Oral History of Museum Computing: Scott Sayre
This oral history of museum computing is provided by Scott Sayre, and was recorded on the 5th 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/BiUQ6Ex82_Y.
I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to be one of the very first museum professionals to really get to dive into the application of multimedia in museums, and you know, it was just a matter of, I would say just being in the right place at the right time, and, and in, in so much of my life, working with technologies and museums is, is just trying to make use of what is emerging on the horizon, having to do with technology. At least that’s really where I started, and you know, and I think where I’ve ended up is, is kind of putting myself more on the user side, and looking back in, where I have to be completely honest, for many, for the first decade of my work, so much of it was, was “what can we do?,” and not so much about “what do people need?” Part of that was because people didn’t even know what we were capable of, and so — and neither did we! — we just had ideas.
So, you know, my, I have a bachelor’s degree in visual communications technology from Bowling Green State University, and when I ended up with that, I was like a lot of people going into advertising, I was really interested in, I wasn’t that interested in the commercial sector, and so I looked for places to apply that, and it became clear that you know educational technology was really just starting to emerge back then. And so I went on to get my master’s in education and really started to focus on just using technology for basic training, support and things like that and then I ended up having an opportunity… Mentorships have been a key component of a lot of my professional development, and I’ve had a lot of great people in my life who have who have saved my life as well as pointed the right way forward for me, and I ended up then moving up to Minnesota to get my Ph.D. with the intention of working with Wilson Learning, which was… they were at that time, this was ’85. They were doing some really innovative things with Interactive Videodisc, and I was very, very interested in what, in you know, interactive storytelling and Interactive Videodisc, so I went up there with the hopes of working with Wilson Learning and getting my Ph.D. in training and development with a focus on technology.
That never really transpired because Wilson moved their creative group to Santa Fe. And I eventually did connect the dots there and got to know a lot of the people in Santa Fe, and some of them are actually friends of mine to this day, but I never did work for Wilson Learning, as much as I wanted to. At the same time, I still pursued a lot of this. My, my Ph.D. was focused on interviewing experts who were doing Interactive Videodisc design and development for education and training, and so I, I my part of my Ph.D. was to develop a piece of software for planning interactive… digital interactive learning experiences, and managing the media as well as the content, the media, as well as, as kind of the structured learning behind that, and trying to you know, break out from traditional curriculum development into like interactive curriculum development and media management and all the stuff that goes along with that. So I built a piece of software for that, and from there, that was, was built with SuperCard. I was very much into HyperCard, and I worked at a research and development lab at the University of Minnesota, which was for distance learning. And there, I had the opportunity to build my first interactive kiosk, which was for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on household hazardous waste, but that was, and that was a huge success. And it was really pushing the technology at that point in time, because touchscreens had really just come out. And I played with a lot of different technologies at that research center. It was one of the wonderful things was, it was, was truly a “What project do you want to work on this year, Scott?” and you know, and I worked with A.I., and I learned what, I worked with interactive response systems, which I later got into when I formed Museum411, which was an early cell phone interactive information system for museums, so I’ve kept playing with a lot of the ideas that came out of the lab experience at the University of Minnesota.
But one of the projects I was working on there was my bridge to museums. One of the things we did every year as researchers, was that we had a video crew and we were expected to produce one or two mini-documentaries on what we saw as emerging trends and technology, and since I had worked on interactive kiosks, I had decided I was going to do one on, you know, I’ll date myself a little bit here: Cash machines, ATMs were just coming up at this point in time, and they were they were like high technology, but um, you know, but they were also touch screens and interactive computers that people were, you know, working with on a day to day basis, so I went out to, with video crew to shoot a documentary and one of the things that we went to cover was an early Interactive Videodisc program that was developed at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Developed externally under the… it was directed by two people who were in their film area at that point in time and was put in the lobby, and it was the interactive directory to what you could do at the museum. And so, I was there with the crew and shooting this, and the woman from guest services who had let me in, I remember this so well said, you know, “Do you know much about this kind of stuff?”
