Museums and Online Learning – An Interview with Debbie Morrison

DebMorrison_HeadShote_v3I have followed Debbie Morrison’s blog Online Learning Insights for the past few years.  Debbie’s blog is my ‘go to’ source on all things related to digital learning.  I particularly appreciate that while she is a strong proponent of online education, she does not give the practitioners a free pass on the problems and challenges the technology faces.  For example, although an early and consistent supporter of MOOCs, she has given even coverage to the successes and failures of this ever evolving platform.  Because of her approach and expertise, Debbie’s work is well-respected, earning her consulting positions with organizations such as the World Bank in their recent entry into MOOCs.  Debbie generously agreed to an interview where she explores the potential of online learning in cultural heritage venues.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved with online learning?

I’ve been a passionate advocate for pursing higher education for well over twenty years. I see education as a means to improving life opportunities, relationships, and one’s health and well-being. My experience in education began as a Training and Development Manager for a national retailer in Toronto, Canada. I discovered a passion for creating skill development and education programs. It was rewarding to help employees develop and improve, to see the confidence they gained professionally and personally. When my family moved to the United States in 2003, I took two years off and homeschooled my children using a K-12 virtual school platform. I saw a vision for the future in online learning. After my kids went back to public school I completed a master’s degree in education and human development with a focus on educational technology, began working in K-12 and then higher education. I loved my job as Lead Curriculum Developer with a small private university. I worked with faculty to develop and transition face-to-face (F2F) courses to the online format. I now work as a consultant with higher education and K-12 helping educators develop and improve online and blended programs. I’m living my passion.

 Ten years ago many cultural heritage professionals considered the notion of a “virtual” museum or tour as a threat to the viability of cultural venues.  Today, a growing number of professionals view digital presentations more as a supplement to real-time experiences.  Where do you see the virtual vs. real-time discussion going for online learning in museums and other cultural heritage venues?

I view virtual museums and exhibits as a boon to cultural venues. Online exhibits are vehicles that can increase the public’s interest and awareness about the rich experiences museums and places of culture offer. I see the discussion of virtual vs. real-time experiences in museums mirroring the very same discussions happening now in higher education about F2F versus online education. I’ll address the questions here specifically to museums. First, the line between experiencing and appreciating art and culture online or F2F is gray. Both can provide a rich, engaging educational experience, but in different ways. Well-designed virtual exhibits provide users with an accessible and approachable experience. Virtual exhibits reach people who would never otherwise set foot in a cultural venue, whether because of distance, time or inclination.

Yet they can also supplement educational experiences. One of the most interesting and interactive online courses I developed was an undergraduate level course ‘Introduction to Music and Art’. The faculty member and I created a highly visual and interactive course using a variety of digital exhibits, videos and open art resources. In addition to the virtual exhibits, students were required to visit in-person, two cultural centers or events during the semester. The virtual tours created learning experiences that could never be achieved with cultural F2F visits and textbooks alone.

A current buzzword in cultural heritage studies is the “participatory” museum.  How do you envision that online learning can facilitate an increased participation in museums?

Student-focused education is where online learning is going, where students are participants and contributors to their learning, not just passive recipients. This is a paradigm shift for education. Students want to contribute and expect to be involved whether through social media or within the course itself. I see this same student-interest applying to museums and cultural centers. There is unlimited opportunity for encouraging public participation with the various social media platforms. Pinterst, the digital bulletin board platform, allows users to follow boards, create boards and comment. Twitter is another with hash tags that can ‘tag’ conversations and comments related to an exhibit or particular museum. Another is Instagram, a platform popular with teen and young adult set. The Getty Center here in California where I live does a good job in utilizing media and digital resources, but I see far more opportunities yet to be leveraged with museums in general.

Much as been written about the trend toward “lifelong learning” in museums.  How might that trend benefit from an online presence?

Tremendously – if museums can engage the public through social media–meet the potential visitors where they are, e.g. on Instagram, Facebook or other platform, the potential of having loyal and repeat visitors and supporters is tremendous. People want to belong and associate themselves with something special and unique—what is more unique and special than a museum or cultural center? Cultural centers will benefit by developing an online presence and building a following from there.

Online experiences such as the Google Art Project and virtual tours of archaeological sites are providing increased accessibility to cultural heritage objects.  Any predictions on future trends?

Interest in static digital resources will continue, but participatory interactive resources and digital experiences allowing users to create artifacts from cultural and art exhibits will grow significantly. Interactive and participatory platforms that allow users to creatively express themselves, and share using digital artifacts posted by museums builds on the idea of participation and contribution. Pinterest, Google Art Project, are just the beginning.

I definitely see user-generated content and open platforms such as ones offering MOOC as opening up and making knowledge and culture approachable and accessible. It’s opening up to the global public, and though there are still more people and communities to reach, this phenomenon is enriching, improving and transforming lives in many ways.

Any recommendations for the cultural heritage professional looking to begin online learning projects?

