The Digital Learning Network shares ideas and good practice in using digital
technology to support learning in the Cultural Heritage sector.


News blog

MOOCS and online courses for heritage

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Helen Ward

Guest post by Katherine Biggs, Multichannel Producer at Historic Royal Palaces

There has been growing interest in MOOCs (massive open online courses) over the past few years, and the ways in which the heritage sector can tap into their potential. Many of you will have followed the #DLNETChat dedicated to MOOCs back in March, and at Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), we wanted to see whether these courses could provide a platform to take our stories to a new, global audience.

Filming for course

Filming for course

 ‘A History of Royal Food and Feasting’, HRP’s first course, launched in June 2016 on the FutureLearn platform. Produced by HRP’s Learning & Engagement team in collaboration with the University of Reading and colleagues from across the palaces, we were particularly interested in how the free online course model could allow us to reach new audiences. Over five weeks the course examined the changing face of royal food from Henry VIII to Queen Victoria, focusing on five monarchs across four of our palaces.

 We are not the first heritage organisation to be embracing the power of these online courses. The British Library now has two courses running on FutureLearn, Tate has collaborated with Khan Academy, while American museums have long been advocates of this model, especially MoMA’s large presence on Coursera. With so many platforms available for hosting these courses, where does one start in selecting the correct one? At HRP we knew we wanted a narrative structure for our course, taking learners on a journey over a number of weeks rather than a ‘how-to’ model. Being new to the world of MOOCs we were also keen to work with a newer platform (FutureLearn launched in September 2013 but already has over 4 million users), feeling that we would receive more support from a slightly smaller organisation. And almost more importantly, we loved the FutureLearn social learning ethos , and have continued to be impressed by the sheer quantity and quality of discussion between learners on the platform: 35,366 comments were posted in our course across the five weeks.

I’ve really enjoyed this course, especially the contributions from the non-UK learners regarding their own cuisine and history. All of the personal recollections have been lovely too, I think it’s really important to hear stories of grandparents and relatives that lived through previous ages whilst we still can! Thank you to all who contributed!” (Feedback from a course participant)

Activity steps

Activity steps

Courses are made up of a range of activity steps, including videos, animations, quizzes, articles and discussions: lots of variety and opportunities for active participation. This was brought to life through historical recipes for learners to try at home (see some of the learners’ shared Tudor cookery attempts here), videos of experts from HRP and the University of Reading, costumed characters filmed within the palaces, animations showing where foods came from…

“I love the combination of reading, watching videos, trying out recipes, taking quizzes, reading comments from fellow students, etc. Technology has greatly expanded what can be done both online and face to face in a classroom. It’s so exciting!” (Feedback from a course participant)

As you might imagine, with this amount of content to produce, it was a huge undertaking. It was brilliant to partner with the University of Reading online casino on the course as they brought a huge amount of knowledge and experience of building courses for FutureLearn. However, much of the content came from HRP, which also meant that our organisational tone and feel had to be incorporated, as well as some of our ‘eccentricities’ like using the less-popular spelling of Sir Walter Ralegh’s name. We also had to manage the content in such a way that it supplemented, rather than replicated, the onsite experience. We wanted to encourage a new audience to visit, to add to the experience of existing visitors but also provide an enjoyable course for those who were unable to visit our sites.    

The course exceeded our expectations in terms of reach. We had nearly 13,000 sign-ups for the course, and 57% of these were converted into learners (the average for FutureLearn course is 50%). But what was most exciting for us was that these learners came from 153 different countries (only 31% of participants were from the UK) and that they represented a new audience for HRP: of these, 35% said that they had never visited one of HRP’s sites before, and 25% had never heard of HRP before. One of our ambitions for the course was to reach out to these participants who had never visited the palaces and to convert them from online to onsite visitors: of those surveyed at the end of the course, 46% of people said they planned to visit one of our palaces.

“I have loved this course – thank you so very much. We have decided to extend a planned visit to London in September in order to incorporate a visit to Hampton Court Palace” (Feedback from a participant)

Proud course completer!

Proud course completer!

We’ve learnt so much during this process, and we’re still digging through the reams of data and comments to plan our next run of this course, and to embark on planning for a new course topic. But we’ve put our heads together and collated some of our top tips for others planning similar courses:

Choose the right platform for your course, and trust their ways of working – using the combined expertise of University of Reading and FutureLearn was amazing for getting an insight into what learners want from the content.

Have a clear course objective in place from the start – the course narrative and tone follows much more easily when you know who it is aimed at, and what you want it to achieve.

Proof, proof and proof again! – with so many people reading your content, they spot everything.

Know what your story is – a strong narrative agreed early on makes the content creation much easier. We learnt the hard way and built our narrative around the content.

But make sure you have the content to back up the narrative!  - with so many steps, you need much more content than you would have thought. And during the course new questions and avenues emerge so great to have additional content up your sleeve.

Sit back and enjoy your learners’ sharing their varied knowledge and interests – watching the interactions during the course was a real joy.

Let us know what you think; either post in the comments below, email, or get in touch with us on Twitter or Facebook.







What are iBeacons and how can they be used?

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Throughout 2015 you may have heard the word iBeacon being thrown around at conferences, on twitter etc. and wondered what people were talking about? iBeacon technology has grown in popularity over the last few years across many sectors and will become more prominent in 2016, but what are they and how can they be used by cultural organisations? Hopefully this blog can shed some light on the subject for you.

What are iBeacons?

iBeacons are small, wireless transmitters which use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to ‘push’ information to devices based on their location. BLE can determine when a device is in range of the transmitter (between 2-10 meters), by sending out signals and measuring the strength of a signal being received. Any device that has Bluetooth capability can interact with a beacon, meaning that most iOS and Android smartphone and tablets can be used. These beacons can be loaded with content to be pushed to devices through an app when they are in range. iBeacons come in many different forms but are small, relatively cheap, can last up to two years on a single battery, the content can be customised and they are quite simple to use.

In principle the technology allows organisations to provide extra information and content to users through devices and potentially create engaging experiences through a digital medium. 

Obviously this is not a new concept, in previous years there has been buzz around QR codes and NFC tags, which many believe failed as an engagement tool. One of the problems with these was that users had to actively go seeking the information and get up close to tags to be able to interact, which can be awkward, especially if the content then does not work. iBeacons are the next step in this evolution and in a wireless world where people want information to come to them, they are a new way for organisations to interact with their visitors and improve the visitor experience.

A huge range of content can be uploaded to a beacon including; images, sound, video, text, 3D images etc. and organisations are using them for treasure trails, gaming, tours, sales, and much more. As with all projects, the amount of money you have to develop experiences with beacon technology will dictate the quality of the final product, but a lot can be achieved on relatively small budgets. 

How are they used in cultural organisations?

Over the past few years a number of organisations have started to use iBeacons in different ways, opening up the potential for this technology.

The Hidden Museum is an app created by Bristol Museum and Art Gallery alongside Aardman and University of Bristol as part of the Digital R&D fund for the Arts. They wanted to create an experience that opened up the building and collections to families in a fun and engaging way, while promoting group interaction and improving the visitor experience. They used over 120 iBeacons to create a game which revealed elements of the museum not normally seen, such as seldom-visited galleries, collections not currently on display and behind-the-scenes stories, all of which can be taken home digitally and enjoyed away from the site.

The National Slate Museum installed 25 iBeacons across their site to enable visitors to discover more about the museums and open up their collections as they walk around. They used different media including, images, video and sound to provide extra content to visitors on their devices, as well as offering deals in the shop and café when they were near by. It was all based on digital content that was already curated by the museum making it less expensive and time consuming than creating totally new content.

The Rubens House in Antwerp uses iBeacons to help visitors interact with the artwork in new ways, they developed an app and the movable nature of the beacons meant that they did not have to make any physical modifications to the historic house. The app allowed for a number of different interactions when close to certain artwork, including x-ray scans, zooming on artwork, answering questions and more. All of the beacons provided a thematic route through the house to help visitors engage further with the artwork and physical site.

These are just a few examples of museums and galleries using iBeacon technology, there are many more examples across the world and ever more museums are testing this technology with their collections.

What’s next?

Beacons offer museums a great opportunity to open up their collections and provide relevant information like never before. They can encourage visitors to explore parts of the building they have never been to, discover objects they’ve never heard of, or see art in a new light.

Going forward this technology could help engage more people; for example digital signage when a certain area is busy, content annotation can allow for users to leave comments at a specific exhibit for other visitors to see and engage with, bookmarking of content to save for later after the visit and helping us to understand visitor behaviour and dwell times better.