And I said, “Oh yeah, you know, I’ve written my dissertation on this, and this is an area that I’ve been working on,” and she said, “You know, we’ve been looking to hire a director of interactive and we’ve been looking for the last year and a half. You should really talk to the director of the museum. I think there, there might be an opportunity for you here.”
Well, of course, I had actually been really pursuing another job at the Science Museum that was very different than this, but eventually, I ended up landing this job, and it was probably the first one in the country, or maybe the world, to be forming an internal interactive media group in a museum, and this was this was early 1991.
And you know the, the backstory on, on this was that the Director, Evan Mauer at the time, had been on a plane and happened to be sitting next to Bill Gates. And Bill Gates asked him what he was doing with technology in the museum, and Evan had said, “Nothing, but what should we be doing?” And Bill had told him that he should really be looking at you know, interactive technologies, that they were the up and coming, you know, learning technologies for museums, and you know, and then Evan went and met with General Mills, and got I think like $1.5 million dollars that was basically sitting at the museum when I was hired to start this project, so I mean, what an incredible opportunity to be given! And from there, I formed a team, and, and with the mandate of producing 15 Interactive Video kiosks that would be installed in the museum’s galleries, which was unheard of, and, and highly problematic, because none of the curators wanted computer, glowing computer screen anywhere near their galleries, and that’s a huge story in itself of just the demonstrations and advocacy that we had to do to be able to incorporate technology in the museum.
I ended up telling this story over and over again about, you know, sitting down with curators and saying, “Imagine we can just cut a hole in the gallery wall, and we can take people wherever they, when they walk through that hole, you know, anything we can imagine, as far as helping them understand the collection better we can do there.” And, you know, and once they really understood, “Oh, we can help you imagine this?” it was, and then, once we had worked with a curator, then we couldn’t keep them away because they had so many ideas that they we honestly had a hard time getting our jobs done because we kept having the curators come into our area to want to talk about things: “Is it possible? Is it possible?”
But, so, um, so that was all happening, and we’re working on, we eventually actually did get all 15 kiosks installed, and I think in the end, we had, we had 18 different programs that we had done. And we had we did a lot of exploration with early 3D rendering, using [a very early precursor to Sketch-up] Strata-3D, where we were building, you know, we built a Japanese home, where we took a lot of Japanese objects and put them in a Japanese home, and did a walkthrough of our objects in this virtual Japanese home, and you know, we played with a lot of early technology.
At the same time, we were, you know, this is the days when we were trying to work with 256 colors, and, and JPEG hadn’t even come out yet, and, and I remember finding these well, I remember first having my first experience with JPEG, and this sounds totally nerdy but, you know, what you could do with a JPEG image and how quickly you could load it was just magical, and so I remember buying these, you know, we would wait for months to get in line for these JPEG decompression cards for the Macs that we were putting in the galleries. And they would work magic because images could actually appear, you know, within seconds versus within you know 10s or 10s of seconds and so um, and we’re doing all sorts of work with DeBabelizer, which was a tool to like you, know force images down into a very small [palette of] colors and, and that all that was fun, and we got really good at it, but you know so much of that work just got thrown away because better things came very quickly, and all of a sudden, we were working with thousands and eventually millions of colors, and a lot of this… And QuickTime came out and blew our minds and, in the, and simultaneous, all this is like crazy exciting, we’re having a really hard time keeping up with it, and then you know, I go to, we were involved with cable access, which was big in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and they actually had a group that was working with Internet there, and so I went to a meeting and was introduced to Mosaic right when it came out, and immediately went back to my team, and we’re like, “We’re dropping everything. We’re gonna… This is, this is good. You know, this is going to be amazing.”
And half my team was like [shakes head, confused] “This is, you know,” because it was kind of going backwards. I mean, we were back to like, small color spaces, you know, no animation, everything really, really, really, really limited, and so half my team was really rebellious against any attention being paid to the web because we were working in these much more rich kiosk environments.