Start small, but start somewhere. Reach out to individuals outside one’s museum and cultural circle to find those that want to help and can make a contribution. Many people want to contribute their energy, expertise and time. Though critical is creating a plan first, a strategic plan that outlines what the goals are for the museum or cultural center that describes how a digital strategy and online learning projects align with the center’s values and mission. Next identify what type of projects will work with existing or future projects and create goals for digital and online learning. Then it makes sense to reach out to individuals and ask for help, and/or invest funds.

Debbie Morrison blogs at Online Learning Insights and can be contacted at debbiemorrison505(at)

Creative Commons and Cultural Heritage

Java PrintingI am very pleased to present a post and resource links on Creative Commons by my colleague Jason Baird Jackson.  More and more cultural heritage professionals and students are faced with questions about how to best present original documents for public access and the proper citation and use of internet files.  Jason provides a solid introduction and valuable links to Creative Commons licenses that are relevant today and will be increasingly important in the immediate future.

Creative Commons and Cultural Heritage

by Jason Baird Jackson

Do public archaeologists, heritage professionals, museum practitioners, and graduate students need to know about the Creative Commons? I think so. Robert Connolly does so as well, which is why he thought to ask me to contribute a short note to his blog. After you have learned a bit about it, I hope that you too will see the relevance of the tools provided by the Creative Commons to the work that you do. If you are already using Creative Commons licenses for your work in one of these fields, please consider leaving a note in the comments section telling us how and why.

The Creative Commons (CC) is a public interest organization that provides easy-to-use licensing tools that can help anyone who creates or communicates to specify more clearly the terms under which they wish for their work (writing, photography, almost anything we create) to circulate. When someone speaks of the Creative Commons, what is usually meant are Creative Commons licenses that the organization freely provides. There is more to the organization than its licenses, but the licenses are the focus in this short post. In a nutshell, CC licenses allow you to reserve some rights in your work rather than the full set of rights spelled out under national copyright regimes. As a maker of creative works, the licenses give you more flexibility in how you want to share the things you have made.

The best way to learn about CC licenses is to visit the organization’s website and to watch a few of the explanatory videos that the organization has created.

I am not an expert on the Creative Commons in general and I am not affiliated with the organization (except as an occasional donor), but I have tried to speak helpfully of the Creative Commons in the context of work by public folklorists and of the kinds of local communities with whom they often work. “Why the Creative Commons with Folklorist Jason Baird Jackson” was episode 22 of the Artisan Ancestors podcast hosted by my Indiana University colleague Jon Kay.

Jon is the Director of Traditional Arts Indiana (TAI) and TAI has organized a series of informative webinars, one of which I did on “Using the Creative Commons.”

One place where I use CC licenses to advance museum anthropology is in Museum Anthropology Review, the journal that I edit. For most of its history, MAR content was published under the Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike license (by-nc-sa 3.0). Reflecting an upgrading of the license set, we now use a 4.0 license. Reflecting growing consensus among open access journal publishers, we now default to the more liberal attribution-only (by) license. Authors can request a different license, but this is now the journal’s default.

Compare these two licenses here:

In closing I want to point to a few more related tools that might prove useful to readers of this blog.

If a work is in the public domain, it is possible to signal this with resources comparable to the CC licenses. It is also possible for a creator of a new work to unambiguously dedicate her or his work to the public domain, thereby asserting no author’s rights in it. These two sets of tools are described here.

Those working in, or in partnership with, local or indigenous communities with special cultural property concerns, should be aware of the Traditional Knowledge licenses and labels being developed by the organization Local Contexts. This is a great effort designed to address important and related, but different needs from those addressed by the Creative Commons. The Local Contexts website and associated videos and documentation do a great job of introducing these tools and the contexts that motivate them. I expect that museums and other organizations stewarding cultural heritage materials will be using these TK licenses and labels more and more in the years ahead.

Thanks to Robert for this chance to share a bit of information about licensing and labels for heritage folks.

Jason Baird Jackson is Director of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures and an Associate Professor of Folklore at Indiana University and can be reached at jbj(a) and visit his blog Shreds and Patches

Meet Museum Social Media and EMP extraordinnaire – Jamie Glavic

JGlavicA few years ago I came across and immediately began to follow Jamie Glavic’s Museum Minute blog.  Over the years I have come to value her posts as a primary resource on the application of social media in cultural heritage contexts.  The Museum Minute blog also features a weekly round-up of museum related happenings and interviews with a variety of museum bloggers.  I routinely encourage my student’s to emulate Jamie as a role model for their career development as emerging museum professionals.  Below, I am very pleased to present an interview with Jamie with a focus on a very compelling argument for the use of social media in cultural heritage contexts coupled with a discussion of her career path.


Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your responsibilities at the Ohio Historical Society?

I’m from small town Ohio – actually, several small towns – I moved a lot growing up. Most of those small towns are in NE Ohio, with a few stints in Alabama and Germany (my dad was in the military when I was young). That being said, I call Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati home. My husband (who was my boyfriend at the time) and I moved to Northern Kentucky after college (about 10 minutes from the University of Cincinnati – our alma mater) and stayed until July 2012 when I accepted a position at the Ohio Historical Society. That was the longest I had ever lived in one town in my entire life.

