At the start of 2012, we adopted some ‘principles’ – a rather grand name for a list of things we were trying to do and how. It’s somewhat past time to have look back to see where we are and whether we’ve stuck to these or think they should be altered.
Here we go,original wording in blue italics:
We aim to help moderate size museums become more accessible by using mobile devices.
By ‘moderate size’ we meant museums which don’t have there own IT teams or large budgets (average app apparently costs ~£30,000) for software development, but which do have some effort – whether staff or volunteer – to put into creating some mobile device-based museum experiences.
By ‘mobile devices’ we meant those that are now consumer, high-street, web-enabled devices (iPads and similar tablets and smartphones). It was pointed out that other, more specialised, mobile devices (such as Voca) might be included, but we have not done that specifically.
What have we done?
We have tested several things in and around two ‘moderate sized’ museums: the Museum of English Rural Life and latterly, the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology.
Have we helped them become more accessible? Not yet on a sustained basis.
-experiment quickly/iteratively (fail fast, fail often!)
Yes, we have done this, with more than a dozen activities tried out, and iteration, particularly in relation to the use of QR codes and symbolised labels.
-test in the field and with ‘real’ users
Yes, we have done this, with lots of people trying our various activities. However, there have been very few trials where we have known for certain that a visitor has a particular disability or none. Most of the activities have been by mixed family groups with us participant-observing rather than formally set up, controlled sessions.
-aim for sustainability by leveraging visitors’ own equipment,
almost everything we have done is driven through the web so could be accessed using visitors’ own phones/tablets. BUT we have done almost no design specifically for visitors’ phones and, while some logs show visitors’ using their own phones in the MERL, there has not been any sustained info available about how to connect to the in-gallery wi-fi or any handouts on what is available. Much of what we’ve tried has been on our iPads loaned to visitors during special events (such as half-term family activities).
-using freely available systems
-and don’t rely on full wifi/wireless coverage
this is a hard one, and still a very real problem for some sites, thick walls being a museum speciality. We’ve got round it by (1) carefully choosing the actual places to put e.g. QR coded labels where there is a signal (2) use of Kiosk Pro
-link (dynamically if possible) to existing museum content [this is a request from museum curators who are concerned about various non-updated copies of catalogue info being promulgated]
Well, we have in our ‘layered’ version of a couple of trails, linked a further info button or a QR code to the museum catalogue entry. This can work and actually be quite helpful (e.g. the visitor can get the iPad to read out the entry – though the fact the iPad can’t pronounce ‘Boeotian’ was of great concern to one ex-curator…) However, unless there is some ongoing agreement about methods of accessing the catalogue being sustained, the ground can shift under your feet and there is no more guarantee of sustainability than if one were using copied data (we have experienced this with the MERL/University Library aggregation system interface changing. Outside iMuse, there is work on directly feeding the Historypin data from museum catalogue. This all gets quite technically sophisticated and likely to be outside the range of smaller museums.)
-involve visitors in digitising content, recording videos, acting as guides
So far, the only real experiments on this have been with a few young people, where we found involving them in creating content by taking photos and videos did seem to increase engagement greatly. We are, early in 2013, part of an ACE project, Stories of the World, where 3 schools (one a special school,14/15 year olds) will create content based on myths and objects in the Ure Museum.
We have found that more minor involvement, simply being ‘in charge’ of an iPad with it hung around your neck, or being able to change a trail in a small way by selecting the relevant objects from a set for the Olympics trail did increase engagement, and led to greater interaction within groups. The novelty of simply ‘scanning’ a QR code, getting an iPad to ‘beep’ and finding another clue had a hugely engaging effect on 2-82 year olds, with great excitement and chatter from all abilities. Whether that indicates any engagement with the actual objects….
-possibly better to use photos [rather than symbols] as interface.
We have iterated quite a bit on the symbol/QR code/label combinations – cutting down the use of more ‘abstract’ symbols considerably.
-design so the least able in a group can do something
The tethered iPad-on-a-box on a trolley did enable more to join in some trails (it helped: child in wheelchair, learning disabled group [who chose to re-view and re-view a video], young person using walking frame with poor hand coordination, people who find iPad too heavy, got round difficulties of aligning device on a code, people with VI).
We have adopted a layered approach to access to information, starting with the label and going through other levels through scanning and key-on-screen taps so that visitors of different abilities can choose what they look at/hear. We managed to get some analysis of the QR code use done (note coming out in Journal of Assistive Technologies, in print).
Most recently, the text-free Ladybird book (an iPad bound to look like a Ladybird book, with the original artwork pictures and sounds associated with tapping the animals etc) has proved enormously popular with visitors of all types.
So,on the face of it, we seem to have followed the principles more or less.
BUT where does this leave iMuse? It needs to find a way to encourage museums to become ‘mobile device’ friendly. Trying fun things out in a couple of museums does not lead to anything sustainable. We are looking for ways to encourage others to try things, for example by setting up an advisory service in partnership with other organisations.