21-Tech

The 21-Tech initiative has allowed me as a Discovery Guide to push myself further on how much information I can process and share with each visitor I encounter.- Odis Garrett, Children’s Museum of Houston Discovery Guide
21-Tech is a bridge between our museum guides and the visitors in that it creates connections between educational concepts and the real world.- Shawn Waxali, Children’s Museum of Houston Discovery Guide
21-Tech has helped Discovery Guides engage visitors by extending their experience through the apps and applying it to the exhibits.- Ian Tibby, Children's Museum of Houston Discovery Guide
21-Tech is a way of ‘hiding the vegetables in the fruit’ where the kids do not realize they are learning, but instead having fun and being fed knowledge that intrigues their minds.- Lauren Bell, Children's Museum of Houston Discovery Guide
21-Tech provides a new outlet for our Discovery Guides to interact with the visitors in a way that further enhances their experience and makes the visit overall extra enjoyable.- Sylvia Garcia, Children's Museum of Houston Discovery Guide

21-Tech Focus Groups: Using collaboration to foster learning

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Fortunately, the majority of our facilitators are 21-Tech trained, and we have at least 8-10 facilitators using tablets each day. Even newly trained facilitators are often enthusiastic about 21-Tech, and can’t wait to use tablets on the floor. However, we’ve found that if we don’t provide a place and time for facilitators to collaborate and share best practices, that enthusiasm can quickly wane. What was once profound can become routine and boring if we don’t provide channels to share learning.

We knew that collaboration was important, but just didn’t know how to weave it into our culture. So, we did what has always worked in the past – we asked our facilitators for advice. Some of them suggested a unique concept of creating a “focus group”, i.e. bringing together a group of facilitators who were already excited about 21-Tech and wanted more responsibility. They said that via consistent weekly meetings, they could share how they’ve used numerous apps and discuss ways to further develop 21-Tech. We thought that was a great idea, and quickly set up weekly meetings.

I think people work harder when they have a sense of purpose and know that their contribution makes a difference. So, after scheduling weekly meetings, we did what they had requested: we listened. We listened to their suggestions about improvement, and involved them in different facets of 21-Tech – they started searching for new digital content, evaluated existing content, role-played, discussed how to approach visitors and aired their frustrations (along with solutions) during their 21-Tech time.

In the three months since we’ve implemented the Focus Group structure, 21-Tech at Children’s Museum of Houston has truly flourished. Though scheduling collaboration time is not always easy, the payoff is well worth the effort! Facilitators have found new apps, shared strategies with one another, collaborated with other departments of the Museum, provided new programming ideas to Educators, and even participated in a virtual call with one of our partners, Sciencenter.

Here are a few comments from some of our facilitators:  “The most valuable thing I have experienced with 21-Tech is how powerful collaboration in focus groups can be… we’ve learned new ways of approaching visitors by just talking to each other and we’ve found applications that work with us and the exhibits.” Another facilitator said, “It’s really helpful being able to bounce ideas off each other and I love feeling like my contributions matter.”

 

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Project Brief

21-Tech partners study and share the effective use of Personal Mobile Technologies (PMTs) by gallery facilitators in their work with visitors. The initial three years (2011-2013) of 21-Tech are funded in large part by a 21st Century Museum Professionals award from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The project is led by the Children’s Museum of Houston in partnership with Lawrence Hall of Science, New York Hall of Science, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and Sciencenter. For more information, please visit the About page.

Major funding provided by:

Additional support provided by: