Curating Digital Learning Experiences for Youth

Launching in June 2020, this online exhibition will be a digital platform for youth to discover and rediscover Toronto’s music history and its impact on Canadian history and culture. Sounds Like Toronto encourages visitor engagement with known and unknown stories, by layering them through digital interpretation and storytelling tools: visitors will interact with 3D objects, listen to audio and video interviews, watch archival material, and walk through two 360-degree interactive digital photography experiences of Toronto’s most iconic music venues – Massey Hall and the Concert Hall. Through extensive youth audience research and evaluation, using mobile responsive design, timelines graphic treatments, embedding online listening experiences through Spotify, and encouraging accessible first compliancy, Sounds Like Toronto creates a meaningful, engaging, and relevant online music exhibition. To develop emotional connections with musicians that a younger audience has limited exposure to, we developed a timeless mobile first, design patterns. We discovered the proper balance between a contemporary and historical visual language that connects with all users. Funded through the Virtual Museum of Canada, Sounds Like Toronto will become part of the largest source of online content shared by small and large Canadian museums and cultural institutions.


Unknown Speaker 00:00
Good morning and welcome. My name is Emily Berg, and I'm the interpretive planner at Heritage Toronto, working on this online exhibition about Toronto's music history.

Unknown Speaker 00:11
And my name is Warner Lansky, I'm the president and founder of a company called plank. And we were, you know, we were focused a lot on, on working on. We focus a lot of our attention to work on arts and culture projects. So we were really happy to have the opportunity to work with heritage Toronto on this project.

Unknown Speaker 00:29
Yeah, it's a little bit about heritage Toronto. We're a charity, an arm's length organization, from the City of Toronto and Canada that celebrates Toronto's rich heritage through diverse stories of his people, places and events. We're not a traditional museum in any way, nor are we a collecting agency. But we run various programs throughout the city. And we have one of the most robust, historical plaque programs in North America.

Unknown Speaker 00:55
So a couple of years ago, actually, I think it is about a couple of years ago, we were approached by Heritage Toronto, to see if we were interested in collaborating on this project we've worked with, with other museums, specifically on projects funded by the Virtual Museum of Canada. So given our background, we decided to work directly with heritage Toronto on developing an application to get funding from the Virtual Museum of Canada. And we were really proud that they decided to fund this project. And we were proud to be involved from the beginning to help shape the actual scope of work, what the project was going to look like and how it was going to be done.

Unknown Speaker 01:33
Yeah, so the Virtual Museum of Canada, it's a federally funded investment program that helps to build the digital capacity of museums and heritage organizations to create one of the largest digital sources of shared stories and experiences across Canada. So sounds like Toronto is VMC, a Virtual Museum of Canada virtual exhibition investment program funded by the virtual museum investment program. And it talks about Toronto's both known and unknown artists and music venues who have were either born in Toronto who have had a significant moment in Toronto, and users and online visitors will have a chance to get a strong sense of Toronto's musical roots, as well as the foundation and the impact of that on the Canadian music scene. As an educational exhibition, we are working with educators to develop high school curriculum materials in English, Social Sciences, history and music classes. And we'll be launching next year. So we're excited to share a little bit of a sneak peek with you today.

Unknown Speaker 02:34
So before we get into looking at the actual work, and the way that Emily has worked really hard to craft the kind of narrative of this project. And I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but I just want to tell you a little story because I personally believe that technology and and museums are a perfect match. And technology and websites and web projects are imperative and important. Important thing to museums, but I was at another museum conference about a year ago. And I ended up having a discussion with a couple executive directors who actually said the words that they were frightened still, by, by technology that actually digital was something that would damage their museums. And I just found that shocking, that and I get on one hand that you know, getting human beings into your institutions are the key thing you want to do as a museum. And I think it's imperative that you still focus on that. But the reality is, if you get a million, or even half a million or 200,000 people into your institution, that still means that hundreds of millions of other people are never going to show up and you have no opportunity to develop that relationship. digital projects are a way to develop that relationship, engage with people who might never visit your museum and ensure that you have you know, you build that connection and I recognize that that be in person attendee is that number one. But if you want to value a museum, a digital Museum, visitor, as a point five or point two, five, that's great, but still make sure that you value them and value their impact on your institutions.

