Tag: blogs

Leaning Into Another Transition

rails to trailsI really dislike when blogs I read regularly just go away without explanation.  And, as I have become more absorbed by other processes, I have posted here a lot less regularly – so let me explain.  I am winding up this phase of my career as I get ready to retire later this summer as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa and an Associate Professor at the University of Memphis.  After some 300 posts over a six-year period, I will continue to post here but much less and possibly in different forms.  I am going to enjoy a number of new and continuing projects, some of which will include a lot of digital content.  Some of my ongoing stuff will include:

  • My colleague Beth Bollwerk and I just turned in the ms for an edited volume to Rowman and Littlefield Press that will hit the streets by November or so of this year.  The volume, Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset: A Practical Guide, will feature a substantive online resource guide to support the 20 plus chapters and case studies of the volume.  The resource guide will develop as a stand alone website and ideally evolve into a substantive online presence for engagement and co-creation of communities and their museums.
  • As the new President of the Advocates for Poverty Point, I will work to develop that organization’s website, blog, and newsletter, along with other tasks in support of the only prehistoric UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Southeast United States.
  • My colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and I are very excited about launching a public archaeology project on the north coast of Peru.  We anticipate developing a host of social media tools for this work as well.
  • I am also anxious to play a role in the community outreach projects of Whitney Plantation.  I am particularly interested in working with the Whitney staff to carry out applied archaeology projects along the lines of what we have done at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa over the past few years.
  • And, I am most excited to spend more time with my wife, Emma working in her shop, Uptown Needle & Craftworks on Magazine St. in New Orleans.  Stop by and visit!

So, I am certain that some of all that will turn up in this blog too, on an irregular basis.  I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this blog over the years.  The folks I have met in the virtual world, and for many of them, never yet in person, have been instrumental in my learning process over the past decade.  Thanks to everyone for reading, sharing, and providing me with so much good stuff to think and learn about!

Online Training as an Essential Tool for Small Museums

fenceAs the Director of a small museum and through my work with similarly small-sized nonprofits, I wear many hats and need to know a little bit about a lot of things.  This need is particularly true in the area of digital technology and social media where I have come to rely on resources such as Heather Mansfield’s Nonprofit Tech for Good website and her books that I have reviewed.

In addition to developing a social media strategy, I also need the skills necessary to implement the plan. I tend to get this type of technical support by Googling the need.  I am often frustrated to find instructions that assume starting skills beyond my level of expertise.  I value a step-by-step approach that assumes little substantive prior knowledge of the process.  This week, I found two resources that are excellent examples of that type of instruction. 

The Hour of Code

I know nothing about computer programming, but have always thought I should.  As blog creation and other digital processes become more drag and drop, that need is less pronounced, but I do find situations where knowing code or language is either necessary or at least very helpful.  For example, on another blog I write/manage, The Ancash Advocate, posts are bilingual and require inserting anchor points to jump between the Spanish and English translations.  This process requires entering the text editor and inserting html code.  A colleague performed this task initially.  For the past year, I simply copied the bit of code they created and inserted the different titles into my subsequent posts.  I did not know the meaning of what I copied but simply played around with it until I got it to work.

When I have Googled and looked for training, I found an html for Dummies book.  At over 1000 pages the book was a lot more than I wanted.  But last week I got an email from Khan Academy marketing their participation in the global Hour of Code project.  The idea is that if you invest one hour in the process you will learn something about coding.  On the Hour of Code webpage tab one could “Learn how to make webpages with HTML tags and CSS, finishing up by making your very own greeting card.” The age grade for the hour was listed as 8 and up, so I figured I would understand the presentation.  Through instructional video and real-time input, within one hour, the code I used for the bilingual anchors on the Ancash Advocate blog was explained.  I learned the meaning of the html coding I had done by rote.  Further, at the end of the one hour exercise I was linked to another Kahn Academy page for more training on html and related css coding, if I so desired.

