NMC at MCN 2015: Thinking digitally is about people first, technology second.

November 12, 2015

I recently attended the Museum Computer Network (MCN) conference in Minneapolis, MN. For a conference with such a formal (and perhaps outdated) name, it was anything but. This conference was made up of more than just conversations about computers—the focus was largely on encouraging museum and tech folks to embrace innovative ideas and how we can shift cultural organizations to “think digitally”.

MCN 2015 (clockwise from top-left): Liz Ogbu presenting her keynote presentation. Credit: Natalie Marsh; Co-power means all voices have value. Credit: Natalie Marsh.; The topic of the keynote speech really set the tone for the conference. Credit: Natalie Marsh; MCN's 2015 conference header. Credit: Museum Computer Network.

MCN 2015 (clockwise from top-left): Liz Ogbu presenting her keynote presentation. Credit: Natalie Marsh; Co-power means all voices have value. Credit: Natalie Marsh.; The topic of the keynote speech really set the tone for the conference. Credit: Natalie Marsh; MCN’s 2015 conference header. Credit: Museum Computer Network.

Conferences are about sharing and networking, and I had the opportunity to do both. I shared a case study about NMC’s ATB Financial Alberta Stories Roadcase and the ways in which this program empowers students to contribute to Alberta’s musical story through digital storytelling. I also participated in a panel discussion about the authenticity of sound in audio storytelling. With the increase in podcast popularity, audio storytelling is in a renaissance of sorts. Along with members from the Smithsonian, Baltimore Museum of Art, and Antenna International, we shared tips and tricks on how to create powerful audio stories.

But what does it mean for an organization to think digitally?

Throughout the conference this question stayed with me as I attended different sessions. What is the benefit to an organization to think digitally? Why is it important to think through this lens?

Really, what it means is to think about how we can embrace the changing digital landscape and meet people where they are. We need to consider audiences beyond our four walls. It means a layered integration of digital tools to engage people in dialogue—whether this means using Twitter or in-person programs. It also means being nimble and adaptable to new platforms as they become available.

Most importantly, it means thinking about people first, technology second.

Technology is always changing and growing, but creating meaningful experiences will always be important to us as human beings. Ways in which MCN helped realize this fact during the conference, and helped delegates think digitally and connect beyond the physical limitations of its location, was through an active Twitter feed and hashtag #MCN2015, along with recording many of the presentations. I highly recommend watching the Ignite talks.

Information architecture and museums, a slide from an MCN presentation. Credit: Natalie Marsh

Information architecture and museums, a slide from an MCN presentation. Credit: Natalie Marsh

What does thinking digitally mean for education programs at the National Music Centre? For us, it means thinking about how we can reach audiences around the world. Not everyone will come through our doors physically, but how can they come through our virtual doors? How can we create educational experiences that, though they may not recreate the physical visit, are still meaningful and valuable in their own right? Maybe it’s a mobile app, maybe it’s a website, but before the technology is decided upon, we have to know how and why teachers and students across Canada want to engage with NMC’s content, collections and experiences.

How do we do this?

As Liz Ogbu’s powerful keynote suggests, it is important to focus on designing “human-centred environments” (check out IDEO’s framework for design thinking). It means to “co-power” by enabling every voice to have value. NMC cannot create meaningful educational experiences without the collaboration and participation of teachers and students.

That is why we want to hear from you! Through this survey and future teacher focus groups, we want you to help us shape education programs both onsite and online.

If you haven’t already, please share your thoughts about what you’d like to see for NMC’s school programs at Studio Bell. You can also join our teacher newsletter to stay up-to-date on our process of developing these programs, let’s work together to ensure we have meaningful analog and digital experiences at NMC.

What are your thoughts on thinking digitally? What ideas do you have? Follow me and join in on the conversation @natzmarsh.

About the Author

Marcy Belva

Marcy has been at NMC since November 2015 as the School Programs Administrator. Her passions include museum education, crafting, animals, and science. She is currently trying to become a comic book nerd, despite being in her late 20's.

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