Meet the new project: Digital Makers

Participants in the first Digital Maker workshop using technology, including Raspberry Pis and Micro:bits creatively

GLAM Labs Digital Makers. Photo by O. Bridle

In this interview, Helen Ward and Ollie Bridle share how they came up with the idea for the Digital Makers project. The project revolves around the idea of digital creation in the Ashmolean museum where the collection serves as inspiration for digital makers.

This project is one of four GLAM Labs projects funded as part of this year’s IT Innovation Challenges round.

About the project

The GLAM Digital Makers project will run from June 2019 to February 2020 and will bring together a group of staff and local digital makers to explore the potential for digital making inspired by the Ashmolean collections – this will include running events for families and young people, as well as experimenting with staff led projects such as developing simple interactives or signage. Project partners include the Makerspace at Oxfordshire Central Library, Micro:bit Education Foundation, IT Learning Centre & GLAM Community Engagement team.

Digital making is defined by Nesta as ‘learning about technology through making with it’. Using affordable and flexible small computers such as the micro:bit and Raspberry Pi, traditional craft activities can be combined easily with technology. Through learning simple coding skills, light, sound, movement and interactive elements can be added to models or projects. While technology can supply the mechanism for digital making, the inspiration can be provided by the rich collections held within GLAM.

The project will have three distinct but connected strands. The first will seek to develop the knowledge and confidence of a group of GLAM staff in using digital technologies and to provide a platform to experiment and collaborate to explore the potential of digital making within GLAM . The second strand will develop and test activities. This will include running digital making workshops aimed at families and young people at the Ashmolean as well as evaluating digital making projects developed by staff – e.g. using digital making skills to create an interactive exhibit. The third strand will use the project to create a shared pool of micro:bit devices and accompanying resources that can be borrowed and used for events taking place in any GLAM institution.

1. Please tell us a little bit about the team behind Digital Makers.

This project has given us the opportunity to bring together staff from the Ashmolean Museum, Bodleian Libraries, GLAM Community Engagement Team, IT Learning Centre and Oxfordshire Public Library service. We’ve gathered people who have varying experience in public education and engagement, digital making and working with museum and library collections. Most of us have little experience of using tech like the micro:bits so the whole team will be learning together and using the project to develop new skills and confidence in using this technology.

Ollie Bridle is the project lead for the Bodleian Libraries. Based at the Radcliffe Science Library, Ollie is the Life Sciences Subject Librarian, but has also been involved with a number of new technology projects pioneered at the library such as lending iPads, developing the library’s 3D printing service and a scheme to lend Virtual Reality headsets and 360 cameras.

Helen Ward is the project lead for the Ashmolean Museum. Helen is Deputy Head of Learning and has an interest in digital learning. Areas of work include developing online learning resources for teachers and pioneering the use of iPads to support school museum visits, as well as collaborating with partners and external agencies on digital projects that maximise the use of our collections for learning and engagement.

2. How did you come up with the idea for Digital Makers?

The current project is actually a bringing together of two original ideas that were proposed separately for the GLAM Labs funding call. Ollie originally proposed an idea to help teach coding to GLAM staff using devices such as micro:bits and Raspberry Pi computers. This was prompted by a desire that had been expressed amongst staff as part of the ‘Digital Shift’ project to develop coding skills. Building up skills in coding is a great way to improve the confidence of staff in using and applying technology in innovative ways. The project had envisaged staff being able to use coding skills to develop digital exhibits, displays and signage. Micro:bits offer a cheap, friendly way of introducing people to both programming and physical computing. Helen’s original proposal was focused on exploring the potential of digital making to reach children and young people and to support the National Curriculum’s increased emphasis on computing. Responding to audience research that highlights a gap in our offer for 10-14 year olds and young people, we think digital making has the potential to offer engaging ways of accessing the Museum collections. Furthermore. GLAM audience research that defines users by motivation reveals an archetype, ‘Producers’, who use the collections as a source of inspiration for their own projects and we see an an opportunity to collaborate and build links with the local maker community.

3. Why did you choose to apply for the IT Innovation Challenges scheme?

We thought that the Innovation Challenge scheme funding model suited our project which is fairly small scale and very much experimental in nature. It is the kind of project which would be somewhat expensive for routine budgets we have access too, but also too modest in scale to compete for larger pots of money. The critical digital elements of the project, the desire to work across GLAM institutions and the emphasis on enhancing the experience of GLAM collections which came from Helen’s proposal were also a perfect fit for the funding criteria. Finally, the application process itself helped us to develop our proposal through feedback in the public stages and the suggestion to merge our two original ideas and ultimately produce a stronger and more focused proposal.

4. What was the application process like for you? Which tips would you give future applicants?

Creating the original proposals was quite straight forward, although there was more work involved in merging the separate proposals together. We would definitely advise using the time between submitting the application and shortlisting to go and talk to any external groups who might be involved in your project so that you have everybody on board before you might need to pitch your idea.

5. What are your plans for the next few months? How will you realise your project idea?

Over the next few months the project team will be meeting to learn about how to use all the equipment that will help us develop the digital side of the making activities. This will include getting to grips with micro:bits and some basic coding using software like Scratch and languages such as MicroPython. We’ll also be working together to develop our ideas for maker activities and projects based around objects in the Ashmolean museum collections and look at where digital making could fit into our library activities. We will also be purchasing equipment to support the maker activities.

6. How will the Digital Makers project bring benefit to students, staff and the University?

GLAM staff will benefit from the CPD opportunity to develop their own skills and confidence with using digital technology. The project will also bring together staff from different institutions providing an invaluable opportunity to share experience and knowledge. Visitors to the Ashmolean will benefit from being able to engage with our fantastic museum collections in new ways. Using the digital aspects of activities to involve different age groups will help expand participation. The University will benefit by being able to demonstrate collaboration and community involvement through sharing of resources with external organisations like the Oxfordshire Public Library. GLAM itself will ultimately benefit from having better informed and skilled staff who are ready to exploit new digital opportunities and who have the knowledge and resources to do this successfully.

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