Personal Project: experimenting with how museum professionals can best acquire new technology skills

#MuseWomen Tech Fellows  Personal Project:  experimenting with how museum professionals can best acquire new technology skills

#MuseWomen Tech Fellows

Personal Project: experimenting with how museum professionals can best acquire new technology skills

About the Project:

  • Role: Project Lead, Instructor
  • Institution: Personal Project
  • Technology: HTML, CSS, JavaScript

For this personal project, I wanted to experiment with how museum professionals in different stages of their career could best acquire new coding skills. We had three tech fellows Monica, Cait, and Nicole and we decided to start with the basics of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript as fundamental building blocks that could lead to other skills. The idea is that we are museum professional are experts in our collections and storytelling to our audiences therefore we need to be active participants in the building digital tools to best reach our audiences and deliver on our museum missions.

We wanted to start small, learn what worked and didn’t work, and then take this information and possibly figure out how best to scale it up to a larger number of people. We started by soliciting the help from a Tech Company interested in diversity. We thought it was important to have some small incentive for our fellows so GitHub generously offered to help with this pilot project giving the fellows $1,000 each to use towards a conference of their choice. The next step was to tackle HTML, CSS, and JavaScript each month through Codecademy, a free online resource. At the end of each month we shared what we learned in a public hangout for anyone to access and encouraged others to follow and learn alongside us, which many did. Our goal was to learn and support each other in the basics and then build something together that would benefit the larger museum community during a Museum Computer Network (MCN) conference in New Orleans in 2016.


Testing Our New Skills!

Once done with our lessons we moved onto the project phase of the initiative. The project we chose to build was a type of museum challenge (and this is now live at http://nolamuseummap.com/ ) The website has you sign in through twitter and challenges you to visit as many museums in New Orleans as you can, leaving either reviews, or suggestions/clues clues for other MCN attendees to see and add to. With this project we wanted to focus on how we could best benefit other MCN attendees while at the conference to connect and share local museum information.


Lessons Learned and Next Steps

  • This was done in everyone’s free time so by having bigger incentive (such as the funding) then just learning a new skill, we found helpful.
  • Being as transparent as possible by posting and being reflective about the experience. A lot of times I feel like learning to code is hard to get into, but by having a group learn together and talk about the difficulties as well as the successes we found to break down these walls.
  • Having a hard deadline, using a conference and public launch as a kick in the bum to get the group project complete
  • Working through lessons knowing there is a larger goal in mind, these skills would be immediately, i.e. applicable to a conference project
  • Public forum for sharing information with the larger museum tech community

We would love to see this model go to individual museums that could possibly set up a similar program for interested employees. Tech is pervasive in all sectors of the museum from the conservation lab, to museum publications, to social media, to education departments. It would be an interesting experiment to have a bunch of employees across many departments build something together for the good of their museum audiences.