Oral History of Museum Computing: Max Evjen
This Oral History of Museum Computing is provided by Max Evjen, and was recorded on the 15th of March, 2021, by Paul Marty and Kathy Jones. It is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC-BY), which allows for unrestricted reuse provided that appropriate credit is given to the original source. For the recording of this oral history, please see https://youtu.be/wNl9gKDbGco.
Sure. Okay, I mean, I came from museums, well, I previously described it as from like a nontraditional background, but then I find all these people who do this kind of work, who are from the exact same background, so it’s like, Okay, well that makes sense because I, for years, was working in theater and I was a theater producer, and I did tech stuff, and I was an actor, and all that’s you know, pretty much everything, the only thing I didn’t really do was costumes, but everything else. And over the course of the work that I was doing, I started a production company that… we facilitated collaboration among scientists and artists to create performances. And then we were doing all these different projects with museum professionals, and with other museums, and I just got really interested in that world.
And I ended up getting, getting my master’s degree from Johns Hopkins, and, in their museum studies program. The thing about that program is that it’s all digital-mediated right, of course, but also, the like, the foundational book in that was “Museums in the Digital Future,” right. So, like, the whole of that degree, is very digital focused. Also, at the same time, I was working at Cornell University for their Interaction Design Lab, and on mobile device application projects, so I was just getting more involved in technology, broadly. And one, one project that was with the museum as well, and, and then I ended up after the degree, I got a job at the Shedd Aquarium as Director of Learning Programs, so that I wasn’t really like getting like on the front lines of digital stuff, except that we had a team that was a digital learning team that I was working with on projects, so I started directing them through what they were doing.
Then, my wife and I moved to, to Arizona, because my wife ended getting a postdoc at ASU, and I was doing, more exhibition design work and evaluation work because I also have some experience in evaluation, and so, I did a project that was decidedly not digital because they already had a digital thing in the exhibit, so they wanted me to create non-digital analog stations, and then they asked to use the, the people who I was working for at ASU who hired me to work with the Phoenix Art Museum on this one project… wanted to maybe use the things that I was doing later, and I said they can use them, but then you have to evaluate them to see if they work, because, I don’t know, like, I’m creating a thing. And then I looked at it, so you can’t, you can’t really evaluate those without the context of the entire exhibition, and so they hired me to evaluate the entire exhibition.
I did that, and then we moved. My wife ended up getting a tenure track position at MSU, where we are now, and I ended up getting hired by the university as well, and I was working, I got hired, part of my appointment, I mean this still sort of exists, but it’s a little bit changed, but by the time I came in, I was working a 51 percent for the Department of Theater, but teaching for the Arts, Cultural Management & Museum Studies Program. At the time was it was Arts and Culture Management Program, but it then it got together, right. A lot of… a lot of changes happened in the university since I got here.
And so I was doing that, and, and then I also got was working for the MSU Museum, which is a science and culture museum on campus, and my original title was Exhibitions Technology Specialist, which really didn’t quite encapsulate exactly what I did, because I did a lot of work in terms of, yes, exhibitions technology, but also digital strategy, social media, marketing stuff, program stuff, like, you know, it was pretty broad. And so that that was a really interesting experience because I came into that job really focused on this, the, the visitor side or the user side of, of technology stuff. I wasn’t, I mean, you know, they have, they have an I.T. person who deals with all the backend stuff and deals with the, you know, the servers, and making sure your email works, and make sure that the printers work, and all the infrastructure works, right, but they didn’t necessarily have somebody thinking critically about the sort of, you know, UX and humanistic ways of thinking about technology, right. And when I, when I ended up getting in that role, somebody at the museum actually asked me a question that kind of took me aback, but at one point that, in one way, it was like well that’s pretty offensive, in another way it’s like well that’s actually pretty instructive, which was like, Okay, how… they didn’t understand. They’re like, “How does your job differ from I.T.?”
And I was like, Okay. And I had to like, Okay, well, how is it…, right, Okay, and so I went over those areas that I was telling you about, of like, Okay: digital strategy, exhibition technology, the things where you know, it’s social media, the things where people intersect– how, when people intersect what the museum, and through digital means, well, how are we doing that? Right. Through experiences and programs, or experiences in exhibitions, through social media and website, etc. And so, once, but then you know what, once I could answer that question that has person asked me.
I was working at first on the exhibitions team, because they thought, okay I’m doing exhibitions technology, but then as we progressed, and the museum ended up getting a new director, I ended up getting moved over to the Education team. Still doing the same work, but they were just like, well this really belongs here. Right, and although at that point, those two teams have been working together anyway, because I recommended that they should have meetings together, because you really can’t do one without the other, and they’re like, “Oh, that sounds good.”
So because they’re working, like, I’d just be working with them all anyway, and so I was, I was, I was working mostly on, like I said, I was working a lot on exhibitions technology, so doing a lot of sound, the soundscapes for exhibitions, doing some video work, as far as like getting videos and putting them on touchscreens and stuff like that, and then shepherding a project to bring a touchscreen application into one of the exhibitions, and do like a reboot of one of the longterm exhibitions.
And then, one of the things that that early on, when I was there when we were we were I was going through all the exhibits with the person who’s the Director of Education there, and we were just looking at a all the exhibitions and thinking about what kinds of things we could do to maybe update what is in all the longterm exhibitions without ripping them out. Short of that, because I mean, clearly there were there were a lot of designs for people wanted to do exactly just that, but in places where we thought we could, we didn’t need to do that, like, what can we do digitally for that, that for those experiences? And one of the things that came to my mind, pretty quickly was AR, right. Any mixed reality stuff would be, could be advantageous.
So, and that was like one of the first things that I thought about, and we sort of were talking about it for a couple years until we got to a point where we, we realized, we had some money set aside for that, for technology in the museum and thought, the I.T. person was thinking, “Oh, if I can have these videos that were in front of video screens in front of every exhibition, that we could centrally command and then push information to…” right, that’s what he wanted.
I made the recommendation, along with other people who are in this meeting, that instead of doing that, that we do things that are more interactive for visitors, rather than just like a push of information. And we got the green light to go ahead and start to test some AR in the museum, and so we, we found that we could work with a student that, he said he had experience working with museums using augmented reality, and he did have a little bit of experience, but not much. And so, when I was working with the Interaction Design Lab at Cornell, this is what I was doing, is working with a programmer. And, like, I’m not a programmer, but I can manage a team of programmers to get a project done. And so that’s what I was doing. With this person, was just developing a sort of proof of concept, minimum viable product, whatever you want to talk about, of really pretty basic augmented reality thing on one mural in an exhibition that a lot of people in the museum anecdotally said, “Well, nobody stops there.” So that’s a good place to start, right? And so we, we did that, and we did some user tests of the software, and also wanted to know a couple different things related to like if people were learning anything from that, so we developed an evaluation plan that you go into those things thinking, “Okay, well this, we’re only doing, really using two methodologies, two tools,” right. We had the survey, and we had some videos taken of people using the devices. Yeah, I mean, you get an N of, you know, 66 people giving the survey, and 87 doing the video, and like, that just takes forever.
But the fortunate thing is, I actually had of a lot of students who actually volunteered to work with me in the data collection and analysis of the project, so I had about six people who just decided that that they really wanted to do something like this, and I mean, on one hand, I was limited. I mean that’s free labor, and that’s… I was making it very clear to these people that this is, that I can’t pay them, but I wish I could. But the… I had been talking to another person in the museum community who was talking about how they’re really, there’s been research on AR, but there hasn’t really been anything related to learning, or at least not a lot out there in the research about what, what AR can do. And that, if they’re doing that they’re they’re kind of getting into the ground floor of doing that kind of research if they wanted to, but again, it was up to them and their time commitment. But I mean, I wouldn’t have gotten the project done without them. It’s just not, it wouldn’t be, wouldn’t be possible. So, when I presented about it at Museums and the Web, I made darn sure that I credited these people, like who were doing this project because, like, there’s just no way… There’s no way I would have got it done, but we did what we found from doing that, that test was that more than, like, about 66 percent of the people who indicated they learned something from the experience, said that they, said that they learned something about animal adaptation or behavior in some particular way. They were referenced those concepts, and those are the central concepts of the space of the whole gallery, and in my experience, certainly when I was doing the evaluation of the thing at the Phoenix Art Museum, which had, you know, the central goal is kind of plastered all over the exhibition, like very few people say anything about the central goals of the exhibition, or the gallery, right. So, for like 66 percent of the people who said something about that, and said something related to those concepts, that is — I mean, we need more study, right — but like that, there’s a good place to start, right? And that’s actually I think I still have my twinned, that I pinned it a tweet on my Twitter, sharing the whole report with everybody, because what I presented at MuseWeb, what it wasn’t… everything wasn’t complete by that point. So it’s missing some of the data, but, but I’m, I shared the, the whole project with everybody, but I, but I didn’t share that.
Sort of after the fact that I didn’t because like shortly thereafter that I presented, that that the results of that to the Director of Education, the Director of Exhibits, and a few other people, although the Museum Director wasn’t there, but, but I did give them access to the document, that they couldn’t shore up my contract, because it would there was a weird thing the university, where like I was a spousal hire, so I was funded for three years, and then, after that, that your funding just dries up, and you have to figure it out something new. And the museum’s underwater in the hundreds of thousands, anyway, on staff time, so they couldn’t figure out a way to keep me there, and I ended up moving that part of my appointment into Digital Humanities, which is also in the College of Arts and Letters, which is the same college that houses the Department of Theater, so that that helps to kind of solidify my appointment here. And, and that was acceptable because there’s still a lot of digital humanities work that happens in museums anyway, and there’s a lot that I still teach in the museum studies program. But yeah, that that that sort that was sort of the sum total of my experience at the museum.
I mean, I will say, going back to one of the one of the earlier things that I did there, where I was saying that we got a touchscreen application for one of the exhibitions, well, this is a thing, where they had to, they wanted this one program that was… that that the team, who is developing the plans for it thought that the program was going to be free because it was part of an NSF grant, but the duration of the grant had been exceeded, and the people who developed it then took the thing and added more stuff to it, and so now they’re charging for it. So, then like, “Okay, if you want to pay for this, well, then we can’t like also get the Ideum table,” right. That’s the all in one thing, for you, know eight- to ten-grand or whatever, so I figured out for them, like, “Okay, well, we can’t do that but, but I think I found a place that that manufactures touchscreen capabilities that you can just put on a standard TV.” And so, we ended up just hooking up a computer. It was it was much cheaper to just buy a new computer, have that one program dedicated on it, and have it feed into a TV screen that had touchscreen capability on it. By like, many thousands of dollars, from what they were going to do. So, you know, it’s like, I don’t know. I was a little bitter about like having to move from that one. Like I helped them do that, right? Like, I made this project for, about AR that like that, a museum of that particular like, situation, hasn’t done anything like that, before, right but I needed to have a job. So, so I ended up moving the, my appointment.
So, yeah but that’s, that’s a line and then like next the next semester, in place of the, I’m teaching and learning in museums class, right, now but, in place of this class, I’m going to be teaching a, like a digital future of museums class, so I’m still very… I still frequent MCN and MuseWeb, and I’m still in that, that world of museum technology a lot. And I mean even the discussions that we’re having right now in my learning in museums course are, have been very digitally-centered. I mean, just the, current moment kind of drives that, right, about talking about virtual programs, and engaging people use through social media. I mean, I have actually, this, this coming week, we’re going to be talking about digital learning, but we’ve already had a lot of the conversations that I’d already ascribed to what we’d have this week in the digital learning week of the class just because it… that’s what’s happening now, right?
[Marty]: I’m going to… I can post in the chat I’ll post my, this is my reading list for my graduate class on museum informatics, so feel free to grab anything off of that.
Thank you very much.
[Marty]: I want to go back to the AR mural, if you don’t mind. What was the reception of that? I mean it was, it was just a prototype, right? I’m assuming it’s still not there.
The application? Yeah, we… the money that we have for that project, we ended up buying some tablets to use for, for that, and I know they still have the tablets. I know they were trying to do something else with them, like put, put Zoom on them, or something. They emailed me later like, “Are you able to do that with these?” And I was like, “I think… pretty sure, you know, just do this.” So, so you… so we had the budget for that to get those things, and we also got some other exhibition technology like a — what’s it called? — one of those things that like direct sound down from a sound dome for a couple of different projects they thought they were going to have. And that we did use later, but yeah, so I mean I’m sure that app is still on the devices. I would doubt that they would like chuck the app, but I don’t know.
[Marty]: Well, the reason I’m wondering, right, is that your, in your stories you cover, you touch upon a lot of really important themes, right. This whole idea that, “Wait, are you telling me that I.T. is more than just plugging computers in?” Right. This understanding that technology can be used to tell a story, to present content, right. This prototyping work that you’re doing, we’ve heard this from person after person, right it that it’s hard for… it’s hard for a lot of people to make that, to make that jump, so I’d be curious to hear more about those experiences, like the sound dome you mentioned, right. What’s… how did that come about?
That was something that the Director of Exhibitions was interested in. She’d seen it used in a few places, and, and I mean I would think that you know, since I was working, doing so much kind of soundscape stuff for exhibitions, that that I think for her, that was a logical next step, of like, “Let’s have that, so we can do things where it’s more focused sound.” And so, when, as part of that pot of money where we bought the tablets, we also bought the, the sound dome, and then, we used it, I used it in one exhibition before I was out at the museum. That was an exhibition on “At Work in Abomey,” based on somebody’s research. We just have been talking about that how people are working in that city. And in Benin [the country where Abomey is the capitol] and yeah, and so we just had like audio of this person like a barker, like announcing jobs and stuff on the back of his bike, and so she had a picture of him, but then she also had audio of him actually, giving us his shtick or his spiel or whatever, right, so when you got close to that, then they would trigger it, and you would hear him.
So yeah, that that that was using that, but then yeah, I mean your thoughts… like it’s not that there’s certainly the, the experience that I had at the museum, like in terms of that that first person asking me, “Well, how is your job different?” You know, and, and you know, even when I was, I was working with the new Director who is there for a while, but — although he recently had to leave, or was asked to resign, for a number of reasons – but, I was brainstorming with him a few different things of like how digital can be used for, for conversations over social media, and I was showing him like SUE the T. Rex on Twitter, and then a couple of other examples of museum mascots, and you know he’s like, “Oh, we have this this exhibition about birds right now.” “But you have that’s a temporary exhibition. You don’t really want to like create something that’s just for that one exhibition to come down.”
And he had just recently written something about the, the the brown bear, that we have in that same exhibition space, where the where the mural is, and I said, you know, “We could do one that’s the bear.” “Oh my God! Go do it.” Right, and we … it’s like, but talk to Stephanie, the Marketing and Communications Coordinator, and, so, I emailed her and I’m like, “I’m sorry. I will do this with you, you know, but we’re doing this.”
And we decided, actually, that it would be a really good idea because she had, she had been working with… she had interns working on different projects for marketing to have somebody dedicated to doing that. To learning about what it means to do, to do to actually manage social media for one of these types of organizations, and so we designed this program around that were people who were interning in marketing in the, in the museum would, would be the bear. So yeah, that account’s out there. I think it’s not really active right now, because of COVID, you know, they have, they’ve been happening with it, like actually, something that it’s… it’s, it’s in hibernation. But that was another thing that I brought to the different, to both MuseWeb and MCN, and, and the great thing about that is like, I was bringing the people who are managing the account, so bringing students to these conferences to represent like what work is happening there, because I wasn’t managing the account, they were. I was just supervising the students who were doing that work, right. So they… like their voice needed to be there, anyway. But that that’s just something that I look forward to doing is getting people involved in these organizations, and and because this is where like most of the critical thinking around this type of work happens, right?
[Marty]: I’m also interested, you were talking earlier about at MSU, when you started there, they weren’t sure whether they put you in Education or Exhibitions, right. And, and when you were talking about at the Shedd, you’re talking about how digital learning was under the learning division that you were in charge of, right. Yeah, it seems like it’s a perennial problem, where do these things belong?
Yeah well, I mean. All those things, I mean not least of which is social media, right that, because if you look in different organizations, it’s all over the place. It’s in Marketing, or it’s in P.R., or it’s with both, or it’s with digital, or a curator does it. It is, it is all over the place. When we were… I did a presentation at MCN and about museum mascots and we had the bear for that and a couple of other mascots, and we decided other people wanted to know information about it, and so we did an online survey for people to who manage those types of accounts to take, and then we can present the results for that that that talk, and one of our questions was you know, Where, where… who’s responsible for this mascot account? Right? And yeah, all over the place, right? Just because it doesn’t, you know, on one hand, it’s marketing if you’re paying for it, right to promote posts? On the other hand, it’s P.R. if somebody is retweeting your stuff. Like you know, so who…? Where does that sit? It’s really about those strategic decisions about like, you know, where people think it belongs, or what the nature that work looks like, I don’t know.
[Marty]: That’s great. Can you think of any examples about how those strategic decisions play out? Or maybe, maybe … What about back at the Shedd, right? What were some of the digital learning projects maybe you worked on there?
Yeah, well, the, the way the team was working, they weren’t necessarily doing like discrete digital projects. It’s more like they were working with the rest of the programs team to figure out how they were doing things digitally. So, but, that being said, one of the projects that I was responsible for was they had just, right before I got there, they just changed their outreach program from being a thing where you take the animals into the schools, to a thing where classes come, come in through, through like it’s not Zoom, it’s… I can’t remember what the platform is, but they, they go behind the scenes of the aquarium. So, like even if you go on a on a school trip, you won’t see what, what these classes see, so they still you know, it’s still a revenue-generating experience like doing the in-class thing, but the people in class do an exercise while talking that’s related to what they’re seeing either in the animal hospital or in the shark habitat or in the penguin habitat. So, and they still do those, I know, because that that you know, show that to students sometimes about like that that’s how if you’re thinking about changing those things, like and how far you can reach people through those, those types of experiences, so… About… like I said, that that decision already been made to do that, but, but I had to sort of inherit the “Okay, now that we’ve changed the program, did anybody bother to tell the teachers that we’ve been working with about this change in programs for a while?” And that didn’t happen, so we had to have a communication plan for telling the teachers, “This is what we’re doing now.” Because we still had them calling in for the outreach situation. But like, yeah, we don’t do that anymore. But yeah, so… that that was that was that was more my responsibility, is when I was there, was just like you know, making sure all that all those you know bells and whistles happened, right, to make sure all the projects happened.
But, but the yeah and, as I gather from the people who were on that digital learning team that that continued to be a thing up until recently, because I know what that one, one person who was on that team got promoted to be like an Assistant Director of the whole program, which makes sense because I thought she had a lot of potential for that any way, and the other person was like managing all the digital projects, but then recently got laid off, so I don’t know what’s happening there now in terms of that.
[Marty]: Yeah, and now we’re back to the layoffs, which is, which is its own problem. I just love how you put that. Did anyone bother to tell the teachers? I mean it gets to that that problem of UX being baked into these projects.
Yeah, I mean and time again, you hear at different conferences about like, “Okay, yeah you can make the app. That’s fine, but you got to tell people you made it.” Right? Like you have to announce the thing, right. And you know when we were doing the AR project, like that was our test, so we weren’t really like putting that on the website or anything, but for certain experiences, or certain events, we will make sure to have people there, so that people could use it, and tell them about it, but the goal for that wasn’t to like make a thing for visitors, it was to see if this is going to work, right. And that’s the thing I was hoping to get more into that kind of work while I was there, but then I was no longer in the museum, but that was the sort of kickoff to like “Okay, now we can really do this.” And then gone, so.
[Marty]: Was it, was it, do you think it was fairly, you think they were used to that kind of prototyping work? Or had they done that before?
Ah, they had done some front-end evaluation on, on one of the longer-term exhibitions, when we’re doing that rebrand where we have brought that that that application for that one thing that was part of this, this this revamp of a longterm exhibition and when they when they were doing that revamp, they did some front-end evaluation for that, but that was like… they look at that as like, “Oh my gosh. That’s the one time we got to do it.” Right, and I was working with the, with the Director of Education there, and we were having more conversations and started to formalize a sort of program around like encouraging a culture of evaluation, and again, that didn’t get very far just because I’m out of the museum. And, the thing is like, she and I were the only two people in the museum who had experience of managing evaluation projects, so… You know, and then, and she’s the Director of Education, so she has all these other things that she’s doing, so I was like, when I was there I was the one doing most of the evaluation work.
So, and yeah, and that’s the thing is, like you, we do so much in museums, but we don’t, like, unless… We always have our best foot forward in terms of what we want to try to do, but like you don’t really know if something’s going to work unless you test it on somebody else. There’s a, an axiom in user testing of “You’re not your users.” Right? So yeah, it doesn’t matter if you like it. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s great. Does everybody else?
[Marty]: I’m wondering how much of that culture may be a small museum versus large museum situation? Whether people don’t have the staff, but, but, again, you were at the Shedd. They have the staff for that.
Oh yeah, that there was a like this, a Guest Experience team at the Shedd, or Guest Engagement… I can’t remember what it was, but they’re… they were doing all the, all the floor evaluation, and then part of what attracted me to that job actually was in the, in the learning group, there were three departments, and I was the Director of Learning Programs, so I managed all the people who are doing all the programs, but we had Guest Engagement was in that one, and then that was all, that was the people who are training the volunteers… that, like the floor interpreters. So, it was it was training volunteers who are doing floor interpretation, and that was like 60 people a year doing that. And then the other group department, the group was Learning, Planning and Evaluation, and that organization within the group was designing evaluation tools to be used on every single program. So, every time we ran a program we had evaluation. We had data coming from every single program. You know, and that, that they put money into like five or six people to do that kind of work was really attractive to me, right, but again, yeah that’s the thing, it’s like they, they an organization like that will … can, can necessarily say “Okay, we’re going to open this up and put this kind of money into this…” which still is not a lot. I, because I know that the, the budget for that entire group was about $1.1 million. And that’s like 36 staff. Yeah, I don’t know how they computed all the, all of that because that adds up really quick, right? But I mean, everybody there was fairly under paid for the work they’re doing. The, as far as we know, that it was, we knew that the of all the big organizations there, the Shedd has the highest ticket price, and pays the least than everybody there for staff.
[Marty]: Now, I just… I’m still thinking about the Shedd right. What was the, what was your favorite project that you worked on while you were there?
My favorite project. We were, we were starting… We ended up getting an IMLS grant to re-imagine the school field trip experience, and I was like shepherding that project, as we were sort of like… From the real like get-go of… like because we’re at a point where we had the grant in and we didn’t know if we had it yet. And even if we didn’t have it, you’re going to do something, but if we had it, then we could do what we really wanted to do. And then we ended up getting the, the grant for it, and out of that project, we ended up developing, although I left before it really took off, but I knew it was what, what was going to happen, was they were they were designing an ethogram application for students to come in for the field trip, that they would go in and do ethograms of the, of the animals, like the behavioral observations of the animals and then, they would put this data into this thing that then can be sent back to the class, where they can all compare the data they talked about, but that also that data goes to us, so that we know what since that we can get data about what the animals are doing to get back to the organization. But yeah so, um that was that was really interesting because we, we had to you know we got… it was one of those cross departmental things. We had talked to everybody people in Registration for all the school field trip stuff people in Exhibitions like, everybody. And and that was something that they were trying to do in that organization. A lot was cross departmental collaboration stuff because it had been pretty siloed up until that point, but it was kind of up to us to actually do it because we didn’t get a lot of direction from leadership about like, it was it was, “Go do. Please and thank you.” But it wasn’t really like, “This is how you do it, and this is what we’re thinking you should do…” with the exception of maybe like, they had… they set up a bunch of meetings for all the leadership of the departments to kind of give up- little updates on what, what you’re doing, except that like, when you have that many departments, like you can only say one or two things when you’ve got about 20 irons in the fire, right. So, it was it was really a snapshot of what everybody was doing.
It wasn’t really like a big thing that if I but they had a different thing that where they would call “Shedd 101,” where like somebody from a department would come and give a presentation on what that department does, and those were super interesting. I went on one that was about facilities. And just seeing what you have to do when you’re in a building with like 5 million gallons of water in it. And then to go down and actually see where the all the filters are that are these large-scale filters that they have for these habitats where they have cetaceans, right. So like big massive things that you’re like where does that you know, but its way down in the sub-basement somewhere, right. So. And I know that, like the person who was my boss at the time did one right before I got there for people to show them like, this is everything that we do right because, like, we… I was in charge of 25 different on site, off site, and online programs, right. And that’s just my department, then there were the other two departments, and what, what do they do within the learning group? So you know it would take a while to get into that, but even knowing that just having like a 1.1 or 1.5, I can’t remember exactly what the total budget was, but it’s like, that’s of the overall…. That’s nothing.
I can tell you about one of my not-so favorite experiences there was the CFO asking us to try to think of more revenue-generating programs, which we already had three or four that were revenue generating out of the 25, but like, I know from, and I’m always reminded of it now, because I’m teaching this learning in museums stuff, like this one reading, talking about like, if you compare with the, the tickets, the concessions all the auxiliary income, education is a small fraction for revenue for what you get for those things. And, and they’re like… they really shouldn’t have that expectation that they’re going to get more revenue from, from an increase in registrations for programs. So, yeah. There’s a few ways that I was kind of disappointed with the leadership of that organization and how they were thinking about things. But I, you know, I wasn’t there all that long, so I left, and ended up going down to Arizona. And then, back here.
[Marty]: It’s a great example. Before I forget, I wanted to ask you about the ethogram application example. Were students in multiple schools able to pool their data together?
I don’t think that they were doing that. I think it was all just specific classrooms were doing that. I mean, I can’t be sure, because, like I said I, I was there for the beginnings of those conversations, and then the sort of the formation of what that was going to turn into, but I never I wasn’t there when like the rubber meet the road and we deployed it.
[Marty]: Oh, I might look it up. I’m just curious to know, and I was, this is just an aside, I worked on a project in 2010, 2011 down here in Tallahassee where we did something very similar with a local museum, where we have fourth and fifth graders gathering data, animal observations, but the kids from different schools could then share their data with each other back in the classroom. So, it was a really fun experience.
Yeah, that’s…. That would be a really wonderful thing to do. I’m looking at their website, to see if I can find that program… [searching online] Yeah, they have a focus on the virtual stuff right now. Yeah, so it’s, it’s probably it’s probably deep in there somewhere. But, but I should… I’m pretty sure from when I last checked last year, like, they were still doing that program. So, I mean that, that was a really interesting experience in terms of like, I’ve been doing a lot of work in collaboration for a number of years, like I said, like, I have this organization that facilitates collaboration among scientists and artists to create performances, so we had to figure out a way that we were doing that, right. The process of making collaboration work, you know, and so that was a pretty interesting testing ground for seeing how that would work… these cross-departmental things, but that’s something that I, whenever I, wherever I’ve been, as I said earlier, the experiences that I’ve had when I taught, I try to make suggestions for like, sort of certain process changes to facilitate that kind of stuff — more cross-departmental stuff anyway, like I said – like, when I got to the MSA museum, the Education and the Exhibits team weren’t having joint meetings. And that made no sense to me. I was like, “This is a small enough museum. Like, you guys should not be having… like, you always have to like catch up with each other later,” right?
So, and by that… and then those meetings were like super productive and really great because it’s like, “Oh yeah! Okay, then.” And everything’s moving at a much better pace because of it. So…
[Marty]: That’s an important point too, about building those connections and the role of the museum tech person to build, to be that intermediary. I think you mentioned earlier, you may not do the programming, but you know how to talk to the programmers, right?
Yeah. Yeah, that’s, that’s the experience that I had is like the Interaction Design Lab and things like that. It’s like, yeah that I mean, there, there was a project I worked on where I provided some of the content that was going in apps, but then I didn’t like make them go into the apps. That’s what the programmers were doing, but yeah, and the same thing with that AR project. Like you know, working with a programmer and like, “Okay, here’s the… here’s the content that can go in this area, Matt. Make it happen the best you know how.”
