Lisa Keys

Is social media a format option for inclusive interpretation?


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Lisa’s research and end question about ‘great online exhibitions’ has prompted some interesting thoughts, and also more questions…

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Norwich Castle and Colchester Castle’s battlements and dungeons in the UK were amongst the flurry of virtual tours created around 2004; at the time heritage sites were addressing their then new legal duty to provide access to services with reasonable physical adjustments. When alterations were deemed to impact unduly on the fabric or nature of the place, site managers and digital designers worked together to create virtual tours. These were sometimes interpretive and with choice of communication formats with subtitles, British Sign Language and audio description. Others simply offered a visual tour thru’ the lens of a video camera or the latest 3D modelling fly thru’.

Today 10 years on digital and social media present a broader than ever range of ways for visitors to access heritage interpretation and engage with their history. From Brighton and Hove Story drop mobile App to downloadable audio description for blind and partially sighted visitors to the Natural History Museum, London’s newly refurbished Volcanoes and Earthquakes gallery.

It is an exciting time for opportunities to integrate new interpretive methods with inclusive choice of communication techniques, flexibility and accessibility options. Everyone uses a different range of audio, haptic and visual communication techniques.

However, it still requires a further shift from App and virtual options being considered as only an alternative format, rather than integrated choice. Apps are used as a starting point for museum or heritage sites making interpretive material available when they cannot afford to provide devices for audio description, British Sign Language (BSL), Easy Read tours or large print captions. It is not equal access if this is the only way to access these formats but is a way for visitors to access interpretive material. At the end of the day inclusive design means equality of choice and flexibility in what is on offer.

The Association of Heritage Interpretation (AHI) presented a session on digital interpretation at the annual Museums + Heritage Show in London, UK. One of the key messages was to choose digital technology because it is the most effective way to engage visitors and make interpretation accessible, not because it’s new. The same goes for virtual content and design.

An interesting AHI LinkedIn discussion has recently raised questions about whether to choose subtitles or BSL for an interpretive App. The responses highlight the inclusive approach being to provide choice with both: Some people who use English as their first language may require and use subtitles, but for those who use BSL as their first language the subtitles may not make spoken words accessible. The choice is needed.

In the discussion trail also raises more detailed considerations in creating the BSL presentation:

  • Signs vary regionally therefore for a local history museum it will be important to commission a BSL presenter who knows the local signs.
  • Someone with expertise or at least familiar with subject is more engaging. Shape, City Lit and Tate Modern undertook a project to explore and agree art related signs, how do you sign ‘Impressionism’ and ‘modernism’ or any newer art…ism to be understood and consistently used.
  • Equally a railway or science museum audience would benefit from a presenter who is also a subject expert or enthusiast, familiar with specialist terms.
  • When commissioning a BSL presenter the best are deaf people who use BSL, a sign language interpreter is a different role.

…and don’t stop at the AV screen have you taken account of the full exhibition text for someone who uses BSL as their first language and written English is their second or third language?

The Jodi Award has celebrated several excellent projects for social media and online access ranging from BSL tours to communication format for a broad range of learning abilities. A key aspect of these projects is the central involvement of deaf and disabled people in their development and delivery .

Accessibility options won’t fix it all either but can offer flexibility in

  • image/text magnification;
  • visual contrast;
  • labelled images and content menus indicate content;
  • touch sensitivity adjustment;
  • button or tactile as well as flat-screen interface;
  • audio or haptic as well as visual instruction/interaction;
  • also budget, plan, design for and commission
  • audio description, British Sign Language and Easy Read.

Check and enable accessibility options, also let people know their options and provide options not covered by this such as audio description, British Sign Language and Easy Read.

So as while many streams of thought were prompted by the May Blog, the overriding point is the scope for social media interpretation to integrate and increase choice for interpretation (not just as an alternative); also in creating social media platform or App ask people what works for them and follow-it through to detail design of interface and content.

Cassie Herschel-Shorland

21 July 2014

Cassie is a Committee Trustee for the Association of Heritage Interpretation

The Association for Heritage Interpretation is a key forum for anyone interested in interpretation – the art of helping people explore and appreciate our world.

