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?


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.

Twitter as a Cultural Resource Outreach Tool

This past November, along with my colleagues Sarah Miller, Christy Pritchard, and Steve Dasovich, I attended the National Council of Social Studies conference in St. Louis  to staff the Archaeology Education Clearinghouse exhibit.  On the opening morning of the conference, Sarah began to send out tweets about the event (#NCSS2013).  As a relative novice at Twitter, I raised with Sarah that I did not quite get the concept tweeting conferences.  I understood using Twitter to share links, event notices, and other announcements but the conference tweeting did not make sense to me.  Sarah immediately responded with a mini-tutorial on the multiple uses of the 140-character social media tool.  I was impressed and asked if she could share her thoughts in a blog post.  She graciously agreed.  

diver sarah
Sarah Miller, Florida Public Archaeology Network

by Sarah Miller

Social media is a hard sell for heritage professionals not already engaged in on-line activities for their personal life, especially so for Twitter.  One reason to consider social media is its ability to reach new audiences and build a following to create buzz.  For this, Twitter is ideal because of its instant access and user demographics.  Research continues to show that Twitter appeals to underserved audiences in my field (public archaeology): adults 18-29, African Americans, and urban residents.  Here’s a few suggestions on how to use Twitter to promote historical resources in your area and encourage growth in your own professional development.

  •  De-mystify what you do.  If you receive public funding, it is implied that there be public benefit to the work you perform.  While most outreach takes the form of public events, that doesn’t mean time behind the scenes is off limits.  Twitter allows you to update minute to minute your activities, from the glamorous to the mundane.  Giving the public insight into your daily activities as a professional, in my case an archaeologist, is a service in and of itself to the discipline.
  • Highlight current research and events.  It’s easy to forward on information to the public by pasting in URLs to flier and event calendars, as well as reposting research.  Consider recycling your own research products.  For example, when we do a conference paper or poster, we post our findings to the blog and send out to our social media outlets.  Tagging significant partners or themes, such as #slr for sea level rise or #ethics, encourages conversation across disciplines.  On the flip side, social media numbers (including Twitter followers) demonstrate potential audience numbers for promotion of events for grant applications and funding.
  • Open up communication.  Having a Twitter account lets your followers know they can easily get your attention by tagging your handle or sending you a direct message.  Taken further, you can also live tweet events or chats many of your followers may not be able to attend.  We regularly live tweet lectures on a designated account (@FPANlive).  The feed is then archived on our Storify account, making it easier to share with on-line audiences, or even forwarding on via email to public not engaged in social media.  One area we hope to expand is in offering live chats with other professional archaeologists working or visiting Florida.
  • Engage with other professionals.  The conferences I most look forward to attending are those with a strong social media component.  Take for example the recent Society for Historical Archaeology conference held in Quebec, Canada.  Months before the conference conversations began on Twitter using the #SHA2014 hashtag.  During the conference I used Twitter to find those who share a common interest.   Archaeology in the Community (@AITC_DC) tweeted “Come talk public archaeology with us!”  So I did (also known as a tweet-up).  Unfortunately, due to the Arctic Blast, many attendees were stranded at airports or had to turn back.  For many, social media was the only lifeline into the conference.  The Society has a social media plan in place and does a great job providing guidance as to how to use social media for its maximum benefit (2013 conference link and 2014 conference link).

    Sarah Miller (center) with Steve Dasovich and Christy Pritchard tweeted the proceedings from the National Council of Social Studies conference for the Archaeology Education Clearinghouse.
  • Build Community.  Social media is only fun when others play.  By nature it is collaborative and encourages partnership between individuals and organizations.  If you’re finding it hard to get followers and want more comments, be sure you are following others and also commenting.  Some of our go to public archaeology partners are results of threads that began on Twitter and are marked using the #PubArch hashtag.  I immediately know that they are engaged with the same audience I’m seeking, what kind of communication they produce and promote, and have a way to network information when truly necessary to an exponentially larger audience.  Another tip: on Fridays people use #ff (follow Fridays) to recommend likeminded peeps to follow.  If someone you follow sends out  a #ff, check out who they recommend.  Find someone you like?  Give them and others you chat with the courtesy of a #ff post.

If you need help getting started, sign up for a Twitter account and start a conversation with me @semiller88.  I recommend you first search topics you’re personally interested in to get an idea for how people share information, and importantly the tone they use to express themselves.  Then look up your professional interests, such as #archaeology or #pubarch (public archaeology) hashtags to see what others are posting to these subjects.  Make note of local museums, newspapers, organizations that also have accounts and be sure to share their posts or tag when you mention them.  Start slow with a goal of 4 tweets a day, add pictures, and after a month challenge yourself to live tweet an event you already planned on attending.

Remember, social media is only fun when others play!

Flyer for recent Florida Public Archaeology Network workshop on social media
  • Twenty Tweeps to Get You Started
  • Kris Hirst @archaeology
  • NPS Archeology @NPSArcheology (note: now a variety of great NPS accounts!)
  • Society of American Archaeology @SAAorg
  • Society of Historical Archaeology @sha_org
  • National Archaeology Day @arcahaeologyday
  • American Archaeology @tac_org
  • LivingArchWeekend @LiveArchaeology
  • Terry Brock @brockter
  • Lorna Richardson @lornarichardson
  • Nicolas Laracuente @archaeologist
  • Ed Gonzalez-Tennant @gonzaleztennant
  • Lynne Goldstein @lynnegoldstein
  • Paul Mullins @mullins_paul
  • Succint Bill @succinctbill
  • Webby @archeowebby
  • Mandy Ranslow @mrshlltwnmauler
  • Cort Sims @cortsims
  • Myriam Arcangeli @Terrailles
  • Ralph Mills @archaeologyman
  • Robert Connolly @yagumboya

Sarah Miller is Director of the Northeast and East Central Regions of the Florida Public Archaeology Network.  You can find her on Twitter: @semiller88, @fpannortheast, @fpaneastcentral, and @fpanlive (okay, and @beerarchy too) or via email at

My Experience in Teaching a Class on Wikipedia, Part 2


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

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 ( 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.

