April 11-14, 2007
San Francisco, California

>Harvard Masters Series: Access All Areas

Jim Devine, Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, Scotland, and Kathy Jones, Wendy Constantine, Jason Springer, and Kurt Stuchell, Harvard University Extension School, USA


This demonstration session showcases current research in the field of museums studies undertaken by students for the Masters of Liberal Arts in Museum Studies course at Harvard Extension School in the current academic session. The showcased projects have been selected for their relevance to the Museums and the Web constituency.

Wendy Constantine has been pursuing research on “Museums and the ‘Digital Curb Cut’: Leveraging Universal Design Principles and Multimedia Technology to Deliver Accessible, Rich-Media Learning Experiences Online”. She will demonstrate examples of best-practice in accessible museum content for mobile devices, as developed during her internship with the Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow.

Jason Springer has been following a research strand on “The Connected Classroom: A Study of Art Museum Resources Designed for the School Audience: A Comprehensive Study of Electronic Resources Designed for Partnerships Between Schools and Art Museums of the Boston Area.”

Kurt Stuchell will present his research on “The Museum Podcasting Feasibility Analysis”, and will illustrate how implementation scenarios for museums considering podcasting projects range from programs which rely on a single aspect of the technology to broad-based programs which fully leverage the podcasting platform in an integrated manner.

Kathy Jones is Research Advisor for the Masters of Liberal Arts in Museum Studies at Harvard University Extension School, and is Research Advisor for the projects being showcased at MW2007.

Jim Devine is Head of Multimedia at the Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow, and is Thesis Director for the projects being presented at MW2007.

Keywords: Harvard, Hunterian, museums, accessibility, partnerships, podcasts


This demonstration session showcases current research in the field of museums studies undertaken by students for the Masters of Liberal Arts in Museum Studies course at Harvard Extension School in the current academic session. The showcased projects have been selected for their relevance to the Museums and the Web constituency, and we believe they will provide valuable insight into some of the latest trends and developments in the field of museum practice in the use of technology.

The session builds upon recent trends in collaborative research between the Harvard Museum Studies program and the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, on User-oriented approaches to museum Web and multimedia development and the use and extent of on-line resources being employed in the museum community and their impact on users at remote locations.

This collaboration was largely born out of the “What Clicks?” Project (reported at MW 2004 Washington DC (Devine 2004) and ICHIM 2004 Berlin (Devine 2004) which reviewed the existing and potential capability, human and technological, within the museum sector in Scotland in the use of ICT to increase public access and resulting learning opportunities to museum collections. The project was carried out by Jim Devine and his team at the Hunterian and peer-reviewed by Kathy Jones and her team at Harvard.

The Harvard researchers will outline their projects and present case studies based on current research at Harvard University and at the Hunterian. Employing on-line surveys as well as one-on-one interviews with museum educators, curators and exhibition staff, the Harvard assessment looks at how students (K-12, and adult learners) and the general public use existing museum electronically-delivered resources, assesses where the technology is going, and provides feedback on how museums might employ that technology to further address the desired, indeed required, outcome of access for all visitors.

The Connected Classroom: A Study of Art Museum Resources Designed for the K-12 Audience - Jason Springer

How can the partnerships between schools and art museums be built upon or streamlined by the use of electronic media to provide improved access to museum resources and give users better learning experiences?

In order to address the central concepts in the above question as it relates to the working relationships between schools and art museums in New England, the author is pursuing research with three thematic areas of investigation. Broadly categorized, these areas are: The Museum, The School, and The Students. In each area, data will be gathered to determine the current usage of electronic media, the limitations of its usage, and the benefits and pitfalls of electronic media, and then attempt to identify areas of potential growth. Furthermore, the research will more clearly make a needs assessment of each party involved in an art museum/school partnership and thereby promote more efficient and productive learning relationships.