Cultural organisations can enhance different aspects and add features to their own collections, creating new experiences and repurposing existing content to enrich the visit.

iBeacons may not be the right fit for everyone and some believe they will go the same way as the QR code, but there is a lot of potential for them if used well and thoughtfully. Most museums and galleries have a majority of their collections behind closed doors; this is a technology that can allow for more to be in the hands of the visitor regularly and in an engaging way. Many visitors are bringing their own devices to cultural sites and will use them if the experience is right.

 Let us know what you think; either post in the comments below, email, or get in touch with us on Twitter or Facebook.


DIGITAL MUSEUM ETHICS | Dealing with difficult issues

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By Jenny Kidd, Lecturer, Cardiff University

As a teacher in Higher Education and a researcher in the museums sector I find myself increasingly immersed in discussions about digital media ethics. They are appearing in my Twitter feed with increased regularity too. It would seem that as we find ourselves (often) more confident now in our use of digital media, we are able to stand back and ask questions about what it is they DO to us, whether what we do with them is always appropriate and defensible, and what our strategies are for responding should it become apparent that they are not.  

 Digital media raise ethical questions that should be considered, and reviewed, by institutions on a rolling basis because making decisions pertaining to ethics is an unavoidable and ongoing part of our daily practice. What is an ethical response in one moment might not be in another. What is an ethical response in one project might not be in another. Situations change, digital platforms– and the terms on which they operate – mutate. As we know with such media the ground moves quickly beneath our feet making them exciting, but on occasion unfamiliar, territory for us and our online and offline constituencies. Whether we are working with formal learning groups, ‘casual’ visitors, or those separated in time and space on the Web, ethics are unavoidable.

 Social media especially might be considered a test-bed for our practice when it comes to such issues as: surveillance and privacy; moderation; the archival and ethical use of audience content; transparency in collaboration and co-production; the ethical utilisation of data for marketing or as analytics; and the disposal of user data also. 

Some questions we might consider:

·     Are we comfortable encouraging visitors/audiences to use proprietary platforms wherein their data is harvested and sold to advertisers (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)? 

·     Are we clear about how we will use the data we harvest [Is it transparent for example if wifi users will subsequently be bombarded with marketing messages]? How will it be stored safely?

·     Do we conform to International norms for web accessibility and usability in our digital learning portfolio? Who do we exclude through our digital programmes by using particular platforms, operating systems etc.? Are we content that we could not be doing more? 

·     Is crowdfunding always ethically defensible?

·     Do online collections recognise the subjective and political nature of interpretation in their presentation?

·     Do we have a plan for what we will do if a user becomes distressed in their interactions with us online? 

·     Are staff who spend (often significant amounts of) their own time on social media out of work hours properly compensated? How is professional/personal demarcated within such spaces?

·     Is it defensible to collect personal testimony on an important local issue and then dispose of it when the archival platform becomes defunct? 

·     Do we check that users own the images they profess to own or is self-assertion enough? 

·     What are the digital legacies of high profile commemorations, and how are they utilised – even appropriated – over time? 

·     Do we have an ethical responsibility to ensure collections data is complete and (to the best of our ability and budget) future-proofed?

·     Are certain uses of our online collections defensible and others not? Or does it depend on the financial gain?

·     Are the subtleties of our mischief-making online always understood and does it matter if they are not?

·     Are ethics a consideration of our digital policy/strategy and larger mission statement? 

There is also a question of course about how – and where – we create space to talk about ethical conundrums with peers in the sector.

 The UK Museums Association is about to launch its new Code of Ethics, and we already know there will be a more nuanced consideration of digital ethics. The Digital Learning Network would like to celebrate that launch by creating a space where people can begin to share their thoughts and experiences on this increasingly visible and unavoidable topic.

The Digital Learning Network’s next Twitter live #DLNETChat on the subject of ethics will be taking place on Friday 6 November, from 12.00pm until 2.00pm. Keep an eye on the hashtag and on the DLNET Twitter account, @DLNET. Alternatively, post questions or comments to the DLNET Email List using #DLNETChat in the subject line, and we will try and compile responses and bring them back to the list. You can also leave a comment here.

Using tablets as museum learning tools

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Helen Ward

Over the last 2 years the Ashmolean Museum has been enjoying experimenting with using tablets in secondary school sessions. We’ve been keen to explore which apps (available on the App Store) are effective, as well as to assess their value for museum learning.

One project in particular has provided a focus for our work, Digital Sketchbooks.  Funded through the Major Museums Partnership programme, we worked with a local secondary school to create a series of films showing how to use 3 apps on a museum visit: Brushes (not supported on iOS8 so we’ve shifted to Procreate now*) Pic Collage and 123D Catch. These have been enthusiastically welcomed by local art teachers, as well as reaching an international audience via iTunesU.

Beyond this, we have delivered innovative sessions that include using Pic Collage to create an eighteenth century country house interior, using Talking Pictures to create dialogues between characters in paintings and using Tellagami to record student responses. Creative Book Builder has enabled us to collect evidence for Arts Award projects. So, what have we learnt?

Brushes animalsTablets are a fantastic art tool.  They allow students to work in ways not possible using a traditional sketchbook – they can photograph, crop, annotate, edit and arrange material, as well as use painting and drawing tools to reproduce the qualities of oil paint and watercolour, charcoal and pastel – materials not normally allowed in a museum gallery.

In all sessions, student engagement has been high – across all abilities. The most common word used by students involved in the Digital Sketchbooks project was that it was ‘fun’. Using the iPads allows high quality work to be produced in a surprisingly short amount of time. One teacher commented that boys who found drawing difficult were engaged because they had found an alternative way of expressing their ideas.

Museum learning using iPads is student led, open ended and playful. For example, through creating their own country house interior, students were encouraged to see beyond the museum cases and to imagine objects as centrepieces in people’s homes. Because students were able to choose objects of interest to them, this invariably led to questions and discussion – learning by stealth. It also created opportunities to have fun cropping images of themselves pretending to sit on lacquer chairs!


2014-07-04 13.58.24Anyone who has worked with secondary groups will know that teenagers can lack confidence or motivation to contribute to whole group discussions. Apps like Tellagami that allow students to prerecord their responses (hiding behind an avatar), have proved to be an effective and creative way for students to share and talk about their work.

* But don’t get too reliant on one app! Since Digital Sketchbooks we’ve abandoned Brushes as it is not supported on iOS8.

As a final observation, I’m finding that working with off the shelf apps is a great (and cheap!) way to develop creative learning activities, and is a better investment of my time than getting bogged down in app development itself.

Secondary students often have access to smart phones and tablets, but don’t necessarily see them as a learning tool. This presents an exciting opportunity for museums – what activities should we be suggesting that open up new ways of engaging with our collections?



Let us know what you think; either post in the comments below, email, get in touch with us on Twitter  or on Facebook

Introducing #DLNETChat …

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Stuart Berry

#DLNETChat is your chance to take part in live discussions with others who are interested in digital learning from within the cultural sector, and beyond.

What is the purpose of #DLNETChat?

#DLNETChat is intended to be a ‘live’ discussion. We hope that everyone will feel welcome, regardless of their level of expertise, experience or confidence in the fields of digital technology and learning.

We would like to keep the themes of each #DLNETChat as broad as possible, but wherever possible will try and link it to what is going on elsewhere on DLNET, including our blog or our events.

We hope that #DLNETChat should help give participants a greater confidence in thinking about digital technologies and their role in cultural learning. 

How often will #DLNETChat take place?

#DLNETChat will be held monthly, on the first Friday of the month from 12.00pm until 2.00pm.

This means the next one will take place on Friday 3rd July 2015, at 12.00pm.

How can I take part in #DLNETChat?

Live #DLNETChat will take place via Twitter.  Keep an eye on the #DLNETChat hashtag and the @DLNET Twitter account.

For those who don’t use Twitter or aren’t able to join via Twitter on the day, we will also use the DLNET email list. We will use the list in the run-up to the live Twitter discussion to gather thoughts, opinions, case-studies and questions on the subject matter. During the live chat on Twitter, we will also aim to highlight some of the discussion via the email list too. Following the live discussion, a summary will be emailed around the mailing list, and we will put a blog post on the website.

What will be discussed in #DLNETChat?

#DLNETChat will have broad themes looking at how digital technology is used as a tool or a platform for learning by the cultural sector for its various audiences. The theme of the first #DLNETChat will be looking at how the cultural sector and schools use digital technologies for learning in the classroom.


Don’t forget to join us via Twitter or the DLNET email list to talk about how museums and cultural venues can contribute to digital learning in the classroom on Friday 3rd July at 12.00pm.

