Charlie Moad, Acting CIO, Director IMA Lab, Indianapolis Museum of Art

Charlie Moad, Acting CIO, Director IMA Lab, Indianapolis Museum of Art

Charlie is essentially in charge of all technology at the museum including general IT maintenance, in addition to spear heading software development initiatives through the IMA Lab. The Lab consists of five developers and two graphic designers which is typically uncommon given the size of the institution. In addition, the team offers consulting services for other cultural institutions whether that be web or mobile based applications, that bring together the specific needs and concerns of the institution to the table.

IMA Dashboard: Established by former IMA director, Max Anderson, an advocate for radical transparency who was seeking a desire to push the institution’s statistics online. The design of the dashboard was created by Charlie and a graphic designer from the software team. The dashboard’s design unintentionally resembled the interface design of the iPhone, although the dashboard was created before the iPhone came out.

TAP Tours: A platform designed to provide tools to easily create and deliver mobile tour applications in a museum setting. Content is created in the web based content management system, Drupal. After the content is created, it can be exported into an intermediate format called TourML, which can then be used as pluggable bundles for mobile applications. Ideally, the IMA open sourced these tools in hopes of creating a rich set of free tools for all museums, putting the institution and the software in a better position to reuse, share and remix content. The IMA was later rewarded with a grant from IMLS to deploy TourML in a variety of ways making it easier for other institutions to build upon that work.

Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative: IMA originally worked with the Art Institute of Chicago to create an online publication for scholarly catalogues. Based upon the success of that project, they in turn received funding from the Getty Foundation to create a toolkit that formed a set of reusable software tools for creating online publications. Within the toolkit exists a set of APIs that allow other developers to create custom web or mobile interfaces.

ArtBabble: An initiative that came out of a fairly large new media team. The IMA was originally putting videos on YouTube but quickly realized that content could easily be lost if the video didn’t have the proper tag associated with it. The software platform is hosted on Amazon which allows users to upload videos straight to the site. The team is currently working on updating the site which will enable users to embed videos in addition to a classification feature, making it more searchable for users.

Challenges: One of the major challenges that face us today in the development of mobile applications is the pace in which technology is changing. Since software and hardware are being reproduced at such a rapid pace, Charlie suggests a strategic approach in producing content so that it is just as valuable ten years from now as it is today.

Listen to the interview

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Shana Crosson, Web Content Manager, Minnesota Historical Society

Shana Crosson, Web Content Manager, Minnesota Historical Society


Shana Crosson is the Web Content Manager and Technology Integration Specialist at the Minnesota Historical Society and has been for the last six years.  Currently her job revolves around preparing the Minnesota Historical Society for the digital delivery of K-12 content.  Shana is currently in revisions for a digital text book for use in public schools and her team is also working on delivering digital primary sources to the K-12 audience.

Transitioning to Digital Resources

The Minnesota Historical Society has been publishing a textbook, Northern Lights, since 1988. The Minnesota Historical Society writes, produces, and sells this text to public schools.  It is targeted at the 6th grade and aligns with their curriculum and requirements. They currently are working on delivering a browser-based version of the textbook. Recently curriculum for 6th grade classes have changed, sparking the current revisions and the addition of digital content.  These grade standards, which were released in February, are followed closely by the Minnesota Historical Society website programs. All web programming designed for the K-12 audience aligns with these requirements. The latest edition of the text will be released with a significant amount of digital content.

Local or National Content

The Minnesota Historical Society used to focus their content solely on Minnesota but now maintain that “all history is local.” Their programming and content have shifted from a Minnesota focus to a more national appeal. In their video conferencing program the people running the program are in in St Paul but deliver information all over the country. The text book currently being developed has a chapter that is being developed as an iPad app and will be targeted at a broad national audience.

The Internet Versus Live Teachers

Web programming can’t replace a live teacher, but a teacher has the responsibility to use the information available to enhance live classroom experiences. This content can open the world to students. Teachers can’t bring artifacts into the classroom, but having access to images and information about the objects from a primary sources is beneficial to the learning experience.   Currently, the Minnesota Historical Society has too many objects available for viewing making it confusing for teachers to find correct artifacts. This needs to be narrowed down for easier access for teachers. There are also data visualization programs and mapping resources available, as well as a graphic novel based on primary sources.  All these resources make history more accessible and alive.