A little more about me: I’ve been married for three years. I’ve been a Chihuahua mom for seven years. I enjoy campy scifi movies. I’m a binge reader. And I’m a social media enthusiast/advocate and blog about museums at Museum Minute.

It’s an exciting time to ask about my responsibilities at the Ohio Historical Society. In February of this year I was moved to the Marketing/Communications Division from the Museum and Library Services Division. Why, you ask? The Ohio Historical Society will become the Ohio History Connection on May 24, read more about that here, and I’ve been charged with updating our digital assets – everything from our website inventory (we have several websites) to our social media channels – to reflect the new name and brand. This will be an ongoing process, like anything else on the web, but it’s an exciting task. I’m also drafting a digital strategy document for the organization.


You are a strong advocate for museums to engage in social media. Why? 

Museums have the opportunity to touch more people online than they do onsite. While I would love for every single person in the world to walk through the Ohio Historical Society (not all at one time of course!), I also know that isn’t going to happen – that’s why digital strategy is so important.

A website, and the supplemental digital platforms that a museum can use to share their mission, work, and worth, should:

  • Provide a complementary space for those who have connected with the physical museum space in the past (whether it was 10 years ago or yesterday) to share their experiences, memories, feedback, and contact the museum
  • Entice those on the verge of the decision to physically visit or not visit,
  • Serve those actively searching for resources from collections/archives/reference
  • Engage the outliers – those who stumble upon us accidentally

Where do people spend their time online? Social media. According to this recent Business Insider article, Americans spend an average of 37 minutes daily on social media, a higher time-spend than any other major Internet activity, including email.

Interested in more stats? The Pew Research Internet Project Social Networking Fact Sheet says 73% of online adults use social networking sites:

  • 71% of online adults use Facebook
  • 18% of online adults use Twitter
  • 17% use Instagram
  • 21% use Pinterest
  • 22% use LinkedIn

If museums want to connect with audiences online, meet them where they are at (chances are, they’re at least on Facebook).


What advice would you give to the museum with limited or even without a social media presence today?

For those without a social media presence: Download the Digital Engagement Framework (DEF). The DEF is a great resource to get a handle on why you should use social media while strategizing how you will use it according to the mission, needs, goals and target audiences of your specific institution.

For those with a limited social media presence: Evaluate what you’re currently doing. Is it working? Do you have a strategy? How much time are you able to commit to social media? Do adjustments need to be made? Once you’ve answered these questions, download the DEF. I refer to it on a regular basis.

Additionally, don’t be intimidated. Social media will continue to evolve – some of the platforms we use today may not exist in a year or two. Strategy is key and flexibility is necessary (especially since there always a new update on some platform).


Do you have any go to sources for professionals to keep up to speed on developments in social media applications in museums?

What do you consider to be the biggest obstacle in developing effective social media in museums?

 The biggest obstacle: deciding who owns social media.

The Marketing/Communications Department does not OWN social media. Time and time again I’ve heard museum professionals discuss social media turf wars regarding access, collaboration, representation and messaging. Yes, social media can be a great marketing tool, but it can and should be so much more.

Social media, and digital strategy, is a team sport. No one department owns the medium.


Can you point to a cultural heritage institution today that you believe serves as an effective model in the use of social media? 

Institutions that I think serve as effective models in the use of social media are:


What was the motivation behind the recent #MuseumBlogs day you coordinated on Twitter. Was the activity successful?

I partnered with Museum Blogger Jenni Fuchs (@jennifuchs) at Museum 140 for Museum Blog/gers Day for Museum140’s 3rd birthday on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. Jenni reached out to me after receiving feedback regarding interest in highlighting museum blogs/the bloggers behind them on Twitter.

#MuseumBlogs day was, in my humble opinion, very successful. It was my first Twitter “event” and I was thrilled when I received the first #MuseumBlogs tweet from Australia a few hours before I went to bed the night before. Jenni was wonderful to work with and the tweets flowed throughout the day connecting museum blogs and bloggers from around the world. It’s amazing what tools like Twitter can do to connect us.


Any predictions on the next great thing in social media for museums?

Wearable tech developments, like Google Glass, will be integrated into the museum experience, from interpretation to evaluation. Wearable tech will take sharing/commenting in real time to the next level.

Augmented and virtual reality capabilities will be widely available to museums across various budget levels – and expected by audiences.


In your museum career you have held several positions around evolving social media and outreach components. What advice can you offer the emerging museum professional for employment in an evolving industry like museums? 

 The job market is competitive – but I’m sure you already know that. Don’t give up. Update your resume, and LinkedIn profile, on a regular basis.

Volunteering allows the flexibility to “test” out different aspects of museum work. Try something outside of your comfort zone.

Entry level positions often mean working the ticketing/front desk. That’s where I got my start. These positions provide a greater understanding of the guest experience and museum operations that you may not be exposed to otherwise.

