The tail end of last week was committed to knowledge exchange and looking at how digital can be harnessed to enhance museum learning experiences.
On Thursday I trouped off to the V&A for a Digital Learning Network conference. This was my first contact with this particular group, I was drawn to their conference as they were looking at On the move: mobile learning in museums and galleries, and therefore tied up nicely with our current focus on developing mobile resources for onsite visitors.
It was a great conference which left we with some really interesting insights and takeaways.
The day kicked off with Kati Price, Head of Digital Media at the V&A. She talked about their project to revamp the museum’s Europe Galleries guide. They decided to strip back what was a multi-media guide to a primarily audio based product, as their research showed that users did not particularly want more sophisticated media, but wanted to optimise their time with the objects, which audio allowed. Interestingly their testing also showed that users weren’t keen on maps (thank goodness since mapping user location is the biggest challenge), that a pause and rewind button on audio and video content is a must (seems obvious but so many guides do not include this), and not everyone comprehends the ‘hamburger’ menus that are now a staple of mobile websites. They decided to deliver the guide as a mobile website rather than an app to reduce barriers to engagement, but more controversially are offering the service as a bring your own device proposition only, without offering devices for users without a smartphone or who prefer not to use their phone to borrow. I will be interested to hear how successful that was in a few months.
Many of the key messages shared by Kati were echoed by Alyson Webb from Frankly, Green + Web who spoke about their research into audio and multimedia guides at a number of museums, including the met. Their research has show that uniformly the user of a guide was considered by users to improve their visit, but that there was absolutely no evidence that more sophisticated technology or types of media improved satisfaction over the traditional audioguide. Another key lesson Alyson had to share was stripping back options. Museums often want to cater to the needs of their diverse visitors and therefore offer multiple permeations of content in terms of various tours. It seems users struggle to engage with this and make selections, or I suspect can’t be bothered, and want a straightforward, easy to navigate experience. Alyson also emphasised the need to focus on how people come to get the tour, not in terms of income generation through sales (though this is important), but rather that acquiring the guide, whether borrowed or downloaded, can often be the most difficult part of the experience and set the tone for the user.
One of the highlights after lunch was a talk from Katherine Biggs and Ina Pruegel from Historic Royal Palaces sharing lessons from their experience of building gamified app experiences for young people to engage with their sites. They shared seven key things to consider when developing a mobile learning resources which are a nice check list to sense check your thinking:
The day ended with a series of lightning talks. I presented briefly on behalf of my colleagues at the Ashmolean Museum about their Digital Sketchbooks project that provides tools for art and design students to use iPads to enhance a museum visit – allowing them to do the things that they would traditionally do on such a visit, such as gathering inspiration and bringing ideas together, faster, and therefore allow them to make more of their time at the museum. You can learn more and watch an introductory video here.
Of course it was also a great excuse to have a squiz around the V&A – always a pleasure.
This was followed up on Friday when a small group of us from Oxford made our way to Birmingham, meeting up with some colleagues from Bristol Museums for a joint knowledge exchange visit to visit the Digital Humanities Hub at the University of Birmingham to discuss some of the things that they have been working on as part of their Digital Heritage Demonstrator project. We met with Lara Ratnaraja and Henry Chapman and they took us through some of their project over the last year from sophisticated touch screens experience to 3D modeled spaces. On the was out we ran into a group about to start a project mapping the movements on professional verse amateur drummers using those 3D tracking outfits (like they used to make Gollum in Lord of the Rings), why, because it is fun and interesting and they want to learn about human movement. I think this pretty much sums up what was great about this place, it was a space for experimentation with ideas, without fear of failure.
Highlights for me were first, the Staffordshire Hoard touchsreen. Although quite old now, the table had super high resolution images of objects from the hoard allowing users to zoom in and see larger than life detail. One could ask the purpose of providing technology like this when the objects themselves are on display, but most of the items in the hoard are surprisingly small, and the only way to see this level of detail is through digital.
My second highlight was a great use of filters. There were a few demonstrations that involved maps with key points of interest marked. But of course each of these points of interest had many levels on content based on different time periods, areas of interest etc. So each table also had a number of filter windows that your could drag over the pieces of content, offering different interpretation depending on the selected filter.
The conversations we had with Henry and Lara, and the Bristol Museums team were so fantastic, we are thinking of planning a return visit in September, and bringing a few more colleagues along.
I should say that Fay and Tom from Bristol worked on their Hidden Museum project, a Digital R&D funded projects to build a game app for the galleries. They have done a fantastic job of documenting this on their blog – see it here.