In pursuit of the overarching goal of improving art museum and school partnerships, the thesis has six objectives:

The Museum

Phase 1 of the thesis explores electronic resources designed for museum/school partnerships from the museum’s perspective and addresses issues in their presentation and availability. Through understanding the museum educators’ perception of their roles, expectations, and limitations within a school partnership, the museum will be better able to make strategic decisions in planning educational programming, digitization projects, implementing Web site expansion, and doing a host of other activities that involve their public learning initiatives.

The research has begun with a comprehensive survey distributed on-line to 45 New England art museums. The survey focuses on museum resources specifically designed for teachers and school age audiences. Areas of investigation include audience, digital collections, museum resources, and outreach and education. The data collected from the survey will help characterize how electronic media is being used to reach a specific audience and suggest strategies to utilize technology to improve outreach and education. The Web site of each museum is being evaluated on type and quality of educational content, its usability, and target audience appropriateness. In addition, follow-up interviews are providing the research with more nuanced, qualitative data to incorporate into the quantitative survey data.

Further study will involve the effectiveness of specific types of educational content and Web activities and the actual uses of on-line collections.

The School

Phase 2 of the thesis addresses the issues involved on the school and teacher side of a partnership. By understanding the complete set of issues surrounding teachers in a museum partnership, museums will benefit by more clearly understanding how to design and deliver resources to them. Museums will also benefit by being able to better address partnership planning and program and Web site development for a specific audience.

A second, specially designed survey is being distributed on-line to a large number of teachers using an on-line polling program. The central themes of the survey include teachers’ perspectives on museum resources, digital collections, object-based learning, and the virtual field trip. For example, one of the areas that the survey explores is what conditions would enable teachers to use museum Web sites and digital art objects more often in classroom lessons, Also, another issue is what types of content and supporting materials are identified as most useful for teachers who want to use art museum objects. By extension, the survey is exploring how computers are currently being used within the classroom and to what extent museum Web sites can be integrated into the curriculum - and in some cases, the limitations that prevent Web site use. In addition, the survey is exploring how the museum experience or “field trip” is being integrated into classroom activities and the perception of the potential for learning from a virtual field trip.

Further study on this topic will involve the utilization of object-based learning techniques in the classroom and the establishment of the extent teachers could use digital images of actual art objects as a foundation or entry point into a learning experience or subject.

The Students

Phase 3 of the thesis addresses the issues involved in learning from museum objects and the uses of a museum Web site by students in the middle and high-school grades. By understanding student expectations and seeing how students use and respond to museum content, museum educators can improve that content and better design it to benefit this audience. Correspondingly, teachers will understand more accurately how to approach the learning behaviors of their students with museum objects and adjust their pedagogy to better utilize museum knowledge. In addition, when museums better understand their audience of young learners in the museum/school partnership, they can then construct lessons and information more efficiently and deliver it in a manner that maximizes learning potential. Furthermore, the museum can benefit over the long run from a positive learning relationship with students by virtue of becoming relevant to the younger generations who will inevitably become the museums’ primary supporters.

For the purpose of gathering student data, a paper survey is being used to present specially designed questions to this user group. The central aim of the student survey is to clearly identify this user group’s level of tech-savvy and their resulting needs in an on-line learning context. The goal of the survey is to identify why content is accessed and how students incorporate art museum content into their projects and activities. The data is attempting to classify a category of learner called the “techno-author.” It asks if podcasts and podcasting are ways that students want to use, manipulate, absorb, and interact with museum content. This line of questioning attempts to affirm that student user groups are learners who utilize technology in various forms to manipulate information or “author” their learning experience into something that is uniquely their own.

