THE BRAND NEW Dialogue ALONE Exhibition

Kathy Gustafon-Hilton coordinated an enormous Pecha Kucha program, offering 19-design experts posting 20 slides, 20 seconds apiece. Beyond being totally exhausting, this program offered some highly mixed insights into the value of prototyping, the hazards of the color red, and what goes on when good exhibits go bad. I spoke about the importance of creating intentional frameworks for requesting visitor’s questions, based on this website post.

Exhibit brands in science centers ask more questions than any other types of museums, and yet the questions awful–teachers are often, overly rhetorical, and totally meaningless. While questions like: “Where were you last night?,” asked by a mother or cop, garners the entire attention of asked and as well asked, museum questions like “what’s nanotechnology?,” are pretty meaningless to all involved.

I shared examples of question frameworks designed for specific types of visitor encounters: personal framing of exhibits (such as Facing Mars), private writing (like the Storycorps booths), public dialogue (as in the Advice exhibit), etc. Download my slides here. The new Dialogue alone exhibition, presented by the same group (Dialogue Social Business) that created the extremely successful Dialogue at night exhibition. Where Dialogue in the Dark is an auditory and tactile experience led in complete darkness by blind guides, Dialogue in Silence can be an exhibition of social challenges that must be completed altogether silence.

Two presentations (by Mikko Myllykoski of Heureka and Chuck Howarth of Gyroscope) that questioned whether science center exhibits should be cutesy and multi-colored. Both these designers presented convincing images and evidence from display work and child-development experts about the idea that you can make sophisticated, muted displays that down help children sluggish, focus, and enjoy themselves with interactive content. Tamara Schwarz (Chabot Space & Science Center), Seth! Leary (NRG! Exhibits), Rob Semper (Exploratorium) and I managed a wide-ranging discussion program on design approaches for developing projects that involve both online and onsite elements. Rob shared a few of the Exploratorium’s forays into digital guidebooks, Seth!

Bellevue Sculptural Travel Bug project and geocaching, and Tamara and I both discussed content encounters that incorporate exhibits, internet sites, and in the case of a newish task I’m focusing on, cellphones. Download our slides here. This program also led to some conversation about physical infrastructure to support web-based experience integration. In the final minutes of the meeting, Marsha Semmel (IMLS) hosted a program with myself, Julie Johnson (Science Museum of Minnesota), and Bronwyn Bevan (Exploratorium) to talk about the IMLS statement on 21st Century Skills.

Without getting too deeply in the weeds, 21st Century Skills is a phrase that has gained a great deal of traction in US plan circles around education and labor force development. The essential idea is that there are a couple of skills that need to be emphasized for kids today to be good citizens, workers, and leaders in the 21st century–skills like cooperation, global understanding, and mass media literacy.

While most of the national debate has focused on schools and business, IMLS wished to show policymakers that museums and libraries connect several skills already. IMLS also wished to help museums and libraries to enhance their skills, both for audiences and because of their own professional communities. So, IMLS convened a group of advisors (including Julie, Bronwyn, and I) to consult on the creation of a written report and diagnostic tool for museum and collection professionals, which you can here download.

  • Choose your form
  • Customer Service, which helps deal with business procedures for external customers
  • “Netflix-for-Books” services. Nobody but me has heard about them
  • Carry out numerous kinds of financial transactions
  • 43% found stable housing
  • Quality Management
  • Understand that Timing is continually Perfect
  • Cost containment (needing a good state-of-the-art procedure)

During the program, we discussed how the 21st-century skills statement can provide as an actionable tool both for fundraising/advocacy activities and professional and program development at science centers. Marsha also gave a brief history of IMLS grants or loans available that support local groups and organizations performing 21st century skills audits and professional development workshops. In keeping with the program on 21st century skills in museums, I want to report using one other session I attended that really inspired me for its forward-thinking approach to professional development and visitor experience.

The REFLECTS project blends practical institutional needs with deep research. The idea of the task is to teach educator personnel to have the ability to appropriately scaffold guests’ encounters at the museum. The team identifies a “successful” visitor experience as one that is both active and engaged (as opposed to passive and disinterested).

In the program, MOSI staff showed a video of themselves engaging with site visitors before and after employed in the REFLECTS program, and the difference was impressive. The educators weren’t doing a much better job communicating content in the “after” videos; in reality, most of them offered less content in these videos. Instead, these were doing a much better job supporting visitors having their own content encounters, rather than attempting (often unsuccessfully) to coerce guests into engagement. The primary researcher at MOSI, Judith Lombana, offered some hard-nosed business known reasons for the REFLECTS project. She noted that in a region driven by tourism, MOSI must do whatever it can to deliver memorable experiences to visitors that will encourage repeat appointments. She also noted that museums spend lots of time giving site visitors scaffolding that is not successful at improving engagement or learning, and that this is a business problem.

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