Network. Network. Network. Discover what makes you unique – what you have to offer the field -and capitalize on it. Whether it’s starting a blog, creating a community group, or interning – learn to shine, take criticism, and pivot when needed. This will get you noticed. Don’t be a wallflower. In my experience, so much of museum employment lies in who you know. And connect with your state museum association!

Find museum blogs that speak to you and if you are on Twitter follow museum centric hashtags (#itweetmuseums, #musesocial, #museumed, etc.).


You are the president of the Columbus, Ohio Chapter of the Emerging Museum Professionals. What is the most important advice you could give someone as they transition from being a college student to a museum professional?

A career in museums is a career of passion. Once you land your first fulltime position, you will work more than 40 hours a week – and that’s okay (and expected) – but don’t lose sight of your work/life balance. Read more than museum books – design thinking, strategic planning, budgeting and leadership development are valuable subject matter and worthwhile reading. Budgeting is especially important as you get started – chances are you aren’t making a lot of money. Make time to attend and participate in events and programming at your museum – they’re often refreshing reminders of why what we do it so important. If you have a mentor, stay connected. If you don’t have one, find one. My mentor was invaluable in the first few years of my museum career. And finally, find your co-conspirators. Maybe they’re your current classmates; maybe they’re your future co-workers – whoever they are, find those who champion you, challenge you, think with you and grow with you.


Final words?

I feel incredibly lucky to do what I do. Robert, thank you for the opportunity to answer these questions.


Jamie, thanks so much for sharing – incredible resources and insights!  Jamie can be contacted through her Museum Minute blog or on Twitter @MuseumMinute

Blogging Archaeology in the Future


The final question posed by Doug for the blog carnival leading up the Society for American Archaeology meetings in April is: “…where are you/we going with blogging or would you it like to go?

I will take up Doug’s question more broadly from the perspective of user-generated content and open(ing) authority and consider additional forms of user-generated content.  The question raises a few themes for me:

Information Sharing – When I began this blog a few years ago my desire was to share information about outreach in museums and archaeology with my colleagues and a broader audience.  I knew that collectively we were doing a lot of interesting stuff in cultural heritage outreach that could benefit others.  My interactions through this blog over the past several years supports that claim.  Counting hits, reblogs, comments are gauges of whether the information presented is considered of value.  But my primary motivation for continuing to blog comes from the side comments made in phone calls, emails, or visits with colleagues and students who note how a particular post was helpful to them.  These interactions confirm to me that there is a desire for sharing information, my basis for launching this blog in the first place.

Beyond formal blogging, I am pleased with other new means of sharing information.  As an example consider  A bunch of years ago when doing my dissertation research I transcribed the handwritten field records of archaeologists who had conducted excavations at the Fort Ancient site (33Wa2) in Warren County, Ohio.  As I now slowly edge toward retirement, coupled by working with a PhD student with an interest in those records, a few months ago, I loaded the transcribed notes to the site.  There are not a huge number of views of the records, but certainly enough to warrant the 60 minutes or so it took to format and load the notes.  Similarly, I loaded course syllabi to  I appreciate that others have done the same.

Diversity – I appreciate that blogging provides me with a diversity of thinking on a topic.  For example, I enjoy the Bamburgh Research Projects approach to community outreach in Britain.  Blogs such as Paul Mullins’ Archaeology and Material Culture, Jamie Gordon’s Narcissistic Anthropologist, and Amy Santee’s Anthropologizing are resources that allow me to expand my box of thinking in consumerism.  The list of topics I learn about through blogs is extensive.  In my day-to-day existence, I simply do not have the time or resources to access this diversity of material through traditional print media, or even online journals.

I liken much of my blog reading to the three quarters of linguistics courses I took as an undergraduate.  I am not certain how those classes aid me directly in my career today but I know they provide me another angle to approach research and a good way to think.  The same is true with blogs I read.  I appreciate this level of diversity and my ability to be a part of that process.

Relevance – A growing buzzword in the cultural heritage industry today, particularly in the public sector, is relevance.  Today, a good bit of virtual ink is spilled that 10 years ago would be limited to peer-reviewed publications, conference papers with the obligatory “Do not cite without the written permission . . . ” or other scholarly publications.  Today, I am as likely to Google a term as opposed to searching in JSTOR, depending on the task at hand.  Peer review is in a state of transition and I do not mean to dismiss the process.  However, as I discussed and demonstrated in my Wikipedia as a Scholarly Research Tool undergraduate honors seminar this past fall, it’s not difficult to find Wikipedia entries that are more accurate than information found in scholarly publications on a particular subject.  That is, increasingly, the platform of delivery is less important than the scholarship behind the presentation.  I suspect this process will continue to evolve, and that blogs will be a part of that process.   Blogs and similar types of platforms will prove relevant to a range of public needs in informal and lifelong learning processes.

I suspect that 10 years from now blogs will be a thing of the past, replaced by a technology/mechanism that better suits the public needs.  For me, the ability to share and receive a diversity of relevant information will likely keep me blogging for the foreseeable future.