And at the same time, we started you know, we might have, I’ve never really been sure if we were the first art museum to have their collection, like true art museum to have their collection, to have a website and start to put their collection online. There definitely were other museums that had websites before us, but we, we had our first site in ‘94 and that was just you know, very basic, but by ’95, you know, we started to move beyond the brochure, and you know, my wife, who also is in the museum field, Kris Wetterlund, she worked in the curriculum materials office at the museum, and worked in the education department there, and at that point in time, we looked at, you know, I was looking at them carrying out huge crates of slot, their bas– you know, like shipping crates of slide sets, and reproductions that would be distributed to schools all around the state and was thinking, “Wow! We could potentially you know, put these curriculum materials on this website.”
And so we really started to look at how can we package a, you know, how can we digitize these materials and put them in the Mosaic environment? And I think it was ‘95 that we put our first curriculum materials online. And that went like wildfire because while there weren’t that many teachers that had access to the Internet in their classrooms at that point in time, the people who did were very excited about this. And that was the, that was the driver for us then moving to eventually build ArtsConnectEd.
And so, ArtsConnectEd was funded… Back in the mid ‘90s, the State of Minnesota had these like technology development grants that they were looking to, that they were giving out, to encourage the development of new technology programs and drive jobs and so on, and Steve Dietz, who was at the Walker Art Center — he had just moved from the National Museum of American Art to Minneapolis — we had met at a early, what was it, I’m trying to remember…. Isaiah? No, no. It wasn’t that. What was the ICHIM. I think it was the second ICHIM conference, which was in Cambridge, I believe I met both Steve Dietz and Peter Samis there. Steve was still in, Steve was still in D.C. at that point in time, and he was really excited about the work I was doing in Minneapolis, and had family in Minneapolis, and, and ended up moving to Minneapolis and working at the Walker Art Center.
And so, Steve – if, those of you who don’t know Steve, which you probably don’t, he’s a big thinker and pretty aggressive as far as making giant leaps, and, and in thinking, and he and I were talking about what to do with these grants, and we decided, “Well, why don’t we look at using it to digitize the collections of both the Walker Art Center, which is a contemporary museum, and the collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts?” And I was sitting there going, “Yes, but let’s do the curriculum,” because I was so interested in the curriculum side, and Steve was really interested in kind of more of the traditional collections side, and then we got some other people involved that were involved in the library side, and so, you know, in the end, we built what I’m sure as the very first collaborative museum website between two institutions where we were merging their collections together, book-ending contemporary and, and more encyclopedic of the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, but we also brought together our library collections and our curriculum collections and the art collections to one unified interface. And that was a huge learning opportunity for us because we thought, “This is the coolest thing in the world!” There was one search box, and this is before Google, this is like right before Google came out, and we’re like, you know, “All you have to do is go to this page, and you type in you know, ‘Rembrandt’ and you’re going to get, you know, not only images from the collection, but and information from the collection, but you’re going to get all the books, we have in both of our libraries on Rembrandt, and you’re going to get all the curriculum materials we have on Rembrandt…” And we thought, you know, this is the ultimate thing. And then we started to show it to people and people end users were like, “What would I ever use this for? This is so confusing. It just blows my mind.” You know, “Why?” And you know, and we all like, put our tails between our legs and walked back home and said, “You know, we realized that we were kind of ahead of ourselves.”
And, and we, and people were just starting to learn how to use these resources, let alone trying to merge kind of disparate sets of resources together. One of the things that happened, and this is, I think there’s a transition point to what I was talking about earlier, about starting to take the perspective of the end user versus the excited, the technical opportunity-excited technologist position, was the Target corporation was based in Minneapolis — still is right now — and got to know a friend there who ran the usability lab at Target corporation.
I had never at that point in time even heard of a usability lab and they were primarily using it for product testing, but he invited Steve and I to bring our website into the usability lab and do some testing and this was revolutionary for us. You know, we brought, you know, this is an environment where we had our whole team, set up with scenarios, it… behind a two-way mirror and you know, in a control room. Really beautiful facility, and then we brought teachers from all over the state into use ArtsConnectEd, and gave them scenarios that we wanted them to work through.
