's brief essay is more oblique, and the examples of his slides available on the web — links below — don't make much of a case themselves. thumbnail of one of David Byrne's PowerPoint slidesAs a consequence much of the commentary declared Tufte the 'winner' — here's a typical example. Intrigued by the difficulty of pinning down Byrne's use of PowerPoint, I shelled out the £50 for his Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information (EEEI) book/DVD package to take a closer look. It's clear from looking at this that there never was a real 'debate' of any kind between the Byrne and Tufte positions, as Byrne's purpose is in many ways orthogonal to Tufte's.

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5 April 02004

Publication of North West E-learning Strategy

A summary of the North West E-learning Strategy that I worked on last year can now be downloaded from a link on the North West NODE web site. Our original report did not include some of the typos, curious formatting and padding that appear in the published version.

Thanks once again to Seb Schmoller whose radar for picking up these links is better than mine.

2 April 02004

E-commerce usability

Last week I resolved a dispute with an e-commerce service provider after two weeks of email arguments and contacting several third parties. The dispute hinged on the usability of the page on the retailer's web site that came up when I clicked the 'cancel membership' button: the page left me with no obvious next step, so I assumed my cancellation transaction was complete and left it that.

When it transpired a few days later that the transaction had not been recorded by the system, and that I'd been billed for a further month's membership which the service provider was unwilling to refund, there followed the email arguments (21 messages exchanged between us), the letters to VISA and the provider's 'affiliate programme' partner, plus a report to Trading Standards.

There are lessons in this story for e-commerce providers and for consumers.

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