AHI believes that interpretation enriches our lives through engaging emotions, enhancing experiences and deepening understanding of places, people, events and objects from the past and present.

AHI aims to promote excellence in the practice and provision of interpretation and to gain wider recognition of interpretation as a professional activity.

Online exhibitions – do they work? Hm…


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I recently undertook some research into ‘online exhibitions’ to see what was on offer out there in our wonderful world. What I found was quite enlightening.

The Tate (group of art galleries in the UK) has been experimenting over the last year or so with ‘Twitter tours’ of their exhibitions. In June 2013 one of their curators gave a tour of the Lowry and the painting of modern life exhibition. More recently, the gallery showed off their Matisse exhibition in the same way. See here. During both tours Tweeters were treated to an exclusive preview by using the hashtag #TateTour. The tours presented facts about the artists and their paintings as well as images and videos of the paintings in the gallery space. After the tours the curators invited questions from followers. I didn’t find this type of tour very engaging to be honest (and I think this is evident from the amount of people that asked questions?) but an interesting experiment nonetheless.


Image from here

Other ‘online exhibition tours’ – by far the most popular method used by organisations that I looked at – including one published by The Smithsonian American Art Museum here – provide exhibition slideshows on their host website. The Smithsonian example presents information about the artworks in the exhibition and asks viewers to share ‘personal stories’. Not interpretive, but at least there is a nod towards viewer engagement.


Image from here

The Louvre in Paris, France (probably with a fair bit of cash behind them – it was sponsored by Shiseido) takes viewers through their permanent galleries via a ‘virtual tour’ which enables you to select artworks/artefacts to find out more (information). Very flashy, very expensive, but not very exciting.


Image from here

Then I came across The Canadian Museum of History’s Canada at Play online exhibition about toys and games. See it here.  The exhibition enables viewers to explore different themed ‘rooms’, close-up images of artefacts, images from the library and archive, downloadable catalogues, and archive audio, all of which is accompanied by accessible – and I would go as far to say almost interpretive – text. I spent ages looking at this online exhibition.


Image from here

So what did my research reveal?

I’m not sure many organisations know what their online exhibitions are trying to achieve. Most seem just out to provide content for the sake of it. Also, they don’t seem to have considered who their online audience is and as a result the content is pure information (in some cases the curatorial information is all that you get, e.g. size of artwork/artefact, who needs to know this??). Lastly, save for the Canada at Play exhibition (which I did like), there wasn’t much of an attempt to make the online exhibitions interpretive. Which perhaps is fine for those who already have an interest in the artworks/artefacts/subject matter, but what about the rest of the world?

Some might argue that interpretation is not really interpretation unless it involves the visitor interacting with ‘the real thing’. Without that ‘authentic experience’ then the audience is just taking in information. But I disagree for the most part. Sure, there really is no substitute for standing in front of the Mona Lisa, but what if circumstances don’t allow you? The web is opening up the world to us and it is often the first step of the ‘visitor journey’. If we give someone a great online experience of the Mona Lisa, then perhaps they might decide that they simply must save up and get themselves to France to see the ‘real thing’. And when they get there, they will perhaps understand or appreciate it more because of their initial online experience. If circumstances are prohibitive, then hey let’s have a go at giving them the best experience of the Mona Lisa we can. But – and I stress this ‘but’ – we need to understand more about who is using our online content. As far as I’m concerned, if you are displaying something to an audience then you have to deliver this display in a format that is right for them and if it is intended to engage them then it has to be interpretive. In this an interpretive plan for an ‘online exhibition’ is just as necessary as it is for a site, museum or gallery.

Do you know of any great online exhibitions? Please email me:

Lisa Keys

Lisa is a Committee Trustee for the Association of Heritage Interpretation

The Association for Heritage Interpretation is a key forum for anyone interested in interpretation – the art of helping people explore and appreciate our world.
AHI believes that interpretation enriches our lives through engaging emotions, enhancing experiences and deepening understanding of places, people, events and objects from the past and present.
AHI aims to promote excellence in the practice and provision of interpretation and to gain wider recognition of interpretation as a professional activity.

