Students Help British Museums Connect With Visitors
What do you expect from a museum? Information? Enlightenment? Interaction? Last spring, four teams of WPI juniors and seniors traveled to the London Project Center, the oldest site in WPI's global network, to help British museums grapple with this question. Their task was to suggest ways the museums might improve how they fulfill visitors' expectations.
"WPI's Interactive Project is perfect for museums," says James S. Demetry, professor emeritus of electrical engineering, who advised the museum projects, along with Ruth Smith, associate professor of philosophy and religion. "The project's focus on the interdependence of technology and society and its emphasis on teamwork is enhanced by the students' exuberance and creativity. It all comes together as team members devote an intense seven weeks to helping museum staffers organize or improve collections in ways that appeal to and enlighten visitors."
Here are highlights of four of these projects:
More and more museums are replacing lectures about their exhibitions with inter-active presentations. In June 2000, the London Museum of Science, in an effort to encourage more interaction between visitors and the museum, opened the Welcome Wing, which features a series of kiosks on controversial issues in science and technol-ogy. At each kiosk, visitors receive an introduction to a topic through film clips and text; they then have a chance to offer their own observations and opinions.
Spitz, Ruth Smith and McQuaid at the London Museum of Science
David Kirubi, Shaun McQuaid, David Spitz and David Yamartino were given the opportunity to make the first systematic study of the comments and associated data recorded by the system during its first six months. They found, for example, that though the kiosks were designed to appeal to young visitors, they are enjoyed by people of all ages. The students were asked to develop ideas for new topics, and, based on their analysis, they recommended that the kiosks ask open-ended questions aimed at generating well thought out comments. They interviewed visitors to determine which topics appealed to them, and suggested that the museum develop kiosks on euthanasia, stem cell research and Internet privacy. All three topics were approved by museum officials.
- Housed within the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Art Library is home to many priceless manuscripts that document the history of art and of the museum. However, access to the documents, which are deteriorating and becoming more difficult to decipher, is carefully controlled. Thanks to the creativity of Adam Brancato, Michael Modisett and Alex Tang, the manuscripts may soon be available online. A previous student project team designed a tagging system that allows transcribers to annotate text to identify information so it can be easily recognized by a computer. Brancato, Modisett and Tang extended that idea with their design of a comprehensive, flexible online resource that will provide scholars with faster, more efficient and more powerful access to these treasures. The system, which includes links to online resources, can be adapted for use by other art history archives around the world.
Supply and demand takes on new urgency in the intensifying world energy debate. To help young visitors learn about future sources of energy for the United Kingdom, London's National Museum of Science and Industry is considering the installation of wind turbines and solar arrays on its roof. To complement the exhibit, WPI seniors Elizabeth Hart, Joseph Knuble and David Tolmie designed an interactive Web site about photovoltaics and wind energy that presents the information in a colorful, clear and concise manner. The site engaged the interest of 7- to 14-year-olds in alternative energy and enabled the museum to deter-mine the most effective way to showcase the rooftop exhibit.
Tolmie, Hart and Knuble at the National Museum of Science and Industry
As they prepared for an expanded and improved Education Centre, staff members at the Royal Armouries of the Tower of London wanted to know more about how teachers learned of their programs and how they felt about the lessons they presented. Based on a survey they conducted of teachers, Justyn Garon, Edward Giarnese and Robert Skiba recommended that the museum focus more on hands-on activities and spend less time lecturing visiting students. They also suggested that the Education Centre add a guided tour of the tower to increase the educational value of the visit. Since the teachers said they learned about the center primarily from colleagues who'd been there, Garon, Gianese and Skiba suggested that the museum develop a database of schools to stimulate interest in the center and the tower.
Skiba, Garon and Giarnese at the Tower of London
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Last modified: Jul 12, 2010, 08:02 EDT