Organized Session

SHOT Joint Session

Visioneering Past and Future in Science Museums and Educational Technologies

Organizer

Elizabeth Renee Petrick

Rice University

Chair

Patrick McCray

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA

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Session Abstract

Joint SHOT/HSS session: Science museums and educational technologies both bring together
science and technology to work toward educational ends. Museums offer science displayed
through both natural artifacts and the technology used to produce them, study them, and turn
them into scientific knowledge. Educational technologies embed theories of children's learning
and development in a technological form meant to improve upon existing systems. These two
arenas also mark places where certain kinds of visions and values shape a product intended to
educate and inform a public audience. This panel is concerned with ways that certain forms of
imagining (in particular, nostalgia for the past or visions of the future) shape how science and
technology are constructed and communicated to others. These four papers, looking across
museums in three countries and forms of both real and imagined educational technology, explore
where visions come from and how they become entangled with the product that is created. They
then go beyond that initial product to consider questions of the visions within larger cultural
contexts, their effects on the industry they are a part of, and what happens when those initial
visions are abandoned for new ones.

Presenter 1

The Revolutionary Avant-Gard? Imagineering Scientific Modernity in Moscow Museum of Biology in the 1920s

Elena Aronova

University of California, Santa Barbara

Abstract

In the 1920s, a young biologist Boris Zavadovskii, at twenty-five already a head of Biology
Department at the newly opened Communist Academy in Moscow, contemplated creating a new
kind of science museum. It would be not a usual museum displaying collections of "dead
things." Rather, it would be a "living" museum, with live specimens and laboratory-based
experimental biology put boldly on display. The museum would teach an evolutionary
worldview through a hands-on, intervening and "bio-engineering" approach to "living things,"
turning young Muscovites into scientifically-minded new, Soviet, men and women. At this great
cultural rupture, Zavadovskii found his perspective in high demand. Zavadovskii's proposal was
backed by the authorities and the Museum of Biology opened its doors in 1922. By the late
1920s, Zavadovskii, by then at the head of the top administrative bodies designed to reform
education and museums in the Soviet Union, lobbied creation of all-Union network of such
museums. The network did not materialize as the country was at the turning point again, with the
beginning of Stalin's so-called "great break." The early history of the Museum of Biology in
Moscow (which exists to this day) is a vantage point to examine the nexus of science, education,
and the period of the triumphal cultural expression of the revolutionary "avant-garde" in the arts
and sciences alike. In this paper I argue that Zavadovskii's museum was a merger of biotechnological
advances of its time to a search for spiritual liberation and for a scientific
modernity.

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Presenter 2

Curatorial Visions of the Future

Petrina Foti

Loughborough University

Abstract

In a museum, the future is as present as the past. With every new object that curators of science
and technology bring into their collections, they are imagining not only how they might use this
object in future exhibitions, but also what their successors might require at some distant point in
time. These curators are aware that the decisions they make now will affect how generations of
museum visitors might envision their own futures.
This paper, in the context of a larger study into curatorial practice and methodologies, will
examine how curators from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History
in Washington DC and the Science Museum in London, England use these visions of the future
to help shape their current practices. Like links in a chain, these curators both look backward to
the examples set by their predecessors while reaching forward to provide their successors with
the same assistance. What is ultimately concluded is that this ability to envision the future is a
characteristic of expert curatorship, hereby termed as "transmitted expertise." This type of
expertise is shared through time, preserved in the past, and specifically meant to be utilized in the
future. This guides what and how curators preserve science and technology objects, since their
thoughts are in tune to the needs of their unknown successors as well as their own.

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Presenter 3

Throwback Culture: The Role of Nostalgia in American Educational Technology

Morgan G. Ames

University of California, Berkeley School of Information

Abstract

Technology workers' nostalgic memories of the technologies and media of their own childhoods
are mobilized to do cultural work in contemporary technology worlds, especially among those
creating computational devices and software for children. This nostalgia can serve as a
gatekeeper within the development team itself, delimiting who is a good "culture fit" by
establishing common ground through nostalgic stories and familiarity with cultural tropes. It can
moreover shape the design process by influencing who technology workers view as their primary
audience and what they think this audience will find captivating.
This paper explores the role that nostalgia plays in these technology worlds, drawing on
interviews and oral histories with people creating computational devices and software for
children, archival research on the technologies and marketing materials that these technology
workers reference, and critical readings of contemporary products in light of these materials. I
focus specifically on the ecology of devices and software that are meant to enable children to
independently learn computational thinking, such as the Minecraft videogame and the Scratch
block-based programming environment. Archival materials primarily focus on children's
technologies and media from the 1980s and 1990s, as videogames, cable television, computers,
and the Internet joined books, broadcast television, and toys in shaping children's cultures.
Drawing on cultural history and media studies, this work expands on previous research
documenting processes of "nostalgic design" in the One Laptop per Child project; here, I chart
the patterns of nostalgia, the technological targets of it, and its effects in the children's
technology industry more broadly.

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Presenter 4

Replacing Visions: The Notetaker Prototype and the Loss of Education

Elizabeth Renee Petrick

Rice University

Abstract

When Alan Kay first proposed the Dynabook in 1972, it was a vision of a technology for
children's education. Building upon mid-century education theorists, the Dynabook was
supposed to revolutionize education through the encouragement of active learning. When the
first Interim Dynabook, the Alto, was built at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center, it seemed to
keep Kay's vision alive. He was joined by Adele Goldberg, Larry Tesler, and others, in creating
a new programming language, Smalltalk, that would enable their educational vision to become
reality in a new kind of computer interface. With the Alto, Goldberg ran a project with a local
school to get the computer into students' hands and teach them programming and larger
problem-solving skills. The next Interim Dynabook, the Notetaker, however, lost sight of this
initial vision. The prototype computer was to be a business machine, and the new version of
Smalltalk for it had no room for children or education as a goal.
This paper explores this transition in values underlying computer technology development,
where a vision that drove initial research and interest could be abandoned only two machines
later. What is particularly striking about the Notetaker was that, while it never resulted in a
consumer product, it was intended as a step along the way toward the Dynabook. Without the
value of education, however, it is not clear in what way it was a part of fulfilling the original
vision. My goal is to uncover the role that visions can play in technology development and what
it means for that original vision when what is built no longer shares the same values.

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