The Digital Learning Network shares ideas and good practice in using digital
technology to support learning in the Cultural Heritage sector.
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.
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 preparations 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. I 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’ 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…
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or post them in the comments below.
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 www.digitallearningnetwork.net
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 email@example.com
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:
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.
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 www.digitallearningnetwork.net/membership/)
Ways to stay in touch with DLNET
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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.