And you know, again, learned all these ugly lessons and our developers, you know almost went home crying every day because they were seeing you know, they kept yelling, “Just click this! Click that!” You know, and they were realizing people weren’t seeing anything that they were, had anticipated that people would see in the, in the user interface. But that that was, that was huge for all of us, I think we all it really brought us back home to think about our end users, and how critical it was for us to better understand our end users, and what they were looking for, and how our interfaces work for them. And obviously I think everybody’s very used to usability testing now, but in those days, it was it was huge.
In fact, I remember coming, I think it was at the [Museums and the Web conference] in D.C. and speaking about this for the first time, and just, you know at, all the all my colleagues is getting so excited by the promise of doing this, and so that was that was that was huge. While this was happening, my wife, who I mentioned before, who’s a big part of my life, obviously on the personal side, but professionally as well, as being an educator, being a museum person, there’s no question in my mind that part of my path was really defined by her interest as well as her, her negative feedback on some of the things that I thought were good ideas that weren’t good ideas. She had left the museum, and it had gone to another job. And had left another museum job and had left that, and was now working on her own and had started Sandbox Studios on her own as basically kind of a museum education consultant, and I was growing more and more disenchanted for political reasons at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and decided after her encouragement to leave, and, and then Kris and I really solidified Sandbox into a company that we then worked, worked as owned and operated for 12 years, as museum, as a museum technology and education consulting company. And you know there’s, we worked with literally hundreds of museums all around the world, and it was an absolutely wonderful experience. And you know, one of the things I mentioned earlier, that that we did during this time.
I’ll just highlight a couple of things that I was particularly happy with that we worked on. One was the formation of Museum411, which was, I was very much into interactive voice response systems, which is, you know, the ability to call a phone number, and you know and then select information that you want to hear about, and that goes back to my previous work at the research center. So I was pursuing building an interactive voice response system as a means to, particularly for the Walker Sculpture Garden, that was really the trigger for me was they were trying to deliver an audio tour outside, and they didn’t want to manage equipment outside and I was thinking you know, IVR is the way to go, and so built that out, and started to really push that. But it, it was a real challenge, it was it was a real challenge, because I was super excited about the promise of the technology. And it was really my first foray into bring your own device, knowing that people had phones in their pocket. I’ve done a lot with bring your own device since then, but, that was, I was super excited about that, but I really didn’t have the resources to make it happen, and meanwhile, to my surprise, at the next Museums and the Web Conference, I saw “Oh!” All of a sudden, there are some other companies that are that are exploring this at the same time. And after, you know, we ran Museum411, one for well, I was still running when we left Minneapolis, but our client base was pretty small and it was pretty high maintenance because we just didn’t have the infrastructure to make it work, but the technology, I still, you know, I still believe in, and obviously it’s been fairly widely adopted by some by some of the vendors that had deeper pockets than we did, but, I was, I was… We were definitely in the forefront of that, and it was it was it was, but at the same time, is one of those things that was a bit heartbreaking for me because it never really panned out, even though I was super excited about it.
The other thing that that Kris and I played a lot with was when the iPad first came out. And realizing the potential of particularly educators and, and tour guides to be carrying around basically a notebook, you know, a tablet that they could access anything to help enhance their tours, and to be able to integrate, you know. I felt myself fighting some of the things that I had fought so hard for earlier, which was to get floor space for kiosks in the galleries, eventually, I was fighting really hard to get guides in some ways to replace those things with tablets in their hands. And them being, you know, understanding that human beings can actually make better connections with visitors and know the best time to introduce certain types of digital content than the user themselves might have if they would just had it in their own hands or through a kiosk, so that was that was something that was that we spent a couple years working heavily on was track, training different museums’ guide programs on how to properly integrate tablets into their into their tours. And you know, I have to say it’s interesting that museums are still, are still doing that, but I don’t think it’s ever been as widely accepted as I thought it was I thought it was going to be. I thought that again was one of these things that was just going to be through the top as far as its adoption and it’s, and I don’t I still don’t quite understand why. I think part of it is the training that the guides need to have in order to really integrate technology into a learning experience, where it’s typically been very lecture based.