Videoconferencing for learning

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Stuart Berry

In recent decades, video communication has evolved quickly from the stuff of science-fiction to an everyday reality. Faster internet speeds, cheaper technology in terms of processing power and image and audio capture, along with the rise of the mobile phone mean that Skype, Google’s Hangouts and Apple’s Facetime are now commonplace communication platforms that allow us not only to hear but also to see friends, family and loved-ones at any time from virtually anywhere on the planet.

Many cultural venues are already using videoconferences as a way of delivering some of their formal learning content into schools, allowing them to overcome barriers of geography, budget and staff time – on both sides.  There are some obvious restrictions as to what can be achieved through this medium, but the sessions can still be very interactive.  In addition, museums can offer downloadable resources such as background information for use by school teaching staff, or resources such as picture packs or simple paper-based activities to be used directly by the students – either during the the live videoconference or as part of the preparation or follow-up work.  It might also be possible to offer loans boxes, so that students can handle real objects again either during the conference or in the support work.

Schools are also using videoconferences to add variety to classroom lessons. For a school and the content provider it is often less expensive than either the cost of a visit or the cost of bringing outside providers in to school. It also allows them to connect with providers that would otherwise be located too far away to engage with.  Potential content providers for schools might include creative practitioners such as poets or musicians, formal education providers such as university departments or educational publishers as well as cultural venues.



Cultural content for videoconferences can take any format, as long as it pays heed to the limitations of the medium. Lecture style presentations can work well to older students or adult groups. Alternatively storytelling and some living-history type role play can serve a similar function. ‘Meet the expert’ type sessions are very easily done, whereby a curator, educator or other specialist presents to the group, and then takes questions. It is also possible to organise sessions whereby a group that has visited your venue can present some of their work back, including stories and pictures. More adventurous sessions can include investigations or mock trials.

To see a selection of the videoconference content providers listed on Janet (an educational network), to find out what sort of sessions they already deliver click here.



Specialist equipment for running videoconferences from your museum is available; with everything from high resolution cameras to chroma-key ‘green-screen’ technology available to make your sessions come to life. However these can require a great deal of up front investment, and if the content is good might not be necessary.

What is necessary is a good broadband connection, a computer,  a webcam and a microphone. It is worth saying that cheaper or older pieces of equipment might give lower quality results, but it probably isn’t worth investing in expensive high-spec equipment right at the outset. It might be possible to get some help from your local Grid for Learning who might loan equipment and provide advocacy about what can be achieved within a certain budget, and with the broadband available in your area.



In addition to the potential for using the commercial video-call suppliers, there is also a dedicated network providing digital expertise to the education sector, and they have a dedicated videoconferencing service for use in business as well as education; Vscene (formerly called JVCS).

In addition to providing a platform, their community pages also provide a great deal of information about the various uses of videoconferencing.


YouTube Preview Image

This short film was made by the Yorkshire and Humber Grid for Learning a few years ago whilst I worked at the National Coal Mining Museum for England, and explains some of the benefits of using videoconferences for learning.



Anybody that has ever tried to use video-calls as a communication method will tell you that they are not without their share of potential technical problems, and my experience of using them to deliver museum learning to schools has taught me a few tricks.

  • Get the content right. Videoconferences are interactive, but the fluidity of those interactions isn’t quite the same as being in the same room. It is important to pilot activities and for delivery staff to get used to using the medium. There can sometimes be a slight delay between questions and answers so quickfire interactions don’t tend to work as well as they might in a face-to-face situations. I also found that sessions broken down into 15-20 minute segments work well, with videoconferences lasting a total of about 40-45 minutes being ideal.

  • Always do a test-call. You might have done the session successfully dozens of times before and the school might assure they have dozens of videoconferences with other providers, but if you do a quick five-minute test call with the teacher a few days (or even a week) before, you can iron out any technical glitches well in advance of having a group of expectant and restless students putting extra pressure of you and the teacher at the other end.  For many schools, it may be their first time, and there are likely to be a range of additional issues to overcome, these can include audio and visual inputs, using the software, or more commonly the over-zealous firewalls in place at some local authority schools. These test-calls might be more than a formality, and might require several attempts.

  • Wave and shout. Starting a videoconference with an enthusiastic wave and a chirpy ‘hello’ will encourage the class staring back at you to wave back their ‘hello’.  This interaction will immediately tell you a few key things; that the connection is working, that they can see you and hear you, and that you can see their video and hear their audio.  It also signifies to the teacher that you are here and that you are taking the lead.

  • Get the teacher to help. When in a conference, you will never remember all the pupils’ names, and it can be hard to specify an individual to whom you are talking.  So when doing questions and answer sessions, ask the teacher to pick the students to speak – this is something I usually go through during the test-call, along with a few of the other practicalities.


Videoconferences aren’t going to be the answer to everything in museum learning, and whilst the technology is still establishing itself there are likely to be some technical glitches along the way. However, I think that there is still plenty of room in every museum education team’s arsenal for this quite straightforward way of beaming some of your museum content straight into the classroom.

Let us know what you think; either post in the comments below, email, get in touch with us on Twitter or Facebook.

Hashtags and the Art of Cultural Engagement

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Stuart Berry

What is a hashtag?

Most people who are regular users of any of the major digital social networking platforms will be familiar with the concept of the hashtag; the words, either singly or in strings with no spaces between them, that are prefixed with the hash symbol. The hashtag came to prominence on Twitter, but is now widely recognised and used on a range of networking platforms.

The idea is that the hashtag can label or tag a post, in order that it can be seen as being a contribution to a wider discussion without directly replying to any one individual. On a platform such as Twitter, where many conversations, discussions, comments, observations and declarations are continually being made on a variety of subjects, the hashtag was a convention that allowed people to label their tweets within confines of the 140 character limit. This labelling meant that other users interested in that subject could search for contributions easily. Twitter also then allowed users to click the hashtag in a tweet to find other tweets that contain the same hashtag. This same functionality is now available on other networks such as Facebook and Google+.


When can I use a hashtag?

The hashtag is particularly useful both for participants and observers when commenting on live events, such as news stories or sporting events, conferences, election campaigns or television shows, to name but a few examples – it enables users to see personal reactions from a crowd of individuals who may be geographically distributed, but all tracking the same event. Most conferences and many tv broadcasts will give themselves a designated hashtag for people to use when posting comments and for others to follow.



Hashtags can also be used to contribute to (and observe) continual, ongoing discussions on the same theme. Some hashtags are weekly regulars, such as  #FF – short for ‘#FollowFriday’, a recommendation to follow a named user or group of users. Tweets marked with this tag, as the name indicates, are usually posted on any Friday and are a great way to name check those other Twitter users with whom your organisation has had some support from or connection with over the course of the previous week – this also enables you to talk about your work, and encourages a retweet or reply from the other party involved, thus broadening exposure of your own brand.  #MuseumMonday is a hashtag used across museums on a Monday; and some accounts make the most of the opportunity to regularly talk about their own work. There are also some subject specific tags, such as #FossilFriday, which is similarly self-explanatory.

Many hashtags in use in the cultural sector are annual events, examples such as #AskACurator, #MuseumMascot (celebrated as this is being written on Friday 5 December) and earlier this year, the Twitter endorsed #MuseumWeek event. These annual events often have specific themes or ideas behind them, but often invite broad contributions from all users. These types of events can be centrally coordinated by one organisation or agency, or can come about through a synergy of users with similar agendas that wish to highlight their cause. In the cultural sector, they are often designed to encourage engagement, and to break down barriers between the institution and the general public.



It is also worth noting the hashtags that are used for posting across platforms. For example, #fb is added to Tweets when a Facebook and Twitter account are linked, and allows the same post to be broadcast on both networks. Similarly, a Twitter post marked #yam will post to a linked account on Yammer – the internal workplace social networking platform. Other tags for other networks exist too, and if organisations have accounts on more than one social network, it is worth checking what conventions exist.  Not only do these tags allow users to save a little time by posting to multiple networks in one go, but they can also act as a signpost to other users about the other networks on which the organisation is active.

If you are interested in seeing what other hashtags are out there for Museums, Twitter user @danamuses has compiled this list:


Is there anything to be wary of?

One difficulty with hashtags is that of consistency. There is no centralised registry of hashtags, and so any word in any interaction could be a hashtag if the author decides to put the hash symbol at the start of the word. For example, this means that there may be some instances of accounts that post using the hashtag ‘#museum’, while at the same time other users are using ‘#museums’. This could mean that there are many similar conversations happening but not necessarily joined up, with the potential for contributions to get lost or be missed. In this respect, it pays to see if there is a designated hashtag for the subject on which you want to contribute to, and to do some research. For example, is there an ‘official’ hashtag for the event or project, are there other hashtags that some participants are using? Which one is being used the most? If there seems to be more than one tag, find out which one has the types of interactions that you want to be a part of, and is being used by the accounts that you might want to interact with.



