A Year in Advance

Essays, MSU MAET, Museums

Summer provides a natural opportunity to reflect and regroup for many educators. Within a museum, the time is often filled with camps, teacher workshops, and special public events, but time must still be set aside for planning. Over the next couple months, I will be transitioning to a new position at work as well as finishing my Master’s degree, so considering the future is particularly relevant at the moment. In order to continue to grow personally and professionally, my current learning goals include gaining experience in hobbyist programming, learning more about how non-profits are managed, and finding new ways to engage the public within a museum.

These goals are chosen based on the idea that I want to continue to do well in a museum environment, but may also wish to explore my own interests in another non-profit setting where much of my experience will transfer over. Of particular interest to me is how to engage a wide variety of ages in learning new technologies, including developing programming and computational thinking skills. I also want these goals to be achievable in the next year and have concrete end products that show evidence of growth.

Although I worked for five years as a software developer, I have neglected my programming skills to the point that reading about the latest developments might as well be trying to comprehend a different language. I wish to recommit to these skills not only for myself, but as an educator to find ways to share the joys of creating on computers with others. For my own purposes, I am most interested in learning about web development, primarily through Javascript and node.js; mobile development on Android and iOS, and VR development for creating content for the Oculus Rift and SteamVR. An excellent starting point for Javascript that I’ve begun to use is Eloquent Javascript by Marijn Haverbeke. The entire book is also free online and provides quick progression through the “good parts” of Javascript although in can be daunting without previous experience. All of these skills will help in finding new ways for museums to reach their audience as well, through interactive web or VR experiences and mobile apps. I also want to help others learn how to use coding in a creative fashion, for which I’ve used Processing extensively in the past, and The Nature of Code by Daniel Shiffman is another great online resource that provides an interesting context to teach coding within. By blogging about my experience, I can show the progression I make over the next year.

I also want to find ways to better work within and contribute to a non-profit educational organization, such as museum, makerspace, or independent work by forming my own 501(c) group. Writing, obtaining, and successfully executing grants play a large role in many groups of this type, and are taking on increasing importance in schools as government funding has been cut. A presentation created by Carolyn Appleton provides a starting point in understanding not only your audience but what you are able to provide as well. I also find Reddit to be a valuable resource in crowdsourcing information, and the r/nonprofit subreddit has valuable posts to help. In my current position, I am often prevented from pursuing my own grant proposals, but I would like to see this change by working with development staff. I intend to write at least four grant proposals over the next year, and hope at least one will find funding. I will start with small amounts of funding to make this more achievable.

In my new role at a museum, I will need to find new ways to connect with the public to generate new revenue streams. This will take the form of offering in-depth programs to our public audience in a similar way that we have with school and scout groups. In order to do this, I will need to change the perception of what our museum is to our surrounding community and connect to them in more meaningful ways. One resource I’ve begun to explore is The Participatory Museum by Nina Simon. The online book offers ways to invite a museum audience to not only be consumers at museums, by viewing exhibits or watching shows, but contribute to the content that the museum provide. I find this to be a powerful idea, especially with increased interest in Citizen Science. Ms Simon also maintains the Museum 2.0 blog which explores ways that museums can function in a changing world, so is another excellent resource. The most meaningful way I can measure my success in this goal is if I still have a job in a year based on my ability to bring more community members into the museum.

All of these goals are achievable, but I have to be aware of my tendency to jump from interest to interest so quickly that little progress is made in any one topic. Fortunately, all these ideas contribute towards a greater goal that can provide direction and motivation: finding new ways to develop a public audience using my increased skill-set at working within a non-profit setting to engage them in the intersection of technology, art, and science.

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