Here is the bottom line on this experience.  For a cost of $0.00 (although donations to Kahn Academy are certainly accepted – which I recommend) and one hour of my time, I learned more about html coding than in my previous efforts over the years.  In a very straight forward approach, mysteries about coding were resolved.  The 8 year plus age-grade proved ideal for me.  This experience reminded me of the brick wall I hit when taking genetics in a Biology for Majors class during my undergraduate days.  I overcame that problem by reviewing the All About Book on Heredity that my mother bought me when I was in grade school.  Starting with the very basics proved essential then and now.

 

Photoshop Basics

A second example of implementing technical skills is a Photoshop tutorial I came across this week.  The 10-point tutorial covered many of the Photoshop skills that my students or staff who are often just getting their feet wet in the software typically need to know.  The tutorial also links to the Marketers Crash Course in Visual Content Creation download – a very useful introduction to best practices in the visuals of website and digital content creation.

The Good and the Bad of Quick Intros

The perspective offered by individuals such as Andrew Keen in his book The Cult of The Amateur likely think little of the types of resources I discuss above.  Their objection is that these simple resources provide folks with the basic tools to edit code, work with photos and so forth without a rigorous and complete training in the area, thus letting the amateurs run amok.  And fair enough, a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous, but also useful.  Part of the learning process is knowing the limitations that a bit knowledge brings.

Having taken the Kahn Hour of Code, I am anxious to complete the rest of the introductory course on html and css coding.  In addition to understanding the anchor points I create for bilingual posts, I also see how several formatting issues that have bedeviled me for years on this blog are readily resolved with some simple html code adjustments.  In this regard, I come back to my opening statement for this post – as the Director of a small museum, I wear many hats and need to perform a diversity of tasks that in larger institutions might be the responsibility of an IT or social media specialist.  I do not have that luxury or the funds to outsource the work.  Kahn Academy and other training discussed in this post form a valuable part of my small museum toolkit  that allows me to function efficiently and effectively with limited resources.

What online training helps you to do your job?

 

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly About Blogging

glyphSo Doug, over at Doug’s Archaeology, launched a blogging carnival leading up to the Blogging in Archaeology session at the Society for American Archaeology 2014 meetings in Austin.  The idea is that Doug will pose a question each month to which folks will respond.  Doug will then summarize the individual posts at the end of the month, and post the set of links.  The carnival and SAA session have the Twitter hashtag #blogarch.

So, if you are up to writing a response to the monthly question on your own blog send the link to Doug’s Archaeology and/or email him (drocksmacqueen@gmail.com) the link.  Sounds like party!

The December topic is the The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly about Blogging.

The Good – It’s really all pretty good.  In the last month’s post I talked about why I blogged and that says it all.

The Bad – The biggest downside is that blogging can be a real time suck.  I take the writing and content pretty seriously – at least from my perspective.  Most posts go through at least 3 or 4 major drafts and then a few more minor ones.  Although I like to think that the more substantive posts I write from scratch take me about 3 hours – it’s probably closer to 4 or 5 from the very start to pushing the publish button.  If I am publishing a guest post, an interview with someone else, or something short and directed like this post, I have maybe 2 hours invested in each post.

For posts I write, I now use only photos I have taken and played with in Photoshop.  I think my images are at least aesthetically pleasing, and most often relevant to the post, at least in my head.  Finding and creating the right image also takes time.  I also have a whole set of half-written blogs that I probably just need to dump as they are no longer relevant.  So, time commitment is really the bad part of blogging for me.

The ugly – Very few trolls have commented on my blog over the years.  I made a firm decision several years ago to always approve a comment and never delete a response unless it is truly offensive.  I began this policy with the C.H. Nash Museum FB page where I deleted one rather bizarre and somewhat offensive comment a few years ago and regretted doing so.  On FB I find that a reasoned dialogue with haters or negative Neds/Nancys has a neutralizing impact.  The same is true with my blog.  I recall only one instance of a rather strident and polar commenter who was not interested in a dialogue, but a platform.  The individual pretty much just went away when confronted with a reasoned response.  Engagement is an important part of the “social” in social media – blogs, FB, et al. should not just be used as a megaphone but in true dialogue.