Should I, should I keep going into Corning, and, and then we’ll circle back if you want to dive in?
[Marty]: Yeah, this is going great, but I just want to jump in because you raised a really interesting question right there, which is making me think: I think it’s exactly what you said, right? So much of the training for guides in the past has been lecture-based. Here’s your script, right? Right, and it’s hard to get people to deviate from the script when they’ve got, even when they got this — almost as if the tool, the iPad is too amazing because it prompts them to deviate from the script.
Yeah, yeah — and so much of what our training was, was, first of all, how to like somewhat mentally prepare so that you knew what resources you could draw upon, but that you didn’t have to draw upon, you know, that it wasn’t that it wasn’t like you had to work off a script but you kind of knew that if somebody asked this question, you could show how the casting process works, or something like that, but how to lead… It’s like any technology integration in a learning environment, I mean. Teachers have to do this, all the time in their classrooms about you know how do you prepare the students for a technology-based experience and then afterwards, how do you bring them back out and connect it to the larger you know conversation? It, and that’s a tall lift for classroom educators, let alone you know, volunteer guides, and we tried to make it fun, we tried to make it amazing, you know, for them and it worked fairly well.
I’m going to keep going, but I do want to come back and talk a little bit about the train-the-trainer work that we did around ArtsConnectEd that we didn’t really go there. But that was also, I think, really some pretty interesting work that that still could have legs for other people so…
As I said, we worked for a lot of different museums as Sandbox and toward the end of that, again, total fascination with the iPad for quite a few years. I, you know, and I’m sure, trying to figure out how to get iPads into people’s hands in the museum environment. Seeing that they were they didn’t require a lot of you know wall space and their footprint was pretty light, but at the same time, museums didn’t really have the infrastructure to support giving them out. I mean, I’ve always been against dispensing equipment at the front desk in museums because I, I don’t think it’s cost effective and I don’t actually feel that many guests make the best use of the investment that museum puts in renting all those devices or buying all those devices. So beyond bring your own device as I’ve already started to allude to, part of it was how do you get these things into people’s hands, but not have to distribute them? So one of the… so iPads were great for that, but iPads can you know in to a certain degree, it’d be great to just have tables and around the, around the museum where there’s an iPad laying there that people could look things up or you know, pick up and use in their for their experience, and you know that’s never going to happen because they’re going to walk away, so one of the things that we did toward the end of our work at Sandbox was start another company called iPad Secure Frame, and worked with a my brother-in-law, who’s an engineer who’s now at Tesla, who we designed a aircraft aluminum frame that, that wrapped lightly around an iPad, and then I think the thing that was our real kind of claim to fame was making it…. We wanted to have the iPad so that they could be secured, but always being charged. And there was a lot of different frames out there to secure iPads but there wasn’t things that that allowed people to hold them in their hands and, and hold them like they were their own device, but secured them and kept them charging, at the same time, so we invented this thing called iPad Secure Frame and that was actually that was probably the most successful, other than Sandbox Studios itself, the most successful museum business venture that we had.
And you know, we, we sold probably close to 1,000 frames to museums all over the United States, and actually to the best of my knowledge, some of them are, are still in place, but these allowed people to have, it allowed you to have a couch or a chair or a table with an iPad tethered to it, and people could just sit down and look at whatever content you, you put on there. I know that Douglas Hegley at the, at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts well after I was no longer there, you know, installed a couple dozen of them throughout the museum, and had content and, and developed a content management system, just to author content to have on those iPads.
So, part of the reason I’m telling the story about iPad Secure Frame is that’s what led us to where we are today, and that is at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. We were hired to come. They were building a new contemporary wing for the museum and they hired Sandbox to come in and design kind of the technology infrastructure for the contemporary gallery, and they were very interested in the tethered iPads. They wanted to have a digital — what they were referring to as digital labels — in the galleries, which again became iPads, and so, Kris and I spent a year and a half, working on the contemporary gallery at the Corning Museum of Glass, and when we formed Sandbox, we swore we would never go back and work in a museum again, just because we really love the flexibility of working independently and, and you know if we didn’t like people, we could you know, say we’re done and we’re not going to work with them anymore, we loved all that.