Crowdsourcing and heritage interpretation


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I think it is fair to say that ‘crowdsourcing’ in heritage is only just starting to mean something to me. Social media and heritage, yes. Been there, got the t-shirt (have a long way to go but I still have the t-shirt). But crowdsourcing….

Crowdsourcing was coined in 2006 by the editor of American ‘Wired’ magazine to describe the process of ‘outsourcing to the crowd’. This process (according to Wikipedia) ‘combines the efforts of numerous self-identified volunteers…where each contributor of their own initiative adds a small portion to the greater result’.

Back in 2011 the University of Iowa crowdsourced the transcription of a set of civil war diaries. By putting digital versions of the diaries online the University got good transcriptions, more donors to support their work and they dramatically increased site traffic (Trevor Owens 2012). Transcription of archives is not a new phenomenon, it has been happening across public record offices, certainly in the UK, for decades, by enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers. But through crowdsourcing transcription, made possible through the web, a greater number of people were provided with access to unique documents, from anywhere in the world, they were able to uncover the diaries’ secrets for themselves, and were able to transcribe at a time that was convenient for them.

In October 2013, English Heritage, the UK Government’s advisor on England’s historic sites and places, announced that it was developing a crowdsourcing project to help protect heritage at risk. In their announcement English Heritage stated that ‘working with other bodies in the heritage sector and local authorities [we aim] to provide the means for members of the public to carry out surveys of England’s 345,000 Grade II [listed] buildings…The move is expected to enable thousands of passionate heritage fans to get more actively involved’ (English Heritage 2013). Ultimately English Heritage will develop an app that will make it possible for the ‘volunteer heritage army’ to record data while they are out on site and for that data to be published online once verified by local councils.

So what opportunities does crowdsourcing present for heritage interpreters? Well lots…

I’m going to use an example from my part of the world. ‘Treasures of Cumbria’ is a new web-based project (it is officially launching next week – you saw it here first!) that asks users to share ‘something that is meaningful to you’. A ‘treasure’. The website suggests that a treasure can be anything: a place you love visiting, a person, an object, a building, an event, a tradition, a recipe, a song. Once registered to the site users can post pictures, text, sound or film about their ‘treasure’ and locate it on a map of Cumbria. If it works, this project will give the great public, the heritage audience, their chance to interpret what Cumbria is. It will help local people and visitors to understand what Cumbria is and who lives there. It will explore the identity of Cumbria; what is Cumbria and what exactly does ‘Cumbrian’ mean.

Of course, as with any project there are risks and challenges. The website will need to have a degree of moderation (the ethics of moderation and biases that could result are for another blog at another time). It will need to be populated by the public (who not only have internet access but are reasonably web-savvy) and not biased by the enthusiastic heritage professionals who want to promote their site/museum artefact/nature reserve (which of course is fine, but is another artefact from a museum really what our great public treasures? I’d like to think so but in many cases I’d be wrong to think so).  It’s a brave project, but one that I applaud. One I am excited by.

The Association of Heritage Interpretation believes that interpretation helps people to explore and appreciate the world, past and present.  I personally believe that heritage interpreters can facilitate this through crowdsourcing heritage. Let’s give our audience a voice. Let’s help our audiences to understand, protect and appreciate what they think is important. By encouraging people to put forward what they ‘treasure’, what they value, we may just open their eyes to a whole other world of treasures and a whole world of possibilities. Glass half full? Yes. Naïve to think it can work? Yes possibly. But I have faith in people and without them ‘heritage’ does not exist.

Lisa Keys, Trustee and e-News editor, Association of Heritage Interpretation

Just Say Boo! Using social audio for interpretation and beyond


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This month’s AHI UK post comes from Dr Bill Bevan, Secretary of the Association for Heritage Interpretation (AHI). Thanks Bill! I’ll see you in November. Lisa Keys, AHI Committee Trustee.

Over to Bill…

Social media comes in many forms, not solely the platforms available to communicate by. We can post using a range of media from 140 characters of sharp comment to complete movie channels. Audio adds another dimension to the communication tools we have at our disposal.

Two popular social audio platforms are Audioboo and SoundCloud. Both have feature-rich free accounts and fee-based upgrades. Audioboo allows you an unlimited number of three-minute ‘boos’, while SoundCloud gives away a total of two hours uploaded audio.