Unknown Speaker 04:07
So many of us are familiar with Nina Simon's book, The Art of relevance, I am often influenced by her writing, and I when I work on projects, including this one, there are three very important aspects that drive by ideas as well. So they are relevancy engagement, and meaning and how does that look like from the user perspective? So I believe that these concepts create the connective tissues and threads to bring content design and user experience together, and we have framed our exhibit goals and presentation around these three words. So what does that look like for sounds like Toronto? relevancy. For us, this means that this online music exhibition is to unlock new meaning. It's to resonate especially with our target audience, which is our youth and engage with them on a both a personal and emotional level, unlocking meaning through the diverse stories and Helping them to realize that the relevance of both the past and the present within Toronto's music history. When I was brought into this project, there was a very narrow focus on the 1960s, rock and roll and folk music scenes in Toronto, which were seminal to Toronto's music. But with our target audience being youth, and geared towards them, I felt that these two themes, these both in terms of the content, and our audiences didn't quite connect. And I really wanted to bring it up to date. And I really wanted to hear from the students themselves, our target audience what they were thinking. And so I was tasked to find, while I wasn't asked, I asked, I wanted to also address issues such as gender parity within artists and the music communities I wanted to create include an inclusionary exhibition that was accessible. And I also want to feature artists that were queer black people of color Indigenous artists from the last 65 years up to today. So step one, what did I do, I arranged to do front end formative, as well as upcoming summative evaluations with grades 10 to 12. Students in our local public school board to speak with them in their music history and English classes, as well as their teachers about what music meant to them and what they were interested in learning about, and their responses and my intuition. were correct. And I changed the narrative of this project to better reflect, to be more relatable and to be more inclusive. students respond with great gusto. When we asked define them, what does music mean to them, what and who they would like to see in this exhibition. One students said that they wanted a balance between up and coming artists as well as artists they already know. They also talked about how music was really meaningful to them, and has been a lifeline for them in their own hardships growing up. And this one student sort of really summed up quietness quite well, she said, having it be from diverse perspectives, not only relation to race, not just in relation to race and ethnicity. Gender is a big thing for me, the music industry is dominated by men. And it is hard when you don't see yourself in that with ethnicity. I'm Colombian Canadian, Jessie Raya is a Toronto based artist is also a Colombian, Canadian, and I'm like, Whoa, she's like me, and she's from Toronto. So this is Jessie res backstage at the Ottawa Juno Awards in 2017. With respect to content, we also were asking students what they were interested in learning and interactivity is a very large part of what the Virtual Museum of Canada expects in their exhibitions and in their projects that they're working on. And we're asking them what we asked students what they were interested in learning about in terms of like how different interactive elements, whether it was 3d objects through photogrammetry, 360, degree tours, video interviews, and the 3d objects, 360 tours, as well as I'm interacting with images, and video interviews resonated the most.

Unknown Speaker 08:05
Yeah, like so working with the VMC it's really important to them that the Lord, they keep using his interactive, interactive interactive, and we wanted to make sure that we lived up to those expectations. So we wanted interactive to be more than just, you know, skin, you know, like clicking on a photo and making it larger, we wanted it to be really elements that, you know, that they that students and the general public could explore. You know, there's a couple of 360 videos that are being developed for this project, which actually will let people explore venues that don't even exist anymore. So it's really exciting for people to be able to have that opportunity to explore, look at and really interact with the different elements. Now, from a design perspective, we had an interesting challenge. And the challenge was, how do we come up with a look and feel that actually spans a 50 or 60 year period? How do we come up with a look and feel that actually accounts for a material that could be black and white photos to modern, you know, really beautiful, like digital photos or 3d objects. So the inspiration we decided to look at was to take some of the design look and feel from the 1980s from MuchMusic, which is an which is like MTV, it's a Canadian version of MTV. And a lot of the artwork at that time were these big, bright colors. And we found that we were able to pull this kind of modern retro feel. So if you look at the color palette we chose, it ends up kind of fitting in with the look and feel that that youth would expect today or they interact with, they connect with emotionally, while also referencing the retro look and feel as well. So, you know, our designers are really proud of that ability to kind of find that right balance between the two. From a technology perspective, we want it to reflect and present the content in ways that we're going to be useful to youth as well. So it's interesting, we ended up really, really relying on Spotify and YouTube rather than going the traditional route of of commissioning or purchasing music directly and being able to present it in a way that was going to work