At the same time, you know, paying the bills and just and the ups and downs of the outside world really were stressful, particularly for me in the way that I just mentally manage myself, I felt that that was it was, I spent a lot of time worrying about what you know what’s coming next year and, and that wasn’t always the healthiest thing for me, and when we were working at Corning, the director kept saying, you know, “What can we do to get you guys here?” And initially, they were asking me that, and then they started to say, “Well, we actually want you know both of you,” and so Kris and I thought about “Well, it would be a really big change from living in the inner city.” We lived right in the city in Minneapolis to living out in the country in Corning, New York, which is up in the Finger Lakes Region, and you know we thought, “Well if we’re ever going to do something radical like this, this is the time to do it.” And so we, we closed the company, which was actually complicated and took like two years to like, complete all our client projects and, and let go of our staff and make the transition to move to Corning, New York, but that’s where we are today. And you know part of what lured both Kris and I in was the idea of forming new teams, and, and taking the museum in a… the museum has 160 full time staff, and then another couple hundred temporary part time staff. It’s a fairly large organization out in the middle of the country. And it was me being able to go back to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 1991 to a certain degree and start all over, start all over again and build a team and start to you know, I, I, Kris and I both had this Director who really wanted to do, was dedicated to using technology effectively and, and working on educational, with contemporary educational knowledge and, and changing educational practices within the museum, and we both were super excited about just being able to dedicate ourselves to one museum that was, really had that focus.
You know, I’ll go back to bring your own device, one of the things that, you know… This museum is very unique in that, pre-pandemic, we were getting close to a half million visitors a year and, at the same time, we’re in a town of 15,000 people out in the middle of the country, and so that, unlike city museums, where most of your visitation is, is coming from regional visitors, repeat visitation, most of the visitation that the Corning Museum of Glass gets is tourists and people that are on their way up to Niagara Falls or up to the Finger Lakes, and so very few of those 400,000 people are the same people. And at the same time, we would also, because it’s tourists, it’s very seasonal, and so, in the summer, we would have days where we were, we would have 3- or 4000 guests per day. And in the winter, we would have days, where we would have 60 people, and so to try to actually scale technology to serve those types of peaks and valleys, bring your own device was really the only thing that we could think of to really serve the purposes of trying to, you know, manage that kind of a load, so.
And at the same time I knew from my previous efforts to try to do bring your own device, and when I now I’m talking about bring your own device in regards to smart devices, not just cell phones, where Museum411 was really you know, flip phone could work fine. Now we’re talking about people either having iOS or an Android device in their pocket and really aiming our content for that. And at the same time, knowing that particularly people who are traveling, they have concerns about their batteries, and you know and using their phone, their minutes and things like that, so you know first thing we did was really build an infrastructure to support BYOD, and we were able to do that from the ground up in that we had you know, a robust open Wi-Fi network that when you logged on to, it pushed our content right to your device, so basically you’re getting you know our mobile experience the minute you logged on to our Wi-Fi, our mobile experience was right there on your, on your phone. And, and then we put in charging stations throughout the entire museum and developed a signage system, and in fact, little sitting areas that were dedicated like juice up stations and to make sure that the people, that we were addressing everything that people really needed. The other thing that we did was make sure the museum shop had was carrying tour support accessories: headphones, batteries, and things like that, so that that there were lots of different ways to support people using their own device throughout the museum. And that, that’s still the model that we’re working with today. We at that, at that point in time, we really had built a dedicated app– you know website that was to provide our content to mobile devices. We’re now going through the process of you know, rebuilding our entire museum website so it’s mobile responsive and moving toward not having a dedicated site, but basically a responsive version of our main site being the internal mobile experience, but still pushing it to people’s phones once they, they get on site.
