Can interp open your eyes?

Guest post by  Sue Hill, Senior Ranger, Northern Parks, Auckland Council

When my father turned 80, my partner and I flew off to the UK to celebrate with my family. We then spent the next three months travelling around Europe, mostly by train.

Concentration Camp Gate. We’re not photo people. But whenever I could tear my eyes from the view from the train, I scribbled in a book that is now as well-travelled as I am. And among those scribbles were my thoughts and impressions of some of the ‘hard to tell‘ interpretation we encountered.

I took a special interest in the huge variety of interpretation we came across. Jorvik in York was fun but almost like Disneyland with animatronics and slightly bored humans dressed as Vikings. The SS Great Britain display in Bristol took us under the hull of the ship thanks to a plate glass “ceiling” with 10cm of the River Avon above our heads. The sounds of scurrying rats and creaking decks and migrants’ voices made us wonder how whole families managed to remain sane in the weeks it took to get to Australia.

Prague was stunning. Paris was  cold. I’d live in Hamburg. Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp made us ashamed of humankind.

Anne Frank diary. Anne Frank’s house hit us like it must hit everyone and invited us to express our opinions about human rights and freedoms.

But the Warsaw Uprising Museum left us reeling. A heartbeat thuds from a central pillar reaching up through the converted factory building. All of your senses are assaulted. Machine guns, explosions, photos, film. The voices of ordinary people, who did not discuss whether or not it was wise to resist the invading Nazis, but just resisted – men, women and children alike. Then when the war neared its end and the Allies began to split Europe between them, Poland was handed to the Soviets and they endured even worse horrors.

The museum does indeed assault the senses, and I’d not  consider preparing displays like these – it’s just too much – but it does convey the suffering of the Poles in those extraordinary times.

We had something more walking around with us that day, the best sort of interp. Marak is 58, same age as me, so he doesn’t remember the war years. But his parents did, and he lived through the Soviet years when Pole was turned against Pole.

My mother was a child in an English village during the war. Evacuee children lived there, and she remembers watching planes performing above – not  acrobatics but dog-fights. But England didn’t face that sternest test – Nazi invaders. And speaking as one who was born there, I wonder whether the English would have reacted like almost every Pole did, or whether the cacophony the Museum tries to represent would have cowed us.

Can interp open your eyes? Yes, it can.

Note: Last days to register! “Hard to tell, hard to sell” – INNZ Spring Workshop and AGM in Christchurch close-off date is this Friday 7 September. 

Hard to tell…

Years ago as a relatively new interpreter, I worked at an outdoor education centre in Ohio that did living history programmes. The most popular programme was an Underground Railroad programme where school kids played the part of escaping slaves. As they travelled north toward Canada, they met a variety of characters, some nice and some not so nice to them. During our staff training, I was uncomfortable with the programme. We were expected to threaten the children with guns, lock them in a shed, and treat them roughly. I thought it was going too far—these were kids, after all! Living history or not, was it really necessary to rough them up for the sake of interpretation? I had a talk with the director, and though he was quite comfortable with the programme, he agreed to allow me to play characters that were not required to threaten the children with firearms.

African American slaves picking cotton in Alabama
http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/

What I didn’t count on was our audience. These little children arrived with no understanding of the history of slavery in America, and often with a wall of inherited prejudices against African Americans. Within a month, I was one of the most ruthless slave hunters on the programme, luring the children into my confidence, then turning on them as I pulled a pistol from my skirts.

For me, slavery was one of those “hard to tell” subjects—a subject that for me was too emotional, too inflammatory, too…well…shameful to tell in graphic detail. But for my audience it wasn’t a difficult subject at all. In fact, it wasn’t nearly difficult enough for them. I realised that my job was to turn my nation’s history of slavery into an emotional, inflammatory, and shameful subject for these children. To these kids, slavery was dates and names to be memorised—dry and unemotional. My job as an interpreter was to make it emotional for them; make it personal.

As interpreters, we need to tell the hard stories. They are often the most important ones to tell. And sometimes those stories will necessarily evoke negative emotions. We can’t shy away from that. There is power in those emotions. A power we can harness.

Next month interpreters will gather in Christchurch to spend a weekend sharing our triumphs and troubles as we search for powerful and positive ways to tell difficult stories. I encourage you to join us, whether you’re a war-scarred veteran of “hard to tell” stories, or a fresh recruit facing your first “hard to tell” story. You’ll find more information about the weekend, plus a registration form on the INNZ website.

