(aka “The Road So Far…”)
In September 2009, a series of long range planning meetings were held by the Children’s Museum of Houston (CMH) staff and board with the then-newly released Institute of Museum and Library Services’ (IMLS) Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills report as our guide for analysis and discussion. “Information Technology” quickly gained front and center status as a new major focus.
In October 2009, O Wow Moments with Mr. O (aka Keith Ostfeld) launched and were showcased on the new CMH blog as a way to provide visitors access to CMH activities beyond the walls of CMH.
In December 2009, the idea for 21-Tech was launched from a desire to begin incorporating mobile device use into exhibit interactions. We knew that visitors were using their personal mobile technologies (PMTs) to find the Museum and figure out what was happening, but putting them in their pockets or purses when they entered the Museum. We also knew that our Discovery Guide floor staff members were using them for Hulu, texting, Facebook and games in the staff room and then putting them away before they returned to the galleries.
During February 2010, CMH conducted two surveys. One asked visitors if they owned a Smartphone and would they want to use it in the Museum exhibits. The other asked the Discovery Guides if they owned a Smartphone and would they want to use it in the Museum with visitors. The Museum began exploring how smartphones could be used as a tool in a free-choice learning environment.
In April 2010, with the release of the first generation iPads, the Museum began experimenting with how staff and visitors could utilize them during interactions on the floor.
From October 2010 through December 2013, the Museum received a 21st Century Museum Professionals award from IMLS for the 21-Tech Project in partnership with Association of Children’s Museums, Association of Science and Technology Centers, Garibay Group, Lawrence Hall of Science, New York Hall of Science, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), and Sciencenter. During this time, the 21-Tech Project Team created a series of trainings for how floor staff could utilize PMTs with visitors, repurposing third-party apps to deepen visitor engagement with hands-on exhibits. We also reviewed multiple apps and how we ended up using them in our galleries and beyond, into on-site programming and outreach work.
But, during our 21-Tech work, we realized that while it was great to provide facilitators tools to enrich the visitor experience through mobile technology without sacrificing the hands-on experience, there is a limit to the number of facilitators able to deliver on that experience. We began to wonder how we could provide families with the tools they would need to fully capitalize upon open-ended, hands-on experiences and allow them to customize their experience in our institutions. While apps for “collections-based” institutions have very obvious content options, what content is useful and easily accessible for environments that encourage hands-on exploration, experimentation, and discovery?
These questions led to the same team with the addition of the Museum of Life + Science to submit the Extending and Customizing Learning (XCL) proposal for an IMLS National Leadership Grant award for October 2013-December 2016. This site will be our avenue for sharing the XCL Project Team’s work…