Friday, January 30, 2009

Digital Learning and Museums

One evening last summer while driving home from work I heard an interview with Maryanne Wolf, director of Tufts University’s Center for Reading and Language research. The subject of the show was how digital learning interfaces are affecting and/or changing the way we process information and even how our brains are hardwired.

In Wolf’s recent book, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, she starts by exploring how humans invented, taught and learned language over the past 5000 years. She then examines how individual children acquire and master spoken and written language. Finally she looks at what happens in the brains of children and adults who struggle to acquire language skills.

The radio story got me thinking about the potentially profound implications that Wolf’s work has for communication in museum experiences. How will museum designers, planners, curators and educators anticipate and accommodate the changing needs of this emerging digital generation? This topic seemed like a natural for a panel presentation at the 2009 American Association of Museums conference April 30 – May 4 in Philadelphia. So I called some friends and we put a session together.

The Emerging Digital Museum session will be held on Sunday, May 3rd at 2:00pm. Our presenters include:

Eric Mauriello, Partner/Chief Strategy Officer

Carolyn Brown, Co-Founder and Co-Director
Iowa Language and Literacy Institute

Mira Cohen, Director of Education
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum

Barbara Lombardo, Partner, Americas Learning Solutions Leader
IBM Global Business Services

Martin Storksdieck, Director of Project Development
Institute for Learning Innovation

This blog in intended to spark a pre-conference dialog about this rich topic.

1 comment:

  1. In Proust and the Squid, Wolf examines the goals of reading and how they have affected human brains though time. On page 17, she quotes Proust

    “We feel quite truly that our wisdom begins where that of the author ends, and we would like to have him give us answers, while all he can do is give us desires. And these desires he can arouse in us only by making us contemplate the supreme beauty which the last effort of his art has permitted him to reach. But by…a law which perhaps signifies that we can receive the truth from nobody, and that we must create it ourselves, that which is the end of their wisdom appears to us but the beginning of ours.”

    This quote appears to be stating that the goal of reading, while solitary, is to allow the reader to synthesize ideas and information to create their own thoughts and intellectual experiences.

    I then wonder about the purpose of reading digitally. In his online paper “Content vs. Practice” on gaming, Dan White of Filament Games (an educational gaming company) discusses the goals of the educational games Filament creates by stating:

    1) We aim to make games that teach practices (i.e. engineering) first and content (i.e. equations) second.

    2) Gameplay should not be divorced from practice. If you’re playing a history game, for example, the gameplay should teach the skills that historians value.

    It is clear that the digital text and surrounding experiences are created with very specific learning objectives in mind. While the experience of the game is task driven, the ultimate goal is to teach both content and higher order thinking skills within context. At the same time, while participants are required to read, they are synthesizing text and images in order to engage in tasks. In this way, the “reader” participating in the game creates their own experience guided by the game design.

    Do digital experiences, then, create another layer and opportunity for reading or chip away at the more individual and artistic experience of reading?