Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tracing Active Learners

Constructivist theory figures largely into my rationalization of blogs for museums.

Today I realized that I don't know enough about it and am tracing it through Wikipedia. Gods bless Wikipedia for relatively accurate, extensive, and well linked information.

Jean Piaget, father of Cognitive Development

Cognitive development led, in part, to Constructivist Epistemology which tells us that there is no inherent reality, only that which is constructed by the mind and by society.

Then there's Lev Vygotsky who was instrumental in theories of social construction, in which an individual's construction of reality is influenced by their surroundings (ie society). He's also the Zone of Proximal Development guy. The Zone of Proximal Development being not a Star Trek episode, but rather the zone between what a learner knows and what they have the potential to know. It suggests that the ability to learn is affected by social interaction and collaboration.

Jurgen Habermas is also a name to know. His theory of the public sphere as "a network for communicating information and points of view" dovetails nicely to a discussion of blogging in museums, I think. "Democratic public life only thrives where institutions enable citizens to debate matters of public importance." Public realm accessible to all? Sounds like the internet to me. Well, accessible to many people in developed countries at least. If we were to get into less developed countries and issues of class we'd have a very different paper. An extremely important one, but different.

Moving out of Wikipedia, there's George Hein, author of "The Constructivist Museum" in which Hein explains why constructivism is what all the cool kids on the museum block should be doing. He has no Wikipedia entry.

And that's what I know. For today at least.

Look! Tribbles! Hmmm... that reminds me of an article I read, Be Constructive: Blogs, Podcasts, and Wikis as Constructivist Learning Tools, which used terribly mixed Star Trek metaphors and saying to try and facilitate the article. Good information, bad use of Star Trek.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Mmm mmmm mmmm mmotivation!

I've been sitting in front of my computer for, oh, quite a while now, completely failing to produce any material for my thesis. I've moved past the reading and into the writing now. I've a solid start into the Communications and Education sections, but that only amounts to about 7 written pages. I've about 1/3 to 2/3 of each section done and the further part of those sections outlined. There is no headway into the third section on Public Relations, but we must be content with what we have.

I also have random portions of an overarching history/introduction bit and of a definitions/history/intro to blogs and blogging bit.

I feel that I've read so much and I know so much at this point that it's all in me (except for the citations) and I could just talk about it for hours, but translating that into writing is proving more difficult, an unusual position for me.

Let's have some links:
Research on social networking sites via Fresh+New

Museum Blog without an RSS feed. No blog should be without a feed. Especially a blog for a first amendment museum, especially one on blogger where they'll do it for you.

The Henry Art Gallery on Myspace (museums on myspace are really interesting, but I'm not going to address it in my thesis. Someone should. Because anyone can say they're a museum, I think the Milwaukee Public Museum had a bit of a row over that.)

The Chazen Museum of Art on Facebook. You'll need an account to see it, I think. And, hey, I used to work in the giftshop there, back when it was the Elvehjem. Very nice museum, major expansion project underway.

Amy Barnes' Research Blog on the material culture of Red China. Graduate students, unite!

Take my survey and tell your friends!

And now I think I'll move from procrastination to flat out not working. Thank you for your attention.


Thursday, February 22, 2007


I now have University approval to move forward with my survey.

Below you will find a link to a survey. If you blog for a museum or are involved in a blog administered by a museum, I would appreciate if you took the time to fill out the survey. I am especially interested in the responses of people who have been involved in museum blogs for a long time, or helped to get their institution's blog off the ground. It is a long survey, it may take an hour if you give me long answers, but it will really help me out. And you have the option of saving it part way through and coming back to it later.

I'm putting it up here for open access. Mid-next week I will be contacting institutions directly as well.

The first two pages are a lot formal and, well, kinda long, but it needed to be done. And, of course, participation is completely voluntary.

Click here to take the Survey.

If you don't blog for a museum, I can still use your help. Answer me this question one: Why should museums blog?