Moving Past a 1992 Model for Community Engagement

Morton museum

Flowing from last week’s post, I thought a good bit about engagement and the questions posed by Jordan and Allison in their reading journals for my Applied Archaeology and Museums class.  They asked about what if the public does not respond to a museum’s attempts at engagement.  I had a bit of an “aha” moment in my response when listening to a MOOC lecture from The History and Future of (mostly) Higher Education given by Cathy Davidson who teaches at Duke University and co-directs the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge.  In a lecture titled Teaching Like it’s 1992 Dr. Davidson noted that on April 22, 1993, the Internet went pubic and became commercially available, yet teaching in higher education largely remains locked in a pre-Internet mode of operation.   The top down model where a student sits in a lecture room of 50 – 300 and listens and takes notes as a professor delivers Powerpoint lectures and administers scantron tests is simply an inefficient use of everyone’s time and money.  That same information is very likely available on-line through a MOOC or other resource.

More importantly, drawing on a constructivist theory, Davidson wrote:

I like to joke that in 1992 if I hurt my elbow, I would go to my doctor and find out why my elbow was hurting so much. Now I go to, and find out what everybody else who’s hurt themselves says about the best way to treat it, what I might do, and if I’m going to go to my doctor, I now go armed with lots of information.  In fact, last year, the AMA did a study and found out that 75% of American doctors say that they now ask their patients what they’ve learned online before they begin their treatment.

This approach to engagement and knowledge is important to archaeology, museums, and community outreach.  For example, one week ago I visited the Morton Museum of Collierville for the first time.   My purpose was to discuss a student project to install a small exhibit on the prehistory of Collierville.  Housed in the 1873 building of the former Collierville Christian Church, the two-year old museum has a very impressive on-line collection available for viewing.  Visitors who walk through the doors of the Morton Museum for the first time may have a good feel for what they are going to see, and know quite a bit more about Collierville from visiting the website first.  When I spoke to Museum Director, Ashley Carver, she made clear the Museum’s decision to invest in a digital and on-site future.

There is a core issue that ties the Morton Museum back to Dr. Davidson’s Teaching Like It’s 1992 example.  The issue is not the technology but the paradigm of operation.  I liken this to a model of teaching engagement from Parker Palmer’s book The Courage To Teach.  He illustrates two models: a linear hierarchical model where the point of engagement is focused on the teacher and an interactive model where the engagement is focused on the great thing under consideration.

Now the curmudgeon might respond that what the Morton Museum is doing is nothing new.  Public libraries have been around in the U.S. since Benjamin Franklin donated his books to a facility in 1778.  The Morton Museum is doing nothing more than putting their collection online.  The curmudgeon’s observation is key.  I often quote, from Clay Shirky’s book Cognitive Surplus, where he (2010:98) writes:

Interpretations that focus on technology miss the point: technology enables those behaviors, but it doesn’t cause them . . . no one wants e-mail for itself, any more than anyone wants electricity for itself; rather, we want the things electricity enables.

Today, the Morton Museum of Collierville has not chosen to digitize a large portion of their collection simply because they can, rather, leaving preservation issues aside, they are betting that the folks of Collierville and beyond, already interested in the history of that town, have a desire to access their curated information through an online search.  The virtual visitor will also find out about the beautiful space of this cultural heritage venue occupies, along with the exhibits, programs, and resources they offer on-site.  In so doing, the Museum becomes more relevant to the public who pay the taxes to fund the institution.

As a small county/town institution, I don’t think the Morton Museum is unique but part of a growing trend.  I am quite intrigued that from small institutions like the Muscatine History and Industry Center in Muscatine Iowa to monster-sized places like the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis with their Open Field, cultural heritage institutions such as the Morton Museum are leading the way in engaging and being relevant to the communities that they serve.  These institutions seem the best shot at having cultural heritage venues also function as third places.

Museums like the Morton Museum in Collierville provide an excellent and direct response to the questions of engagement that Jordan and Allison posed.

My Experience in Teaching a Class on Wikipedia, Part 3


posted before about the class response to their “greatest insight” gained from participation in the Wikipedia as a Research Tool course at the University of Memphis this past semester.  Here is my first post on the course that provides background on how I constructed the class and shifts in student thinking about Wikipedia over the semester.

This week, I take up a second question on their final exam where students recommended changes for the next time I teach the course.  Below is a representative sample of student responses along with my thoughts.

What about this class did not work for you?  How would you improve the course if offered in the future?

“I would improve the course by having students create articles from the (Wikipedia) list of requested pages. I feel it would be easier to have something to go off of . . . versus having students create an article on their own.  I noticed at the beginning of the semester, a lot of people were simply editing the articles for their high school. I knew very little about creating an article, let alone a music or album article, and therefore got to experience a lot more in-depth about how to create one. It was actually a lot of fun getting to mess around and figure stuff out, like figuring out how to create a track list or adding an album cover. I feel that if everyone stepped out of their comfort zones and did an article that required more than just adding a few sentences, they would get a better experience of editing an article and starting from scratch.”