Unknown Speaker 09:59
for you. Yeah, cuz given the limited funding that we had were like related to music licensing, we would only be able to license about a three to five second minute clip for each of the 40 artists and places and venues that we're featuring, which is not a lot of time to get to know a music, or that sound. So when I was asking, when I was in the classrooms, and I was asking, there are music students, so I asked them, How are you listening to music today? Like what is interesting to you? And like, is there a platform? And if so, what is it, and they unanimously literally all in the class book, Spotify, just Spotify, like Spotify is the number one than Apple Music, then YouTube, and it was interesting to sort of hear them and I very much am aware that this is a small sampling. However, there was a recent report last month in Haifa, which is a technology music and Business Insider report that confirmed that music is being redefined by Gen zeds, which are those from born between 1995 and 2010, which is our target pretty much our target audience are Gen Z kids. And they are saying that YouTube and Spotify served as the two largest entertainment platforms for them for that particular audience. So we wanted to be able to, for them to be able to click on musics throughout the exhibition, to hear songs to be able to create playlists, if they don't have a free Spotify account, it will automatically play a 32nd clip of the song. So a 32nd clip, if you have don't want an account on Spotify, or anything like that, you still get to hear 30 seconds, which is much better than three to five seconds.

Unknown Speaker 11:29
And also, if you have a Spotify account, what's interesting too, is listening to the music and interacting with it is going to affect the account and then expose new music to audiences in ways that they might not have. If we're just presenting a two or three second clip, you know, and I think it's just a more interactive and a richer way to experience and connect with music.

Unknown Speaker 11:48
So with respect to engagement, I wanted users and especially our youth users to be both surprised and entertained. In our museum world we have edutainment, which is an interesting term. But I wanted a youth to be both entertained and while learning something because often when you are you desire to learn more, and you don't necessarily realize the engagement, that you're going down those rabbit holes and that you're taking longer time on the website and experiencing something when you're actually engaged in it. So essentially, I also wanted youth to be who might have been directed to this website as a class project because of the curriculum based materials, I want them to stay there and learn and explore, and then also share that with their friends with their family, and to also encourage intergenerational learning. So I briefly mentioned before that we decided to commission and use photogrammetry to share some 3d objects that were related and relevant to some of the stories we were talking about. In my audience research students were interested in learning about clothing, the different outfits that artists wore instruments that they might not know about. And we wanted students to be able to interact with them and be part of the online exhibition. So I will show you an example in just a minute. Working with the digital accompany think to thing in Toronto, we created 12 Digital renderings of various objects relating to these different stories. They ranged from former club signs to a swizzle stick from the 1960s Jr. Music Award, the original prototype of much music speakers corners box, as well, as well as this 1983 Technics turntable, which is a real collector's items if you are a DJ because they do not make it this way anymore. And it's gone all digital. Whereas here you still have aspects of analog that you're able to play with. So let me get this going. I'll just quickly say here, we were working with about a Shoe Museum to create digital renderings of three pairs of shoes that different artists wore. So, this pair here that we're going to be showing you is of jazz pianist Oscar Pearson. And this was his pair of last performance shoes before he passed away in 2007. So let's watch a little mini video. So here we have the shoe provided by by the Shoe Museum. And soon we'll see the technician is going to be scanning the shoes using the EVA scanner, which is a company in Luxembourg. It's a handheld scanner that quickly pulsates with light strobes to capture the different features. This is a material capture to get a sense of the light and reflections. This is the texture map, which is a graphic design wrapped around the shoe here is the vertex normals to create the little lines coming out of it to create gauge and brightness. And the finally, this is the wireframe to create and show what has been removed in terms of the polygon components and the shapes can 60 of the different vector points. Which combined together you create the objects. We've uploaded it through through Sketchfab. And then we've downloaded it for our website and here is a user interacting with it getting a little bit closer, spinning it around zooming in, to sort of get No, these pairs of shoes that you would not normally get to see. So to be able to have the users come up close and personal with it is really exciting. And let me just switch back. Sorry.