My Experience in Teaching a Class on Wikipedia, Part 2

buddysnow

I posted last week about the class I led this semester, Wikipedia as a Research Tool with freshman in the Honors Program at the University of Memphis.  That post provided background on how I constructed the class and shifts in student thinking about Wikipedia over the course of the semester.

For a portion of the student’s final exam, they responded to two questions aimed at evaluating the course experience.  First, I asked about the most important insight they gained from the class.  Second, I asked the students to recommend changes for the next time  the course is offered.

Below I present a representative sample of student responses to the first question and my commentary.  Next week, I will follow the same format on the student suggestions about changes for the next time I teach the course.

What was the most important insight you gained from this class?

Perhaps the most consistent insight students listed was that Wikipedia was not the completely unreliable information resource their high school teachers and some of their current college instructors warned them about.

At one point my middle school librarian said that Wikipedia was the devil. As a result, after all these years of being told that Wikipedia was an unreliable resource and that I was not allowed to use it, I just automatically thought that Wikipedia was not reliable.  Learning about how the website is run and that most of the “employees” are in fact volunteers gave me a better insight on the integrity of the website and the people who run it.

The most important insight I learned from the class is that Wikipedia is more trustworthy than I once thought.

I learned many things during this course, but the most important would be evaluating credible sources. Yes, I learned this in previous high school classes, but in college credible sources has a whole new meaning.

Of importance, the student insights were not based on an uncritical acceptance that everything printed on a Wikipedia page is a canonical truth.  Rather, the insights resulted from the examination of Wikipedia articles of the their own choosing, coupled with an appreciation for the editing process.

I saw first hand just how quickly incorrect information or articles without citations were taken down.

I did not even know that Wikipedia could be edited by everyone.   Teahouses and other editors are also available to help anyone create their own Wikipedia edits and articles.

One student’s comments on their own article creation was particularly insightful:

My page is actually being considered for deletion simply because it is too similar to another page. I was not aware of this and actually thought that my page would contain much more information than the one that took over mine.  This was however not the case. I blame the fact that I did not thoroughly read the other page. In all honesty I should have simply made a series of edits to the existing page. After using Wikipedia I have found that if an editor goes in with selfish intentions, he or she may not like he or she finds. Wikipedia is meant to be a place of selfless unbiased information. This would have to be my greatest insight.

Students enjoyed writing their articles, even if they often struggled with formatting and technical issues.  (In fact, technical considerations was the primary area students recommended addressing in future courses.  I will take up this point next week.)

“I actually enjoyed creating a Wikipedia article. I was really stressed and confused in the beginning because I did not know what to expect.  However, as I learned how to edit sections and add information, I began to enjoy creating my article. It was fun to mess around with the layout of the page and deciding what to add. I would consider making another Wikipedia page in my free time.

Some students were critical of their critics.  I will return to this point next week.

It is not so much that becoming a user is difficult, as it is quite simple, but, as demonstrated in many situations with articles presented in class, there are those individuals that seem to be very avid Wikipedia editors, and these people can be somewhat territorial.

Placing such heavy reliance on the community to police itself is a fairly brave approach to moderation, but one which fundamentally breaks apart the long-existing problem of moderators running pages in their own interests rather than those of the community.  While it may not be in its best shape at present, the existing architecture supports a self-sustaining community full of internal checks and balances which, though tedious, serve well to keep the project on task and neutral.  As someone who is very interested in the growth and development of internet culture, especially in the inevitable forming of social cliques and hierarchies, Wikipedia has offered me a new paradigm from which to view the world online.

Students came to an understanding of Wikipedia as user-generated content.