Anybody can use any word as a hashtag, but if you are starting a new hashtag for an event or project, it will pay to see if there are already some similar tags in use – it could be confusing and even potentially embarrassing to condense the initials of your latest funded project into what you think might be an engaging new hashtag, to find that the acronym you have created is already being used elsewhere for something completely different.

As with all interactions on the web, hashtags can also be used in less desirable ways; sometimes hashtags can be used in more subversive, contradictory or sarcastic ways too.  As long as users look to treat hashtags with the same level-headed caution as they would other online interactions, it is quite straightforward to avoid complications.


Do hashtags make a difference?

The effectiveness of the hashtag will always depend on a number of factors. Perhaps most importantly is the groundwork in the way that an organisation uses its social network accounts on a day-to-day basis. Knowing what you want your social media presence to do for organisation is important, identifying your online audience and outlining how you will use your accounts to communicate with them is also very useful. It is generally accepted good practice that these are platforms for an organisation to have a more human voice than other official communication lines. Additionally, whilst these networks are good marketing platforms, many followers are turned off by a continually stream of marketing information; reminders about upcoming events or offers in the gift-shop are useful, but cultural organisations have a much wider remit, and their inherent physical subject matter is more conducive to range of more engaging posts. Simple ‘mystery object’ or ‘fact of the day’ posts can be very engaging to any audience, and will create more of a dialogue, thus generating reach. Following other similar institutions and creating online conversations with them also allows other users to see a ‘behind the scenes’ snapshot and can also raise one organisation’s profile among followers of the other.  Hashtags can play a part in all of these kinds of interactions.



Many of the sector specific hashtag events can be a great opportunity for new kinds of interactions and posts from an organisation, and if the event generates enough traffic, the hashtag might appear in the list of trending topics, thus broadening the reach even farther.  In this event, it is important to remember that the amount of other posts required to achieve this will mean that one or two updates will get lost among the deluge from all the other organisations concerned. At the same time a constant stream of essentially empty posts could stand out as such, and won’t achieve any of the engagement objectives of your brand’s account. Like so many other aspects of using social networks, the important thing is to maintain a balance and retain quality – one good post that gets retweeted twelve times is better than twelve posts that don’t say a great deal.

In addition to the raft of regular tags used by cultural organisations, it can aso be very beneficial to find and make use of tags beyond the sector; these can encourage new kinds of posts, and extend reach to users that may not otherwise engage with your brand.


Do you have any questions or concerns about hashtags? Which hashtags do you or your organisation regularly use? Have you ever had a bad experience with using the wrong hashtag? Do you have any hashtag related advice for others who might be embarking on a social networking journey? Post a comment below, email us on, or join us for our Twitter-based surgery on the subject of hashtags on 16 January 2015 from 12.00pm until 2.00pm using the hashtag #dlnetsurgery.

How schools are using technology creatively: Minecraft, Digital Storytelling and MakeyMakey

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FullSizeRender (1)The Digital Learning Network and Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums jointly hosted a half day event on 14th November at the Great North Museum, to discuss all things digital learning and innovation.  The main focus was to look at how schools are using technology creatively and how cultural organisations can learn from and support the best of what is happening in their classrooms.  Many schools and museums in the North East are using technology in exciting and creative ways so it was a fantastic opportunity to share the best of what is happening with digital learning in classrooms and in museums.

Zoe Ross: Mapping Minecraft. How GeoCraft is using Ordnance Survey maps and Minecraft to engage pupils in their local area and beyond.


Unfortunately Zoe was poorly on Friday and was unable to attend the event, however, her colleague Steve Bunce, very kindly stepped into the breach and presented on Zoe’s behalf.  Steve discussed the use of Minecraft in the classroom.

Steve took us through the GeoCraft project, is an innovative project working in schools to increase pupils’ knowledge and understanding of the environment.  GeoCraft which uses Ordnance Survey’s OS OpenData within Minecraft to help students to learn about the environment.  Minecraft is a hugely popular game set in virtual 3D worlds made up of cubes of different materials.  As well as Minecraft, the GeoCraft project uses Ordnance Survey’s OS OpenData to introduce students to Ordnance Survey data as they navigate their way around the virtual worlds. Rather than creating new virtual worlds, using OS data enables towns and places in Great Britain to be recreated.   The main aim is to make worlds that are more relevant to children, teaching them about their local environment.   Pupils work through a number of environmental challenges using virtual worlds built in Minecraft. They then apply their knowledge and understanding to their school, helping it to become more environmentally friendly.

Steve discussed the importance of bridging the gap between children using Minecraft for fun at home, and using it for educational purposes at school.  Is it necessary to find a balance between scaffolding workshops and letting children explore the virtual world themselves.   It’s about facilitation rather than direction and using Minecraft as a sandpit for exploration.

The next step for GeoCraft, is to focus on Lindisfarne, a tidal island off the Northumberland Coast, almost like a virtual field trip.  This has huge possibilities for Museums.  Particularly with the recent announcement that the British Museum is currently being built in Minecraft.

Some useful  Minecraft links:

 Steve Boneham: Digital Storytelling – from sceptic to supporter (my reflections on digital storytelling with academics and educators)

Steve discussed the importance of giving people and voice and using technology as an enabler.   With main premise being to use digital tools to help people tell their own stories in a compelling and emotionally engaging form.  At a very basic level digital stories are multimedia movies that combine photographs, video, animation, sound, music, text, and often a narrative voice.    However, Technology is a facilitator it is the story and the content which is important.  Steve discussed the possibilities open to museums to connect deep and meaningful stories to collections.  Storytelling can be a powerful and effective tool.  Despite changes in technology and visitor behaviour, a core focus on great storytelling should serve as the critical element for museum communication as a way of connecting with their visitors. Steve focussed on the power of stories and gave a few example of simple to use web-based tools to create engaging messages through images and sounds.    The main being adobe voice, which is a free app which enables you to turn a story into an animated video quickly and easily.

One of the issues with digital storytelling is the time it takes to put together.  If you are going to implement digital storytelling it actually takes quite a lot of time at the beginning to enable people to be creative. But it is often worth the time investment.  A good example of museum using digital storytelling is the Culture Shock! Project which used museum collections as inspiration for individuals to create their own digital stories and then share them online.  

Steve Bunce (after doing a fantastic job filling in for Zoe) showed us a quick fire range of examples of how different primary and secondary schools are using technology and got us to think about how they could be enhanced, using museum collections.  Steve first started with some audience participation and handed around a few ipads and asked people to take a photo, he then went through the process of using Morfo, a free ipad app which animates a face.   It was a fantastic example of how museums could quickly and cheaply bring a museum object to life.

Steve then turned to the Horizon Report – Museum Edition which highlights six emerging technologies or practices that are going to have an impact on the museum sector and breaks them down into three distinct time frames or horizons.  Steve discussed the main areas and the digital tools which are available, and most are free.  Steve started with the near term horizon, the focus was on Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and mainly focused on how schools are using ipads/tablets particularly looking at the computing curriculum, and the ideas behind merging digital literacy, computer science and information technology. 

  • Padlet: an online noticeboard or ideas wall.  A useful tool for crowdsourcing ideas.
  • Mozilla X-ray goggles: allows you to see the building blocks that make up websites and then adapt them to make something new.  A really useful tool for critical thinking.  Steve used the example of the BBC News website to get students to identify what is real and what is fake.  
  • Mozilla AppMaker: Appmaker is an free Webmaker tool for creating mobile app without learning to code.  Could be used for students to design a new museum app.
  • Mozilla popcorn: Popcorn Maker is a video editing platform to easily remix web video, audio and images to create a new online video.

Steve then moved onto the theme of Electronic publishing, identified in the Horizon report  as having an adoption horizon of Two to Three Years.


Finally Steve discussed the Natural user interfaces which the Horizon report believes to have a time to adoption horizon of four to five years.  The tool which captured the room’s imagination was Makey Makey.  

All in all, it was a really interesting afternoon, lots of food for thought!

New Event: Digital Learning and the First World War

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DLNET’s winter event will be held at the Imperial War Museums on the 12th December 2014.  The theme this year is very timely, focusing on the First World War.   The day will explore how different organisations have developed digital learning content connected to the First World War.  The case studies will look discuss a range of content for formal and informal audiences who will be sharing information about their First World War projects, but will also be exploring how these could be applied to wider subject matter in the future. 

