MIDEA at Museums and the Web 2013 Conference

MIDEA Associate Director Alex Freeman at MW2013

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting the NMC Horizon Report > 2012 Museum Edition at the Museums and the Web 2013 conference in Portland, Oregon. MW 2013 is a excellent place to learn about the most recent advancements in the field of museum technology. Some of the notable topics included many of the emerging technologies the NMC and MIDEA have been tracking, including 3D printing, augmented reality , open content, natural user interfaces, mobile apps, and the Internet of Things. What sets this conference apart from the Museum Computer Network annual meeting is the emphasis MW places on peer-reviewed research papers —  to be invited to present on a topic, many of the sessions require the submission of a written paper. These selected papers are then bound together into a publication that is then distributed to attendees and available for purchase on their website. The nearly 400 attendees come from large and small international museums. They represent the most innovate institutions, in my opinion, with regards to the advanced use of emerging technology and processes. Here are just a few of the highlights I took away from the conference:

Will Pappenheimer and John Craig Freeman's AR exhibition at MWX2013

Augmented Reality, is it here yet???

A new initiative for MW2013 was the creation of MWX2013 , the first digital exhibition to accompany the conference. Using the AR tool Layar, Will Pappenheimer and John Craig Freeman (featured in the the latest Museum Horizon Report) created a virtual exhibition in Tom McCall Waterfront Park across from the conference hotel. Inspired by the skywriting that small aircrafts can do with smoke, the public was invited to write virtual messages in the sky using AR on their mobile device. When another person encounters the space using the same tool, they are able to see what others have previously written.



PlaceSticker prototype by Balboa Park Online Collaborative

A third way to bring the Internet of Things to museums

The NMC has been tracking the Internet of Things, or IoT for short, for quite a while now. The technology involves giving ip addresses to objects. This has been mostly possible through the release of ipv6, which increases the number of ip addresses available, combined with Near Field Communication or RFID. At MW2013, a third technology emerged — the PlaceSticker. PlaceSticker is a project that the Balboa Park Online Collaborative is working on with a firm from China. The notion behind this project is that the museum would place a battery charged device in a bench near an artwork. When a visitor approached that area, a wifi signal would notify the phone user that there is additional contextual information available on a selected piece. Although still in the development stage, this option offers the opportunity to connect digitally with an artwork without having to touch a tag or scan a QR code. This is definitely something I’m going to continue to follow.

MOMA's Deborah Howes presenting on MOOCs at MW2013

Massively Open Online Courses are all the rage in universities, but what about museums?

Although sites like SmartHistory from the Khan academy are nudging online learning towards the humanities, they are not structured as MOOCs and there is skepticism about how this might work in museums. Deborah Howes from the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, reinforces the difficulty of museums moving into this realm by describing the online learning project she is leading at the MOMA. The MOMA’s fee-based online courses are not massive, nor are they entirely open, but they are successful programs that are actively engaging dozens rather than thousands through informal online learning. Howes proposes that museums investigate different online platforms in order to find the right balance between reaching a large number of learners and providing a quality experience.


It may be a few years away from seeing these technologies and processes become common place in museum education, but that’s what the NMC is here to do — to give you a peak at what’s on the horizon. What do you think about these topics? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

— Alex Freeman, MIDEA Associate Director

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