Both allow members to post audio, create groups of recordings, and to follow and make comments on other posts. Some of their most powerful features are the standard suite of sharing options, allowing you to post your audio on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter as well as embed audio into your webpages.

So what can you do with your audio? My focus is on Audioboo, which I have used regularly because I like the ability to post an unlimited number of clips and the focus on brevity required by the three-minute limit. With sharp editing, three minutes is long enough to communicate an idea while retaining audience interest. Examples of uses include a site manager, curator or live interpreter talking about a feature, object of subject, ambient sounds of a nature reserve, species-specific recordings, traditional or commissioned songs and music, a smartphone accessible audio tour accessed over the cell network or via wifi, an oral history excerpt or a clip from a conference presentation.

Source material can be recorded professionally or on-the-fly. I have recently used the AudioBoo iPad app to record excerpts from presentations from the recent AHI conference and uploaded them immediately to the AHI Audioboo account. Anticipation, contextual listening and timing are essential to create meaningful clips. In a wifi-enabled environment I was able, within a couple of minutes, to take a photo of the speaker, add a description and share the boo on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Geotagging was done automatically. I could even tidy up the edit there and then. These promote the conference to potential new members, enable menbers unable to attend to feel as if they are there and form part of the online publication of presentations.

AHI Audioboo page

The AHI 2013 conference Audioboo board of sound clips

I have also recently used Audioboo to publish clips from an oral history project from a community project in Sheffield, UK. Oral history interviews were recorded using digital recorders, and then three-minute clips were selected via written transcripts to be edited in Audacity. We have embedded these into the project’s WordPress site and used them to populate the Walkley Digital Memory Map.

With many other creative ways to use audio, it can give a different dimension to online and social media communication and interpretation by delivering the personal connection that comes from listening to a person talk or hearing sounds of place.

Dr Bill Bevan MAHI

Secretary, Association for Heritage Interpretation and owner,

What kind of discussions take place on an interpretation LinkedIn group?


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This is the UK calling! I’ve put my feet up this time and passed responsibility for this blog over to  the Chair of the Association for Heritage Interpretation, UK, who has got some thoughtful insights into the use of LinkedIn for interpreters… Lisa Keys

“The Association for Heritage Interpretation LinkedIn group was created almost two years ago and now has 973 members. I was intrigued to find out what the range of discussion topics might be and whether a social media group would concentrate on new technology or whether the discussions were more wide ranging.

Putting aside all those people who post to promote their companies either overtly or more subtly, of which there are quite a few, the discussions fall into a number of categories..

There are a fair few posts around new technology and digital media.

For instance, QR codes vs NFC (Near Field Communications ) and the relative merits  of one over the other for use in interpretation.  Comments vary from ‘a waste of time’ to ‘useful to add extra depth to information especially in gardens’.  A number of posts describe their usefulness in marketing e.g. use on beer mats. I was recently involved in a project where collections of various Hampshire and Isle of Wight  museums were put on line in a quirky and interesting way www.heritage100 and QR codes were used on posters on selected railway stations.  This increased traffic to the website significantly.

Other technology discussions include the use of augmented reality, whether the excitement of producing an app. for a mobile phone is seducing interpretive planners away from using film on-site, and indeed whether it is the year of the app?

There was only one discussion regarding social media itself,  on an experiment where a person tweeted about the Coronation as though she was there in 1953.

Active discussion takes place around work based issues such as copyright infringement and procurement generally. In response to the ongoing queries on procurement and tendering, AHI has produced guidelines on commissioning and tendering for interpretation projects, from a UK point of view,  available to members on the AHI website

Some people post interesting things they have seen or observations on their  interpretation work. Jonathan Knight observed a country difference in the take up of a button operated  solar powered audio device vs those powered by a dynamo which need a handle to be turned to make them work. USA prefers solar devices whereas UK, Australia,  Scandinavia go for the handle turning dynamo option. Why?

Other observations include the Interpreters as pollinators at the Eden project, and an app. that allows you to walk with dinosaurs on the Isle of Wight. Then there are the quite frankly ‘off the wall’ observations such as the use of rap to convey important safety messages on pre-flight instructions to airline passengers.

