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Virtual Engagement, Digital Experiences, and Online Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic
May 6 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm EDT
ASTC convened panelists from science and technology centers and museums to discuss the approaches our field has been using to virtually engage communities, develop new digital experiences, and design and scale online learning while museums are closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Conversation focused around four main themes with panelists kicking off discussion in each area:
- Providing online programming and engagement: Kirsten Ellenbogen, President and CEO, Great Lakes Science Center (Cleveland, Ohio); Cindy Lawrence, Executive Director, National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) (New York, New York)
- Moving specific programs online; moving to distributed models; engaging community partners: Megan Pratt, Executive Director, Pensacola MESS Hall (Pensacola, Florida); Cailee Smith, Public Programs Manager, ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain (Burlington, Vermont)
- Engaging audiences of all ages, including adults: Erin Lim, Associate Director of Marketing, Oakland Museum of California (Oakland, California); David Sittenfeld, Manager, Forums and National Collaborations, Museum of Science (Boston, Massachusetts)
- Working with school systems; supporting school leaders, teachers, and parents: Joe Cox, President and CEO, Museum of Discovery and Science (Ft. Lauderdale, Florida); Ryan Land, Director of Education and Northern Programs, Science North (Sudbury, Ontario, Canada)
The panelists graciously agreed to answer questions that there wasn’t sufficient time to address during the webinar. ASTC will continue to update this list as we receive additional perspective from the panelists.
Questions related to supporting online programs
- How are online programs funded?
- Megan Pratt: Our virtual science festival was free. We had already secured sponsorships for the free in-person festival, and all sponsors were happy to leave the sponsorship in place.
- Joe Cox: We have been fortunate in that we’ve been able to secure funding from local foundations and corporate sponsors to underwrite our initiatives.
- How do you decide which programs to make free and which to charge a fee?
- Ryan Land: Typically, we seek additional or specific funding to deliver programming for vulnerable or remote communities or schools. We do, however, support all educators, partners and communities where possible as part of our core mandate.
- I’m wondering how organizations are thinking about revenue generation for digital content provided by museums.
- Joe Cox: While we have started experimenting with fee based digital content, my initial feeling is that it’s more effective to leverage the digital content as a fundraising opportunity rather than trying to raise revenue from the end user.
Questions related to moving paid experiences online
- Institutions that provide paid experiences, such as Omnimax theatres, VR, special exhibitions, how can these be transitioned to being virtual and hands off?
- Ryan Land: We are exploring the possibility of a guided technology lending library wherein we rent equipment out for blocks of time to provide enrichment for children and youth over the summer.
- Lots of awesome “packaged” programming … how do we create interactive live programs? Any suggestions on being interactive in live, online programming?
- Joe Cox: We—like many—have been using Zoom as a platform, but it does require a good team of presenter and facilitator to keep it engaging.
- Ryan Land: For a weekly, virtual camp experience, we are exploring a blended approach that minimizes the amount of screen time. There will likely a “check-in” in real time using a platform such as Zoom, and then there will extension and/or enrichment activities and challenges away from the screen, with some form of report-back. We will share in advance a list of materials required (household—high probability of being readily available in most homes) for hands-on activities or experiments, then participants will be guided through hands-on activities. We are also looking at using scavenger hunt apps such as Goose Chase.
Questions related to training or courses on going virtual
- Can you recommend training or courses related to developing virtual programs?
- Cailee Smith: Unfortunately, I don’t have a recommendation. We just jumped it! That being said, we have been working much more closely with our IT manager and our Development and Communications Team. They have more experience with video production than us that has been invaluable and has made our products possible.
- How do you determine what platform do use for your online programs? Do you meet users where they already are? What constraints did you put in place to select the best platform? (also asked during the webinar)
- Megan Pratt: We started with Zoom, since we are familiar with it. We like it for our virtual field trips. We have offered them to general public and to teachers. Our local school district, though, won’t let them use Zoom, so we’ve had to use Google Meet, which has many more issues, but teachers are working to figure it out, so we’ll go where they are.
