Friday, 6 March 2009

Case Study 3 – Tate Modern

During my trip to London I went to the Tate Modern (all in the name of hardwork!) to experience their multimedia tour, delivered through a PDA. The tour has won a Bafta-award for technical innovation and visitor feedback has proven extremely positive.

Upon arrival at the Tate Modern I was kindly directed to the multimedia tour desk where I was told that the tour cost £2 (£1 for concessions and students) and that I would need to leave some formal identification (such as a Driving Licence or Passport) to act as a guarantee for the device. The tours are delivered through Dell Axim X51V (which appear to retail at approx £250), users are also supplied with a set of headphones and a stylus.

I was disappointed by the help I was given with the PDA from the girl that was manning the multimedia tour desk, in 10 seconds flat she gave me a whistle-stop tour of what to do and I must admit I was confused. It didn’t help that there was a glass security window between myself and the member of staff, it proved to be quite a barrier. I took the PDA to one side and spent a few minutes acquainting myself with the device and the tour. It didn’t take me too long to work it all out but I couldn’t help feeling that I should have been supported in its use from the very start by the Tate staff and I also knew for a fact that someone less confident with technology would have been blinded by science. This is a shame as some people may be missing out on the true benefits of the tour simply because they couldn’t work out how to use the device properly.

There are two different tour options, the family tour or the collections tour. The tour applies to four of the collections currently on display in the Tate Modern: Poetry and Dream, Material Gestures, States of Flux and Idea and Object. For the special collections there was an extra charge for the tours at approx £1.50.

I chose the collections tour option and headed for the ‘Poetry and Dream’ section. Depending upon the pieces of art you are in front on, the information of the multimedia tour differs. For example the first piece of art that I studied was Joan Miró’s a Star Caresses the Breast of a Negress (Painting Poem), 1938 which came under the ‘surrealism and beyond’ banner. The options provided by the tour were:

Ø About this picture
Ø The artist speaks
Ø Get talking
Ø Dream music
Ø Credits

The ‘about this picture’ option is a standard option for all the artwork included as part of the multimedia tour which tended to draw upon the artist’s inspiration for the work. Particular pieces were accompanied by an interview with the artist (as with this Joan Miró piece) which sometimes included video as well as audio. The ‘get talking’ option presents two points of view of a piece of work and asks you to consider, either together if in a group, or on your own if alone, which point of view you can relate to – this is interesting as within groups it encourages collaboration. The ‘dream music’ option that accompanied Joan Miró’s piece contextualised the piece through music and blended well with the surrealist element. The ‘credits’ option was another standardised option and simply credited any information, interviews etc. to the correct people.

I continued to experience the tour as I made my way around the gallery. Options specific to particular works included amongst others:

Ø Material and technique
Ø Love triangle
Ø Inspirations
Ø Friends, lovers and models
Ø The artist at work

After I had experienced the full collections tour I decided to get a bit of a taster for the family tour, I was interested how it would deal with some works that were not suitable for young children, for example Marlene Dumas’s work is not included in the family tour due to its generally dark nature and sexual connotations.

The family tour was a brilliant example of adapting content to suit the needs of the users. In order to demonstrate this I compared the collections tour with the family tour in relation to Jason Pollock’s Summertime, 1948. The options offered though the collections tour included:

Ø About this work
Ø The artist at work
Ø Pollock and music
Ø Pollock and patterns
Ø Credits

The options offered in the family tour included:

Ø About this painting
Ø Finger painting?
Ø Credits

The options of the family tour were accessible to all age groups containing information relevant to a younger audience. The finger painting option asked the children to see if they could see evidence where Jason Pollock had used his fingers on the canvas. There was also an on-screen option which encouraged users to select certain areas of the painting which when pressed musically announced the technique Pollock had use on that particular area e.g. finger, splatter. This interactive picture made music when touched in multiple areas through the artistic techniques used.

I was amazed at how much information the multimedia tour offered and the different formats this information was delivered. The tour definitely left me feeling much more in-tune with certain pieces of work currently on display at the Tate Modern and really helped me to understand some of the history and inspirations to the pieces of work, contextualising the techniques used by the artists to achieve a certain impression. I saw people of all age groups and all nationalities using the PDA tours, children as young as five up to couples in their sixties. The Tate’s multimedia tours are an excellent example of a successful mobile learning culture, but reinforce the strong need for support of such provisions.