Social Media in the Classroom

Social media can assist in learning, if teachers let it. Teachers shut it down for the wrong reasons, but it can be used effectively.  Teachers use Twitter to communicate with classes and to help the communicate about what they’ve read or learned.  Students can develop a Facebook page for characters they’re learning about, which require them to boil down all they’ve learned to the most basic information. Social media allows for teaching students in a medium that they’re familiar with. Social media could really blossom and take off.

Shana speaks to the current trends in education and how the Internet is expanding these trends. Local focuses are broadening to national, paper texts are transitioning to digital versions, and social media is being integrated into classroom learning.  While live teaching will stand the test of time, traditional learning models and the requirements for students will grow and change.  Those looking to step in and assist in informal learning must take notice.

Listen to the interview

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Nancy Proctor, Head of Mobile, Smithsonian Institution

Nancy Proctor, Head of Mobile, Smithsonian Institution

Nancy Proctor heads up mobile strategy and initiatives for the Smithsonian Institution, and is co-chair of the Museums and the Web annual conference. From 2008-2010 she was Head of New Media at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Nancy served as program chair for the Museums Computer Network (MCN) conference 2010-2011, and co-organizes the Tate Handheld conference among other gatherings for cultural professionals. She also manages, its wiki and podcast series, and is Digital Editor of Curator: The Museum Journal. Learn more about Nancy at

Why is mobile interpretation important for Museums?

According to Nancy, mobile interpretation has the potential to allow for a plethora of interactivity between the museum and its visitors. It allows museums to add more information than what can be put on a label or wall text and can even offer interpretation in a multitude of languages, the impetus for some of the very first mobile devices in use in museums. Mobile interpretation is important because it opens up the collections and allows for increased access to the stories behind the objects but it also, especially these days, allows for a lateral communication with museum visitors. Social media, web presence, and apps network the visitors and the museum constantly. This is unprecedented in the history of museums and now more than ever the conversation between the museum and its visitors is easier, quicker, and more transparent due to the rise of mobile devices.

Mobile interpretation is important for the future of museums but it needs to be included in the overall planning process of museums. See the Smithsonian Mobile wiki for how to build strategy. It cannot be an afterthought or technology for technology’s sake. If mobile planning is tied to the overall mission of the museum it will be invisible, meaning it will fit in with the overall visitor experience in a museum and will not stick out like a sore thumb. If it is the museum’s mission to increase the diffusion of knowledge, mobile strategies need to provide avenues for this mission to take place.

Mobile business models and Return on Investment

Mobile apps or mobile websites will not reach 100 percent of museum visitors because not everyone has the technology in their pockets, yet. Many sources predict mobile internet usage to top desktop usage by 2013-2015. Although, 100 percent of the public cannot physically visit the museum due to geographic location but with network technology a museum does have global reach. With the 2010 Horizon Report: Museum Edition stating that, “The global network supporting mobile devices of all kinds now covers more territory than the electrical grid.”

Having a presence on mobile devices will allow museums to meet people where they are and cultivate niche audiences right now. Free apps achieve the greatest number of downloads and therefore have the greatest reach. As soon as charges are applied, the download numbers drop significantly. Apps are expensive to produce today and generally apps do not make the money back, but if the traditional view of return on investment is updated to include education, increased website visitation or increasing support for another revenue generating initiative memberships for example, than mobile is successful. The network effect is key. See the paper Nancy co-authored at the Museum and the Web conference 2010 regarding mobile app business models. Using the Smithsonian Mobile wiki, transparency and openness plays into this as well. By publishing work on a wiki and allowing people to collaborate, contribute, and create solutions that would otherwise not be possible, Nancy has been able to produce successful projects with volunteers and relatively no budget.