The Wikipedia 12-week syllabus for article creation allows students to get half-way through the course before getting serious about the topic of the article they will produce.  Although I directed students to the request for articles page early in the course, the formal structure of the 12-week syllabus allowed for procrastination.  The focus on creating a page was in some ways a detriment to the process.  Some students created excellent pages and others not.  In hindsight, the expectation that all students will create an article results in inevitable substandard pieces being loaded to Wikipedia’s public space that will ultimately be deleted.   Simple fixes for this problem include:

  • to not set a mandatory sequential timeframe as the current 12-week syllabus does for moving the student article from the sandbox to a live page.
  • require instructor approval for moving the article from the sandbox to the live page.
  • or require students to submit their articles to the formal Wikipedia editorial process when moving the pieces from the sandbox.

Understanding the coding was difficult for me, and moving my page out of the sandbox and onto a live page posed many challenges. This however, was not a sign of a fault in class, as I was given the tools to resolve these issues. My only suggestion for reducing this problem would be to possibly create a page in class, as an example. This would allow the students to be more familiar with how to complete the tasks above before they had to do it on their own.

This comment flows into a discussion of Marc Prensky’s often cited article Digital Native, Digital Immigrants.  Though informative, the article seems to overstate the divide.  For example, the problems some of the students had with the technology in the class, seem counter to the sweeping generalizations of the divide painted by Prensky.  Simply put, as a Digital Immigrant, I overestimated the digital knowledge of the Digital Natives in the class.

Although I reviewed each step in class, we watched Wikipedia tutorials on same, and students were provided links to reference sheets for every process, some students had a difficult time with the rather simple Wikipedia coding.  Some students remained unaware of the Beta Visual Editor or reference templates, despite being discussed and used as examples in class.

The fixes to the technological concerns include:

  • require students to bring their laptops to class.  Alternatively, the class could be held in a computer lab on campus.
  • although I demonstrated all processes in class on existing articles, some students suggested that I create an article along with them.  This suggestion makes complete sense to me.  I was in error when assuming basic coding would be readily understood by all students.

Also, the course might be improved if the sister projects were emphasized a little more. This is just a personal suggestion because I was unaware of these projects before the class, and I was quite intrigued by them. I think spending a little more time investing some of these could be interesting and would shed more light on just how incredible Wikipedia as a whole is.

I enjoyed the reading journals and giving insight on specific things. The only thing that I really felt myself begging for during the year was just more class discussion. I really enjoyed listening to what my fellow classmates had to say about what they had found in their experiences.

The above two comments get to the essence of the changes I will incorporate in the next iteration of this course.  The course ended up focusing too much on the technical aspects of Wikipedia and not enough on the concept I really wanted to bring to the table – a discussion of user-generated content and open authority as in Lori Byrd Philip’s recent article The Temple and the Bazaar: Wikipedia as a Platform for Open Authority in Museums.  Although we did discuss blogs, webinars, MOOCs and related issues, in the future I will spend more time on these topics.

Also Case Studies: How Professors are Teaching with Wikipedia is an excellent alternative resource to the 12-week article writing syllabus.  The assignments in the case studies do not require creating a Wikipedia article but provide experience in the same production skills, such as editing articles and adding photographs or other graphics to existing articles.  These activities seem more suitable for the type of class I taught that met for only one hour, once per week for 15 weeks.

Here are a few summary points on my general experience with the class:

  • The course provided students with an experience in user-generated content where they were required to make decisions and assessments independent of their instructor.  Although successful, I want to push that experience further.  Unfortunately, a considerable amount of time in the classroom and for the students work outside of class got bogged down in technical minutia.  A one-hour per week, one semester course with Freshman, most with very limited experience in user-generated content, proved an insufficient amount of time to both introduce the concept and create the product.
  • Wikipedia video tutorials and information sheets contain somewhat of a mixed message about the real world experience of Wikipedia.  The admonition to “be bold” and abundant notations that you can clean up any mistakes after the fact, while true, is certainly not the position of many of the editors.  While some territoriality, dismissive, and elitist comments are not uncommon on Wikipedia, the majority of editorial comments received by my students were completely in order, supportive, and on target.  Whereas most students produced acceptable or superior products/edits, a significant minority put up articles of poor quality.  In fact, my greatest misgiving in the course was not having safeguards in place, such as noted above, to prevent poor quality articles from going public, that will ultimately be deleted.
  • I am strong proponent of open authority and user-generated content.  Throughout the course, I consistently emphasized that Wikipedia was only being used as an example to examine user-generated content.  Throughout the course for every Jimmy Wales video promoting Wikipedia, we watched a second video that presented a counter perspective.  Ditto for readings.  For example, a third question on the students final exam was to assess Tom Simonite’s The Decline of Wikipedia recently published in the MIT Technology Review.  Given the brevity of the class, I did not include readings or videos that might be termed more as rants or diatribes such as Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur.  However, given today’s polarized sociopolitical climate on almost every issue, there is an apparent need to expand student exposure to these more extreme positions and I will do so in the future.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and look forward to a revised course offering for the fall of 2014.

My Experience Teaching a Class on Wikipedia, Part 1

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.