Venturing down the digital trail

The interpreter in the form of a mountain biker.

I am a mountain biker.

Ok, lets keep it relevant… I am a mountain biker and an interpreter.

I started mountain biking in 2001, and it was love at first ride. I used to spend every spare daylight hour I had out on the trails around Wellington with my mates. I used to read all the magazines, watch all the movies and spend hours wandering through bike shops marvelling at the shiny new bikes. I found a huge amount of joy in discovering new trails and mastering the trails I knew well.

Now, I would never claim to have mastered mountain biking but by 2006 I was pretty competent, knew my way around a bike pretty well and could find my way down most trails as good as any. When this contentment happens, ‘the search’ starts. It’s the search for something new and exciting, a chance to add a new layer to my mountain biking experience.

A friend of mine floated the idea of night riding, which basically consists of strapping the brightest light you can find to your head and tearing through the forest in the middle of the night. I had my reservations about this new idea – lights were expensive, it was colder at night, it was risky as it would be harder to get help if someone was to get hurt.

All reservations considered and addressed, we ventured out into the night for a ride. It was amazing. We rode the same tracks we had ridden for years, but when put in a new light became a brand new experience. I got that extra boost of energy and excitement for riding again.

While the search as a mountain biker led me to night riding, the search as an interpreter has got me looking at digital experiences. I, like a lot of interpreters, have my reservations about digital experiences. They tend to be expensive. They can be too difficult for visitors to use. Maintenance of content can be frustrating and time-consuming. Then there were download size issues to consider, and how to encourage visitors to download the app onto their phones in the first place.

Recently, after considering and addressing all these reservations, we at Wellington Zoo rolled out the STQRY app.

A STQRY code placed at exhibits that visitors scan using the app on their smart phone. If you scan this code now with your phone using any QR code scanner it will prompt you to download the app.

The app, developed by a Wellington-based company, allows visitors access to text, images, maps, videos, links (and much more) through their smartphone. Visitors can either search an alphabetical list of animals and exhibits or they can scan QR codes at exhibits to access relevant information.

The approach we took to the development of content was that it should complement what visitors see at exhibits. In other words, it encourages them to interact with the physical space around them. It is designed to be another layer to the experience. It is not a replacement for other forms of interpretive media, just another opportunity where visitors can customise their own experience.

A preview of the STQRY interface.

Just like night riding boosted by buzz for mountain biking, developing this experience for our visitors has given me that extra boost of energy as an interpreter. It is an opportunity to shed a new light on our experience and engage visitors in a way we have not done before. That, for me as an interpreter, is exciting. What a ride!

Museums and the Web 2012- All things techie!

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rainy, cold and windy san diego

Cold and rainy is not how you would normally describe San Diego, but I can because it was just that for most of my five-day visit for the Museums and the Web 2012 conference. However, this did not dampen my excitement or those of the over 530-strong contingent gathered to share stories, secrets, and advice about all things museum tech. From websites to augmented realities, to analytics to CMS and crowd sourcing—there was something to titillate every taste.

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ok there were a few beautiful days too

I was there wearing many hats—as the head girl of Girl Museum, as web administrator for INNZ and as a freelance exhibition developer. But mostly I just wanted to understand better how best, and when to use, technology; in gallery interp, interactive games, social media or even when not to use it at all.

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a session panel and all the laptops, iPads and iPhones going for it the whole time

The range of topics offered an angle for most tech comprehension levels and I especially enjoyed how international the crowd was—there seemed to be someone from everywhere. It was striking how accepted it is nowadays that people will be on laptops, iPads, iPhones and other technologies during sessions and lectures. I still have a hard time with this, it just seems rude, even if you are tweeting or blogging or engaging in some other esoteric way.

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behind the scenes in the restoration shop at the Air and Space Museum

The behind the scenes tours to several of the museums in Balboa Park were really cool, especially the Air and Space Museum restoration area—secret stuff going on down there.

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Epic FAIL

Particularly excellent was the closing panel about failure. Five brave souls got up in front of the crowd and confessed major project failures running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was poignant to hear their stories and how they came through and what they learned at the time. On reflection now, it is even more powerful going forward,wondering how I will deal with such things, hopefully with as much grace and humor.

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California style 'guilt free' drinking (note Eco-Mojito)

Of note was the copious amount of coffee and tea on offer, as well as snacks and heaps of nice food. Being fed and watered properly at a conference is very important to how you take everything in and the overall pleasure of the experience.  I can safely say there was enough of everything when you needed it.