I feel that there is potential to use Tate’s multimedia tour model in an academic setting, particularly in library instruction. It would enable students to experience the library induction in a more hands-on and contextual setting, rather than sitting in a lecture theatre staring at yet another PowerPoint presentation. It would also enable students to recap (after the madness of Fresher’s week when most inductions take place) on how to use the library effectively. In an academic setting I feel that if some of the Tate’s elements were adopted they would need to be delivered via students personal devices. This is because 1. I can’t imagine many students wanting to advertise the fact that they are doing a multimedia tour of the library (not cool!). If they can walk around with their mobile phone or iPod it is less conspicuous! 2. It would negate any cost element to students; they would simply have to download the library induction app to their device 3. From a support point of view, our front of house staff would not been inundated with device related questions and students would feel more comfortable using their own device that they are confident in using.

Overall I think it is definitely something that needs to be considered enabling us to deliver library inductions to students in a more flexible and blended manner.

Looking to the future for the Tate, apparently they have developed an app for the iPhone which would allow visitors to experience the multimedia tour via their own device…what was I just saying…!!!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Case Study 2 – London School of Economics (LSE)

Yesterday I went to London for a visit to LSE and to meet with Jane Secker (Learning Technology Librarian) and Dave Puplett (Data Librarian) to discuss mobile learning.

The day got off to a good start, glorious sunshine and a train that departed on time…if only my map reading skills were as good as my enthusiasm…on arriving at Euston I initially took a wrong turning (whoops) but realised my mistake pretty sharpish when I arrived at the hospital (that hadn’t been a landmark in my directions!)…after an 180 degree turn and asking for directions from a couple of really helpful people I managed to make my way to LSE, arriving only a few minutes later than planned!!

Jane and Dave gave me some good insights into the kinds of mobile orientated learning currently in action at LSE. Firstly Dave showed me some stats which highlight that the iPhone is the fourth most popular access method for their library catalogue totalling 869 times in a four month period. This is promising as the students are choosing this access method, mobile learning is yet to be fully realised at LSE yet the students are bridging the gap between their personal devices which they use so ubiquitously socially, and their personal study.

An interesting comparison between LJMU and LSE is the level of support that we offer to our students and staff with regards to mobile access, as advertised on our webpages. LSE seem to interlink mobile devices with laptops, so any support they offer to laptop users is mirrored in that offered to mobile device users. This is achieved through their laptop surgery service. The IT services homepage states:

‘For assistance connecting to LSE resources from off-site and connecting personally-owned laptop and mobile devices to the LSE network’

In a mobile learning culture this invisible connection which blurs the devices, laying emphasis on the support, not on the device, is definitely a promising way forward. Here at LJMU it appears that support for mobile devices is offered in separate places. Firstly we have the ‘other devices’ page which actively promotes different access channels for staff and students with regards to their email. Then there is the ‘via POP/IMAP’ page which guides users on how to configure mobile devices in order that university email can be accessed but stipulates that at LJMU we offer ‘as is’ the information on our webpages. This implies to students that there isn’t a physical support layer with regards to using mobile devices to access the university network when in truth this is not actually the case. Computing Assistants offer front line support to our students and staff across our 3 LRC sites. The Off-Campus Support Team also offer support in terms of students and staff that are based away from the campus in accessing the university network via mobile devices, we should openly advertise this fact in order to instil a mobile learning culture. We are doing it so why not let our staff and students know about it?

LSE also offers a service called VITA (Virtual IT Assistance) which seems quite similar to the services offered by the Off-Campus Support team here at LJMU. VITA (as with Off-Campus Support) allows students and staff to chat online in order to resolve any issues they may have with software etc. and provide a level of IT support.

Back on the mobile front, LSE have a WAP page that indicates which PCs are free so as their students travel into the university knowing that they need a PC on that particular day, they can access information that will allow them to make informed decisions as to the best location for them. This idea is an excellent example of enabling the 21st century learner to make use of their travelling time in a constructive manner (if they so wish) and in turn save them time (by directly leading them to free PCs taking away the ‘looking’ element)!

Something that I have only recently started looking into is that of lecture capture systems. LSE uses Echo 360. Echo 360 automatically captures, manages, and publishes class lectures therefore the lecturers don’t have to do anything differently than they would normally. Jane showed me an example of the data that is captured and made accessible via the VLE and indicated that lecturer uptake was positive as was student opinion. Interestingly from a mobile learning point of view, the audio file could be extracted in order that it be downloaded onto an MP3 or iPod. This would enable students to learn on the go, whilst travelling, maybe printing off particular slides to use in-conjunction with the audio in order to revise a particular topic area or concept.

We finished the morning talking briefly about social softwares including Facebook and Twitter. Both very topical within libraries and HE at this moment in time – but that’s a whole new blog posting!!

The morning spent at LSE made me even more invigorated with mobile learning, I truly believe we need to start advertising the elements of mobile learning that we currently ‘do.’ Whether it be academics experimenting with podcasting or the LRC staff showing students how to connect to the wireless through a mobile device. A mobile learning culture isn’t going to happen over night but each step we take is getting us one step nearer to a successful and innovative blended learning environment.