Friday, February 16, 2007

Gap var ginnunga

gap var ginnunga

Yeah, I know that looks like gibberish, but give me a minute and I'll explain it. Right now I'm taking this course on Scandinavian mythology. This phrase - gap var ginnunga - is found in the third verse of The Seeress' Prophecy, also known as Voluspa. It's translated in many ways: great emptiness, gaping void, black void, you get the idea. But as we discussed it in class, these translations don't exactly capture the meaning.

Gap is a gap, a chasm, an empty space, a void. So that part's okay. Var... I don't know what that is exactly, but it's not the important part.

Ginnunga. Ginnunga is the key. Ginnunga is a unique word. It only occurs once in the writings that we have in that time. So we don't know exactly what it means. But linguists, or at the least the teacher, have/has some ideas on the matter. "Gin" is like "begin" - the roots are the same and this is borne out linguistically. So it is theorized that "Ginnunga" means "before the beginning" when things are ready to start happening. (I know my reasoning is missing a few steps, but this is what I have been taught, go with it for now.) The term we used in class is "charged with potentiality."

Charged with potentiality. I like that. It's poetic. It's beautiful. It.... doesn't at all seem to relate to the stated purpose of this blog.

But it does. Because right now I feel all ginnunga. There's so much potential and things are about to start beginning.

I'm (very almost) ready to start writing. Next week I am planning to pound out the first half of my thesis. I'm doing a little rounding out of things this weekend and come Monday I mean business. The first half of my thesis will address the question: "Why should museums blog?" and tries to answer that question from the point of communication theory, learning theory, and public relations theory. But, at this very moment, it's all ginnunga.

The other ginnunga is my future. Particularly my future job. Certain popular museum listservs have been atwitter telling me that there are (almost) no jobs. Well, I've got two phone interviews next week and I plan to rock them. I'm a little scared, but mostly I'm excited. My future is crackling with the energy of potentiality. As overly optimistic as it may be, I feel like everything is possible right now. And I'm ready to face it.


Thursday, February 15, 2007


I've had butterflies in my stomach several times this week. As the stress increases and time goes shorter I'll have a veritable flock of butterflies.

The butterflies in my stomach now are ones of excitation. Why? Because, just now, I encountered Radical Trust, both the concept and the blog. Sure I'd heard the word, but hadn't connected it to anything. And now, reading the article on the blog, I became so excited! I love it, adore it, when people say things that need saying, things which seem so painfully obvious to so many of us and yet are escaping others. I'm glad there's a term for it.

And it seems like museums might not have that kind of radical trust in their publics to really allow them behind the scenes and into the life of the museum. Who really seems to trust their publics? The Science Museum of Minnesota (Hi Liza! Thanks for stopping in). Not only do they have a pretty rockin' science blog, but (and correct me if I'm wrong here folks) users can register and submit stories for the blog. Who doesn't trust their publics? Well... I have a few ideas on that, but I want to get my surveys out and back before I go naming names. But I get the feeling that there's no a full commitment to trust in the museum blog community. Not just yet. Moving forward though.

Less recent butterfly reason: On Wednesday I got an email scheduling my first interview for a real job! Squeee!

But sometimes I get butterflies from too much caffeine. Really any caffeine lately. That's what happens when you're mostly off the stuff for about 6 months and then go hitting your body with Mt. Dew or a mocha every other day.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Titular Woes

Before I get to the subject of this post, I've been meaning to take back some of the mean stuff I said earlier about Blogger. It's much more customizable than it used to be. But in terms of also working as social networking and creating community, it is no match whatsoever for LiveJournal. Blogger can be a PITA to get to work the way I want to, and I really wish it had comment threading. Not that I get many comments. But Blogger, you're okay.

Right. Subject. Titular woes. (insert adolescent snicker here)

I'm trying to come up with a title for my thesis. I have 1.5 pages of my thesis written and I want a title. I want a snappy title. Something that's fun and communicates my topic at the same time.

My best one so far?