Pearltrees = Social Media + Mindmapping + Bookmarks


Okay, so Pearltrees has been around for three years now, and I am finally catching on.  Pearltrees is best described as a visual bookmark system that meshes social media with mindmaps.  I was introduced to the tool by Debbie Morrison who blogs at online learning insights.  Here is her Pearltree.  The basic concept is that Pearltrees organizes bookmarks by type in a branching system.  Debbie’s is a well-organized system that reflects her varied research interests and expertise in education.

My immediate application for Pearltrees was to present the annotated references students collect each fall for my Museum Practices class in the Museum Studies program at the University of Memphis.  Over the past few years, my intent was to build a library of references over time.  Prior to Pearltrees, I envisioned the references might live on a WikiPage or as an Excel file.  Pearltrees is a perfect answer to creating a very effective presentation.  Here is the Pearltree from this year’s seminar that includes a selection of the student’s references and my own organized by topical area within the field of Museum Studies.  I intend to subdivide each topic a bit further.  Specific to my Museum Practices seminar, this Pearltree will be useful as follows:

  • In class I usually run through a good number of websites during a single seminar class.  Presently, I open up a bunch of urls in Google Chrome and present the sites in a linear fashion.  With Pearltrees I can pick and choose references in a nonlinear visual fashion to be in line with the flow of the actual discussion and not the flow of the search engine list.  In this regard, Pearltrees can be envisioned like a Prezi presentation.
  • The Museum Practices seminar has created the annotated references for the past three years.  This year is the first time the results have gotten beyond the e-courseware discussion tab or the Excel spreadsheet.  I really like that next year’s class can check the current Pearltree to be certain their additions are not redundant but increase, grow, and expand the resource.
  • As a practical matter, the cutting edge reference of this year can be old news by next year or the webpage might no longer exist.  As well, the constant addition of links could make a Pearltree unusably complex.  The occasional pruning of the Pearltree will maximize the tools utility.  Also, when you hover over an individual pearl in preview, if the link is dead, you get notice of same and can easily delete the item from the Pearltree.
  • The Related Pearltrees icon or search tools take you to PearlTrees with content similar to your own.  You can then view, pick from other folks Pearltrees and add to your own tree.  As you are cruising the internet with a single click you can add links to your Pearltrees.
  • Beyond classroom presentation, Pearltrees is a fantastic information resource.  For example, I noted Debbie Morrison Pearltrees above.  I know that she has considerable expertise in online education.  If I am looking for current thinking on MOOCs, I know that I am going to get a more focused and relevant set of links from her Pearltrees than if I were to simply do a Google search.  Her Pearltrees will offer me a good entry point and current discussions on MOOCs.

Everything discussed above is available with the free version of Pearltrees.  For a fee customizable features and private Pearltrees are available.

Seemingly, two possible downsides to Pearltrees include:

  • If the service goes away and you have a ton of bookmarks and time invested in the project, the work will go down the drain.  There is no reason to believe Pearltrees is going away anytime soon but even Facebook will go the way of Friendster some day.
  • If Pearltrees decides to start charging for or altering their service – ditto the above concern but a bit less of a crisis.

And of course what review would be complete without a Pearltree of Pearltrees Reviews

Do you use Pearltrees?  If so, does it work for you?

What MOOCs Can Teach Us About Community Outreach

Lately I have thought more about my post on Massive Open Online Course or MOOCs.  Here is some follow-up:

I watched a six-minute Ted Talk by Peter Norvig, a pioneer in the MOOC field.  He began the presentation by noting “everyone is both a learner and a teacher.”  The obvious statement is in line with the current buzzwords of informal, lifelong and free-choice learning.  However, importantly his opening statement contextualizes the MOOC discussion within these broader public, beyond the limits of traditional academia.  The statement of this Stanford Professor expresses his desire to engage with the broader public, not just those with the over $13,000.00 in quarterly tuition at his University.

In the presentation Norvig notes that the first MOOC he taught on Artificial Intelligence had an initial registration of 209,000 of whom 20,000 completed the entire course.  On the one hand, a ten percent completion rate is not impressive.  However, I suspect that many of the 200,000 who registered, as with the first MOOC course I enrolled in but did not complete, were testing the MOOC waters.  I suspect further that completion rates will increase through time.  Regardless, 20,000 students completed the course, considerably more than Norvig’s total traditional classroom courses to date.

Norvig suggested the course was as interactive and engaging as many bricks and mortar courses.  Student feedback to MOOCs supports this claim.  Norvig reports some of the student response to his course in his Ted Talk: “this class felt like sitting in a bar with a really smart friend who is about to explain something to you” and “made to feel like one-on-one tutoring” and “now I am seeing Beyes Network and game theory every where I look.”

MOOCs also stimulate further in-person discussion among participants. has a webpage devoted to these meet-ups.  Norvig concluded his presentation noting that the initial MOOC offerings are being assessed and modified to better accomplish the course goals.  As he notes “the most exciting part are the data that we are gathering . . . we are gathering thousands of interactions per student per class . . . and now we can start analyzing all of that . . . and what we learn from that . . . that’s where the real revolution will come . . . and you will be able to see the results from a new generation of amazing students.”  Norvig is clearly not phased by MOOC naysayers.  Instead of focusing on what is wrong with MOOCs he takes the approach of building on their strengths.

