Monday, February 29, 2016

More on our Ford Fellow Search: the future of distributed work

Did you go to work today? Did you go into the office?

For much of the last century those two actions were synonymous. But now, for many Americans, the answers to these questions are respectively a) yes and b) no.

I’m bringing this up because in the course of looking for the Alliance’s next fellow, my colleagues and I have realized how increasingly common it is to split “work” and “office” —and that has opened us up to the possibility of a non-(DC) resident fellow.  This is now reflected in the on-line position description for the Ford W. Bell Fellow for Museums & P-12 Education.

This shift in thinking arose in part from the research which went intoTrendsWatch 2016 (which launched this week—you can download your free copy now). One of the topics in this year’s report is labor, and studying trends in how when and why we work has already had a big influence on how we’ve gone about the search for our Ford Fellow. Grappling with the challenge of bias-free hiring led us to use Textio’s analysis tools to vet the language in the job description and the search announcement. Integrating the trend towards challenge-based applications, we linked the search to CFM’s concurrent Future Fiction Challenge, giving non-traditional applicants a way to demonstrate their passion and ability before we look at their resume.

Since we opened the fellows search about a month ago (it will close March 14) I’ve had a number of interesting conversations with folks pushing me to consider non-resident fellows. In the case of the Ford Fellow, this makes a lot of sense because one of the strengths an applicant could bring to the position is the way in which he or she is embedded in their community. Someone with strong networks, contacts and influence in the museum/school/philanthropic/business ecology of their city or neighborhood could leverage those connections to do the fellow’s work: especially when it comes to fostering experiments and researching case studies.  

This kind of distributed hiring is in synch with national trends. In 2014 about 25 million people in the US worked remotely at least one day per month, and that number is rapidly rising—now 37% of US workers report telecommuting (up from 9% in 1995). A small but increasing number of companies have abolished the home office altogether, replacing permanent space with a combination of teleworking and distributed co-working spaces. The money saved on rent can be passed on to employees in higher salaries and to customers in lower costs. Staff value the flexibility and shorter commuting times, and the support both these factors provide to family life. And companies can put together teams of talented folks from all over the world—without asking them to uproot their lives and families.

The pivot the Alliance is making, in considering non-resident fellows, is far short of an all-in “no central office” model. It’s a strategic move to maximize the effectiveness of whoever we hire, by making full use of the resources they bring to the position. We aren’t offering let someone stay in their home town just because they would rather not move—we are inviting applicants to make the case, if they wish, for why they could tackle the work more effectively from their existing home base.

Now I’m curious to see what new applications we may receive from people excited by the prospect of working their local connections to explore how museums can help build a brighter future for education. Perhaps there will be one from you.  

Friday, February 26, 2016

Life’s Persistent Problems: TED Talk June 2040

Sylvea here. I'd like to introduce Dr. Tom P. Abeles, editor of On the Horizon, a foresight journal on education.  His #FutureFictionFriday story is a 2040 TEDTalk about continuous learning . Dr. Abeles shares several future innovations in education and highlights the valuable role museums play in PreK-Gray learning.

If you would like tips from Elizabeth to get you started with drafting your submissions, read “How to Write the Future.” Check out the other entries here and submit your story! Who knows....YOU could win $1,000 for your submission.Deadline: March 14th

Here is Tom''s story...

Education, today, is PreK->Gray where individuals are in a continuous learning mode, formal and informal. Its two major purposes are to provide for the ability for individuals to contribute to their own and a global society’s economic and to become active citizens in a global society. The IoT or Internet of Things makes this possible, connecting all in both click and brick space, a seamless network of humans and the larger environment, beyond technology.

What is important to understand is that the education system serves many functions as we go through life. It provides a variety of support from nurturing individuals while we are young to many activities in senior years. Its activities today are different from the past. It is not just a place to go in a larger social world, particularly with its diffused presence in cyber space.