Museums and Blogs: A Critical Analysis

*yawn* *double yawn*

There's a part of me that would like to call it I'm in Ur Museum Website, Readin' and Analyzin' Ur Blogz: An Analysis of Museum Blogging, but this is probably a bad idea for several reasons.
One: It would freak out the straights. I don't want to freak out the straights.
Two: It's confusing now. How confusing is it going to be in 6 months when it's even more horribly out of style?
Three: It's going to get dated real fast. See #2. I don't want it to be laughed at for an appalling title.
Four: Did I mention it will freak out the straights?

I do actually quite like the second title. It does convey a sense of fun that I hope I actually have and am not just imagining. And it is very much an internet thing. But.... Dated and scary are two big cons in the pro-con chart of its life.

What I need is a happy medium. And yes, this really is an issue now. See, I've put my thesis on my resume, and I've started the job hunt (*puts on safari hat and kahkis*) (I'm starting early because I'm clever like that and I am terrified by recent conversations on the Museum-L listserv). Until inspiration strikes, I'll leave the boring *yawn* title on ye olde resume.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Notes - Communication

Uh Oh. Disconnectedness, personal style notetaking ahead. Here's where I'm just talking to myself, trying to pin out some ideas.

Broadcast v. Network
Two systems interrelated. Blogging as a combination of the two? Particularly for institutional blogs? Or all internet as both? Certainly there is the need to put your stuff out there, but also the opportunity to create a network around said stuff. So Network is an extension of broadcast. Not nesc. the Second Media Age. It's more like Media Age 4.0 (printing, telecommunications, tv, internet). Just a continuation, an upgrade that does not supercede the previous.

Generation Gap
Younger folks get Media Age 4.0. Older folks not always. Mmmm... Tasty sweeping generalizations. Generally older folks control institutions. Thus not always getting how CMC (computer mediated communications) is a part of life for many younger folks.

Text and Interactivity
See this earlier entry and the relationship article. Text based stuff with feedback options is more useful to younger users than masses of multimedia glitz. Razzle Dazzle 'em and they'll still notice that you ain't got no content.

Are we going to reach as many people through our blogs as through our radio spots? Probably not. Unless we're doing something really great and special - which some museums have managed to do. But even if we're not reaching as many people, the quality of the interaction is higher, the consistent blog reader is more likely to feel invested in and related to the blog author/organization. (Is there anything to back this up? Just personal experience? Gotta be something. Maybe Naked Conversations has something. Look into Cluetrain.)


Thursday, February 08, 2007


Have you seen this?

Web 2.0...The Machine is Us/ing Us.

It's hypnotic and slick.

Via Dr. B.


Forward Motion

Nothing like a deadline to motivate a girl. It is my goal to have the first half of my thesis drafted by the end of finals week (March 16th). I'm just started writing and I have a page and a half on the definition of blog. It's a good start and a good place to start.

I'm starting with the history and definition of blog because it is the area in which I feel most competent. I've read the most in that area and I know the most about it.

From there, according to my outline, I will move on to theories on communication, learning, and public relations as I try to answer the question "Why should museums blog?" (that's a link to my outline there. feedback is welcomed. I like a lot of things about it, but there are things that need some more ironing out. I'm certain it will look different by May)

In other exciting news: I sent off my volunteer time slot sign up for Museums and the Web 2007. If the girl handing you a registration packet has long blue hair, that's me. I'm exceedingly excited about this conference. It is my first museum conference and the first museum conference in which I'll be taking part. See me at the research forum on Thursday night, where I'll talk about things you already know because you read this blog. All you people searching for "Im in ur collection." :\

I'm looking forward to the Radical Trust: State of the Museum Blogosphere presented by Jim and Seb. There are a ton of others that look equally inspiring: Blogging within a Traditional Museum Setting from Jeff Gates of Eye Level, the entire Redesign session, as well as the session on Small Museums. I'm also looking forward to San Francisco, because I've never been before!

Now I'm just procrastinating... My excitement is genuine, but so is my need to get more than 2 pages written if I want to be half started (not half done, but half begun) by mid March.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Voicey voicey voice

I've been a peer writing tutor at two major US universities, so I consider myself pretty versed in the basics of writing, and some of those not-so-basics. One of the most important yet hard to capture aspects of writing is Voice. That elusive tone individual to a writer that means so much to the reader and can be so hard to control.

