Engaging with Communications - broadening outreach and supporting the curriculum

Lead Research Organisation: University of Salford
Department Name: Sch of Computing, Science & Engineering

Abstract

From earliest times, mankind has exploited the technology of the day to acquire, record and transmit information. Now in the 21st century our reliance on telecommunications technology has never been greater. Whether it is keeping in touch with family and friends using a mobile, browsing the Web or watching digital television, telecommunications drives society. Much of what is taken for granted today would not be possible without the scientists and engineers who exploited technology to transmit information ever further and ever faster. The rate of development has been tremendous. Two hundred years ago information was transmitted optically using mechanical devices. One hundred years ago those same messages could be transmitted much more quickly using the electrical telegraph and the telephone had just been invented. Fifty years ago the ability to transmit messages without wires using radio was well established, the telephone had overtaken the telegraph as the dominate communications system and computers were just emerging. Thirty years ago the Internet existed only in a few research and university laboratories. Twenty years ago the telephone went mobile and today it is the fastest growing telecommunications technology with well over one third of the world's population owning and using a mobile phone.We intend to raise public awareness of the exciting story of how telecommunications has transformed society. Here we want to explain how the technology works, how today's research is driving tomorrow's technology and to debate the impact of technology on society. We will do this as follows.First, we will extend the work we have already done with the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester where a new visitor information system, called mi-Guide, has been introduced to their Communications Gallery. This system allows Museum visitors to receive additional information about exhibits, delivered to a hand-held computer using telecommunications technology. Our system will now move out of the Gallery and into the classroom to help support key national curriculum subjects. New mi-Guide multimedia content will be developed in association with schools and educational centres. Teachers will then be able to plan lessons that bring added levels of interest, excitement and engagement to the subject and provide access to information at the Museum. If the lesson precedes a visit to the Gallery then the hand-held version of mi-Guide will automatically guide the teacher and group around the Gallery, pointing out exhibits of interest that were used during the lesson and provide a facility to record aspects of the visit for use on return to school.Second, we will run a series of Family Telecommunications Days and Lectures. The family days provide a mini-exhibition of artefacts and demonstrations that allow visitors to interact with telecommunications technology to learn how it works and to appreciate how it has developed over time. The lectures are designed to appeal to a general interest audience and involve members of the audience taking part in demonstrations. Lectures will be linked to relevant 'hot topics', celebrate relevant anniversaries and show how research is key to the future of telecommunications.Finally, there will be a series of events for schools that range from small scale projects and debate days to interactive learning sessions. Our telecommunications artefacts and demonstrations will be used to explain the underlying science and engineering and debate days will allow students to discuss an important aspect of telecommunications and its impact on their lives, for example the issues surrounding information security. In total, this project offers a broad range of engagement activities that build upon our proven track record and extend our work to provide specific projects and directly support the national curriculum in schools and provide opportunities for increased awareness amongst the general public.

Publications

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Description From earliest times, mankind has exploited the technology of the day to acquire, record and transmit information. Now in the 21st century our reliance on telecommunications technology has never been greater. Whether it is keeping in touch with family and friends using a mobile phone, browsing the Web or watching digital television, telecommunications drives society. Much of what is taken for granted today would not be possible without the scientists and engineers who exploited technology to transmit information ever further and ever faster. The rate of development has been tremendous taking us from the electrical telegraph of the Victorian era through the development of the telephone, radio, television, computer, Internet and World-Wide-Web to today's multimedia capable mobile phone in a little over 170 years. In 2010 there are already more mobile phones in the UK than people and 60% of the world's population are subscribers.
The aim of our project therefore is to raise public awareness of the exciting story of how telecommunications has evolved and transformed society. Through this we want to explain how the technology works, how today's research is driving tomorrow's technology and to debate the impact of technology on society. This was achieved in the following ways.
First, we extended the work we had already done within the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester where a new visitor information system, called mi-Guide, had been introduced to their Connecting Manchester communications gallery. This system allows Museum visitors to receive additional information about exhibits, delivered to a hand-held computer using telecommunications technology. However, we have now extended this to move it out of the gallery and into the classroom to help support key national curriculum subjects. A new mi-Guide@School service has been launched that comprises activities for teachers to use within their classrooms and to provide a new series of gallery tours that explore different aspects of communication.
Second, our mi-Guide system for the general public has been extended to provide access through the Internet and there is also a version optimised for use on mobile phones. This allows you to enjoy the content of the Connecting Manchester communications gallery from the comfort of your own home or through your own mobile phone.
Third, our series of Family Telecommunications Days and Lectures was expanded. The family days provide a mini-exhibition of artefacts and demonstrations that allow visitors to interact with telecommunications technology to learn how it works and to appreciate how it has developed over time. These have grown over time and now include a significant contribution from industry demonstrating the latest developments in technology. The lectures are designed to appeal to a general interest audience and involve members of the audience taking part in demonstrations. These are often linked to relevant 'hot topics', celebrate relevant anniversaries and show how research is key to the future of telecommunications.
Finally, we provided a series of events for schools that ranged from small scale projects and debate days to interactive learning sessions. Our telecommunications artefacts and demonstrations are used to explain the underlying science and engineering and debate days will allow students to discuss an important aspect of telecommunications and its impact on their lives, for example the issues surrounding information security.