The other thing that we are just about to release, that is, that another first for me, is a Virtual Reality program. And we’ve, so we have an exhibition, [In Sparkling Company: Glass and The Costs of Social Life in Britain During the 1700’s] that will be opening in May, and part of it is a, are sections from a, all [glass drawing room] that is the V&A owns some components of. The entire drawing room was, was, was dismantled decades ago and pieces of it are scattered in various museum collections around the world, and a lot of it is just non-existent, and all the furniture that was in this room and chandeliers and candelabras have all been disseminated into museum collections all around the world, so for this exhibition, we decided that we were going to build a Virtual Reality reconstruction of the [glass drawing room]. And it so part of the reason, this is so fantastic is this is an entirely mirrored [drawing room], and so it’s glass, you know. And we’re the Corning Museum of Glass, so everything in this space is glass.
And, so we worked with colleagues that I had actually met at the Walker Art Center way back in the early 2000s, who built Virtual Reality programs. We worked with them and went and collected imagery and specifications on all of the original furnishings and all the architectural drawings of this space, and built this glass ballroom from top to bottom, and it’s just fantastic. It’s done. We’re looking forward to releasing it in the Oculus store. It works on both the Quest, which is kind of the low-end version, and it also works on, we have a much higher res version that’s we’re going to release for the Vive and the Rift. And we’re released, I mean, the really exciting thing is we’re going to put all the source code on Github, and, and you know under Creative Commons license, so that other people, other museums, that have these artifacts in their collections, can bring this and, and contextualize these objects for their visitors, and you know we’re really making it. Obviously, this is all done in a way that is much higher resolution than most of the technology we have right now can actually resolve, so I think as technology continues to build forward, we’re going… this experience will continue to get better, because it’s all real-time rendered, and it’s, it’s you know it’s going to be dynamically improving over time. So super excited about that! The really bad thing is people don’t want to put on VR headsets in the middle of a pandemic, and so we had to really think on our feet and you know, we’re working really hard to get this out, so people can bring it into their homes, but the really sad thing is, is we had this amazing gallery experience planned because we have these panels that we bought, we borrowed from the V&A that are doorways, glass doorways from the original room, and you know, original plan was you’re going to be looking at these and then put the goggles on and see the room build around you; can’t do that anymore, because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and so we have now been relegated to putting the program on a multitouch screen, and having people use a stylus to navigate it. It’s still fantastic even in that environment.
[Marty]: Can I kind of jump in with a question? I mean, 20 years ago we wouldn’t have thought everyone would have an iPhone… How long do you think it’s going to be before people are going to show up at the museum and everyone’s carrying an Oculus Quest?
I haven’t seen one yet. You know, it’s probably going to be more something more like the HoloLens or something, where it’s more of a more of an augmented VR experience, I’m guessing. Certainly, certainly, following that and really interested in it, but, yeah. I think it will happen, Paul it, I think, in one form in one form or another.
[Marty]: Well, it’s funny because I was… Kathy and I were just talking about the Oculus Quest earlier today, because I was encouraging her to get one so she could play Beat Saber 360. [laughs]
Well I’ll have to point you to, I don’t know how much you follow Oculus, but they basically made it so their store’s almost unapproachable, but as far as museums getting their content and they just changed the rules earlier this year, but now they have started a, I’m trying to remember what it’s what it’s called, but it’s like an app store [AppLab] that’s, that is much more open, and is going to allow museums to easily load without having to do this side, crazy side loading develop better, process to load stuff onto Quest. Well, to Oculus devices that are not — without having to put it in the store.
[Marty]: Well, that’s good to hear. I bought an Oculus long before Facebook bought Oculus, right. So that’s been a really touch and go relationship, it seems there.
Yeah, yeah. I think they really are they’ve basically decided, with their store, we’re going to make the bar. If you’re not going to make good money, we’re not going to let you in the store, and it wasn’t that way last year when we started this project, and it was kind of heartbreaking we saw that happened. But now they’ve, they’ve got this other alternative platform so. Once we get it up there, I will send you a link Paul, and you can load it and hope, hopefully Kathy, you can get a headset, and you can, you can, you can walk around the glass ballroom as well.