Case studies include:

  • Charlie Keitch, Digital Learning Officer, Imperial War Museums: Developing Imperial War Museums online resources for schools
  • David Avery, Senior Web Content Developer, Learning Team, British Library: Uniting collections from across Europe: building the British Library’s World War One learning website
  • Simon Bendry, Centenary Battlefields Tour Programme Coordinator on what teachers want from resources on the First World War
  • Robin Clutterbuck, Project Manager, Gallipoli Association:  Gallipoli Centenary Education project
  • Gill Parkes, Principal Archivist, Durham Record Office:  Developing the Durham at War project

The event will take place at IWM London and the day will include the opportunity to visit their ground-breaking new galleries and discover how IWM has used digital technologies to help interpret the First World War.

Tickets are on sale now and available via eventbrite


How can Museums support the Computing Curriculum?

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© Kevin G.Vega

© Kevin G.Vega

10 PRINT “Hello World!”

With these simple steps so began many people’s first steps in computing…


The National Curriculum has undergone some fairly radical changes over the previous couple of years. One of the most shouted about changes has been the renaming of ICT to Computing. This change could not have come soon enough. From my time at school, it usually appeared that we were always two steps ahead of what we were being taught. While the teacher was desperately trying to get us to complete our Excel worksheets, we were playing with the network storage, allocating ourselves more space for downloading albums from Napster. This appears to have changed little since I left and the gaping skills gap left by an inadequate IT curriculum meant that employers were beginning to notice that they could not get developers to create the products that 21st Century economy was crying out for. Campaigns such as the much maligned, “Year of Code”, championed by a group with no knowledge of coding, have run into problems getting the nation to be programmers, so where do museums and heritage organisations fit into supporting schools and teachers to deliver the new curriculum?

These problems were also compounded by the opaqueness of the technology being used. Physically, as devices became smaller, so did components meaning that self-repair was impossible and with code, a valuable commodity, barriers to accessing and manipulating it were put in place by developers keen to protect their intellectual copyright but also by consumers’ desires to get products that “just work”. Open Source and growth of the maker and hack movement have gone some way to changing this. They promote taking things apart, re-arranging them and creativity as something which promotes understanding, ownership and power to the user. All these effects are important for educating students – as with all things, code is never neutral. It is created and shaped by individuals and organisations with goals in mind and by picking apart their workings, we can regain our own control over our devices, communications and tools, to shape how we live and understand our lives.

The change of the name of study to Computing indicates a new direction. A number of high profile research papers outlined the problem facing educators and businesses, such as Nesta’s “Next Gen” and the government’s “Designing the Digital Economy” reports. Gone is the endless learning of Microsoft Office, now replaced by the study of computational thinking and building software and programs from scratch (and sometimes with Scratch!). Although explaining algorithms to KS1 students might sound like an impossible task, the new curriculum has opened up a whole range of opportunities for museums, science centres and heritage sites to use their collections in exciting ways, to tell new stories and to teach new skills.

Since 2008’s Decode exhibition at the V&A, our learning programmes have incorporated coding and programming in workshops. The exhibition, featuring digital artists’ work, looked at code as the raw material of digital design. Since then we have worked with families, schools, young people and adults to look at the building blocks of our digital lives. Exploring cross disciplinary collaborative making and open source practices have opened a new avenues to explore not only for our online work but also for our onsite public events.


MaKey Makey workshops with Codasign at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

MaKey Makey workshops with Codasign at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum, London


This September, as part of our Digital Design Weekend and Disobedient Objects exhibition, we worked with families to create their own interactive protest signs. Using the physical interface, MaKey MaKey, families created simple instructions in the graphical interface of Scratch which were triggered when touching or waving their banners and signs. Mixing physical interaction and making with coding can be a powerful way to reinforce key concepts such as inputs and outputs, logic and iteration. The Museum of London’s school programme has also worked with primary schools to create interactives for their school that tell the story of Roman London. Mixing object based learning, craft and computing offers up chances to create engaging and unexpected outputs. Students could create a centurion helmet out of tinfoil which when worn would then tell you the story of life in the Roman army.


An example Sketchpatch programme for creating a generative artwork

An example Sketchpatch programme for creating a generative artwork


We are fortunate to have an excellent collection of digital art at the V&A. The range of works stretch back to the 1960’s and chart the development not only of a new digital aesthetic but also evolving technologies. In our Digital Design: Code workshop, students visit our archives and hear a talk from a curator before heading into a studio with artist Antonio Fernandes to use to create their own generative art in Processing. Crossing disciplines, outcomes and approaches is key to bringing a richness to the subject. Those who may not have an interest in engineering or computer science may find a use for the subject in other ways. The workshop supports the curriculum by introducing the Processing, an easy to learn text based language developed especially with artists and designers in mind.

With all this in mind, it is worth thinking about other areas of study in the curriculum. It is impossible to expect a whole generation to grow up with the skills needed to slip into engineering and computing careers through changing their schooling, though it will go some way to help. Teaching digital literacy is still a vital part of understanding the contemporary world and digital media. Skills such as e-safety, correct attributions, validating and evaluating online content are essential in workplaces and for equipping students with the skills needed to make decisions elsewhere in their lives. Placing a heavy emphasis on coding and programming makes a determined political point but this shouldn’t be at the expense of immediately relevant and practical instruction. Likewise, discovery and creativity should be at the centre of the curriculum and museums can play a large role in promoting curiosity and experimentation.

Have you come across any examples of the new curriculum being explored in museums? If so, let us know in the comments below. If you are looking to explore teaching coding or digital craft sessions in your organisation, take a look at some of these sites for inspiration:

Code Club
Computing at School
Make Magazine
Creative Applications
BBC Bitesize

Museum Studies and Digital Learning: A Work Placement

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One of the final parts of the Museum Studies MA at University of Leicester is a two month work placement in a museum or gallery. It is an important part of the course, as it is a chance for all students to put into practice what they have been learning about all year and get some hands on experience. I have been fortunate enough to carry out my placement at the Imperial War Museum London as part of the Digital Learning team.

Throughout my MA, I have been drawn to learning more about how museums are using digital technology and the different conversations that are happening within the sector as to how best it can be employed now and in the future. A placement with a Digital Learning team interested me as I wanted to learn more about how museums are reacting to the changing learning habits of children today and the ways that an institution such as the IWM is using technology to engage with them. Digital Learning is also an area that is developing quickly and something I would like to pursue as part of my career.

During my placement I have worked on a variety of different projects; I have researched and created an online learning resource on the Gallipoli Campaign (hopefully going live soon), helped with other resources particularly one on Fighting in the Trenches during the First World War, assisted in developing a new format of online learning resources based around enquiry questions, worked on resources for a BBC News School Report project, networked with various different people and departments across the museum as well as being part of other projects away from digital learning. This was a lot of work to squeeze into an 8 week placement and has given me invaluable experience into working on digital learning projects.

© IWM (Q 13392)

An image from the upcoming Gallipoli resource. © IWM (Q 13392)

I think one of the most important concepts I have learnt through this placement is that the emphasis here is not on digital but on learning. Digital technology is simply a tool through which learning can occur and the ‘digital’ in digital learning is more than just an indication of the technology in use, it is a reference to the type of learning that is happening. Digital technology has changed the way that people learn; they now expect information to be immediate, in small concise chunks that give control of learning to the user. Rather than being simply a transfer of knowledge from museum to student, it becomes more of a journey where learners become more empowered and active pursuers of knowledge. The public now demand more control over their learning and leisure time and museums are responding to this by providing educational material that moves away from more conventional learning models using their collections and hopefully encouraging more people to visit the museum.

For me this has been one of the most enjoyable and successful work placements that I have undertaken over the last few years. One of the main things which I think has made this placement such a positive experience, and is a key part of all such work placements within museums, is the planning, discussion and support given throughout the role to ensure an understanding of the tasks to be undertaken and that the outcomes are mutually beneficial for both .

On my first day, I sat down with Charlie Keitch, the Digital Learning Officer at Imperial War Museums who acted as my manager throughout my placement and we met regularly to discuss projects and update on progress. Charlie gave me advice on work when I needed but has also allowed me to work independently. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at IWM and I am certain that this experience and the skills that I have learnt will have a profound effect on the rest of my career.

Digital Informal Learning

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Stuart Berry

Welcome to the Summer Holiday edition of the DLNET blog!  At this time of year most museums, heritage sites and arts venues traditionally turn to a wealth of family-friendly informal learning activities to entice visitors inside, add value to their visit and of course to continue to promote and encourage engagement with the organisations’ collections and core values.  Visitors don’t necessarily do informal learning activities with the intention of learning something, but often with the intent of enjoying themselves.  This short post is intended as a very quick overview of the sorts of ways that the cultural sector can engage with informal learners using digital media.


