I’m working on a project right now that involves looking at the Learning Outside the Classroom scheme. This has been running since 2006, supported mainly by DCSF. It began as a manifesto to promote schools getting out to explore the natural and built environment, to get active and engage with culture. It has now grown to include a Quality Badge for providers and guidance on how to get the best out of different sectors.
It looks to me a scheme that will survive whatever bonfire (and regrowth) of quangos happens after the election (though don’t hold me to ransom for saying it). One reason is that it has been established, and is well run, as an independent charity (the Council for LOTC). I also think it will succeed because it is comprehensive enough to provide an efficient infrastructure for maximum value. It’s not focused on single regions or sectors of provision.
However, the more comprehensive any scheme the more robust you need your information system to be. It is extremely difficult to portray the landscape of ‘enhancement providers’ or resources for schools. That challenge is being tackled by BECTA in a major taxonomic exercise in the creation of a digital content ecosystem for education. LOTC is only dealing with a subset of that, offers that are primarily outside the classroom. But I think their information system is rather confusing, as you can see in the sliding racks on their home page. There are several categories of provider that don’t fit their categories, such as libraries and science centres. Museums and galleries are within heritage, which is unusual. There isn’t an overt attempt to explore a range of practice that blurs the boundaries between the classroom and beyond it (e.g. using mobile technologies or creating museums in schools). I wonder whether, if this could be redevised as a strongly digital service, responding to users’ own terminologies and heirarchies, it would function much better.
I needed to test Gliffy, a free online tool for making diagrams, so I spent a quick 20 minutes working up a visualisation that shows a spiral of provision outwards from the classroom. I didn’t particularly like Gliffy, and because it was a bit clunky, I didn’t make a very clear or finished diagram. But, the picture is starting to suggest a more complex but understandable way of categorising offers outside the classroom. The only issue is that my model assumes a fairly urban context for schools, where built environment is more accessible to them than countryside, wilderness or adventure. Most schools are in such a situation but not all. Maybe the LOTC service could be developed so that you could configure the map according to your context?
Overall the point I’m making is that LOTC has been devised mainly as a manifesto, an accreditation system and a means of ensuring child safety on trips. There is a mountain of great, worthwhile guidance in here but it is all one way, and relatively buried. It hasn’t been devised as a digital service. The website has emerged to provide information about LOTC. But this is different from an approach where tools such as visualisation, user tagging, data feeds and also a wider web strategy, are fundamental to the thinking about how the service can be effective.
If the brilliant LOTC scheme is to survive and be effective it should really be looking now at reinventing itself with digital engagement, including more voices of teachers, CYP and providers, and more visual content.
I was asked to write a post on the weekly blog on the new Museums Computer Group. As I mention the Haiti earthquake, at the time assuming that its museums must have sustained substantial damage given the news that much of the city was destroyed. However, an ICOM report is just in and although it seems that some staff are missing and there is some damage/instability and risk of looting, the museums are at least still standing.
You can read it here too, but bear in mind it’s written for that audience…
Taking the baton from Mike Ellis to share some links and comments on stuff this week, it’s been hard to focus on what I’ve found interesting in our profession, as my attention has been so taken by the disastrous earthquake in Haiti. It does prompt reflection for us in that much of a capital city has been destroyed, including historic buildings and the lives and works of some practising artists. I can’t imagine how we would deal with that. Scientists now think that extreme storms, increasing in frequency with climate change, can trigger earthquakes. The susceptibility of Haiti to natural disasters (repeated floods & hurricanes) is probably due to deforestation by its French colonisers. So much of the value of cultural heritage institutions has been about preserving things and buildings, but in some places like Haiti and as time goes on for many more places, that may become a very difficult challenge. That’s one reason why I believe digitisation of culture and knowledge is so important (as long as we do it as efficiently as we can). And digital tools aren’t just useful for posterity but for the ‘here and now’, for example in the way they’ve been so rapidly deployed to help the rescue effort, with satellite maps and data services for locating relatives and so on.
I wonder if the ‘emergency’ facing our sector, in the form of funding cuts to education and culture, will give us the impetus to deploy digital tools in more agile ways. This week both the Conservative and Labour parties made funding statements for culture at the RSA State of the Arts conference. Here’s a useful comparison and summary. In a scenario of funding cuts can we convince politicians that digital strategy can actually save money and produce value, and not just be a drain on budgets, with vague outcomes?
As we run up to the election, our various quangos are jostling to advocate the value of culture either through bold statements (like this from NMDC), through holding expert enquiries (like this from MLA) or through consultations (like this from ACE).
In the meantime, there is much to celebrate as museums & culture shift towards openness and collaboration. Here are two great examples:
The BBC and British Museum launched their major History of the World project. A positive reception has been obvious from so many tweets from regional partners announcing their contributions and schools getting excited about adding objects to it (e.g. Thomas Tallis @creativetallis on twitter).
The other good news is Culture24 releasing some sets of data feeds (venues, resources, events/exhibitions) with 3 levels of access (open, redacted, full), available in RSS, OAI-MPH & SOAP formats. This is just a pilot with more data & formats in the pipeline.
There’ll be more news to come over the next few weeks about open cultural data (for example about Culture Grid and DCMS digital strategies) and I’m pretty sure you in the Museums Computer Group will be the first to know. And the first to comment, bless you! Next to take the baton is Jim Richardson from Museum Marketing.
I took part in a seminar, supported by LIFT, about how to shape, make visible and accredit the profession. Which profession? More or less, it was about the profession of practising artists of any artform working in education and community. But this profession isn’t easily distinguished from creative designers, scientists, teachers, or programmers/managers working in education and community. This blurring is more so now that ‘creativity’ is more the buzz than ‘the arts’, for example in Creative Partnerships. And perhaps all the more so now that virtuosity in a particular art form is less valued than being conceptual, entrepreneurial, interdisciplinary and so on.
The key question was around whether there is a need for a professional body and accrediting system, like the Arts Marketing Association. There are already networks with training schemes within art forms (e.g. visual arts www.engage.org ) and within setting-related networks (e.g. youth arts http://www.artswork.org.uk/proj_enyan.html ) and there are many courses in creative & cultural education. There are also ways that you can gather a portfolio and apply for self-accreditation. What is seen to be lacking is a well-known kind of ‘pilot’s licence’ across the profession that gives clear evidence of one’s skills, and a common understanding of what skills or values are needed.
The organisers of this project will create a wiki to share ideas but in the meantime I’ve come up with my own version of a framework for mapping the essential skills of the creative & cultural education profession. It aims to draw together into one profession those who tend more towards either education, artform practice, administration and ideas/knowledge, and thereby to broaden the skills base and quality of the profession. You can find this framework here http://filexoom.com/files/2006/11/25/45543/visible%20profession%20PDF.pdf