[Jones]: I’m planning on it. That would be great.
There’s a lot, there’s a lot, there’s a lot of cool stuff.
So I’ll just quickly go back to ArtsConnectEd, and cover the thing that I didn’t cover before, which was the train-the-trainer model. So one of the things we did with ArtsConnectEd was understand, you know, it’s going back to the idea of teachers not really understanding how to integrate technology into a classroom environment, and ArtsConnectEd, even after we had had taken it through the usability testing and really improved how it worked for people, teachers still needed to understand, “Well, how do I…? What kind of activities can I do with my students? How can I use this in the front of the classroom as an instructor?” and we ended up developing a train the trainer program, where we selected 12 teachers from all around the States, they actually had to apply, and they knew that if they spent two years with us, learning ArtsConnectEd and how to train other teachers, that they would end up being able to keep the Mac laptop that we loaned each one of them at the beginning of the process, but they had to fulfill, this, we basically had a contract with these teachers, that they had to fulfill. And this experience too was an amazing one, looking back on it. There were times, where I sat in the room, with those teachers and thought “I’m never going to have more fun than I’m having right now,” because once the teachers… We did everything from teach the teachers how to open up the laptop and install more RAM and, and explained, you know tried to really make it so they felt comfortable with the device, and they felt like they knew how, how the technology itself worked, to going all the way up to different ways of you know, presenting it and distributing in their classrooms. But we had an agreement with each one of those teachers that they would train 15 other teachers to use, to use ArtsConnectEd and they had to provide evidence that they had done the training and give us the names of the people and, and that worked well to, to literally get hundreds and hundreds of teachers trained statewide through this train the trainer model, and you know… There was an upfront, you know, obviously, an upfront investment of approximately $50,000 to make that happen, but the, the amount of impact that we had with that initial investment to cover a state as big as the state of Minnesota with this model, because we really, we looked at selecting teachers, both on their interests and qualifications, but also their geographic location. And then each one of them had to commit to basically spreading out even further, so we really had this kind of mapped distribution model of training teachers.
So, that I still think there’s a lot there, when it comes to how do you how do you work with the teaching community, and get them to understand how to use your resources and your technology.
[Marty]: The train-the-trainer stuff with ArtsConnectEd is fantastic, and you know it’s funny, while you were talking, I was just looking back through some of my, some of my files. Certainly, as late as 2007, 2008, I was still having my students do stuff with ArtsConnectEd, and practice using it — in my Museum Informatics class — as a really great example of what museums could do to reach educators with their collections. I can’t remember when ArtsConnectEd went offline, though.
Oh boy, it was probably… it was probably around 2010. Yeah, it was, you know… I was telling the exciting sides of things, I think the, the dark side of museum technology is, is how much of it disappears when there’s you know people you know people move from point A to Point B and the person who was the advocate for it is no longer there, or there’s political changes at the top of the organization. I mean, these, all these projects are pretty, they’re pretty delicate, and it takes very little for a technology project to just fade into the past without, without ongoing commitment and support, and, and you know I’m by no means, you know, I think every museum technologist can tell war stories about things that they’ve done that were amazing in the past that that you would have to search very hard for any evidence of them today. I had to admit to myself that that the world I’m working in is very ephemeral, and most of my work will probably and has already disappeared, but still doesn’t mean I don’t get joy from it on a day to day basis.
[Marty]: Well, and the other thing, and this is actually a theme, Scott that we’ve heard a lot, it’s the recognition of the process over the product, right. The product’s not going to last. The thing that you build is eventually going to die. But what you learn from building it is something you’re going to be able to build on again and again and again.
Yup, yes, absolutely, absolutely. And you know, I guess the note to end on is sharing your knowledge through you know, writing, through presentation, through mentorship is, really the best thing you can do as a technologist is, is to just help spread everything that you’ve come to understand and opportunities that you see ahead.