- Cailee Smith: We are currently using Facebook and YouTube for our programming. We previously did not have a large virtual learning presence, so we started with our social media accounts and chose platforms that were highly accessible. We are currently talking about utilizing Zoom to create programs and learning moments with more dialogue.
Questions related to equity
- Have other organizations gotten engaged in conversations around access to internet in their communities? We know we are missing many of the kids we would normally be seeing this time of year on field trips because of this issue which has really consumed the overall education conversations in our city.
- Ryan Land: In Ontario, the provincial government partnered with Rogers and Apple to address this and provide technology and more reliable access to vulnerable families without. The curriculum supports we’re providing will also be in PDF form so they can be printed and delivered/shared by other methods. We are also piloting a project wherein STEM kits are be delivered along with food hampers to families struggling with food insecurity.
- Is anyone worried about contributing to achievement gap by only reaching audiences in “the have”?
- Megan Pratt: While we all want to be as equitable as possible, the first step to achieving our mission is staying solvent. I know the achievement gap is going to widen, on so many levels, right now. But it is good to serve any audience rather than fail at none. That said, we are looking at how we can be more equitable but also working to meet some audiences.
- Ryan Land: We’re looking at a variety of summer delivery options (physical kits and virtual camps), some for a fee and some we’re hoping to have fully funded (free) so that there is potentially “something for everyone” in Northern Ontario.
- Some people do not have computers. What can museums do in those instances or how can they know which audiences are fully isolated from museums due to lack of technology?
- Cailee Smith: Our team that does school outreach has done some incredible work with schools in rural areas. They have put together engineering at home activity kits in little baggies and have delivered them to point people in the communities to distribute to classrooms. One way of getting kits to families is sending them home with lunches.
Questions related to communities and measuring impact
- Can you share the survey you’re using?
- Joe Cox: Here is the survey we are using at the Museum of Discovery and Science: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZZ9YS9S
- How are organizations reporting audience growth and impact to potential donors?
- Cailee Smith: I don’t work with our donors, so I can’t say much, but I do know that donors have been seeing the work we are doing and have reached our wanting to support our efforts to reach the community right now.
- What metrics are you using to evaluate the success of your online initiatives?
- Cailee Smith: We are still figuring this out and refining our evaluation plan. Right now we are looking at the number of views, how long people watch, and if there are any follow-up responses.
Questions related to camps and kits
- I’ve love to know what the cost of the kits are for you to put together.
- Ryan Land: We are ranging from no cost (activity sheet based—maybe just the cost of printing of we’re sending it with food packages, for example), to a few dollars per child.
- Are the kits Cailee mentioned for schools or families? Are they connected to the citizen science initiatives or other programming?
- Cailee Smith: Great question! We have several different programs right now. The kits I mentioned are for our engineer at home program. The activities were designed to include easily obtainable materials as much as possible, so the kits are not available to the public right now. We have an active grant for outreach across Vermont and have sent the kits to our partner classrooms. The citizen science program doesn’t have kits. We’ve had some debates about accessibility, but right now, we are trying to encourage families in the community to start thinking and looking and using the already existing great citizen science websites and apps if they have access. We’ve discussed doing a follow-up how to create your own nature journal so that individuals with less internet access can still participate and record what they observe. For our online programming right now, we know that folks might be overwhelmed and that getting supplies could be a struggle, so for activities and programs that do utilize materials, we’ve thought really intentionally about what people might have at home. A great example of that is our Science Spotlight program we just started as part of this. It’s a partnership with our local newspaper that include a brief write-up that is printed and available on both our and their websites and utilizes materials you probably have at home to explore science phenomena. So far we’ve used materials like cardboard, coffee filters, markers, and food coloring. You can check it out here.
Questions for Erin Lim
- Erin, do you have to worry about copyright when sharing music playlists online?
- Erin Lim: We share DJ mixes from our Friday Night DJ communities that they have already put together and that is made public. We are not putting together the playlists ourselves, but when we do we use Spotify as the site to share music.
