Mobile Museum Initative

Project: Research project

Project Details

Description

The Center for Public History + Digital Humanities (CPHDH) and the Ohio Historical Society (OHS) seek NEH Level II Start-Up support the Mobile Museums Initiative (MMI) to explore the best technological and interpretive practices associated with mobile interpretation in museums. Specifically, the project team seeks to extend our understanding of how best to use mobile devices in curating museum collections. MMI does this through innovating both in terms of technology and interpretive practice. On the interpretive side, the project proposes to challenge the conventional approach to app deployment in museum settings that is built around museum navigation and pays little attention to visitor usage patterns. We will be recommending an interpretive practice that emphasizes connectivity between objects around themes, ideas, and chronologies. In addition, we will emphasize the foregrounding of visitor studies as a significant part of the design and deployment of mobile applications. On the technology side, CPHDH will work to release a beta version Curatescape Museums an open-source (and, optionally, hosted) software application that allows small museums and cultural institutions to curate their collections for visitors on mobile devices. To accomplish this, our team will implement and test a mobile application for the Ohio Historical Society that adapts the presently existing Curatescape framework for museum settings. At the same time, MMI will develop and disseminate a guide for best practices in deploying and integrating mobile technologies into museum curatorial practice. And, perhaps most critically, the project team will address this need by exploring in depth, and through careful visitor studies, expert consultation, and thorough field testing. The Mobile Museums Initiative addresses important humanistic, technological, and institutional challenges posed by the shift to mobile computing, especially in museum context. The Pew Internet and American Life Project and the Horizon Reports have outlined the dimensions of that change. Over half of Americans now use mobile devices to access the Internet, and within two years more than 1.5 billion people worldwide will engage the Internet primarily through mobile. The projected rise of apps culture is here, with more than 17 billion apps distributed worldwide, with a growing number issued by, or on behalf of cultural organizations. The swiftness and scale of this change have been revolutionary, suggesting new paradigms for professional practice in numerous fields, including museums. This unprecedented saturation of mobile devices and software apps presents a daunting challenge to humanists, cultural institutions, and educators, many of whom are still struggling to adapt their professional practices to the hypertext age. Indeed, according to the Museums& Mobile Survey of 2011, fewer than half of history museums had any plans to adopt mobile and most that did place it on the long-term horizon. By contrast, the 2011& 2012 Horizon Reports recommended that museum professionals and educators should be adopting this technology immediately. The barriers to adoption are financial, technical, and tied to professional training. The average mobile app costs $35K to build; it requires increasingly specialized technical expertise. Such costs do not include the expense of training or staff resources for developing/maintaining rich humanities content in mobile settings. Respondents to the 2011 Museums& Mobile Survey reported just thisthe prime barriers to mobile adoption are cost of implementation, keeping content up-to-date, and technical development issues. In adapting and extending the Curatescape tool for museum settings, we provide a model solution to these challenges by offering an innovative, open-source, standards-based, low-cost mobile tool suitable to organizations of all sizes and budgets, while at the same time implementing a model project and written guidelines of best practice that will shape future interpretive practice in museum environments. The challenges facing humanists in the mobile age speak to core questions of humanities practice: How do humanists, working within what are, all too often, resource-poor organizations, engage in interpretive research and storytelling on mobile devices? Our Mobile Museum Initiative addresses underlying scholarly issues about what it means to use mobile tools to curate museum collections in the digital age, emphasizing both collaboration and to borrow phrasing from UCLAs Digital Humanities Manifesto, the import of making arguments through objects as well as words, images, and sounds. The project team will highlight a curatorial process that is based on a layered and collaborative approach to interpretive storytelling within multiple materials: images, text, documents, sounds, archival film, and multimedia video. Building on the Ohio Historical Societys innovative exhibits strategies, evident in its Controversies exhibit, we have developed a series of questions that will generate our approach to extending Curatescape to the Ohio Historical Society, and adapting it to museums more broadly. Our approach begins by challenging the conventional wisdom that museum applications should use the physical layout of the facility for navigation. Unlike landscape-based mobile applications (such as Cleveland Historical or the other Curatescape installations) that curate constructed urban spaces, the physical structure of most museums is not the salient context for understanding museum artifacts. We propose using an alternative approach grounded in the artifacts themselves. Best interpretive practice involves elaborating the context of the object, story, or location being interpreted. In museums this means connecting artifacts and material culture to human stories and narratives, other objects, and broader interpretive themes. It does not necessarily mean repeating information that is available on museum labels, or merely providing navigational information to visitors, such as where an object might be located within a gallery. Indeed, we argue that museum applications must transcend the usual map-based interpretive strategy used for landscape (out-of-doors) mobile apps (such as Cleveland Historical). Geo-location works well in apps for heritage tourism, walking tours, and augmented reality, but it should not be adopted uncritically. Instead, we hypothesize that museum applications can be most effective if they guide visitors through materials thematically, connecting objects across galleries and to broader cultural narratives. Layered interpretive strategies work best, allowing museum visitors to quickly acquire historical context or to drill down into a story for a richer and deeper experience of multiple source materials and multiple perspectives. Likewise, we need to find alternative ways for users to develop meaning for themselves. One possible way of doing this is to modify the existing tour functionality of Curatescape to allow curators and users to build connections across the museum, based in themes, chronologies, or collectionsrather than merely navigation through the museumwill be vital to user experience. Based on informal studies of Cleveland Historical, our users appear to follow their own paths through the stories, exploring the connections made by curators but also exploring on their own. We are now exploring whether it would be possible to allow our users to become active interpreters and creative playlists that they could share, in effect developing their own connections to the apps interpretive stories. This has potentially wide application. It would, for instance, allow teachers to assign students to create tours as class assignments and share them as homework, thus transforming the tour into a small-scale exhibit that allows users themselves to curate app content in novel ways. Amazingly, as much as scholars and others have emphasized the importance of crowds in curation, relatively few have included visitor studies in developing mobile and/or digital projects. This *must* change. We propose to incorporate visitor studies into the design of this project because we must design apps not just for scholars and curators, but for users. The best way to do this is to explore visitors responses to the app. What elements of design or presentation do visitors view as most critical to enhancing their experience? What features appear to have the greatest impact on their formal and/or informal learning? How can we create simple approaches to users studies that can be replicated at other institutions in the process of deploying mobile, and (importantly) can in-app analytics be integrated into Curatescape Museums to help get a better understanding of visitors movement through the mobile technology in a fashion that helps curators build better content. As we implement an app for Ohio Historical Society, our project team will conduct a modestlyscaled analysis of users experience, both through observation and questionnaire. Also, we hope to facilitate this process by building server-side user path-tracking capacity (or adapting analytic tools freely available) will be vital to understanding how audiences navigate the content. This study will be a vital part of the projects outcome in its own right, and will contribute to the development of the proposed Curatescape Museums
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date6/1/138/31/15

Funding

  • National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): $60,000.00

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