One of the most valuable things I learned from this class definitely had to do with how many people contribute to user-generated sites like Wikipedia. I never realized just how many people were so dedicated to the maintenance and improvement of the site. Even just from observing my own personal page, I noticed edits being made very quickly. This completely surprised me, as I thought my page would probably just stay under the radar since it was not a very popular or controversial topic. Also, I was astonished to realize how well maintained the site is given that there is not a large paid staff. This means that all the countless edits made on the millions of articles are reviewed and adjusted by citizens just like myself.

And finally, students in the course came away with an appreciation of how they can use Wikipedia in their research.  In another part of the final exam I asked the hypothetical:  “In your college level U.S. History class, you are assigned to write a 2000 word paper on the history of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  Will you consult Wikipedia in writing this paper?  If yes, how?  If not, why not?”

Without exception, every student said they would consult Wikipedia as a starting point for further direction in their research.  For example:

The most important insight that I gained from this class is a confirmation of what Wikipedia is actually about. I always knew it was an encyclopedia but most people used it differently. Wikipedia is not a research tool, or a source shopping list, and even though it can be used in those ways, what Wikipedia is really about is being an online encyclopedia. It is simply an online “book” of facts, and these facts are then used to inform people. I do not think that Wikipedia ever had the intention or wanted to become acceptable as a citable source.

 My own greatest insight from the class has to do with how I will teach the class next time.  The one-credit hour course met only once per week for one hour.  I found the 12-week syllabus provided by Wikipedia overly ambitious for some students in the class.  In fact, up to one-half of the articles written by the individual students will ultimately be either deleted or combined with existing articles.  At the same time, half of the class completed articles of worth, and the entire class received a solid introduction to the pros and cons of user-generated content.  I will return to this point next week.

 

My Experience Teaching a Class on Wikipedia, Part 1

Untitled

Wordle generated from word associations with “Wikipedia” at the beginning of the semester.

This week is the final session in the Wikipedia as a Research Tool class I taught this semester to Freshman in the Undergraduate Honors Program at the University of Memphis.  I have blogged a bunch in the past, most recently last week, on the merits of Wikipedia in both higher education, cultural heritage and museum studies, and as an information resource.  Generally, I find that Wikipedia gets a bad rap largely from ignorance about the evolution of the resource or from those not understanding the intent of the tool.

Regardless, on the first day of class this semester I aimed to gauge the students knowledge of Wikipedia, determine their specific interests in the subject, and go from there.  I had in mind that each student would create their own Wikipedia article or substantially edit an existing page.  Early on I made contact with Jami Mathewson from the Wiki Education Foundation.  Jami sent me a packet of information that included a 12-week syllabus for writing a Wikipedia article.  Wikipedia has many intro and how-to brochures/tutorials available through Wikimedia Outreach.  I did not use all the resources available to me as an instructor in the course, especially having the students turn in all assignments in the Wikipedia course space.  Next time I likely will.  

My own syllabus follows the one Jami provided, supplemented with additional assignments and readings.  My additions focused less on a discussion of Wikipedia and more on the concepts of user-generated content, open authority and public access.  In class, I noted to students that Wikipedia will give way to something else, in the same way that Friendster, was replaced by My Space which lost out to Facebook, which will be overshadowed by something else.  One course objective was to contextualize Wikipedia within the noted concepts.  For example, a portion of the student’s final assignment is to assess the recent MIT Technology Review article The Decline of Wikipedia.

On the first day of the semester and again this past Tuesday now nearing the end of the semester, students created a list of word associations for the term Wikipedia.  The lists were spontaneous responses.  The instructions were simple “Take out a piece of blank paper and write your name at the top.”  When everyone had done so, I instructed the students to “Write a list of words that you associate with Wikipedia.”  The students responded for two minutes.  The wordle or word cloud at the top of this post is from lists the students created on the first day of class.  The wordle below is from the lists the students created this past Tuesday.   

The wordle from the first day of the semester can be read as “Wikipedia is for internet based research to obtain information.  Although a helpful search tool, Wikipedia is unreliable.  Wikipedia is used in plagiarism.  Some schools ban the use of Wikipedia.”