What do MOOCs have to teach those of us working in Museums or around public engagement in archaeology?  I see that a good bit the lesson has to do with giving up ultimate control along the lines of the Letting Go: Sharing Historical Authority in a User Generated World post I did a while ago.  MOOCs also bring to mind the interactive model for engagement I have blogged about previously.  At the C.H. Nash Museum when we surveyed our e-newsletter readers about volunteering, 40% of the respondents suggested that we offer on-line volunteer opportunities.  Max van Balgooy has blogged about possibilities for online volunteering.  In our same survey of readers, 60% of the respondents wanted to see more of our museum content online.  In the wake of new offerings such as the Google Art Project, The Giza Archives, Virtual Hampson to name a few, the previously outside-the-box possibilities are becoming more the norm.  MOOCs provide another way to look at the relevancy of these projects that make information available to everyone with an Internet connection.  Instead of focusing on what these technologies are not, we can embrace the use of these applications in museums, classrooms, and beyond for what they offer in expanding opportunities for the broad public that we serve.

Related – here is a bit of a news update as announces the addition of 12 new universities to their online course offerings, including my alma mater at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

A response to A Practical Response to Massive Open Online Courses

This past week I attended the webinar A Practical Response to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS).  The webinar defined MOOCS as everything from iTunes U to the edX initiative of Harvard and MIT.  Here are a webinar resource list and a link that compare the range of MOOCs.  Seven Things You Should Know About MOOCs provides the basics that can be ingested in 5 minutes.  Also, I previously blogged about MOOCs.

The webinar title suggests a less than favorable overall assessment of MOOCS.  The 60 minute webinar bore out that expectation.  I won’t expend much figuritive ink on the bias except to note a couple of points.  The moderator’s near fanaticism in noting that “elite” institutions led MOOC initiatives was overkill.  The same was true for references to the “hype” around MOOCs.   The moderator’s comparison of MOOCs to the Oprah Book Club suggested the webinar would be as “fair and balanced” as Fox News.

Here are a few things the webinar coupled with my MOOC experience got me to thinking about:

Who are MOOCs for?  The obvious answer is potentially everyone with internet access.  As of June 2010 this means 77% of the United States population with no state at less than 60%.  A tremendous potential of MOOCs is the ability to engage in informal, free-choice, and lifelong learning, concepts today in the forefront of museum discussions.  Outstanding reports from the Center for the Future of Museums are available on these topics.  Academic sponsorship of MOOCs responds to this social need.  A good bit of the critique of MOOCs rests in their perceived impact on traditional academic degree models.  The perception is greatly inflated.  Coursera is one of the more successful MOOCs at this time.  Their home page notes that you can “Improve your resume, advance your career, expand your knowledge, and gain confidence by successfully completing one of our challenging university courses.”  All of that is true.  I believe that making such coursework available to all citizens, in their homes/libraries leads to increased civic engagement.  For academia to argue otherwise is self-serving.

What About MOOC content?  The criticism of MOOC content is difficult to take seriously.  For MOOC courses taught by tenured professors at Princeton, Harvard, or any other institution, one might reasonably assume that the content will reflect those very credentials.  I did not complete the Human Computer Interaction course I previously blogged about specifically because of the course content.  As opposed to alleged comparability to the Oprah Book Club, I dropped the course because I could not keep up with assignments that  required peer-interaction and review.  The course was more about the subject than I wanted.  I do look forward to other courses I have registered for that are more relevant to my research and career interests.

How can MOOCs be sustained economically?  The panelists were surprised that the biggest reason webinar respondents gave for liking MOOCs was that the offerings were open or free, causing one panelist to ponder “perhaps” we should be examining the cost of higher education.  As I often argue in my blogs, when our institutions demonstrate their relevance to the public that they serve, that relevance will be translated into economic support.  For example, in the case of the C.H. Nash Museum, over the past five years, we have moved from a position of extracting resources to inserting resources into the community in consultation with the community based on their expressed interests and needs.  When it comes time for the public of our community to demand of the elected officials support for programs, we are now in a much better position to receive that support.  I don’t see this as opportunism, rather, as living into our mission as an institution created to serve the public.

MOOCs, whether manifested as iTunes U,, edX, Ted talks, or the Oprah Book Club, ultimately operate from the same starting point.  In his book Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky (2010:98) writes “Interpretations that focus on technology miss the point: technology enables those behaviors, but it doesn’t cause them . . . no one want e-mail for itself, any more than anyone wants electricity for itself; rather, we want the things electricity enables.”   In the same way MOOCs is a technology that enables the publics desire for Massive Online Open Courses.  If this is wrong, then MOOCs or whatever they evolve into, will fail.  If the behavior is real, then all the hand-wringing and excuses will not stop them from succeeding.

What are your thoughts on MOOCs?