Unknown Speaker 15:25
So, we were tasked with trying to find that proper balance from a design perspective of how do we, how do we demonstrate all these different interactive elements? How do we get in place also design looking field that we were looking to capture, and make sure that the site was engaging. So we wanted to make, we wanted to ensure that every interaction that the user had would always encourage them to want to explore more, we wanted, we wanted it to be as engaging as possible. And also, as you can see, we were showing you a desktop view, but we really designed it to the mobile first intention, so that the mobile experience would be just as rich and have absolutely no limitations, or any difference from the desktop experience. And also, for us another important point, and I'm not gonna get too technical here. But working with the Virtual Museum of Canada as well, they have very, very strict standard compliance expectations for the site. So we had to find that proper balance, again, between design interactivity, elements and ensure that the site was was was compliant with all modern technical standards. To give you an example, I'll actually give an example VMC is really involved in the project. So going through the five stages that they expect on this project, when we hit one stage, and they wanted to just make sure that the site was working as expected, or as they as they expected. I mean, they should they showed back up with 50 pages of notes, they're just basically saying these are a little small things we'd like to see you edit to, to make sure that the site is an even better experience for all of the users. So it seems it seems at first a scary thing to go through. But it ensures the project is that much better by having somebody who's really taken care of and caring about the project as much as we are.

Unknown Speaker 17:05
Yeah, and I know where you'll talk about this a little bit. But it's really important to have that accessibility to be able to have all of those implemented from the beginning, whether you're developing the website, so to have those fields in the back end, for alternative text, to be able to be compatible with screen readers to be able to have a complementary experience that doesn't shy away from either your user that can see it on a screen or whether user that needs to experience in a different way. To really have that comfortable experience is really important.

Unknown Speaker 17:35
You have to build on that point. Emily, it has a really, really good point there is I think when you're designing a site to metab, and, you know, high level of accessibility without proper level of accessibility, it shouldn't be an afterthought, that you kind of tack on at the end of the project kind of like, oh, it's accessibility time. From a design perspective, even our team made sure that they took accessibility to heart in design. So, you know, in the case here where we are using full screen, you know, full screen colors and elements, but we've also gone through and made sure that we met W three see, you know, contrast expectation. So we from the design level alone took a lot of those into account.

Unknown Speaker 18:13
Yeah, sorry. I jumped ahead a little bit but and I'll just quickly this is an example of one of the 360 tours. This is the what was formerly known as the Masonic Temple and the Rockpile. It's now the concert hall. It has been around for it's our oldest venue, and that's part of the exhibition. And it's gone from being a ballroom dance to a jazz dance to Led Zeppelin in 1969 coming into play there to rock music punk music auto through my research, I also found out that it was also queer community dances and fundraisers were held there in the 80s and 90s. It's also the mecca for hip hop music and the birth of hip hop music in Toronto. It narrowly escaped demolition in 1997, because its address is 888, which is a very lucky number. And many developers were interested in demolishing it and creating apartments and it now it used to hold MTBS offices and it now holds events as an event space as well as a tech firm that works there. And they celebrate and hold dearly their music heritage. So it's really exciting. So users will be able to walk through their hotspots throughout it's a news 360 degree experience for everyone to see. So lastly, meaning. We wanted users to be active agents in their discovering of the content and making sense of what they're learning. And we wanted all users as we were saying earlier to be able to explore sounds like Toronto and dig into our four storylines. So speaking of these storylines, I talked earlier about it being accessible in terms of design and content, but also in terms of content. So, bridging I really wanted to talk about music as To the narrative and social themes that music can create and how music pushes boundaries and create social change and also connects people together. And music can often be a means to express oneself. It can be a form of identity, it can be a way to build community, as well as to take a stand to resist, and to challenge social norms. I won't go through all of them, but just up on your top left is Buffy Sainte Marie, she was banned from the US radio. Because of her music. We have Jackie Shane. She is a transgender artists from the 1960s that played prominently along Young Street, Jessie raises their and then Jeremy Dutcher on the middle of the bottom. He's an ended to spirited indigenous artist who is a classically trained opera singer, and who is singing in his indigenous language, as well as our Chilean who broke one of the color barriers in Toronto.

Unknown Speaker 20:53
So from design perspective, again, we were really looking to try to try to find a way to have a design language that was emotionally connected with youth. But also, we wanted to make sure this is an intergenerational conversation so that if you saw themselves represented, we wanted their parents or grandparents to see themselves represented as well, because they're a part of the community around this site. Another key thing that we were touching on a little bit before is accessibility. Again, we wanted to make sure that this site had an aesthetic look and feel that would fit really well within the expectations. But also, from an accessibility perspective, we wanted to ensure that all content was available and was was was available in any platform in any way that somebody use it so that everybody no matter their situation, and no matter the technology that you're using, we're going to have a comparable experience with the site.