The same holds for other islands of concentrated knowledge, museums, libraries and archival institutions. While we realize that educational institutions are not just “classes” or sites for knowledge distribution, we, also, forget that, for example, museums may have only a small percentage of their activities and work on public view. Much goes on beyond and behind those dioramas, interactive displays and public demonstrations.

Educational institutions tended to aggregate and package their materials. From a content perspective, they were almost clones as evidenced by such items as “classes” textbooks and national/international standards. On the other hand, while similarities existed in archival institutions, the uniqueness of their materials gives each a distinct character. More importantly, the networks of such organizations develop for sharing and collaboration, offering a varied and overlapping knowledge focus. This leverages all resources, which are amplified by the IoT, Internet of Things, which can virtualize and electronically manifest these opportunities across institutions and serve multiple needs of society from archival knowledge to new insights and from educating individuals to organizations.

About a half-century ago, education and the archival communities started finding common interests. This was accelerated by two major events, the emergence of a competency focus in education that broke the lock-step, age-defined cohorts and the rise of the Internet of Things. Competency required that individuals focus on areas of interest and develop appropriate levels of mastery. The network of museums provided institutions with similar content interests and also, for public consumption, varying focus on different populations from preschool to senior citizens.

More importantly, that vast area hiding behind the public displays provided resources that could not be duplicated but through the larger network could meet the needs of the seekers at the appropriate level. The rise of IoT removed a significant barrier to sharing of content.

With the rise of competency-based evaluations, new skills were introduced at all levels. The education system, while still offering core content also found a new need to help develop independent thinking skills and the ability to place learning in a larger societal context. This started to restore the increasing imbalance between the focus on content skills and civic participation. This was greatly helped by the growing relationship between museums and other archival institutions and the education system. All were struggling with the concerns for the need for a wider community focus. This brought the two major goals together.

What is interesting is that this convergence was foreshadowed by the entertainment industry, in particular Disney. Its theme park in Florida has, for example, been studied by architects, engineers and academics for its designs of traffic management, water and waste water management, personal services from accommodations and food management. It draws on knowledge from all disciplines and provides an educational footprint that has touched individuals from young children to adults, from the lay public to professionals. The entertainment industry has drawn on the entire education and archival spectrum to bring knowledge in what has been described as “edutainment” but which can meet the needs of knowledge seekers, PreK->Grey.

When knowledge is “packaged”, drawing from the entire reservoir within the museum and archival world, including artifacts as well as knowledge from experts, with the intended audience, be it primary schools or adults, we are seeing an inversion, a recalibration and a shift from where knowledge is drawn and a shifting in the institutional roles between the traditional and the newly integrated educational system.

Herein lies a critical change. Knowledge needs and capabilities for understanding are not defined by age-created boxes of capabilities. The many “Omni Theater” presentations at public venues such as museums are learning experiences of different levels and meet different needs in the present and future. Humanities faculty have understood this when persons study Shakespeare, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and a plethora of creative works through changing eyes.

That shift began with the development of computers and handheld devices now called a “phablet”, the cross between the cell phone and a smart tablet.  These were designed to biometrically link to the individual user, primarily students as young as 5 years old. Each came with its own “avatar”, a close cousin of the iPhone’s “Siri” and it was connected to a mentor, a guide that also monitored and supported the individual’s quests for knowledge and helped weave it into a pattern that gave focus to the search and mastery.

My avatar was a tortoise shell colored cat named Sophie and the package included a small stuffed replicate with a silver tag that read, “Hi, I am Sophie”. Even today Sophie, upgraded many times, still resides, now, in several spaces from cellphones to computers to intelligent machines such as my 3D research printer that has even reproduced a “Big Mac” (which I have not eaten). Over the years, Sophie was a constant, though I have had a number of mentors as my search has zigzagged through my career, today as nutrition scientist working at the NASA spaceport, which has an increasing number of manned flights, both government and private sector, including many international participants.