In total, our project offered a broad range of engagement activities that built upon our proven track record and extended our work to provide specific projects and directly supported the national curriculum in schools and provided opportunities for increased awareness amongst the general public.
Exploitation Route Our work provided experience of active engagement with the general public and schools through the development of bespoke teaching materials - all of which can be downloaded from our website.
A range of engagement approaches were used with schools in connection with the development and promotion of our new mi-Guide@School service. For the development of the service we held two focus group sessions with teachers and two evaluation sessions with schools in which students used the service and provided feedback to us. A total of 14 schools/colleges were engaged during this process. Dissemination of the mi-Guide@School materials and promotion of the service was carried out through a presentation at a local ASE event, distribution of CDs to all Greater Manchester High Schools, provision of CDs for teachers attending the Big Bang fair in Manchester, availability of all materials via our website and general dissemination within teacher's packs given out at our public exhibitions and schools activities.

The uptake of mi-Guide within the Gallery has been a major problem area for the project and regrettably, only 259 users have engaged with the technology throughout the project. A focus group session was held with visitors and feedback about mi-Guide and its value was very positive. Hence, the problem is essentially one of visitor numbers and the Museum does recognise that it has an issue with patterns of visitor flow around their site which has resulted in considerably less people visiting the gallery than predicted. This issue has been recognised throughout the project and was regularly debated within Steering Group meetings. Over the period of the project the Museum invested in new signage, we have designed and provided portable banners promoting mi-Guide and delivered additional training for visitor services staff. We have also now created a version of mi-Guide for delivery through our website and also one optimised for use on mobile phones.

A total of 14,585 people attended our public engagement programme which was extended beyond the Greater Manchester area. Of these, 13,384 people attended our Family Telecommunications Days which have clearly proved to be considerably more popular than anticipated and that popularity is growing. Visitor feedback is obtained from a comments board and informal discussions between our staff and visitors. In all cases, feedback has been extremely positive. Recently, we introduced the concept of "opinion poles" in which visitors were asked to express their opinion on a key topic relating to the impact of telecommunications on society by placing a post-it note comment on one of two telegraph poles representing the for and against stance. This has proved to be an incredibly popular and engaging activity.
For the public lectures which have attracted 1,201 attendees. The quality and impact of these lectures is evaluated through exit questionnaires, the results of which have shown that 98% stated that their understanding of communications technology had improved; 96% reported that their awareness of its impact had improved; 97% stated that academic research was important; and 94% scored the quality of our lectures as excellent.

A range of activities for schools was carried out in accordance with our project plan which were attended by 1,459 teachers and students from year 10 to sixth form. Of these, 600 attended four lectures, one of which was delivered in Cumbria as part of the Royal Institution's schools programme. Feedback was obtained verbally at each event, through questionnaires and also through post event communication with teachers. This feedback has now prompted us to seek ways of publishing the design of our activities and engagement approach for broader dissemination within the education community.
Sectors Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.engagingwithcommunications.com/projects/miguide/miguideatschool.html
 
Description Our experience from this project has continued to be used in the development of our portfolio of schools activities and engagement activities for the general public. All of the teaching materials we developed continues to be available from our website and much maintains its relevance today.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Education
 
Description Public exhibitions 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We organise at least one major public exhibition each year. These normally coincide with the Manchester Science Festival and are designed to engage a broad audience with interactive displays, exhibits and demonstrations. Each exhibition provides a mix of heritage and state of the art exhibits and combines contributions from the University and industry. Our exhibitions cover the general areas of telecommunications, television and home computing.

Formal feedback obtained from visitors has always provided positive. It is very noticeable that visitors spend some considerable time exploring and interacting with our exhibitions. Numbers attending grow year on year.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2006,2007,2008,2009,2010,2011,2012,2013,2014
 
Description We offer a range of talks for the general public and normally arrange to deliver 20 to 25 of these each year. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact All of the talks we offer are very well received and generate a lively discussion and Q/A sessions.



Follow up booking requests are very common with future commitments being confirm 12 to 24 months in advance.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2006,2007,2008,2009,2010,2011,2012,2013,2014
URL http://www.engagingwithcommunications.com/talks/publictalks.html