For almost 10 years, I have worked on Microsoft’s partnership with the Museum of Science. Over the years the Museum has been able to utilize over $4M in software grants from Microsoft thanks to an amazing VP for Information and Interactive Technology – Marc Check. Since he began working at the Museum in 2010, Marc has truly transformed the way the MOS leverages technology to both run the museum and integrate into exhibits. We are so lucky to have an amazing partner at the MOS to ensure our software will empower students as they learn about science and technology. Thanks Marc!
I sat down with Marc to learn more about his role and he shared some of his recent work at the Museum.
What is your role at the museum?
Associate Vice President, Information and Interactive Technology. My department consists of “classic” Information Technology (helpdesk technicians, systems administrators, database administrators, network engineers, etc.) as well as Interactive Media (Web Developers, Interactive and Game Developers, UX Designers, etc.)
In my role, I am responsible for strategy concerning all digital technology-related endeavors, from IT Infrastructure planning and evolution to public-facing, experiential technologies, including digital-based exhibit components, web platforms, and other technologies including mobile and location-awareness. A large part of my role also involves a great deal of relationship-building and collaboration with various outside entities, such as Microsoft, to ensure the Museum of Science has a constant pool of expertise and inspiration to draw from.
What is the role of technology at the museum?
We are constantly learning and redefining the role of technology at the museum. We have been increasingly using digital platforms in our exhibits, and in some cases have developed interconnected experiences using digital technology, such as in the Hall of Human Life. The Science of Pixar, which will be launching in June, is another technology-driven exhibit that uses a great deal of interactive media as the primary medium for interpreting the science concepts behind digital filmmaking. Aside from in-exhibit technologies, however, we are experimenting with and iterating other applications that expand well beyond the exhibit hall walls, connecting content and experiences across the different exhibits. In the building we have been testing and are continuing to experiment with technologies such as location awareness of mobile devices and augmented reality.
The museum is a big advocate for STEM education. How can we encourage students to pursue STEM careers?
This is an excellent question, and one that is core to our mission. There are many groups in the Boston area directly dressing this challenge and the Museum of Science has been partners with many of them. There are many answers to this question, but I would consider the following to be the two most critical challenges we need to address to ensure more students have the opportunity to pursue STEM education:
Rethinking formal education. The unfortunate reality is that very few students in the US even have an opportunity to pursue any serious STEM education until they reach college level. Computer science, digital literacy, engineering, robotics, and many other stem-related subjects are by and large simply not offered at the K-12 level, and few opportunities exist outside of school to learn about stem-related concepts. I personally feel that exposure at earlier and earlier ages, and providing opportunities for further exploration of these concepts and subjects is absolutely critical to encourage students to pursue stem education.
- Exploration through the lens of personal interests. Too often, STEM is taught as stand-alone concepts. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are enormously broad in application and intersect with every other conceivable subject matter a student might find interesting. Students should be encouraged in these disciplines through other passions and interests such as music, art, sports, writing, and history (to name a few) where STEM becomes a tool to help improve upon or further the primary passion of the student.
In informal education we have a unique opportunity to engage learners in this way, but we have them for a limited window of time and attention. Increasing the exposure to informal and inspirational learning opportunities in other venues and methods is a great first step in ensuring we have an excited and innovative new generation of STEM professionals.
What is your favorite exhibit at the museum?
Well, this is an honest but slightly embarrassing answer. While one might expect me to claim one of our newer, more digital-driven exhibits would be my favorite, the truth is my favorite exhibit has no digital technology at all. The day I decided, beyond doubt, to take the job here at the Museum of Science was the day I sat in the Theater of Electricity witnessing my first Lightning Show.
Tonight the museum is honoring Microsoft at The Science Behind the Stars. Can you describe the impact of our premier partnership?
We are simply thrilled to be honoring Microsoft at the Science Behind the Stars, and I have personally been amazed with Microsoft’s support and collaboration over the past five years. Microsoft has been instrumental to our success on many fronts, not the least of which being two successive $4 million+ software donations that have greatly alleviated our IT operating budget and allowed us to allocate resources towards more visitor-facing and creative technologies. Microsoft has not only acted as a philanthropic partner, but has also taken an extremely active role in advising technology strategy at the museum via the creation of a Microsoft advisory group, that we meet with regularly to identify strategic partnerships and leveraging of tools and resources.
What I personally find most beneficial about the Microsoft/MoS relationship is the intangible – the common passion for STEM education and a shared commitment to providing increasingly innovative ways to engage learners of all ages towards STEM.