- Would definitely be interested in Erin Lim’s expanded thoughts on 3rd party hosting platforms! (also… Erin…. we are also looking at a third party hosting service for videos. Any insight you can share?)
- Erin Lim: The third party platforms that my team and I researched were: Stage Ten, Restream.io, Vimeo Livestream, Be.Live, easylive.io, Streamyard, and Zoom. Our institution, in consulting with our A/V team, landed on Stage Ten but Streamyard was a close second. We’re hoping to use that technology soon to take Virtual Friday Nights to the next level. Unfortunately, these third party sites do not offer captioning (yet) so if you have the budget to work with an additional site we looked at Ai-Media. We hope to add this functionality in our next fiscal year.
Resources shared by the community:
Panelists and participants shared a number of links that we collected from the call. Inclusion of a link does not necessarily imply endorsement by ASTC.
Resources from speakers:
- Cindy Lawrence, National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath): Attendance estimator for Zoom webinar
- Cailee Smith, ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain: TAKE ACTION! Citizen Science Challenges
- Erin Lim, Oakland Museum of California: OMCA at Home, including Friday Nights Online and the Cupid Shuffle video from the Oakland Ballet Company
- Joe Cox, Museum of Discovery and Science: MODS Challenge
Resources from participants:
- The Witte Museum (San Antonio, Texas): Witte Where You Are
- Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Science Learning Center (Upton, New York) has put together lessons and activities for distance learning
- Museum of Science (Boston, Massachusetts) has a suite of activities under #MOSatHome. The museum produces engineering and (coming soon) computer science in-school curricula and are developing a virtual learning series that will adapt hands-on learning into a remote space
- The DoSeum (San Antonio, Texas): Do it at home
- The Coca-Cola Space Science Center (Columbus, Georgia) is utilizing Meteor Moments to share articles, fun DIY videos and recordings of virtual events
- The Tech Interactive (San Jose, California) has great new “at home” resources that are accessible to a wide range of educators and parents alike
- Exploration Place (Wichita, Kansas) is offering Stay at Home STEM including three different online experiences per day, Monday–Friday, TikTok, and a mix of prerecorded and live videos
- The Discovery Center at Murfree Spring’s (Murfreesboro, Tennessee) Discovery at Home includes weekly videos, an activity blog, art lessons with an artist, and a Facebook live science and literacy program every Tuesday for early learners and their caregivers
- The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (Chicago, Illinois) moved from an eight-week in-person sustainability leadership training course with community partners (Chicago Conservation Corps) to short weekly webinars with the same community partners to reach a wider audience until they can start up trainings again. The museum also started a new email series, dedicated to a day’s worth of nature and science facts, activities, guiding questions to ask kids, and more
- The Nutrien Kamskénow program in College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada) delivered 700 home science kits (with printed instructions) to Grades 4–8 kids via the school boards
- NASA has a number of resources including NASA at Home and resources for informal educators through the NASA Museum Alliance
- Giant Screen Films (Evanston, Illinois), a leading producer of high-end, educational documentary films for giant screens, giant domes and all museum cinemas are making three classic documentary films available for streaming at no cost. These films will hopefully provide meaningful informal learning opportunities for students and viewers of all ages, including those in under-served communities, and are supplemented by educational guides offering fun and informative activities to reinforce key learning concepts. Each film is available in English, Spanish and French language. The company encourages all museums and science centers, even those without dedicated cinemas, to make these available to your audiences.
- Sci-Port Discovery Center (Shreveport, Louisiana) started TodayAtSciport video series on their Facebook page (search #TodayAtSciport) which hosts one video per day, including Storytime w/activities, Planetarium Programs, and a combination between Home Activities, Mini Demos, and Virtual Tours.
- Discovery Center Museum (Rockford, Illinois) is offering a variety of programs as Playful Learning at Home on their Facebook page including story time and sing-a-long for youngest visitors, some at home science activities for elementary age students that have been used by local teachers, a weekly live chat on Mondays, and even their our own super hero
- The North Carolina Zoo (Asheboro, North Carolina) created a Facebook Group to share resources, activities, and experiences that families and teachers can use.