Unknown Speaker 21:44
So what were our takeaways? From my perspective, as the interpretive planner, it's very important to have a solid interpretive plan to know your target audience to engage with your target audience and to build those relationships. It's also important to build relationships with the people that you the content that you're creating. So I have been working on developing relationships with various artists and asking them what their story that they're wanting to have told, it's important to learn from your audiences, it's important to create prototypes to develop preliminary websites for user testing and feedback. Be aware of the latest technologies for virtual exhibitions that can improve in practice, but also to only use them when appropriate, I think we can get really excited sometimes and just use what we need to and for myself as an emerging museum professional to believe in myself, and to know that the skills that I have matched the vision of this project.

Unknown Speaker 22:37
And I'll come back to the Virtual Museum of Canada as a partner. So one of the things that we learned was how to find that right balance of working with multiple stakeholders. So it wasn't just one organization working, you know, in a bubble, it was three different organizations with multiple expectations for the project work together. So we had to try to find that balance of always balancing the relationship, we we're proud to be have this project funded by the VMC, this project would not be possible without them. So a lot of the different ways and their expectations might at times seem a little bit tough or a little bit challenging. They actually have worked with us to make the project a better one. We've learned so much from myself personally about technology choices, you have a good point, Emily, which is, you know, we could as a technology company want to always push forward with the most, you know, cutting edge technology. But that's not always the best approach. We found that in this case, finding that right balance of what was the best technology to use that pushed boundaries, but didn't cross them into a level where they almost became unusable, or they were unhelpful. So you know, for us, the the challenge was always trying to find and strike that right balance through all the different parts of the project and all the different elements that it ties into.

Unknown Speaker 23:47
Yeah, so in closing, we'll be testing the site, again, with students for our summative evaluation, and February 2020. Once all the stories have been uploaded, and the site is pretty much ready to go, given that Canada is a bilingual country, and it's a federally funded project. Our project then goes into translation to be translated into our official languages of French and English. And it will be launching later in summer 2020. And I can't wait for it to go live. So thank you very much for having us today. We'll see. Here are our emails and we're happy to answer any questions. We have a few minutes as well as we'd be happy to stay afterwards and talk more about the project. Thank you. Thank you. Hi, Mitch, yes, question. Going to the very beginning of the process, sorry, does anyone need the mic?

Unknown Speaker 24:39
How specific was that can gay? What was it? What was the brief that you provide a plan to work to get a collaboration kind of like this the challenge we're hoping to solve or was it like 30 or, you know, a site or developer that was creating ABCD again,

Unknown Speaker 25:00
Oh, yeah, I think I'm here to Toronto, like, our director of programming work directly with Warren and he can speak more about that. And then I'll just explain that that person then left on maternity leave, which is why I was brought in. I'll let you take that one.

Unknown Speaker 25:15
Yeah. So it actually was a collaboration. So what we did is we shape the vision of the project. Now, the narrative change. So Emily had, Emily had changed the narrative. But we know overall, from a structural perspective, roughly how many stories we're going to be telling roughly the materials, roughly the objects that we're going to have to manipulate. So we knew from a scope perspective of what the project was going to look like, even if the content itself changed over time.

Unknown Speaker 25:38
Yeah, not helpful.

Unknown Speaker 25:51
So the two points on that. So sorry, to cut you off. The two points on that, which I think are really interesting is that you're right. One, it's very rare that we get the opportunity to be involved in shaping the project. In other words, it's almost like there was no RFP in this project, because we didn't chose ourselves to invest into working with heritage Toronto, not knowing if the project was gonna get funded. So we decided to shape the vision together. And then the second thing is we have over the years, doing hundreds of digital projects, realize things just change. And with things changing, we have to be adaptable, and we have to be ready to change along with them. So because we knew the overall scope, we didn't really feel like the scope of work was going to change. It's just a matter of where we chose to invest those hours.

Unknown Speaker 26:38
Welcome. Any other thoughts or questions? We have three minutes

Unknown Speaker 26:48
I guess everybody wants to go home. And that's free lunch. Okay, thank you very much.

Unknown Speaker 26:54
Yeah, we'll be here anymore. Thank you.