Downloadable Resources

This is perhaps the most straightforward example of digital informal learning, although it is only digital in that it is simply delivered online for people to download and print.  Colouring-in, word-searches, dot-to-dots, mazes and puzzles are all relatively easily created.  They can be linked to whatever subject or content you choose, and made available through your website to be downloaded and used by whichever audience you intend.  The scope here is virtually endless, activities could be rainy-day activities for families to do together at before or after a visit.  Activities could be stand-alone, or might be only achievable when done in conjunction with a visit.  They might involve going out and exploring the landscape.  This is a potentially low-tech solution, delivered through a high-tech medium.  Just make sure you have copyright permission for any images or any other copyrightable aspect of your resource.

The Woodland Trust’s Nature Detectives site is a great example of how to make this work; also, sign-up to their e-newsletter and you’ll be notified when their resources change with the seasons:


Online Games

Simple online games are something that we are all familiar with.  Some can be very simple and straightforward, and some can be more complicated.  Online games can often double up and be used in the classroom, but can also be used at home on a laptop or desktop, and increasingly websites are becoming more mobile-friendly for gaming on the move.  Often aimed at younger users, the games will involve simple animations and puzzles.

The My Learning website has a wealth of resources from the museums, libraries and archives sector primarily aimed at formal learners, but many of the games are fun and might while away a few educational minutes have a look at:

Beyond the sector, the BBC does a good job of this too, have a look at their Cbeebies pages for examples of educational TV-show tie-ins:


Smartphone Apps

Smartphones and the apps we use have a wealth of potential.  However, it is true to say that the most popular apps are the most simple; social networks such as Facebook and Twitter make use of photographic and GPS technology that is built-in to smartphones.  Many smartphone games make use of gyroscopes, but just as many do not.  The unique feature of the smartphone is often it’s ability to access the internet from virtually anywhere, although there are many apps that do not require an active internet connection.

One of my favourite examples of an arts related smartphone app is the Tate’s ‘Top Trumps’-style app that has players hunting for imagined characteristics of various pieces around the galleries:

National Museums Scotland’s Capture the Museum is a team game that is played at special events hosted at the Museum:

It is also possible to use third party apps or concepts to enable people to engage with a site or a collection.  QR codes were once touted as an easy way to link information and media online with physical objects and spaces.  This hasn’t really taken off and QR codes do have their critics, but for organisations without the budget to create their own app, there might be some imaginative ways that QR codes can still be used to great effect.  Geo-caching also has similar potential, and is already embraced by some outdoor sites.


What Else?

This short overview only really takes in the obvious ways that informal learners are being engaged, please let us know if there are any more case-studies or examples of good practice within this sector or elsewhere…

Our next DLNET surgery will be on the subject of digital informal learning.  It will take place from 12.00pm until 2.00pm on Friday 5 September.  Join the DLNET email discussion list, check our Twitter feed, or Like our Facebook page for more details.

Does Visitor Generated Content have a place in Learning Experiences?

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The main focus of my PhD research, just completed, was to investigate how digital technologies in museums are impacting on visitor engagement.  I specifically looked at the use of digital visitor generated content and considered it’s impact on visitor engagement with museum content.  Here I share some details of my research and ask how this research could have a bearing on digital learning in cultural heritage.

My time on the DLNET committee has been a bit quiet of late, as I have been focusing on my PhD.  I’m pleased to say that of the 20th June 2014, I passed my PhD Viva (with minor corrections) and I’m now Dr Claire Ross! 

I thought it would be helpful to share some details of my PhD research and to start asking questions about how this research could have a bearing on digital learning in cultural heritage.

For the past three years I have been working on a PhD in Digital Humanities in the Centre for Digital HumanitiesDepartment of Information StudiesUniversity College London

The overarching aim of my work was to investigate how digital visitor generated content systems in museum spaces impact on visitor engagement.  Concentrating on the complexities of visitor engagement and digital visitor generated content; investigating whether or not, and how, digital visitor generated content can impact on visitor engagement with museum content. 

Museums have a long history of involving visitors in contributing content to museum collections and exhibitions, primarily as a means to gather feedback and assess effectiveness of exhibitions through the use of visitor books and feedback forms.  Most recently museums are encouraging visitors to create their own experiences and interpretations of museum objects at a deeper level.  This notion of visitor-generated content has taken a new dimension with the advent of social media, and visitors increasingly expect to be actively involved in their own individual experiences rather than passively consuming museum content.

I have used two key case studies to illustrate my research: QRator and Social Interpretation.

The QRator project  is in the Grant Museum of Zoology, its a collaborative project between the Centre for Digital Humanities (UCLDH), UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), and UCL Museums and Public Engagement.  QRator is a project that allows museum visitors to get involved in conversations about the way that museums operate and the role of science in society today. DLNET interviewed the Grant Museum Manger, Jack Ashby about the QRator project in 2012.

The Social Interpretation project at IWM London and IWM North was a Research and Development exercise joint funded by the NESTA / Arts Council / AHRC digital R&D Fund, and Imperial War Museums (IWM). At its heart, it aimed to bring successful social interactions already found online and apply them across IWM’s collections – making social objects out of museums objects.

In a nutshell, my PhD discovered that Digital Visitor Generated Content on the whole is a good thing because it allows visitors an equal voice in the museum.  But I do wonder how it could be used in aspects of digital learning.  The idea behind digital visitor generated content is that it helps museums to become more open and diverse, to encourage debate and present a range of different voices and perspectives.  

  • But does inviting visitor generated content really help fulfil these aims?

  • How can digital visitor generated content work with formal learning resources?  

  • Should visitor voices be encouraged – what are the learning outcomes?

  • How do we measure success in terms of VGC and learning? Numbers, quality, debate, what?

I would love to hear your thoughts on how digital visitor voices could work with learning experiences. 

Digital Learning at Museums and the Web, Baltimore

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Martin Bazley

Early in April I attended the 18th annual Museums and the Web conference in Baltimore. A wide range of museum staff from all over the world both attended and presented at the conference and there was a definite learning strand that I was able to follow throughout the four days that I was there. Here are just some of the things I found out about.

Online Learning Games

The very first workshop I attended, presented by David Schaller, tried to answer the important question: ‘Why do Educational Games Suck?’ Schaller has a lot of experience developing online learning games for a variety of different institutions and took us through the different design elements of games. At the heart of the question is the link between what a player does in a game (the games mechanics) and the museum content you are trying to present. In many games this content is extrinsic, or separate, to the game mechanics, so the museum content populates the game but is not what the game is about. Schaller argued, however, that if you can make the content you are presenting intrinsic to the game mechanics, so the game is actually about the content, players will actively learn through doing. They will have no choice but to engage with your content as it is integrated into the gameplay. Unfortunately, this is much harder to achieve. One example is WolfQuest, which Schaller’s company eduweb developed for Minnesota Zoo. In this immersive, 3D wildlife simulation game players learn about wolf ecology by living the life of a wild wolf in Yellowstone National Park and as Wolf behaviour is defined by a clear set of rules they were able to integrate it into the gameplay.


Much has been written about MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, over the last few years. One of the busiest sessions I attended was looking at how three museum learning departments had used MOOCs to roll out new teacher’s CPD programmes in collaboration with Coursera. A key theme within all of these presentations was the importance of taking advantage of the platform to create the right experience for the audience. One example was MoMAS ‘Art and Inquiry: Museum Teaching Strategies For Your Classroom’ course. This was developed by looking at the potential that the platform offered and comparing this to what was popular in their onsite CPD programmes. For example, MoMA knew that teachers valued talking to each other during onsite CPD and so they decided to make the most of the online forums offered by Cousera and participants were required to post in these areas, share their thoughts and peer assess each other’s final projects. They found that one of the real benefits of providing the MOOC was that it was an excellent way to drive audiences to their wider web content and 98% of people who participated in MoMAs first online course said that they found the MoMA learning website helpful. When you take into account that 32,000 people had registered to participate in the American Museum of Natural History’s MOOCs there is clearly the potential to drive a lot of people to your wider learning content. It’s worth remembering, however, that of those 32,000 participants, less than 300 had registered with Coursera’s Signature Tack option, which costs between $30-$100 and enables participants to earn a Verified Certificate for completing their course, so whilst you might be able to drive people to your content, you won’t find yourselves making a lot of money.


Tiki-Toki and Vine

Whilst very few organisations are going to have the time and resources to produce a MOOC, it was very interesting to see examples of Museums using freely available platforms to create learning content. One of these which I had not seen before is Tiki-Toki, a web-based piece of software for creating interactive timelines. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery has used this to plot their existing educational resources onto a timeline for teachers, stretching from 750 BC to the modern day and linking back to resources available on their own website.