The wordle fourteen weeks later, shown below, is markedly different in several respects:

  • Research, the most common word listed at the start of the semester is completely missing at the end of the semester.  This change likely reflects a consistent class discussion over the semester that Wikipedia is a very useful starting point to obtain information, but not the final stop in doing scholarly research.
  • Unreliable in the first wordle is completely missing from the wordle at the end of the semester and is replaced by reliable and at the same rate.  This switch is very easy to understand.  Most students, commented in their weekly reading journals how surprised they were at the amount of editing done on Wikipedia articles as documented on article history and talk pages.  The students were also surprised at how quickly other users edited their own articles, in some cases adding references, in other instances deleting content that was not neutral and expressed a specific point of view.  The shift from unreliable to reliable also reflects a concern raised by students on the first day of class – they felt ill-prepared to argue against their high school teachers who banned or strongly discouraged the use of Wikipedia.  Their own experience with Wikipedia provided them with the arguments they needed.  Of note neither plagiarism or school banned appears on the final wordle.
  • Other terms that appear in the wordle at the end of the semester such as user-generated, free, citation, accessible, neutral, and encyclopedic represent an appreciation of the Five Pillars of Wikipedia.  International is a very logical inclusion on the final wordle for students who spent any time exploring the Wikipedia education pages.

So what does all of this mean?  Have I effectively duped some of the best and brightest into believing that Wikipedia is something useful and students do not really need to heed the dire warnings of folks such as modern-day digital Luddite Andrew Keen who in his Cult of the Amateur warns that with such user-generated content:

“The monkeys takeover.  Say good-bye to today’s experts and cultural gatekeepers – our reporters, news anchors, editors, music companies, and Hollywood movie studios.  In today’s cult of the amateur, the monkeys are running the show.  With their infinite typewriters, they are authoring the future” (p. 9).

I think not. Or as I have noted in the past, “what a fine job us primates are doing!”

In Part 2 of this post, the students will speak.

Java Printing

Wordle generated from word associations with “Wikipedia” at the end of the semester.

Why I Blog About Archaeology

rails to trailsSo Doug, over at Doug’s Archaeology, launched a blogging carnival leading up to the Blogging in Archaeology session at the Society for American Archaeology 2014 meetings in Austin.  The idea is that Doug will pose a question each month, folks will blog away on their own blogs in response.  Doug will then summarize the individual posts at the end of the month, and post the set of links.  The carnival and SAA session have the Twitter hashtag #blogarch.

So, if you are up to writing a response to the monthly question on your own blog send the link to Doug’s Archaeology and/or email him (drocksmacqueen@gmail.com) the link.  Sounds like party!

Doug posed two questions for this month to which I respond below:

Why did you start to blog?

I wrote my first archaeology blog post four years ago (next week) that included in part:

In early November of 2009, I participated in a session at the Southeastern Archaeological Conference held in Mobile, Alabama.  The session focused on taking Archaeology into the Community.  The papers addressed diversity of issues including a traveling ArchaeoBus, site visitor programs, archaeology fairs, museum exhibit development, Native American representation, archaeology in the classrooms, and more.  The session was a blast!  I learned a lot was able to meet folks with an interest in what I think of as applied archaeology and engaged scholarship – basically a reciprocal and symbiotic relationship between us as museum/archaeology folks and the communities who through their tax dollars are our employers.

Besides exposure to innovative and creative ideas, a couple of other things stood out to me about the session.  First, ours was the only session at the Conference that directly addressed archaeology or museums as educational resources for the broader community.   Second, the first speaker at the session, Nancy Hawkins Outreach Director at the Louisiana Division of Archaeology and a 20-year plus advocate for Public Outreach, commented that it was nice to see “the choir” assembled – noting the small but loyal cadre of advocates for the mission.

