Projects are the buildings blocks for getting things done. When they’re small, they can be easily completed without much attention but when they get big, involving many people and large budgets, the complexity and risk of failure increases, especially when time and money is limited.
This past semester, graduate students in my “Managing People and Projects” course at George Washington University developed skills and used tools to manage these more challenging situations in a wide variety of museum-related projects, such as exhibitions, events, symposia, publications, school programs, and building construction. As a part of the course, students reviewed some of the latest application software (apps) for project management, including Shortcuts, Evernote, TeamGantt, OmniFocus, Trello, Asana, and Slack.
Unlike reviews prepared by CNET or published in a computer magazine, these reviews are written by emerging museum professionals for emerging museum professionals. I might disagree with some of their conclusions, but often the difference was about cost or applicability at the start of one’s career. If you’ve been thinking about increasing your productivity using apps, check out “A Beginner’s Guide to Productivity Apps for Emerging Museum Professionals.”
Exhibition hall at IGU/NCGE/CGA meeting in Quebec, August 2018.
I’ve just returned from Quebec where I attended an international geography conference that was a combination of the annual meeting of the Canadian Association of Geographers (CAG), the annual conference of the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE), and the regional conference for the International Geography Union (IGU). Despite the combination of organizations, I’d guess it would be comparable to a regional museum association meeting of about 500 people with the usual sessions, plenary speakers, and exhibition hall.
The big difference from museum and history conferences is that the geography associations seem to accept all presentation proposals. Each presentation is assigned a 15-minute slot in a 60 to 90-minute session according to their committees or study groups (e.g., health care, tourism, indigenous peoples, islands). Presenters in the same session usually have not met each other and there’s no moderator, so it’s just one presentation after another with no introductions or transitions. The result is that a session can be a mixed bag, so a session on “teaching geographic content” included Continue reading →
This 1:30 video features a video projected on a table showing scholars at work behind-the-scenes as part of a small exhibition on research and conservation at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. It was installed a few years ago in the former board room of the historic library building and is another example of the expanded ways that video is being used in exhibitions (it’s not just a tv monitor anymore).
You may notice that there’s no one in the exhibition. I do deliberately take photos of exhibitions without people so that the entire design can be seen, however, I also take them with people to show how they interact with the content. In this instance, it was a busy day but very few people wandered in and when they did, it was a quick glance and then back out–despite the cleverness of the video projection. I can perhaps guess at the reasons—located off to the side, uninteresting topic, and passive experience—but it could also be a lost opportunity to do something more intriguing and distinctive.
You’d think historic sites and geography would be an obvious combination because they both focus on place, and yet, I didn’t really see the connection until a few years ago when I started teaching at George Washington University. Joe Downer, an archaeologist at Mount Vernon who was participating in my historic house museum class, inspired me with his work using ArcGIS and their annual conference. By coincidence, I was conducting research for my anthology on interpreting African American history and culture and encountered useful articles in the Journal of Historical Geography, Southeastern Geographer, and Geographical Review. Finally, my wife became the Executive Director of the Society of Woman Geographers, which introduced me to lots of geographers across the United States (you mean they don’t just create maps?). As a result, I’ve increasingly used geographical along with historical approaches in my courses and in the business and interpretive plans I develop for my clients.
Next month, I’m diving in deeper by attending a conference of geography conferences: 2018 International Geographical Union (IGU) Regional Conference; Canadian Association of Geographers (CAG) Annual Meeting; and the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE) Annual Conference (or as they say in Quebec, Congrès régional de l’UGI – Congrès annuel de l’ACG – Congrès annuel du NCGE). Yes, it’ll be in Quebec, so I’m a bit nervous that the language and content will be foreign to me. Nevertheless, I’m encouraged by the preliminary program, which lists dozens of presentations that immediately appealed to me (and they’re in English!): Continue reading →
TED Talks has spawned the renewal of lectures as an engaging form of education (who would have guessed?) and many universities and organizations are regularly sharing lectures from their public programs, staff workshops, and student courses online with the public. They’re also a great resource for house museums and historic sites, who can use them for professional development and staff training, or to check out a potential speaker for a special event. They might even inspire museums to record their own events and share them online. Here are a couple programs that caught my eye: Continue reading →
This blog shares lots of the intriguing ideas that I encounter at house museums and historic sites in my travels, and often they’re best explained through video. How else can you really understand how a hands-on activity works or how visitors behave during a tour? I’ve shared plenty of videos created by others but this past year I’ve been learning how to create my own videos for the museum field, using my ever-present iPhone to shoot video snippets, mastering ScreenFlow, and studying how others create videos on YouTube (e.g., Peter McKinnon, Curtis Judd, DottoTech, and Video Creators). Now my efforts have been nudged along by the classes I’ve started to teach this year at George Washington University where I’m incorporating “flipped learning” approaches to move some of my lectures online to devote as much time in the classroom to group discussions and activities.
I shared one of my initial forays into video creation several months ago on a cool interactive technique from a traveling exhibition at the Indiana State Museum and this week I’m posting two more videos which are a bit more complex. I’m hoping my videos will improve over time but I do want to maintain their “hand-crafted” nature so they stays personal (in other words, the quality should get better but don’t expect “high production values”).
I created today’s video for my museum studies classes to help students find the Form 990, Continue reading →
The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently shared the results of its research on the users of its online collections, which approach about 600,000 visitors per month. Digital analyst Elena Villaespesa collected information on motivations and knowledge through Google Analytics, heat maps, and an online survey to develop six core user segments: professional researchers, student researchers, personal-interest information seekers, inspiration seekers, casual browsers, and visit planners. This typology will help the museum “plan new content and prioritize production of new features for the online collection” and is a finer version of the “stroller/streaker/scholar” categories that are often used by museum educators.
Using visitor research to plan and design the online collection is good application, but the article also points out several other ideas that will be useful to history museums and historic sites: Continue reading →
While I’m in Indianapolis for the Seminar for Historical Administration, I had a chance to view the “The Power of Poison“, a traveling exhibition at the Indiana State Museum. Organized by the American Museum of Natural History, it includes a wide variety of exhibition techniques but one I’ve never seen before is a “Harry Potter”-style interactive book that features moving images activated by touch as well as pages that can be turned. It’s best explained in a short video, so watch as these two girls look at the book to see what happens (and whose father told me it was their fourth visit to the exhibition).
One of the big challenges in interpreting history is conveying the uncertainty of the future. When we look back at the past, the decisions around the pitfalls seem so obvious but at the time, it’s hazy and unclear.
My recent visit to the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas presented an effective technique using a “touch table” to explore LBJ’s response to the Vietnam War, putting visitors in the hot seat. In this interactive activity, the President is faced with a decision, such as increasing U.S. ground troops in Vietnam, and you’re asked to advise him yes or no. On the screen you can explore primary documents, watch news reports, and when the phone rings, overhear LBJ talking about the issue. In the upper right hand corner, the clock reminds you that time matters and you can’t dawdle. After you provide your advice, you’re told what actually happened. I seemed to never give the right advice (or my good advice was ignored, depending on how you look at it), but nevertheless it was fun to have a glimpse of the moment (and thankful I didn’t have to make these decisions).
Gallagher and Associates designed the exhibition and Cortina Productions developed the interactives.
One of the big challenges for small and medium-sized nonprofit organizations is building capacity. Staff salaries and wages are usually the largest expense and it’s hard to grow without a serious long-term hit to your budget. As a result, work tends to pile on the same people and threatening burnout. Thanks to the expansion of online technologies and the freelance economy there may be ways to build capacity as you need it.