My father was a Hmong, originally, from Laos. He and other Hmong grew organic produce that they sold in the farmers’ markets. Why organic and was it different or better than non-organic. The questions became more complex when our local science museum got a mock-up of the Star Trek food synthesizer aboard the USS Enterprise. Then a team led by the Science Museum, but with collaboration from museums of anthropology, history and agriculture brought in an entire program on food, from growing it to consuming it from a global perspective.

Credit: Texas State Archives
As a curious teenager, demonstrations that ended in audience sampling were always a highlight. But I drew the line at insects whether fried crispy or made into hamburgers. Today, preparing for long duration space flight, all options are open. The problems are complex and we have yet to understand what has been labeled UDGF, the undefined growth factor that seem to separate two seemingly identical samples of food or feed but which have different outcomes. Then, is there a difference between a steak produced by a 3D printer, one that is grown in a chemical soup and one from a side of beef?

Sophie uncovered a report from work in a developing country where village children were suffering from malnutrition except in one family. It turned out that the father, tending the rice fields would pick the small snails that were present and fed them to his young children- an unexpected protein source. Now we have started a discovery program using children and their families to identify food habits and to look at past practices.

In part, this was also inspired by the food stores in the United States promoting “ancient grains” in their products and the many claims of “super foods” such as Moringa and Chia found in upscale specialty foods. Since there are now seed exchanges for growers of heirloom vegetables and international seed storage sites to preserve genetic materials, using students (of all ages) around the world, we are creating a network that looks not just at the plants but the soils, weather conditions and farming practices that could prove useful in designing experiments for planetary exploration. Some of these experiments could come from this network.

We must now remember that Sophie, my avatar, is networked with all the avatars of individuals from the very young to senior citizens. These persons and their avatars are free to not participate but many do.   Others join different or multiple networks. We now have a collective problem-solving and learning matrix that persists beyond what was once formal schooling.

My small effort is one of many emergent communities similar to the very early networks that formed to Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, SETI, or to find answers to, as Garrison Keillor’s Guy Noir would say, “life’s persistent questions”.

It’s a small world after all.  Thank you.

*This essay was inspired, in part by Neal Stephenson’s book, The Diamond Age (or, a young ladies illustrated primer)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Do-ing Diversity in Museums

Chris Taylor’s commitment to helping his institution make traction in conversations about diversity, inclusion, and professional development led to the creation of The Department of Inclusion and Community Engagement (DICE) at the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS). As the first director of DICE, Chris and his team develop internal and external strategies for diversity and Inclusion throughout the museums and Historic sites operated by MNHS. The goal of the department is to create a more inclusive organization, one where the state’s diversity is reflected within the staff and as well as the organizations’ internal structures. Today Chris shares some markers for institutions to follow during their drive to “Do Diversity” in our ever changing landscape.

Over the last few decades, museums have been challenged to “Do Diversity,” whatever that means. My experience is that this is often an unsupported mandate. As my colleague, Porchia Moore, wrote at The Incluseum, "diversity" is not even the word we should be using. Rather, inclusion implies that we recognize the value that diversity brings to our workforce, programs, products and services, and that we leverage diversity to make our organizations better. American museums have practiced systemic exclusion for more than two centuries.  In order for museums to remain relevant institutions in the future, it is time for museums to learn how to practice systemic inclusion.

Back in 2008 the Center for the Future of Museums and Reach Advisors published Museums and Society 2034: Trends and Potential Futures, an article that illustrated the rapidly changing museum environment. Founding Director, Elizabeth Merritt then expressed the important need for museums reinvent themselves in order to keep pace. Much has been written about our field’s need to expand its work by reaching out to previously marginalized audiences and communities. Demographic trends show that continuing to create programming and exhibitions for primarily white middle class visitors is not sustainable. Museums must change in order to meet the needs of a broader section of society.

Museums typically “Do Diversity” through programming aimed at audiences from diverse communities. Many of these programs—though engaging—are created in Euro-centric organizations by staff who seldom represent the target community. Systemic inclusion calls for museums to look internally at their processes, procedures, policies and the cultural competence of staff.