Most interesting are the in-depth discussions on interpretation these include a debate on the National Trust’s changing approach to interpretation provoked by the Alan Bennett play  and National Trust Chairman Simon Jenkins response; ‘Is there such a thing as an interpretation free zone?’; and ‘Do our backgrounds, cultural upbringing and interests influence the way we curate and design interpretation?’

All in all an interesting range and well worth managing a LinkedIn site. ”

Dr Ruth Taylor

Chair  Association for Heritage Interpretation

Using Twitter at a conference


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A big hello to everyone out there from the Association for Heritage Interpretation (AHI), UK. AHI are very excited about the opportunity to be part of the international conversation on the use of social media for interpretation, here on Media Platypus.

ConferenceTweetingMany interpreters, including AHI Committee Trustees and members, have recently returned from the International Conference on Heritage Interpretation in Sigtuna, Sweden. If you want to find out what happened at the conference Twitter won’t help you much. It wasn’t as if nothing was happening – there was plenty, and all of it great – but Twitter simply wasn’t employed as a discussion and reporting tool. A few tweets appeared from delegates (mostly UK-based) using the hashtag #InterpretEurope.

Swedish folk dancing in Sigtuna to kick of #InterpretEurope conference. 160 delegates from over 40 countries. (@HeritageBSU 2013)

The last two annual AHI conferences have used a # (hashtag) and it has been valuable, not least to obtain  feedback on how the event went-

Driving back from #ahiconf12 head buzzing with ideas. Long, thoughtful & inspiring conversations (@storylinestew 2012)

to enable delegates to share and comment on what was going on-

#ahiconf John Oxley encouraging interpreters to enable personal discovery. Interpretation to allow and encourage individual experience (@plbltd 2011)

and also to provide follow-up information after the event-

There were a lot of questions about NFC technology at #ahiconf last week. Here’s an example of its use … (@imagemakers_uk  2011).

In November 2012 I attended the ‘Culture Matters’ conference in Norwich, UK. A presenter (sourced from the local BBC team) chairing the conference promoted the use of Twitter (and #cmconf in all tweets) throughout the three day event. A live Twitter feed was shown on screens in the delegate refreshment area, and Tweets would be read aloud to the conference between presentations in order to strike up debate and to fuel question-time.  This has strongly influenced my idea of how conference tweeting should work. An interactive experience between the presentation and the audience – isn’t this just one of the things that good interpretation should be?

In researching this blog I stumbled across #Twittergate – a debate about etiquette and ethics of live-tweeting at academic conferences. See here for a record of that debate. Unless you live on another planet you must know that the age of information is well and truly upon us. It couldn’t be easier for people to share their thoughts and opinions. To many this may seem threatening and a breach of privacy, but we can’t control it. So how about we embrace it and use it to our advantage?

So how should we deal with the ‘conference tweeting’ phenomena? Ernesto Priego explores ‘conference tweeting’ in relation to academic conference in detail here. I have drawn on his article and my own experience to produce a rough guide to tweeting at interpretation conferences:

To conference organisers:

  1. Establish and promote a # for your conference. If you don’t establish a #, one of your Twitter-savvy delegates will! It will also allow others to follow what is going on (if they are not fortunate enough to make it to your event).
  2. Using a # can be a useful way of evaluating your conference and it can be used as a useful marketing and advocacy tool.
  3. Capture the conference tweets on Storify for future reference (the #Twittergate debate above has been captured in this way).
  4. Make sure there is a decent wifi connection!

To delegates:

  1. When quoting someone’s presentation in a Tweet, use quotation marks and reference who said it. This is just professional ethics…
  2. If you see an inspirational piece of interpretation while at the conference, or hear about a good case study, Tweet about it and if possible include an image or url for delegates to see/follow and find out more. Promoting best practice and sharing experiences with others can only strengthen our profession.
  3. Where possible get permission before you publish photos of the people at the conference in your Tweets.
  4. Be respectful of others. If you disagree with what a presenter is saying, by all means start a debate, but be polite.
  5. Always use the conference #!

Lisa Keys, AHI Committee Trustee and e-News editor