We were discussing voice in my Thesis Seminar Support Group last week. And I thought it would be a hoot to write portions of my thesis in my blogging voice. Because my blogging voice is SO SO SO far away from my academic writing voice and even strays pretty far from my speaking voice. That is, I am WAY more outgoing sounding and enthusiastic in my online incarnations. Which is fine.

Can you imagine reading an academic paper written in my blogging voice? That'd be a good time. But no credibility.

There's the rub. My blogging voice is genuine. It's (I think) pretty passionate and sincere. But it is completely and totally not credible. Sure, I can try and establish my street cred by reading off my accomplishments, but, dude, I say things like dude.

So museum blogs are in a sticky place with voice. Museums depend on their credibility - visitors attend for a learning experience. If a museum isn't a good learning experience, it is going to lose attendees. So when it comes to blogging, a museum can't blog like a 13 year old girl or, really, like a 24 year old master's student. A museum needs to blog like a museum.

But a museum blog is usually written by more than one person. This tosses an additional wrench into the works. Individual voices speaking for an institution. How is this balanced? Is it balanced? Is there a higher blogging power at the museum that goes over all posts before they are published and evens out the voice, avoiding the more dramatic and least credible blogspeak? How does this work?

And a blog voice can't be totally academic (ie the most credible voice), because no one can talk back to an academic paper (okay, that's hyperbole, but you get the idea). Sure, it might invite some academic response, but it's alienating to most folks. To engage in conversation, you need to be conversational, you can't be pedantic or academic. It's a hard line to walk because there's no easy solution to the problem. And you can't be taught voice. You can be shown how voice relates to reader's perceptions, but even the experienced can be hardpressed to point out specific changes to make to adjust one's writing voice.

How do you museum bloggers do it? What do you keep in mind to maintain a professional, yet inviting voice? Is it even an issue that's ever come up? Am I asking too many questions?


Saturday, February 03, 2007

Today's Entry is Brought to You by the Letters P and R

Public Relations. Yikes. I am not a PR kinda gal, and yet I am going to need to know something about PR. So I did a cursory search of PR theory, decided that relationship theory seemed the most useful to my purposes and printed out a few papers from the Journal of Public Relations Research. Two of the papers are just trying to define what relationships are.

PR kills me. Especially PR research. I'm reading it and it sounds like such a lot of double talk. I know it's a valid and useful thing, but when you're talking about trust, openess, involvement, investment, and commitment as VARIABLES? It all seems a little insincere to me.

But it has value. I've discovered that I believe that blogging, done well (ie, the way I think y'all should be doing it), fits nicely into the whole relationship theory of public relations. The idea of relationship theory is that an organization and an individual can have a relationship. Yeah. It seems really self evident to me, but there is apparently this huge literature trying to pin it down. Yes, relationship is an elusive concept, but wow. I am blown away by how problematic it is in the literature.

But I am pleased to have found some nice grounding PR theory for my thesis.

AND. AND AND AND! I found this lovely article "The Effect of Web Characteristics on Relationship Building" by Samsup Jo and Yungwook Kim. And it uses real studies! They have a hypothesis (two, even!), an experiment, variables, the whole shebang. After reading almost nothing but literature based on literature with the occasional case study thrown in, I am THRILLED T-H-R-I-L-L-E-D! to find something with some kind of empirical evidence. And the conclusions support my belief that blogging is good. They tested some college students reactions to websites with different levels of multimedia and interactivity. They found, essentially, that interactivity is way good, but multimedia wasn't such a huge deal. The students sometimes got lost in the multimedia but related well to textual stimuli that was sincere. BLOGGING! HELLO!

Maybe it's the grande Mocha I bribed myself with at Starbucks talking, but I am very excited about this whole PR backing me up thing.

I have so much more I want to talk about, but I don't want to overload this post. Other things to talk about: Voice, Social Construction (or how Kenneth Bruffee is following me and I'll never escape my English major past), and Constructivist Theory. I am psyched about this thesis! Are you? Can you feel my love?