Credit: Emily Taylor
To use a metaphor of a tree, imagine if its branches represented the various functions of museums. There are branches for collections, exhibitions, preservation, education, development, marketing, etc. I argue that inclusion is the trunk of the tree and the strongest part that holds all other functions together. Understanding your organization’s trunk is vital for seeing how your staff think, act, plan, collaborate, and communicate. It resonates throughout the entire organization. Shifting to be more inclusive exponentially impacts the work across the entire museum. To begin this process, museums must focus on professional development, policies and procedures, as well as leadership.

Inclusion requires knowledge, skills, and abilities that are not wholly taught to museum professionals through training programs. Nor are these typically skills that staff can learn on the job. Albert Einstein’s quote, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” rings true. We cannot expect for our field to do this work through osmosis. Museum staff need professional development opportunities. Through leading DICE, I see how our professional development opportunities with staff have encouraged:
  • Increased cultural competence, including knowledge of the groups that have been marginalized by museums
  • Greater awareness of attitudes towards diversity and inclusion in order to understand areas of personal biases and barriers
  • More commitment from staff to build skills that allow for increased cultural flexibility and an ability to shift patterns of behavior toward being more inclusive.

In addition to increased cultural competence of staff, we also believe museums must examine policies and procedures for barriers to inclusion. Hiring practices, project planning and development, collections policies, and many other policies can be exclusive, or perpetuate the status quo. Often times, exclusive policies exist in museums not because current leadership and staff created them, but rather because many museum professionals continue to follow policies from days gone by. We need to examine our work and decide if obstacles to inclusion are allowed to perpetuate because we “can’t” or we “won’t.” If we “won’t” we need to ask why. If there is not a good answer, I encourage you to see if you can change your “won’t” to “will.” A word of caution though—it’s helpful to bring a Diversity and Inclusion professional in to review your policies and procedures. You may not be able to examine your policies in a new way until staff at your institution identifies their unconscious biases. We simply don’t know what we don’t know.

Leadership, it is your role to foster this change. You set the mission, vision, values and strategy for the institution. How inclusive are you? How much are you pushing yourself to understand the benefits of inclusion to your organization or how to shift culture? You should be on your own personal journeys, learning about inclusion practices in other fields that have had success. Are you attending conferences on inclusion in the workplace? An organizations culture is often read by examining its leadership. You must walk the talk. You set the tone and allocate the resources. And, ultimately if your espoused values are not congruent with your lived values, your organization will not change.

The inclusion gauntlet has been thrown before the museum field, but we are not building the necessary skills in our staff to meet the challenge. To sum up, the work related to inclusion is more internal than it is external. It is crucial that we continue community engagement efforts and programming targeted at various communities that historically have not been engaged by museums, but the biggest bang for our buck will be the internal work. To shift what museums are at their core to inclusive organizations will ultimately benefit all branches of the tree. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Garment Firm Shifts to Robotics

#Robotics #HomeRobot

Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Experiments in Virtual Reality at The Museum of Flight

TrendsWatch 2016 will go up on the web at the end of this week! And (spoiler alert) one of the topics I cover this year is the explosive rise of Augmented and Virtual Reality devices. The technology behind AR/VR is rapidly becoming more sophisticated, while costs plummet. The implications go far beyond games development: AR/VR have tremendous potential as educational tools, having been dubbed "empathy engines" for their ability to foster human connections. Museums are already exploring the potential for these technologies to enhance our practice. Today, a case in point: Peder Nelson, exhibit developer and Geoff Nunn, exhibit developer and adjunct curator for space history tell us about the Museum of Flight's forays into the virtual realm.

For the past six months or so, the exhibits department at The Museum of Flight has experimented with the use of virtual reality (VR) technology. We’ve tinkered with several different platforms ranging from the portable Google Cardboard to the room-sized HTC Vive system powered by SteamVR. Many of these and other VR technologies have great potential as both visitor engagement platforms and as exhibit development tools.