Mobile = Awareness and Relevancy

I encourage you to listen to the audio file, there is so much more in this interview than I can possibly sum up in this blog post. Mobile meets our 21st century visitors where they are; having a presence on mobile devices is imperative for museums. It increases awareness and in turn increases the relevancy of the museum, that network effect that Nancy talked about. Museums can now concentrate on augmenting their collections, to bring out stories, to leverage mobile to work for them. Mobile is not only about engaging people but getting them involved in a dialogue with the museum.

Listen to the interview

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David Schaller, Founder and Principal,

David Schaller, Founder and Principal,

On Tuesday, October 4, 2011, we interviewed David Schaller, and asked him about a variety of topics related to educational game play and interactive design.

David Schaller is the founder and principal of, an educational digital learning game design firm based out of St. Paul, Minnesota. Since the company’s founding in 1996, Eduweb has created over two hundred digital learning games and interactives for museums, zoos, and other educational organizations Schaller himself oversees the overall creative direction of the company and has played a role in all stages of Web development, working on websites from their “conceptualization to launch, guiding their development closely so they embody the clients’ goals and offer an engaging and educationally sound experience.”

Learn more about Eduweb and its award-winning educational interactives: external link:

The Path to Founding an Interactive Design Firm

David, a self-described generalist, has always had an interest in film-making and writing.  Before starting Eduweb, Schaller worked as an exhibit developer for historical and natural science content, and has experience working in interpretation, print, exhibit and web media. He received an M.A. in Geography and Museum Studies from the University of Minnesota and a B.A. in Humanities from Macalester College. After receiving positive feedback about an educational website that he had made about ecotourism in the Amazon for his geography degree, David decided that he could use his skills from filmmaking and writing, and apply the same types of principles and goals from exhibit design to education programming.  In 1996, he founded his own business, Today, Eduweb is a small business of eight full-time employees, including Dave, his wife who is a former art teacher, a lead developer, project manager, graphic designer, illustrator, flash/html developer, a lead software engineer for 3D game design, and a few junior developers.

Selecting Projects and the Development Process

Most project proposals come to Eduweb, and they select the ones that are most interesting to them, based on topic.  One of the things that Dave loves about his work with museums is the diversity of the projects that he can choose from and learn more about (art, history, science, technology-based, etc.).

A typical project begins with an initial 1-2 day planning meeting with the client organization and main stakeholders.  Generally, the client comes to Eduweb with a clear audience, goals and subject topic in mind.  Once these “three pillars” of the design process are established, Dave and his team work on researching the topic in more detail to look for content elements that they can use to develop strong game rules. Other guiding factors for game development for a student audience include researching curriculum standards, audience needs, subject matter and content to ensure that the game supports what the teacher already has to teach in the classroom.

During the rest of the planning and design phase, the team continues to write and revise the draft design document, add more content and functionality and test prototypes, soliciting early formative feedback from teacher advisory groups and others. Finally, digital prototypes are made, layers of content and functionality are added and tested with the target audience to refine the product into its final form before it is launched.

Research On Learning Styles and Targeting Audiences

According to Dave, the first five years at Eduweb consisted of a lot of trial and error regarding how to construct different learning experiences for different audience types.  After this, the company became more focused on conducting research about learning styles and online activity types. Their findings, as written in the 2007 paper, “One Size Does Not Fit All: Learning Style, Play, and Online Interactives,” revealed that while there was a clear connection between adult learners and preferred learning activity styles, kids were more flexible, and more concerned about the “playfulness” of the activity.  The reason why designing interactive educational games is so appealing to Dave is that “games offer something that can have a broad appeal, that can get you past learning style,” as well as gender and age, to a certain extent.  As much as possible, Eduweb incorporates research on learning styles and theory into their projects.

While most of Eduweb’s projects are designed for kids in Grades 3-8, they have also developed interactives for older kids, general audiences, and college students/adults. However, Dave often prefers the 3-8 grade group because of the potential to introduce these kids to something that they might never have thought was interesting and engaging them to learn more about the topic.

Game Design and Building Community

In his professional experience, Dave recalled that the word “game” had a negative connotation among museum educators in the late 1990s. He himself didn’t become more convinced about the utility of gaming as a learning tool until he began to learn more about gaming theory in the past 5-6 years. Dave believes that the key to creating a complex, scaffolded learning experience in a game format stems from selecting a core set of game rules that are derived from the topic’s content.  For example, he cited using economic rules derived from state history standards to guide the actions of players in a game for the Detroit Historical Society.  Such rules can provide players with goals, motivation, and feedback as they proceed through the narrative.