Organizing To Be a Lifelong Learner

The Museum Director’s Desk

R. Barry Lewis, my dissertation advisor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, pushed his students to stay focused on completing their degrees so they could start their own educational path.  I have always enjoyed this understanding of self-directed lifelong learning.  Perhaps this approach is what ultimately led me to museum studies.

Nearly three years ago I posted about webinars and podcasts that functioned in this lifelong learning network. Since then, information exchange along with the methods and structure of lifelong learning have evolved.  Today, besides webinars, there are MOOCs, increased open access, a universe of social media enhancements, and more.  I am thinking more about my participation in these networks as a lifelong learner, a museum professional, anthropologist, and university educator.

First, I contextualize this discussion directly from Debbie Morrison’s recent posts on Personal Learning Environments (PLE) and Personal Learning Networks (PLN) at her online learning insights blog.  To get the terms out-of-the-way, PLEs  “are systems that help learners take control of and manage their own learning.  This includes providing support for learners to: set their own learning goals; manage their learning, both content and process; communicate with others in the process of learning” (reference).  A PLN “is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment. In a PLN, a person connects with another person with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection” (reference).  Check Debbie’s posts for a more detailed discussion of these concepts and links to further discussion.  Simplistically, I view a PLE as the tool and a PLN as the interaction that results in using those tools.  Some of tools I use to interact include the following:

  • Blogs – My first post on this blog was a little over three years ago.  Today I subscribe to about 90 blogs.  Of those, I regularly read 10, scan another 10, and look at the headlines of another 10.  Most of the sixty remaining post very erratically – perhaps once every 60 days or even less often.   As I posted before,  the information and interaction especially from the 10 I read regularly along with my own blogging are integral to my professional development.  Perhaps most critical is the mutual sharing of expertise with individuals I have known exclusively or primarily through blogs.   
  • MOOCs – Last fall I completed and posted about my first MOOC course experience.  I am currently registered for courses that include E-Learning and Digital Cultures, Aboriginal Worldviews and Education, and Introduction to Sustainability.  I have completed about half of the MOOC courses I started solely because of the time commitment involved.  That is, all the MOOC courses I have registered for are quality higher education level courses on a topical area – but often a bit more than I can handle.  I also benefit from folks I interact with in my PLN who post summaries and resources available from MOOCs they attend.
  • Listservs – The dreaded email Listservs are integral to my information gathering, even though I delete at least 9 out of 10 messages unread.  Besides topical discussions, Listservs are a primary tool for disseminating information about conferences, publications, calls for papers, and employment opportunities.  (I have mixed feelings about the fact that I routinely forward job announcements to folks seeking employment who are unaware of the openings because they do not subscribe to basic Listservs of their industry.)
  • Social Media in its many forms are excellent learning tools.  I posted a couple of weeks ago about Pearltrees, my big find of the year (which I learned about through a blog post.)  Besides creating the environment, like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the plethora of social media sites, I am finding that Pearltrees is also an excellent means for networking.
  • Wikipedia as a distinct network form is becoming increasingly relevant to me.  I have posted before about the Galleries, Libraries and Museums (GLAM) with Wikipedia.  GLAM is an environment that draws on other environments (blog, Listserv, social media) to form a distinct tool unto itself.

In working through the above tools and networks over the past few months, I have come to appreciate the need to create both a learning environment and network that suit my lifelong learning needs.  If the system is created intentionally and is not just an accumulation of stuff and business cards, the results will be effective learning.  A few of my takeaways on creating a PLE and PLN include:

  • I like the understanding that formally structuring a PLE and PLN brings order to what otherwise can be completely out-of-control.  The creation of structure also entails a my commitment of both time and resources.   
  • The organization of a PLE and PLN recognizes the indispensible role that personal learning plays in both my professional career and avocational interests.  Whereas on the one hand, there is a plethora of resources on every conceivable subject available today, the need to winnow through and fine-tune the search of that material becomes more crucial than ever before.  If I am after lesson plans to explain radiocarbon dating to 4-5th graders, I can either Google the concept, or turn to my PLE that through Listservs, Pearltree bookmarks, and more, I may interact with a network who very likely have expertise in this area.  The same logic holds true for disseminating information.  Through time, because a learning environment and network will grow, the different branches will reach deeper into specialized areas.
  • Personal learning networks and environments can be as fluid, specialized, or expansive as the individual needs.  Although the social nature of the environment can lead to interaction between members of a network, in fact, individuals in my network do not necessarily know they are in my network, any more than an author knows if a well-worn copy of their book is on my shelf as a standard go-to source on a particular topic.
  • Organizing personal learning within an environment and network is a logical method for remaining current in a field of study.  Today, reliance on typical peer-review journal searches is insufficient.  For example, a search of the social science journal archive, JSTOR produced 1 hit for “Massive Open Online Courses.”  A Google search for the same term produced in excess of 3 million.  A PLN can provide a functional resource between the two extremes.  For example, I can go to the Pearltree of someone in my PLN who I know remains current on MOOCs and find about 75 recent discussions on the subject from sources such as The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education.
  • Perhaps my greatest takeaway is simply the excitement of finding a means to coordinate and organize my own lifelong learning process in a way that is productive, manageable, and engaging!

How do you envision Personal Learning Environments and Networks?