Our foray into VR really began last fall when the SteamVR team at Valve, a popular video game developer, reached out to introduce us to their work. They had a desire to move beyond their existing marketplace in videogames and Steam online (which is like iTunes for videogames) into virtual reality. The folks at Valve were interested in scanning unique spaces at our museum, namely aircraft and spacecraft cockpits and they plan to use the scans to craft custom VR experiences from these otherwise restricted environments.

Third grade teacher Carlynn Nelson explores the Tilt Brush 3D painting simulator in the exhibits offices at The Museum of Flight. Photo credit: Peder Nelson/The Museum of Flight

During an introductory tour of Valve’s headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, our team got to tour some of their VR enhanced environments. These include the mundane—a virtual version of their own offices, and the spectacular—a Martian surface simulation put together from images taken by Curiosity, a NASA rover.

In exchange for permission to scan some environments at the Museum, the SteamVR team offered to supply us with three Vive development kits, including custom built computer CPU’s spec-ed to run their software. Further, when SteamVR goes live, scans from our museum will be included in the content available to customers, and we also can use the program as we please. The offer proved mutually beneficial, and so we jumped at planning next steps.
As promised, Valve delivered three development kits to our offices and we, in turn, conducted an initial planning tour of our first joint project, scanning the interior of the Museum’s Space Shuttle Trainer. Something that we were not initially aware of when we received our developer kits was that because of our work as an exhibits design studio we already had many of the resources and skills needed to begin experimenting with our own VR experiences. The Museum of Flight has designed museum exhibits for years using Trimble’s 3D modeling program, SketchUp. While tinkering with SteamVR, we found that we could export SketchUp models into the Unity3D game engine and publish them as a SteamVR-compatible environment. Suddenly, we could walk around our upcoming exhibits in life-size VR! The sense of depth conveyed by viewing 3D models in VR has proven especially helpful for getting a sense of human scale when working with very large artifacts like aircraft.

Geoff Nunn drops into a VR simulation of the Museum of Flight’s newest gallery seen on the screen behind him. Photo credit: Peder Nelson/The Museum of Flight

Not only did SteamVR allow us to test our own upcoming exhibits, but we were also able to import available 3D scans from other institutions. To date we have imported scans from the interiors of Castello di Miramare in Italy, a wooly mammoth skeleton from the National Museum of Natural History, and a full size Star Wars X-Wing model from SketchUp’s 3D warehouse.

During our Space Fest public program in November of 2015, Valve helped us with an initial public stress test of the system.  At no additional cost to visitors, we offered free timed entry tickets to try out a custom VR experience for five minutes. This tour included the Mars surface simulation, an opportunity to walk around on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and lastly a 3D painting simulation called Tilt Brush.

The response to the test run was overwhelmingly positive. The VR experience proved highly accessible to a wide range of visitors, including non-English speakers. Over the course of the event, we had participants in wheelchairs, and at least one young woman with Down syndrome share the experience. One of the more remarkable interactions occurred when an elderly visitor put on the goggles and suddenly yelled, “I can see!”… after 20 years of double vision that developed as a result of a brain hemorrhage. Something about the way the images were transmitted via the VR headset temporarily corrected her existing visual impairments. 

Equally impressive was the response from Space Fest's invited presenters who work in the aerospace industry every day. A member of NASA’s Mars Curiosity team said that experiencing Mars in VR finally gave him a “sense of place” for the environment he had been exploring remotely for the past several years. A neuroradiologist who studies the effects of space on astronaut brains had a similar “wow” moment while exploring an environment assembled from publicly available CT scan data. The museum test was equally valuable for Valve, whose test audiences had previously been limited to the gaming community.

Since November, we have continued to tinker with the system in our offices, and just received our second-generation development kit earlier this month. We have not yet had a chance to coordinate the scan of the Shuttle Trainer with Valve, but hope to do so soon. Regardless, our initial forays into VR have given us a better understanding of the technology’s potential as a tool for both public engagement, and exhibit development in museums.