Trendswatch and Open Data You Can Use

The future is bright, and full of sugar.  Image courtesy of NASA's image galleries, see link below.

The future is bright, and full of sugar. Image courtesy of NASA’s image galleries, see link below.

Have you been looking through The Center for the Future of Museums’ Trendswatch 2015?  If not, you can find it (and some related articles) right here.  (If you’re not familiar with Trendswatch, the basic idea is that the CFM looks at what’s happening in society on a large scale and predicts how certain trends in technology, attitude, and habits could influence/affect museums and museum-goers.  It has broader implications for education, design, marketing, and service organizations too.)

One of the trends identified is the rising importance/influence/availability of ‘open data’ and the projects that are created using it.  This can mean anything from GovTrack’s database of US Congressional voting records to the Cooper Hewitt’s 3D scans of their mansion, available free for makers and creatives of all sorts to download and tinker with.

In the spirit of Brain Popcorn’s Ideabox, here are some open resources that you can use, and some creative prompts for yourself, your museum, or your classroom:

Inspiring Images

What can you do with museum-quality images?

  • Digital collages, cropping, recoloring, pop-culture parodies, screen wallpapers, custom header for your personal blog
  • Print actual wallpaper, fabric, etc. using a service like Spoonflower or similar
  • Print images for mixed media collage, mod-podge and resin-based crafts like jewelry or glass jar luminaria
  • Costume, set, and character design inspiration for theater classes, writing prompts, and authors’ visual reference files
  • History reports, bulletin boards, and VTS classroom discussions with an overhead projector or poster-sized prints

Where can you find them?  (Some of these links also include 3D models and audio and video files, for bonus remixing options)

The Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler galleries have all their collections online, with images you can use in any non-commercial form, for free.

The Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries have all their collections online, with images you can use in any non-commercial form, for free. Click the image to go to Open F|S!

So Many Numbers…

I mentioned GovTracks earlier, but there are reams of numerical sorts of information out there too.

What can you do with lots of numerical/geographical/etc. data sets?

  • map customized information onto Google Earth or other visualization services (see Gapminder below) (great for conversations about population density, conservation efforts, etc.)
  • track language use on social media (where are certain words or new phrases popular, and what kind of people are using them?)
  • More maps: what do people in each state search most often on the internet?
  • Plan a student advocacy campaign for something your class decides is important.  Who are your legislators and what do they think is important?  Who do you have a chance of convincing based on their records?
Visualizing a timeline/map of electricity use per person, 1700's until the present day, using Gapminder

Visualizing a timeline/map of electricity use per person, 1700’s until the present day, using Gapminder

Where can you find data sets?  Please bear in mind that a lot of these sites aren’t going to have data that’s super interesting to a class of third graders, for instance.  For middle, high school, and college students, not to mention professionals, sure.  But if you have rec’s for kid-friendly data, I’d love to hear them!

This is by no means an exhaustive list, so if you have other great sources of open data, or suggestions for cool projects, please share them in the comments below!

What’s next?

Looking to make a set of data you or your organization has a part of the open data universe?  Check out Open Data Commons for a getting-started guide and important legal information.

As a logical extension of open data, some people are going all the way to ‘open objects,’ such as Jeremy Deller’s Do Touch project, in which objects from a historic collection are brought out to the public in malls, parks, etc, and made available for exploration.  This is a great idea, and it would be great if museums could do more of this! The Active Collections project is all about helping museums identify which objects are truly serving their missions: if they could also identify what could be used as ‘educational collection’ for this kind of purpose, think how inspiring that could be.

Open data is being used for community mapping, app building, advocacy, education, and more.  What are other possible mid- or end-points for this trend?

Mindboggling Museum Resources Online

Beware, curious one, for the internet hath no bottom!

Beware, curious one, for the internet hath no bottom!

It is always exciting to see what museums are up to when it comes to making their collections and expertise available regardless of geography or gate fee.  Here are a few cool resources I’ve come across recently that are great for the teacher, writer, or perpetually curious mind:

British Library – The Romantics and Victorians – Primary and secondary sources (letters, articles, films, teachers’ notes and more), and thematic explorations of 22 authors of the Romantic and Victorian periods (roughly Jane Austen through Thomas Hardy) represented in the British Library collections.  (Rather makes me want to reread AS Byatt’s Possession…)

Metropolitan Museum of Art Back Catalogue – Catalogues, bulletins, online publications, and educator resources both current and archived from previous exhibitions and collection highlights, lots with full text, etc, readable online or downloadable in PDF.  And, for that matter, the Met’s Online Collection is downright jaw-dropping too.

NPR’s new Education blog – went straight to my RSS feed the day it launched, and I’m watching where it goes with great interest!

Source sadly defunct.  If you know how to credit this image creator, please let me know!