However, coming away from the Conference, I am optimistic that there are quite a few more singers in the choir in the Southeast United States.  One important idea was that the session participants stay in dialogue, reach out to others, and continue the conversation.  This blog is meant to be a part of that process.

So that was four years ago.

And the second question Doug posed, Why do you keep on blogging?

Just recently, I was quite surprised that my college chose my blogging as the basis for a “Faculty Spotlight” story, that read in part:

Dr. Robert Connolly, Associate Professor in the Anthropology Department and the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa launched his blog Archaeology Museums and Outreach about four years ago. . . . The posts include interviews with cultural heritage professionals, reports on innovative research projects, book reviews, and more. Connolly notes that the post that received the most hits and reblogs was the recent “Thoughts on How to Get a Museum Job.”

In evaluating his blogging efforts, Connolly says “I am really somewhat lazy about promoting the blog. Primarily, I focus on a specific niche of the cultural heritage student or professional interested in public engagement. If you Google my blog title, you will not find another blog with that focus. So I definitely fill a niche and the interest continues to grow. Unique hits per post range from as few as 500 to many as 3000 per week.”

Connolly also believes that blogs are more accepted in academic circles today. He points to The London School of Economics and Political Science as one of the leaders in academic blogs. He also cites Paul Mullins’ blog Archaeology and Material Culture as an example of a blog with well researched and referenced posts. Mullins, chair of the Anthropology Department at IUPU and the President of the Society for Historic Archaeology is a strong advocate for considering alternative academic products as legitimate scholarship.

Archaeology, Museums and Outreach also provides Connolly with numerous networking and professional opportunities. “I have published three peer reviewed articles from invitations by editors who asked me to expand a concept I presented in my blog. The blog also brings national and even international exposure for the C.H. Nash Museum. A benefit of blogging that I enjoy a great deal is developing “colleagues” who I will likely never meet in person or even speak to on the phone. For example, I regularly engage with a vibrant network of museum professionals in Australia, one of whom has reviewed my article drafts prior to publication.”

Connolly acknowledges that reading and writing blogs can be a huge time drain and produce little. But ultimately, he sees a bright future for such user-generated content. This semester he is teaching an Undergraduate Honors Forum titled “Wikipedia as a Research Tool.” Like blogs, he is convinced that Wikipedia has a place in academia. “In my Museum Practices graduate seminar, we spend about 45 minutes of one class period discussing the ethics of repatriation using the Elgin Marbles as a case study. I had been using a brief chapter from an archaeological text as background reading for the students. A couple of years ago, I went to the Wikipedia page for the Elgin Marbles. I found a balanced and up-to-date 5000-word article with over 100 references that approached the discussion from multiple perspectives. I realized that for the purposes of a single class case study discussion, I knew of no better single resource than the Wikipedia entry.”

Connolly notes that the aspect of Wikipedia that most surprises the students in his current Honors Forum is the rigorous editing and referencing process in creating Wikipedia pages. “One aspect of user-generated content that I enjoy the most is the need for critical assessment of the printed word. We did an exercise on the first day of class this fall where the students were able to see that the Wikipedia entry on a particular topic was actually better researched and more reliable than a report on the same topic in the Smithsonian Institutions Contributions to Anthropology. We continue to move in a direction where the venue of presentation does not always determine the worth of the written word, rather the scholarship on which the text is based. Blogs and other forms of user-generated content clearly have a place in that discussion.”

That’s it for me in a rather large nutshell.  Ultimately it comes down to the exchange of ideas.  If I think about the most stimulating and interesting information I come across on a regular basis, the starting point, whether a research update, innovative approach to programming, a book review or whatever often is in the form of a blog post.  I enjoy participating in that process.

Blogging for the Monkeys

I started out this post wanting to consider blogs in the same way I discussed Wikipedia last week – as a source or direction for research and scholarship.   There is a good bit of discussion on this subject.  A year or so ago I came across an interesting post by Molly Keener at Wake Forest University that reviewed the range of responses to the research potential of blogs.  More recently, is an interesting post on the use of blogs in the Tenure and Promotion process at universities.