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photo opp- dress up like Neil Armstrong and walk on the moon

This was a valuable conference for those seeking like-minds, searching for general solutions or directions, but not really to solve specific problems. There could definitely have been more doctors’ surgeries and outpatient care offered for specific projects, and more for those of us who have a serious interest in using technology to interpret and display, but don’t have big budgets or audiences.

My takeaways were mainly about resources; to always know that every project will take more time, money and people than you anticipate; and to budget for maintenance, both in time and people, or the amazing things that we do will be broken, forgotten or scrapped.

Legend – guest post by Amy Hughes

We are all in for a treat this month. I would like to introduce guest blogger Amy Hughes, INNZ member and Group Manager of Visitor Engagement at Wellington Zoo.

I think it is only appropriate this blog is called ‘Legend’, because that is what Amy is around the Zoo (Haha! Ok, I am just greasing up to the boss now, I’ll stop). She has been working to engage visitors at Wellington Zoo for the last 3 1/2 years and here are just some of her thoughts. Enjoy.

Oli 

 

I’ve been internalising a complicated situation in my head. My seven year old nephew told me last weekend that I ‘couldn’t eat his ghost chips,’ and this got me wondering how an ad intended to encourage people to stop driving drunk, aimed at teenage males, had entered our national consciousness. Sure it’s funny and has eminently quotable lines but what is it that sets it apart from other ads?

 We have been bombarded for years with images of graphic car crashes, the after effects of driving drunk and people dying, yet none of these ads have resonated in the same way Legend has and they certainly don’t have 2 million youtube hits. The NZTA have found an engaging way to deliver a message that we have all heard thousands of times before and managed to make people pay attention and start talking about it. Legend has generated media stories and discussions – and not just about the ad, but about the issue and whether an ad can make people change their behaviour. And, when you think that it is only 60 seconds long, it is even more impressive.

 At the Zoo we deal with big issues. Deforestation, animals’ habitat loss, declining animal populations –enough to make anyone depressed. The other day we were having a meeting and we started chatting about large companies, who owns who, how pretty much everything you buy is ultimately funding tobacco or nuclear companies, or contains palm oil and one of my colleagues put her head in hands and said ‘Stop, its too depressing, I can’t handle it.’ If someone who works here finds one conversation overwhelming, it doesn’t bode well for communicating with our visitors!

There is well documented research that shows if someone is happy, or in a positive frame of mind, they feel empowered and more open to receiving messages. If you were a visitor going to your place for the first time, how many no, don’t, never messages would you encounter? I don’t know about you, but having never completely quashed my teenage rebellious streak, as soon as someone tells me not to touch or climb something, its all I want to do. 

 I love the idea of the humour and positive messaging in Legend, and how we can apply that at the Zoo. And, if we can create conversations and discussions around actions, issues and behaviour change – even better.

http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/remote-player?id=2501778

Stones to iPhones – INNZ Spring Workshop

I attended the INNZ Spring Workshop in Timaru to be inspired. To see things from other points of view, to network with like minded individuals, working in fields unlike mine. While working within the zoo industry is great, stepping out of that context and looking to bring in ideas from other types of organisations is an exciting challenge; a challenge of great benefit to me as an interpreter.

Oli and guides at the Eagle Cave.

I'm on the left as our guides Karl and Sue invite us to explore the Cave of the Eagle.

This year we were hosted by Te Ana: Ngai Tahu Rock Art Centre. A highlight of day one was going out to the rock art sites to look at drawings done hundreds of years ago. There is so much mystery around them. Who drew them and why? Were they the work of an accomplished artist? Were they a means of communication between travelling iwi? Or were they an ancient form of graffiti, maybe done to entertain the mokopuna? Our guides were friendly and informative, but still allowed provocative thought – they were fantastic.

Inside Te Ana Ngai Tahu Rock Art Centre

INNZ workshoppers have a go at creating their own 'rock art'

We heard from the Te Ana development team about the process of designing the centre. The work that was done by the development team was a reminder to engage the right people in the process. The centre is about giving Ngai Tahu the means to tell their stories. As interpreters we focus a lot on the final product, the message that is being portrayed to our audience, but sometimes how we get there is just as important.

On day two of the workshop, a World Café session was hosted. It was a great opportunity to get together and discuss current issues in our industry. Three table discussions were set up. Kate Woodall from Te Papa hosted the topic ‘Why digital?’ – very relevant to our industry, as some of the biggest buzz going on at the moment is around digital experiences. (Stay posted to this blog for other World cafe dicussion topics).