I also attended a brilliant session which explored the promise of short video apps for museums, particularly Vine, a mobile app for sharing six-second, looping videos. Examples here were provided by the Cleveland Museum of Art, who have been using vine to illustrate learning programmes; Allie Burness, a museum writer and content creator from Australia and Chad Weinard from the North Carolina Museum of Art where they experimented with Vine in relation to their 0-60 exhibition. It’s definitely something I will be exploring more.

Digital Heritage Education

However, I found the most interesting element of Museums and the Web were the various discussions which took place around ‘The Baltimore Principles’. These conversations were trying to define a common vision for digital heritage education and professional development and involved a total of three workshops throughout the conference. However, these conversations tended to focus on ‘museum technology leaders’ and , for me, the question needs to be opened up to consider how we can improve the digital skills of all staff, both new and old, to enable them to work with ‘digital’ within museums. One example of this in action is Imperial War Museums’ Computer Club, which also featured at the conference, and which launched in 2013 with the aim of getting staff excited about digital technology and raising their skills. Carolyn Royston and Simon Delafond ran a session exploring how other organisations could set up their own versions and I think more initiatives like this would definitely be a step in the right direction.

Facebook Surgery

If you would like to discuss any points raised in this post or if you have any questions about this year’s Museums and the Web, members of the DLNET committee will be running a Facebook Surgery on the subject on Friday 02nd May from 12.00pm until 13.00pm. Follow us at to get involved.




Formal Digital Learning Resources in Gallery, Online and in the Classroom conference

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DLNET met up at Museum of London last Friday at “Formal Digital Learning Resources in Gallery, Online and in the Classroom” to share some of the latest work happening with digital learning resources in museums and heritage sites in Britain. From the most visited museum in the country working with games companies to museums with no specialist digital staff building a website, everyone was asking the same question: How can we best support teachers using our resources to create inspiring lessons?


From the source…

Karen Heath – Primary School Teacher - presentation

Samantha Broad – Secondary School Teacher - presentation


To kick the day off teachers Karen Heath and Samantha Broad came to set a context of what teachers find helpful from museums in developing lessons. Simplicity and easy to digest information was the first point to come out. Bullet points of  key messages are preferable to whole lesson plans and as Karen noted, each teacher will adapt any resource to their teaching style and the needs of the class anyway. For resources which may be accessed before a museum visit, activities to prime the class and others to consolidate learning once back at school also helped to maximise learning.

There was lively discussion around how technology is used in classrooms and how the new focus of the ICT curriculum with its concentration on programming will have knock on effects for other subject areas. The BBC’s online offer for children was brought up as a great example of where technology was being used to deliver great content built specifically with the users needs in mind. Samantha told us how she had used the Museum of London’s Great Fire of London game in class and subsequently found out that the museum had an exhibition devoted to it and recommended it to parents. It goes to show that having great resources online can bring greater awareness of your site and lead to visits, especially from families.

Having the opportunity to ask questions to two teachers allowed the attendees to really quiz them about how they find and use materials. The session set up a great foundation for the rest of the days speakers and everyone in attendance putting practicalities in our mind, drilling down into how we can create and design digital resources with the users coming first.

Crowdsourcing and Learning

Ally Davies – From inception to delivery - presentation


Ally Davies, Online Learning manager at Museum of London, shared the development of a crowdsourcing learning resource, where students use skills to analyse objects, tagging them with descriptive time periods and identifying their use. The data from this goes back into the museum’s collection database and helps to improve the searchability of it. To inform the design they tested extensively with pilots in schools and created a suite of resources around it which look at databases and how they work.

This creative idea required the buy in of lots of departments across the museum and showed how reaching out across teams can create something sustainable, rich and innovative. We were also treated to a glimpse of some of the objects removed from the catalogue for the project, such as a Soho sex shop advert, which goes to show you can never check your content too much.

The Lab

Craig Fletcher and Kirsten Wood – To the lab at Stirling Wood - presentation


Kristin Wood and Craig Fletcher made the long journey down from Stirling Castle to give a great talk about some of the challenges of bringing a thousand year castle into the twenty-first century. “The Lab” at the castle is a learning space which was funded to bring together media and heritage. Schools can come and use iPads to make films documenting their journey through the castle or undertake a murder investigation studying the skeletal remains of knight found in recent renovations. The site is a springboard for creativity and imaginative approaches to working with schools and some sound advice on the practicalities of maintaining a dozen iPads and sharing the media made raised some useful considerations for those starting out.

From paper trails to an augmented reality app

Katherine Biggs – Paper, PDFs and Play Store - presentation

Resources-Event-AM-5967Katherine Biggs, Education Manager at the British Museum’s Samsung Centre, showed us the brand new app, “A Gift for Athena”, developed to help raise the capacity of supporting schools during their visits.  Self led classes explore the spectacular Parthenon galleries using tablets and follow the story of Athenians parading to deliver a gift to the goddess Athena. With 250,000 visits from school children each year the use of technology can deliver meaningful interaction with the collections and support classes unable or not wishing to go to a facilitator led workshop.

The app itself began life as a paper trail which was in use before. In this case, the use of technology provided something that a pen and paper could not by using augmented reality to bring objects to life before your eyes. Katherine talked us through the development of the game, showing how user testing informed the final design, reducing the amount of instructions on screen and making games harder to increase the satisfaction of winning them. 

Objects in Focus

Tali Krikler and Frances Jeens – Objects in Focus, reaching beyond the museum walls - presentation

Resources-Event-AM-5983Tali Krikler and Francis Jeens explained a new online resource from the Jewish Museum, Objects in Focus. The web resource curates themes, highlights interesting objects with stories and provides high resolution zoomable images and downloadable activities around each. Every object poses a set of questions which begin enquiry and establish how students can begin to develop methods to interpret them by asking a few simple questions. Both speakers owned up to not being tech experts but they did not have to be anyway: they had identified exactly what they had wanted to achieve and could concentrate on writing, research and creating the engaging stories that they excel at.

The day brought colleagues together from across a huge range of organisations and was a great chance to share advice and new projects. The speakers sparked debate and inspiration for people exploring the creation and use of online and onsite materials or activities with schools. Simplicity and interesting content make good resources but as the projects we saw today showed, knowing your audience and listening to them will make them great.


The Battle of Bannockburn…immersive learning through gaming

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Martin Bazley

On a cold and wintry morning, a group of us gathered inside an ultra-modern building on a field a few miles outside of Stirling. This was our chance to take part in one of Scotland’s most pivotal battles. Though unlike the troops standing in the same place some 700 years ago, we had been invited by The National Trust for Scotland to trial their new 3D Battle of Bannockburn experience.

interactive-displayWould we be able to master the art of medieval warfare? Could we get to grips literally and metaphorically with the weapons?

The Bannockburn visitor centre focuses on bringing the mechanics of medieval war to life through state of the art motion-capture technology similar to the technique used to create the character ‘Gollum’ in The Lord of the Rings saga. This 3D introduction sets the scene for what proved to be one of the most famous battles fought on British soil.

This ‘Prepare for Battle’ area is where visitors can learn about the tactics and choices of Robert the Bruce and King Edward II as they faced each other on the battlefield. In this area you are transported back to 1314, the night before the battle. You can wander between both camps interacting with the real people preparing for battle, while witnessing some of the physical open_bobpreparations including battle training all surrounded by 270 degree, massive 3D screens. Accounts from historians, the voices of Scottish actors, replica weapons and even the genuine skull of Robert the Bruce have all been used to help create this unique visitor experience. An advisory panel made up of historical experts ensure that the new interpretation is strong and academically sound.

Through a clever use of objects and technology, this is historical interpretation for the 21st century and provides a unique experience for young people and indeed visitors of all ages. Crucially, the technology does not replace traditional interpretation but instead provides an immersive interpretive ‘layer’ for young people who may not be as engaged with traditional museum panels and objects. The historical context of the event is presented through a medium which is immediate, familiar and relevant to them.

 ‘The Battle Game’

After experiencing some of the sights and sounds of medieval warfare, we had the chance to move on to the highlight of the centre, the ‘Battle game’. Here, we were randomly assigned a rank in either The Bruce’s or Edward’s armies as we stood around a gaming table complete with digital troops and cavalry battalions. Having been assigned the role of The Bruce, I immediately felt the weight of history on my shoulders as I was now responsible for some 6500 troops and most importantly, ensuring the Scottish army was victorious. visit-the-battleI confess, I have am no gaming enthusiast and have only used an xbox once or twice but I quickly became immersed in the game, shouting orders at my commanders, selecting field positions and weapons. The ‘Battlemaster’ takes instructions from both leaders on troop movements and when to engage the enemy so alongside troops, the leaders must decide which weapons to use: cavalry, archers, or the formidable ‘schiltron’. Tiny virtual soldiers can be seen advancing, retreating and clashing violently, while computer-generated images of battle. scenes appear and disappear overhead.