A significant difference between the two is that blogs are more creative, more opinionated, and less encyclopedic than Wikipedia, though both forms rely on the same user-generated content.  Not recognizing this distinction is another flaw in Keen’s basic thesis of the Cult of the Amateur referenced previously.

In addition to scholarship, I have found that blogs are an excellent means for disseminating and receiving information, creativity, and ways of thinking outside the box.  That is how I perceive the Archaeology, Museums and Outreach blog. In the first post I noted that my intent was to provide a platform for folks involved in archaeology and museum outreach to consider what works and what does not work.  I do not know of any other regular media resource that addresses this area.  This past week at the C.H. Nash Museum, we launched a new blog, Chucalissa e-Anumpoli.  We see the new blog as filling a need that is not addressed by any of our other forms of communication at the C.H. Nash Museum.

Beyond research, in reviewing offerings from the Museum and Archaeology fields, I have come up with a few categories of blogs:

Career Networking – Much like Linked-in, although on a less redundant and more user-friendly level, blogs such as the Emerging Museum Professionals act as a vehicle for collaboration.  The blog solicits input from others, irregularly issues posts of interest to folks new to the museum field on topics such as interviewing for career positions, skill development, and regional meet-ups of like-minded people.

Trends – The American Association of Museum’s  Center for the Future of Museums blog and the associated weekly Dispatches from the Center for the Future of Museums are phenomenal resources on trends in museums.  The Dispatches does for me what I hope my blog does for others – provides information and resources relevant to a field of interest but that are outside the regular box and expertise of operation.  For example, the Dispatches provides links to the latest trends in philanthropy, demographics, and tourism that are important for me to stay on top of, but are outside the scope of my normal range of reading.

Institutional Information –  I really like the Museum Bulletin the Alaska State Museum publishes as a regular blog.  The publication is very outreach oriented, and reports the activities, acquisitions, internships, and events at the Museum.  The Museum use WordPress.com to “blog” their newsletter.  Were this an e-newsletter type communication that requires buy-in registration, I likely would not have come across the publication.  The Brooklyn Museum’s blog is another institutional publication that is quite creative in their posts.  See for example the Brooklyn Museum’s split-second basis project for selecting pieces of art to display.

Teaching/Research Interest – This type of blog is like finding that interesting book on the library shelf that works as a bonus supplement or even points one down a new road in preparing for a lecture or research.  For example, today I got the latest post for Museum Beyond that reviewed the Tate Museum’s new Race Against Time app for the iPhone – not a terribly glowing review either.  Also, Jennifer Carey blogged this week from the Independent School Association of the Southwest’s Annual Meeting.  Her final post was on the presentation by Jane McGonigal author of Reality is Broken.  Jennifer provided quite a few related links from the presentation.  Between the two blogs and the Wikiversity entry I noted from last week, these will likely find their way into my syllabus next fall for the honors course I will teach on gaming for social good.

Just Plain Interesting Today, Katrina Urban’s  NewMuseumKat blog posted a review and link for a virtual visit to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam.  The website is a convincing example that counters the Luddite rant against the concept of virtual museums.  One should not need to travel to Amsterdam to experience the house, albeit remote.   Kris Hirst’s long running archaeology blog at about.com has short nuggets of information about the latest goings on in archaeology.

Here is my punch line – all the above resources provide real and worthwhile information that is not readily (or at all) available in the traditional media. Contrary to Keen’s dire warning in the Cult of the Amateur of a future where “The monkeys takeover.  Say good-bye to today’s experts and cultural gatekeepers – our reporters, news anchors, editors, music companies, and Hollywood movie studios.  In today’s cult of the amateur, the monkeys are running the show.  With their infinite typewriters, they are authoring the future” (p. 9).

I can only respond – and what a fine job us primates are doing!!

Upgrade Now or Become Obsolete!