Further research will include a comparative study on the level of cognitive benefits and concept retention of the traditional “field trip” as compared to the on-line or virtual field trip, and will be accompanied by a thorough evaluation of how learning on-line differs from traditional methods of instruction. In addition, an evaluation will be made on the viability of digital collections as the primary object in a learning experience in an attempt to uncover those times in the academic and social life of students when, on the path of self-directed learning, the digital object will suffice as the entry point or catalyst for what would traditionally be called an object-based learning experience. Following a review of the survey data, the author will present a selection of case studies from the 45 New England art museums in order to highlight notable strategies for the presentation and distribution of museum resources to the school audience. Topics covered will include interactive activities, collections databases, podcasting, and CD-ROMs

Museum Podcasting Feasibility Analysis - Kurt Stuchell

Kurt Stuchell will present his research on The Museum Podcasting Feasibility Analysis, which examines the effectiveness of the RSS subscription technology as a delivery mechanism for educational programs, marketing and community outreach. This session is geared toward museum professionals interested in better understanding the potential impact of podcasting for museums and toward organizations thinking about developing a podcasting program.

The presentation will cover the concept of podcasting using RSS subscriptions, the lifecycle of podcasts, podcasting genres, the findings from surveys of museum staff and museum constituents, and will also make predictions of what the future holds for museums which adopt the technology.

Podcasting is one of the fastest growing technologies on the Internet and, accordingly, it is creating a buzz in the museum community as museum professionals gauge its utility to further their programming goals. Cost effectiveness and synergies with museum objectives to reach core and new audiences will be explored. Examples of a diverse group of museums that are having early successes in applying podcasting technology emphasize the compelling nature and versatility of the tool.

A growing number of people are downloading podcasts, making demographic segmentation an area of interest. Understanding who is listening to museum podcasts depends on the museums’ publication and distribution platform, whether it is iTunes™, MuseumPods™, MySpace™, a museum Web site, or a combination of these channels. While preliminary feedback provides some interesting insights regarding podcast audiences, not a great deal is known about who is listening to museum podcasts.

Everyone wants to know how to get started with podcasting. A primer for producing and distributing RSS podcasts includes basic technology components, necessary skills, and availability and accessibility issues. There are a variety of options available today to start a RSS podcasting program with little cost or technical expertise, but some hurdles do exist for museums when producing and distributing podcasts in the current Internet environment. Soon to be available emerging technology will reduce the barrier of entry for museums wishing to start or enhance existing podcast programs. The “lifecycle” of podcasts, including vision, assessment, design, production, distribution, and listener feedback, will be reviewed.

A wide variety of podcast genres are being created. Podcasting can do more than just showcase an existing exhibition, audio or video tour; it is a compelling distribution mechanism to showcase Hidden Treasures in a museum storage facility for which there is no exhibition space. Using an RSS Feed of a slide show presentation can increase exposure of objects that cannot be displayed in a traditional “brick and mortar” environment. These virtual exhibitions play to a predefined audience, unlike Web site images, streaming audio, or video.

A comparison of results from surveys conducted in April 2006 and January 2007 soliciting opinions from museum staff and visitors about their knowledge of podcasting will be reviewed. Interpretation of the survey results argues for pervasive adoption of podcasting technology by museums.

Podcasting is an effective, affordable distribution mechanism for educational programming, displaying Hidden Treasures, doing outreach, and marketing for museums. Recommendations will be given for the next steps in starting a podcasting program, Web sites for further self study, museum podcast directories, and a list of award winning museum podcasts.

Museums and the “Digital Curb Cut”: Leveraging Universal Design Principles and Multimedia Technology to Deliver Accessible, Rich-Media Learning Experiences On-line - Wendy Constantine

The expansion of broadband Internet connectivity has enabled museums and cultural institutions to reach an increasingly diverse audience of life-long learners. Over the course of the past decade, museums have experimented with delivering media-based, educational experiences on-line to share their vast repositories of knowledge collected with the on-line public. In fact, due to constraints of time, geographic location, money and disabilities, visitors to on-line exhibitions have in many cases far outnumbered attendees at the physical installations in the “bricks and mortar” site. On-line exhibitions can outlive their physical counterparts for many years and serve as a documentation of the knowledge presented for interested persons across the globe. However, unless universal design principles are considered in the early stages of the media, the educational experiences will not be accessible to all persons equally.