The interactive table also lets you see how how many casualties your side is suffering,while the Battlemaster provides the overarching dramatic narrative of what is happening on the ground. Sometimes Bruce’s army wins, sometimes it’s Edward’s. The main aim is to allow visitors a chance to re-create the battle through gaming technology and if my own experience from a non-gamer’s point of view is anything to go by, this ‘Battle Game’ shows just how engaging and exciting learning about history can be particularly for young people, if presented through a relevant and immersive medium like gaming. At the end of my own visit, I was relieved to have led a successful army against Edward and to have sent him home to think again…

The centre is the first major joint project between the National Trust for Scotland and Historic Scotland.

If you would like to find out more about developing your digital learning offer for schools, both onsite and in the classroom, DLNET is organising an event on 4 April which explores formal digital learning resources in gallery, online and in the classroom. Details are available in the events section.

All images are © National Trust for Scotland.

Crowdsourcing, participation and learning

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Stuart Berry

‘Crowdsourcing’ is something of a buzz-word at the moment, but is not a new concept. The arts, culture and heritage sectors have all been making use of their audience for a number of years, but the greater range of opportunities afforded through advancing technologies are now helping institutions and their audiences to work together in new ways on new kinds of projects.

According to this Horizon report, crowdsourcing is going to be one of the big development areas for museums in the next year or so.

What is crowdsourcing?

At its core, crowdsourcing is a type of volunteering. Volunteering has been part of the culture in museums and heritage sites for many years. Traditional volunteer roles might vary according to the scale of different institutions, but are generally all based on-site; they may be public-facing or may be curatorial and behind-the-scenes in nature. Many of these roles, by virtue of the tasks involved, require the volunteer to be on-site and physically doing the work.

Crowdsourcing moves beyond simple volunteering, in that it asks many people to do a small amount of work to get one big thing done. Crowdsourcing also doesn’t have the same sense of commitment that volunteering in the traditional sense does.  Examples of ‘crowdsourcing’ in the pre-digital world might include asking the local community to come and clear snow from a site car-park, or asking the public to bring old egg-boxes and yogurt pots in for an art-and-craft project.

The Internet can extend any institution’s ‘community’, and social networks are one example of the web doing a great deal in overcoming geography as a barrier to engagement.  The Internet can also be used as a tool to allow the public to participate in and contribute to a variety of projects.  By asking many people to perform small simple tasks over the Internet, institutions are capable of getting a great deal of work done that might otherwise be monotonous and extremely time-consuming.  By its nature, this is facilitating greater levels of engagement, and is enabling community contribution in many new ways.

The V&A have a very straight-forward example of a digital crowdsourcing project that is asking people to crop images from their online catalogue.

What are others doing?

Crowdsourcing projects can vary widely in their scope and nature.  Some institutions are big enough to have the budget to host their own digital projects, whilst others use existing platforms elsewhere.

Some projects are research-based in nature, asking the public to observe and record events around them.  Good examples include the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, where the RSPB are asking the public to submit results through their website.  The Society of Biology have also done recent surveys in this way, including their house spider survey last Autumn - this survey also had an accompanying smart-phone app that participants could download to help identify and record their sightings.

The Woodland Trust have a similar project, Nature’s Calendar, collecting information on sightings of certain species and events in the natural world through the year – this site also has an interactive display showing data from the current and previous years, allowing participants to see annual fluctuations and differences plotted geographically.

Some projects, like that of the V&A above, ask participants to assist with very small specific tasks. Your Paintings Tagger asks users to add tags to publicly-owned oil paintings in order to make the Your Paintings database more searchable and accessible. In a similar fashion, Calbug is one example of a project on the museum crowdsourcing site Notes from Nature that brings together collections records from a number of museums, and asks digital participants to transcribe handwritten catalogue labels and ledgers.

In addition, there are popular ‘third-party’ crowdsourcing websites that the museum and heritage sector are able to use, including Historypin, which asks the public to ‘pin’ historic photographs onto an interactive map; and Wikipedia, the online, crowdsourced encyclopedia.  Both of these run independently from any specific museum projects, but can be used by museums to harness the power of the crowd in achieving certain research and engagement aims.  Wikimedia (who run the Wikipedia website) are especially open to working with the sector, and have a variety of options in place, as is demonstrated on their Cultural Partnerships page.

Crowdsourcing, participation and learning

Crowdsourcing in this context is about community participation and community contribution, it is also about getting things done that will ultimately further any institution’s broader engagement aims and objectives.  This means that crowdsourcing is also about learning. It may not have pre-defined learning outcomes in itself, but participants are inevitably learning something in the course of performing the actions required to make a contribution.  Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, crowdsourcing also benefits any organisation’s end-users, by providing research or by making collections and collections-related knowledge more accessible.


Finding out more

If you would like to find out more about crowdsourcing, including more examples, case-studies and discussion, try some of these links:

  • This academic paper from the Museums and the Web conference in April 2013 looks at defining crowdsourcing, as well as examining some prominent case-studies.

  • This Museums Practice article is only available to members of the Museums Association, but offers some good discussion on the subject.

  • This blog post from the London Museums Group in August 2013 also offers useful links and advice.

  • This post written in 2011 on the blog The Museum of the Future still rings true, and provides some useful advice for those considering embarking on a project.

  • Crowdsourcing The Museum was a session I ran at the GEM conference in September 2013 as an introduction to the subject – this blog documents some of the discussion and case-studies from that session.

There has been a great deal written about the subject of crowdsourcing as it relates to the cultural sector, and many of the articles above will be able to direct to numerous other sources and discussions. Please post in the comments below if you know of any other projects or sources of information relating to crowdsourcing…

Twitter Surgery

If you would like to discuss any points raised in this post or if you have any questions on the subject of crowdsourcing, members of the DLNET committee will be running a Twitter Surgery on the subject on Friday 14th February from 12.00pm until 2.00pm. Follow @DLNET or use the hashtag #dlnetsurgery to get involved. Alternatively email your questions to or post them in the comments below.

Welcome to our new membership structure, surgeries and more

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Martin Bazley

Hi and welcome to the January blog post for DLNET

 We have been busy over the last few months, including reviewing the membership structure and planning the next event.   We are also planning to try out regular monthly ‘surgeries’.   Please let us know what you think.


 Next event:  Formal Digital Learning Resources in Gallery, Online and in the Classroom 4 April 2014 at Museum of London

 This one day event will feature:

 • What Teachers Want: A session with primary and secondary school teachers

 • Case studies of best practice in Formal Digital Learning Resources, including:
From inception to delivery: Museum of London web resources for teachers and students by Ally Davies – Online Learning Manager, Museum of London

 The full programme will be available shortly at


 New: Monthly surgeries

As a new way of helping people benefit from sharing of ideas and best practice, we are planning to host a surgery every month.  Initially at least we will hold surgeries during lunch break to make it easy for people to take part.  

 The first surgery will be Twitter-based, in February.  The focus is likely to be based on our February blog post ‘Crowdsourcing the Museum’.

 If you have a question or suggestion for a topic you would like addressed, tweet us @DLNET or email

 We are intending to try out various ways of hosting the surgeries, including

 Please let us know whether you like the regular surgeries idea, and if you have any suggestions we would love to hear from you.  


New membership structure

We have reviewed our membership to improve our offer.  Here are the ways you can become a member of DLNET:  


Subscriber (FREE)

To be a subscriber to DLNET simply follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or join our Email discussion lists. You will be able to:

  • Participate in discussions through the email list or social media
  • Raise topics for discussion
  • Participate in DLNET research


Individual Member (FREE)

Register with us for your FREE individual membership today, and as well as having the same benefits as Subscribers you will also be able to:

  • Get discounts on fees for DLNET events
  • Attend the AGM
  • Propose and second resolutions at the AGM
  • Stand for election as an Officer or Committee Member
  • Vote on DLNET business

Individual Membership is renewable annually.


Organisational Member

Organisations can become members of the network, and will receive the same privileges as Individual members, plus:

  • Nominate up to four representatives from their organisation as members of DLNET
  • Have free attendance for one delegate at a fee paying event each year

Organisational Membership costs just £40 per year and is renewable annually


(The above is taken from our Membership page at


Ways to stay in touch with DLNET

As well as our website at we are on Facebook and Twitter

 Please let us know what you are up to.  We always welcome suggestions on how we could do more to support you in digital learning.       


How To Monitor Skype – Spybubble Review – Best Mobile Spy Software Learn How With Online Spy Software

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