I try to keep abreast of developments in social media as it relates to museums – the tag cloud on this blog reflects that interest.  There are several blogs and e-newsletters that offer insights on how we do social media at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. These resources include Nonprofit Tech 2.0,  Marketing Profs Today, and Tech Soup.  One of the most relevant social media blogs for museums is Coleen Dilenschneider’s Know Your Own Bone.

“Upgrade Now or Become Obsolete” is a heading from Heather Mansfield’s newly published Social Media for Social Good: A How To Guide for Nonprofits.   The heading seems a dire warning.  With budget cuts and reduced staffs, how can the medium to small-sized museums be expected to take on the additional social media upgrade?  I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question.  However, Mansfield’s book provides a firm basis to assess a museum or other nonprofit institutions social media presence.  She notes in the Introduction that the book can form the basis of a social media strategic plan.  I agree.

For museums who are beginning to think about mobile apps (Web 3.0), but are still grappling with their social media (Web 2.0), and wondering if the upgrade means they are going to abandon their websites (Web 1.0), Mansfield’s book is ideal.  Mansfield divides the book into three parts based on the noted types of online communication methods.  She clearly demonstrates the interrelationship of the three types.  She argues that one is not better than the other, but serve different purposes.  For example after discussing the Web 1.0 static web page and e-newsletter, the subsequent Web 2.0 discussion of Social Media is viewed as a tool that also drives traffic back to the web page.  At the same time, the web page promotes and is tied to the Social Media.

Each discussion in the book concludes with a list of 5 Must Have and 11 Best Practices for topics such as Website Design, E-newsletters, and Donate Now campaigns.  In discussing Social Media projects Mansfield starts with 11 organizational points to consider before even setting up a Facebook page.  A pleasant addition to the book is that Mansfield provides time estimates that different tasks, such as blogging, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, will take for staff to complete each week.  Although only estimates, I found the numbers a bit on the high side and geared more toward larger institutions than the average museum with only a handful of employees.

Another asset to the book is that each section ends with a list of sites that are Examples of Excellence for the points discussed in the chapter.  “Google This” listings for further investigations are also included throughout the book.  The volume concludes with an appendix checklist to guide the reader through the entire social media process.  Mansfield writes that “To utilize every tool and best practice on this checklist could take 12 to 24 months.  Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by this.  As long as you have the will, you have the time” (p.xiv).  My takeaway is that if one expects to “do” social media in the next month and check it off their task list, they will be disappointed.  As well, Mansfield notes that one should not expect huge returns, whether in visitation or donations, after publishing the first few e-newsletters or fund-raising appeals.  Social media is a process not an event.

Mansfield’s book will be useful to the novice just launching an online social media presence and for those who have worked at it for a few years but need to review, fine-tune, revise, and update their process.  I suspect that the only folks who will find the book too simplistic are those on the caliber of Mansfield’s Examples of Excellence.  For the rest of us, Social Media for Social Good is an excellent resource.  For myself, I have a shopping list of tasks to get busy on.

What are the key resources that guide your social media process?

Museum 2.0 Blog

Without a doubt, the blog I look forward to reading most is Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0.   Much of the content does not seem relevant to an archaeological or history museum or for our medium-smallish size museum.  But a lot of what I get from Nina’s blog is like my coursework in linguistics as an undergraduate – it’s just good to think and often applicable in surprising ways.  I get that some of our reluctance to fully engage with the potential of Web 2.0 is lack of knowledge.  I recollect in 1995 only 2 of the 10 facutly members in the Anthropology Department where I was adjuncting had email.  One prof still insisted on typing his manuscripts on his IBM Selectric.  But when he found out that, via the internet, he could get daily newspapers from Mexico City, his research area, the typewriter went into storage.    So, if you are just sticking your toe in the water, let me give you a couple of examples from the Museum 2.0 blog that might get you to take the plunge:

Nina also writes a column for Museum, the magazine of the American Association of Museums and is currently completing a book on the participatory museum experience.

What are your experiences with Web 2.0 when it comes to Public Outreach?

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