When questions were raised about the ability to build in more collaborative game-playing elements using Web 2.0 technology, Dave was quick to distinguish between the community that organically occurs around a single player in a room, with other people watching and commenting, and the kind of community/social interaction that can develop online around a game amongst players who have common interests. He also stated that while the technology does exist for multiplayer games, not all games are suited for a multiplayer format.

While many clients want to create a type of interactive community for a game, most don’t understand the “fairly substantial effort to have a community,” including an open-ended commitment of resources to maintain and monitor the site, especially if it is designed for kids. Schaller pointed to as the only example of his work that really developed a large and active fan community.  Although the site launched years ago, Wolfquest still requires a project coordinator who registers and approves people to take part in the forum to make it a safe and kid-friendly site, as well as additional volunteer moderators who read all of the posts.  The difference in audience response to Wolfquest versus the other sites that Eduweb has developed has taught Schaller that “You can’t create a community, you can attract a community.” Wolfquest was able to tap into a pre-existing young, animal-loving and game playing audience, whereas his other sites have not.

Evaluation And Testing/Feedback

Dave stated that Eduweb does some form of evaluation for every project that they develop, especially formative evaluation. Different prototypes are employed for usability and play-testing which does a lot to inform the development process, and if the client has committed a budget for this, summative testing is done.  Most summative approaches, in Schaller’s opinion, have difficulty capturing a sense of what users are thinking and experiencing, and he has only been satisfied with one qualitative data assessment conducted for Wolfquest.

Google Analytics, as well as ways to embed code in Flash or a bug in the game, can provide some information about game playing behavior by tracking peoples progress, rate of attrition, etc. but can’t tell you if the game is really working or successful. In Dave’s opinion, more informal qualitative measures, such as formative and summative user-testing and interviewing kids about why they liked or didn’t like aspects of the game are more insightful in determining learning and the engagement level of the players than metrics.  Eduweb also receives feedback from teachers and parents about the utility of games in the classroom, and sometimes people ask for the return of a game that has been taken down from the web because it is an effective teaching tool. Examples like the removal of an interactive that he has designed frustrates Dave because he feels this overlooks the value of the content, and the increase of visitors to the site overtime.

Technological Developments and Challenges

According to Dave, one of the main highlights and challenges of his job has to do with the constantly changing nature of technology. He sees so much potential in developments like mobile gaming and transmedia (multi-platform) games that combine real-world and online experiences, but is still trying to wrap his mind around how to use such a platform to create a complex, learning environment.

As the manager of Eduweb, Dave generally tries to be more conservative about the adoption of newer technologies for his projects, including Flash when it first came out. Although he is experimenting with Flash alternatives like HTML5 right now, he is very cognizant of the browser-compatibility, software installation and cost issues that newer technology can cause, especially since one of the main audiences that Eduweb targets is schools. The only exception to this conservative technology approach is the use of 3D game software for, which has now become more of a ubiquitous format in the gaming world.

Dave also tries to remember the fact that not every topic lends itself to, or should be made into a game.  Sometimes, other formats or approaches are more appropriate.  He still struggles to incorporate a certain degree of flexibility in his interactive design, as many projects come with a lot of prescriptive “top-down” elements, instead of proceeding from an indie-game world focus on designing to “follow the fun.”  Yet, in the final analysis, Dave welcomes many of these challenges and finds them to be personally rewarding, learning experiences.


This interview with David Schaller, and learning more about the types of projects that Eduweb has brought to life, has personally expanded my perspective about online gaming and interactives.  I have learned that these interactives, and the use of game design, can thoughtfully facilitate different learning styles, interests and audiences in a way that doesn’t have to sacrifice accuracy or content as I had previously thought as a museum educator.  As a result, I have become more receptive to this concept and look forward to seeing what he and other educational interactive developers have in store for us as learners for the next ten years to come.

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