And, and yeah, I mean, certainly that […] one of the, one of the, the bigger kind of things that are ideas that I think about with digital museums anyway, is that, like, and it’s… I was talking to the Director of the Arts Cultural Management Museum Studies Program about it because he was thinking, “What’s the, what’s the big idea we’re trying to get across?”
I was like, “Okay, well….” and I think about it for a minute. “Well, everything is digital. It’s everywhere. You can’t work in a museum without intersecting with digital in some particular way now.” Like, whether it be back-end stuff or any you know your email or whatever, or you know, working with Excel. Or, if it’s going to be collections work, you know, like, you’re dealing with digitizing collections and somebody… or you’re photographing collections and you’re organizing that data somehow. And usually in some sort of digital format. You know, there’s so much happening with the user-centered stuff, there’s you know podcasts and social media and teleconferencing stuff and it’s, it’s, it’s… it is everything.
[Jones]: Max, that’s like the hardest thing to get people to understand. They’re just not there yet, you know. What do we do to get them there?
Yeah, and then people say, “Oh, I’m not. I’m not, you know… I’m a Luddite” or whatever. It’s like, “No you’re not. You work with digital stuff every darn day.” So, it’s just a matter of thinking about it in a different way than necessarily like, “Oh, I can’t…” People think that if they can’t, if they’re only going to dip their toes into something, then they’re not doing it. And like, I just think that you have to start somewhere. And because I don’t know everything there is to know. But I, but I know enough to know that that that these technologies have certain affordances and certain risks, right, and that when we move forward with these things we want to think about all of that.
You know… just… If you sign up for a free program, if you’re, you know, people are getting on Clubhouse right now. It’s Okay. It’s fine, you know. You can do that, but if you just know when you’re signing up for that, that if it’s free, then you’re the product. And are you comfortable with that? Right? Like, I mean I am comfortable that, to a degree to some things, but others I’m not. Right. So… and, and people should think about that in terms of museums too. Like how much we’re asking our visitors to do, right, and, and, you know, museums, like, think about …. There’s been this big focus on visitors for so long, I mean, so visitors are “the product” rather than our content, right?
And, and so I just think it helps you to think about digital … helps you think about other things. It helps anything about privacy broadly, and helps you to think about intellectual property, it helps you to think about collaboration, helps you think about marketing, it helps you think about public relations. So it’s everywhere, right. And more people just need to accept the fact that they’re there, but they may not necessarily be like the most active in one way or another.
That’s actually what I’m doing the workshop for at MuseWeb is talking about digital presence. Getting people who kind of map out where they are digitally, like, and once you get that picture of like what… Are they like, are they a visitor? Like “I’m on LinkedIn. I’m a visitor. I don’t post things there. I don’t really engage with other accounts. I just like look at the timeline sometimes.” Right. “[On] Twitter, I’m a resident. I post there. I share things. I get in conversations.” Right, and LinkedIn is more of a professional thing, so it’s kind of down here, because, you have a… There’s this model that David White came up with called a Visitor/Resident Model where you have an x and y … what’s the term? I forget, but a field, right. And so, on one end is Visitor/Resident. One end is Personal/Professional, and you put the things there just to see. Because a lot of people don’t really think about it that way, right? Think about like what am I actually doing online? And then, Cartesian Plane! Yes, thank you.
Then, I’m showing people the digital engagement framework that Jasper Visser and Jim Richardson created, because I’ve been using that to develop strategies a lot. I find it to be a really useful tool in some ways, and really useful in terms of like, personal digital strategy. Like, individuals can use it as well as museums can use it, as well as festivals can use it. Like it’s super scalable, but… Oh, the source? digitalengagementframework.com. If you’re going to use it, I will say this: they have the, they have the framework that you can use, and then they have two worksheets. One is a Value Creation Model, and it’s useless; don’t bother with it. And the other one is the Phases of Engagement Worksheet, and that one is like essential to making it work.
Yeah so, I’m going to lead people through those experiences so that they like think more about what, where they are digitally, and then what they want to do, and then have a plan for doing it. So that’s going to be that workshop.