Source sadly defunct. If you know how to credit this image creator, please let me know!

And a few perennial favorites always worth a second (or sixtieth) look:

Exploratorium Learning Tools – Their set of podcasts, teacher resources, and activities to try at home or in the classroom is always good for a delve, and the folks in the Tinkering Studio have a great maker-centric set of engineering and design projects too.

Kennedy Center’s ArtsEdge – Always a new bunch of lesson plans, and a very easy to navigate guide to the (relatively new) national arts curriculum standards, very helpful!  I for one was thrilled to see a lesson plan on Trees in Nature and Art that I can add to my resources for Branching Out.

“To Help People Dream,” AAM Day 2

I have a feeling that this is the sort of conference that gets exponentially more busy each day, so today I’m going to stick to bullet points: my top 3-5 reactions, quotes, ideas, or experiences from each session.  (You can expect me to go back to some of these ideas in later posts instead.)

Session 1: Stories Alive: The Power of Theater in Conservation Education

  • I respect people who start professional conference sessions with puppets.  Seriously, way to grab attention when half the people in the room haven’t got their caffeine yet because the conference center Starbucks was overwhelmed.
  • This was an interesting balance to yesterday’s session, because it included examples of different kinds of (mostly larger) theater programs, and also discussion of evaluation and figuring out lingering impact and message effectiveness.

Session 2: General Session – Education, Stories, Museums: Transforming Lives, Keynote Speaker Dr. Freeman Hrabowski of UMBC


  • Instead of ‘what did you learn today,’ ask ‘did you ask a good question today?’  Encouraging curiosity leads to great thinkers.
  • Experience in the arts, even if you are not excellent, makes you realize and appreciate what it takes to be excellent.
  • The fundamental purpose of museum and of education is to help people dream.

Session 3: 3D Printing from the Smithsonian

  • I feel like museums need to go talk to people at Pixar and Weta and some of the other fields where they’ve been doing more with 3D scans and imagery, like those laser scanned reproductions of various actors for their character busts and replicas.  Because there are cool ideas out there we could be using.
  • I like the idea of reproduced models of archaeological digs and virtual dinosaur bones for study.
  • The Smithsonian has a real advantage in testing out these new techniques given that they have 19 museums and 9 research centers to play around with a range of ideas.


Session 4: Maximizing the Nation’s Common Wealth: Museums and Parks in Partnership

  • Sitting in the same room with the Secretary of the Smithsonian and the Deputy Director of the National Park Service is a little like attending a museum equivalent of a rock concert.
  • The strategic plans (with an emphasis on education for each) are supposed to be available in the session notes on the AAM website.  They sound/look like an interesting read.
  • For all that they have significant and impressive visitation figures, both institutions suffer from the same issues regarding diversity and relevance that almost all traditional museums are currently facing and attempting to change.  It will be interesting to see what works on such a large scale.

Session 5a: Museum Marketplace: Exhibit Labels competition

  • Definitely a lot of labels that privilege descriptive writing over the purely didactic.  Makes for an interesting read that has either a conversational or reflective cadence.




Session 5b: Museum Marketplace: Education showcase

  • Always nice to see what other folks in my field are up to!  Reading blogs is interesting, conversations are even better.
  • Fun and interesting thoughts about Maker spaces and their uses with school programs.
  • Cool cooperation happening between Smithsonian museums for interdisciplinary approaches to exhibits, especially art & science.  Always nice to see that happening.

Expo Showcase 6: Augmenting Dinosaurs – Augmented Reality Installations 

  • I appreciated the opportunity to hear from museum staff, computer/media designers, and the paleontologist whose research led to the animations used in the augmented reality interactives.  The range of perspectives made it more useful and interesting than a vendor-only session would have been.
  • T-Rex shook its prey like a crocodile does and Allosaurus did the dip and rip move that small raptors like kestrels do.  And they can tell that based on skeletons and the way the muscles would have had to attach to them.  Amazing.
  • Augmented reality seems like a reasonable thing to explore for enlivening the natural history elements in the Art & Nature Center–but I wonder, what would make it compelling for the Art half of that equation?

After Hours Fun 7: Wonders of the Undersea World at the Baltimore National Aquarium

  • Great staff, very personable and willing to answer questions on practically any topic.  Beautiful building,  not unlike Boston’s NEAq (and the central tank was apparently designed by the same person)
  • They have dolphins–7 of them. I am very jealous.  
  • I loved the rainforest exhibit, including the opportunity for visitors to hold a stick with live crickets over the archer fish tank and watch them spit water at the crickets to knock them into eating range.  That was highly entertaining, if unfortunate for the crickets.
  • I will never understand aquarium catering being okay with serving seafood, no matter how tasty the crab dip.