As an interpreter looking for inspiration QR codes, iApps, augmented reality, and RFIDs to name a few, offer new possibilities. But the question around the table was, who really wants digital experiences? Do our audiences expect them? Or is it an expectation from within the industry?

As the discussion went on it became clear that we should be asking ourselves “how can digital enhance the experience for visitors? Is it always the right tool for the job?”

One of Kate’s messages was – if you are going to do it, do it right and for the right reasons. Digital experiences are a tool that can add another layer to an experience. One of the people around our table suggested that maybe an indicator for success in this area is that visitors don’t know they are having a digital experience. I like the idea of that seamlessness.

Valley of the Eagle.

A landscape of inspiration - the Valley of the Eagle

There is so much good work being done in New Zealand. Every time I go to an INNZ workshop or conference I see something or experience something that reinvigorates and inspires me. The Interpretation Network of New Zealand is only as strong as it members, and if the recent workshop is anything to go by, it’s going from strength to strength.

iPads and pre-schoolers – confessions of a perplexed parent

Child using iPad.

Ryan has fun at preschool using the iPad; photo courtesy Above and Beyond Education.

OK I admit it – my nearly-three-year-old daughter is more familiar with iPads than I am. It’s not hard – I think I have only just fully realised I am raising a “screen-ager”. Once they started appearing at her preschool, I should have realised that if I didn’t catch up soon, I was going to be left behind; and possibly speaking an entirely different language according to the latest scrabble dictionary!

The infamous Douglas Adams came up with a set of rules that describes our reactions to technology;

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things. 

So perhaps I should not be surprised that my daughter asked for a ‘pink ‘puter’ for her third birthday. Although I was still a little taken aback when I spotted one in a local café being used by a similarly-sized girl. She was colouring while mum drank coffee. Not a lidless felt-tip in sight.

Children using laptop; S Mankelow

Josie and William Webb of Christchurch both learned their ABCs thanks to programmes like 'Letterland'.

I must admit, iPads are particularly well-suited to the preschool market. They are small and compact – much like many pre-schoolers. They have no power cords to trip on, chew on or get caught on. You can carry them and plonk them down anywhere you (or the child) likes. They are instantly on – which cuts down on whinge-time. They are intuitive to use – kids touch everything and these things are made to be touched! No keys to bash and get stuck up with nutella.

And according to i-TUNES, over 20,000 educational Apps (May 2011). But of course, like with all media, not all Apps are created equal. It’s easy to get excited about the possibilities, without first checking if the experiences you are buying into are quality ones.

Luckily there are plenty of websites and blogs to help; this is just a few:

www.teacherswithapps.com– Founded by two teachers this site reviews educational apps, under the premise that they are the tools of the future, if used responsibly.

www.adesontheweb.com – This site posts reviews of apps being used by Apple Distinguished Educators; searchable by name or grade level.

www.momswithapps.com – Moms with Apps is a collaborative group of family-friendly developers seeking to promote quality apps for kids and families.

ictece.blogspot.com – This NZ blog focuses on issues relating to children and teachers using Information and Communication Technology in education.

blog.core-ed.org/  – CORE Education is a NZ non-profit organisation devoted to education.

And of course, if iPads are useful in formal education, what is their potential role in informal learning situations such as museums and visitor centres? Our July newsletter highlights Tauranga Art Gallery’s first go at incorporating iPads into the Lynley Dodd exhibition.  On pedestals child-high; yeah they had a clear idea of their target audience.

New Plymouth Museum Puke Ariki launched an iPad-based visitor experience in August last year, claiming to be the first in New Zealand to deploy iPads for public use in a museum. Their story can be found at www.nzmuseums.co.nz/

And a partnership between DOC and University of Otago’s Centre of Design will see a trial of iPads use in the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre launched during Conservation Week this September. See the story in our newsletter or find out more on the DOC website http://www.doc.govt.nz.

Imagine visitors wandering around your art gallery, centre, museum or park with an interactive App that encourages them to look at details and discover connections to their own lives. It’s getting closer every day.

Foodprinter; Latitude Research.

Latitude Research had children draw the future of technology as they saw it.

According to a study by Latitudeº Research, “Children’s Future Requests for Computers & the Internet,” kids ages 12 and under are predicting that the future of media and technology lies in better integrating digital experiences with real-world places and activities.

Sounds like a mandate for interpretation to me! It’s a brave new world out there – and according to my daughter, it should come in hot pink.