The largely experimental uses of Web-based multimedia technology of the past are now slowly giving way to more strategic understandings of the medium and the potential audiences it can serve. Standards-based design and development practices are becoming the norm both inside and outside the cultural sector. However, museums and cultural institutions, both in the United States and abroad, are increasingly under pressure by grant-writers and the government to not exclude disabled persons from accessing cultural knowledge online. As the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 required museums to examine the accessibility of their physical environments to a diverse public, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in the United States is providing legal motivation for museums to better understand how their online content is experienced by persons with disabilities. Today, already 49.7 million Americans or 19.3% of the population have reported a long lasting condition or disability (Waldrop & Stern, 2003, pg. 1).

As the baby-boomer generation begins to reach retirement age in 2011, the largest segment of the population will increasingly develop function limitations and sensory disabilities. It is also important to note that this demographic will also be the primary demographic for trustees and donors in the cultural sector.

Museums have begun to assess their public Web sites for technical barriers to accessibility. However, the accessibility of multimedia assets delivered on-line has largely been ignored to date. Automated tests cannot confirm if a selection of video or audio complies with Section 508 regulations, and there is little mention of non-html based development in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to guide multimedia developers towards accessible solutions. Perhaps most important, museums have not yet learned how to negotiate accessibility requirements with their contracted developers; the lack of institutional policies for requiring accessibility for multimedia projects has also contributed to the situation. If museums do not contractually require that videos be captioned, podcasts be transcribed, or text versions be available for Flash-based programs, developers will likely not produce them.

The next generation of on-line educational content published by museums will likely shift towards a proactive, user-centered approach intending to widen their audience and understand the diverse needs of their on-line visitors. The growth of ubiquitous mobile computing devices is also driving the need for flexible, user-configured experiences of media. As a symposium of forward-thinking technology researchers agreed in 1997, media producers should no longer assume that the people who want to use their media are sitting at a desk with a computer monitor, have perfect vision and hearing, and can manipulate a mouse (National Research Council, 1997). Previously, these assumptions drove the format and interaction design of multimedia. In fact, the user may be driving in a car, sitting in a quiet gallery or library, walking down a noisy street - or be practically anywhere. Furthermore, the communication device itself may limit users’ability to interact with the content to a single modality, resembling the limitations of persons with sensory disabilities.

Just as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 required cities and towns across America to rebuild their sidewalks at intersections to accommodate the disabled, creating what has been called “simply better sidewalks” for all citizens (Jacobs, 2002, para 1), the digital “curb cut” promises to place the user’s needs and diverse requirements at the center of multimedia design.


We hope that the research presented will provide a useful insight for delegates into some of the issues involved for museums in seeking to ensure that the resources they develop for electronic delivery and distribution meet the aspiration of “access for all.” It should also help to keep the ideal of enablement of users, regardless of abilities, in the forefront of our minds, as we develop ever more diverse and innovative uses of technology to open up our collections to the connected visitors of today and tomorrow.


Devine, J. Gibson, E. and Kane, M. Presenting The Evidence: Scottish Museums And E-Learning . in David Bearman and Jennifer Trant (eds.). Museums and the Web 2004: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, 2004.

Devine, J. What Clicks? Electronic Access To Museum Resources In Scotland And

E-Learning Opportunities Using Museum Resources in David Bearman and Jennifer Trant (eds.). Cultural Heritage Informatics 2004: selected papers from ichim04. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, 2004. ichim04/2881_Devine.pdf

Jacobs, S. (2002). The Electronic Curb-Cut Effect, Developed in support of the World Bank Conference: Disability and Development. Retrieved June 18, 2006, from (The author provides a thorough history of the development of technologies originally designed to aid the disabled, yet proved to have significant latent benefits to all of society.)

Waldrop, J. & Stern, S. M. (2003). Disability Status: 2000: Census 2000 Brief. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce. (Demographic statistics focused on persons with disabilities and the graying of America.)

Cite as:

AUTHOR, TITLE, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2007 Consulted

Editorial Note