I have just come back from a workshop at a museum where we discussed the use of labels and mobile systems, PDAs, Audioguides, or mobile phones to support or even enhance people’s experience of exhibits and exhibitions. As in other museums, the managers and curators still largely think of abele and electronic systems as information sources for individual visitors. Hence, information is written or recorded for an individual visitor to retrieve. This is somewhat surprising for a number of reasons, including the observation of the same managers and curators that devices and systems like movie phones, touch-screen systems, PDAs and Audioguides encourage people to spend more time with the systems than with with exhibits. When managers and curators report their observations in exhibitions they talk about visitors reading labels and looking at the screens of digital systems for considerable time whilst spending considerably less, sometimes no, time with the works of art hung along the gallery wall.
Research conducted over the past 20 or 30 years confirms the observations by these managers and curators about the distracting impact of information sources in museums. Together with recent research in the learning and cognitive science also suggests that if one wishes to enhance people’s experience of and learning in exhibition that there is not a need for more or more complex information sources and system but for information delivered in a way that encourages social interaction and discussion between people. Quasi-experimental studies and naturalistic, video-based studies of visitors’ interaction in museums suggests that it is not only the design of systems, i.e. the small screens and interfaces that undermine social interaction but also the content and the structure of the content delivered by labels and electronic systems. What would be required are naturalistic experiments with label content and the content of audio-guides that through questions, references to exhibit features and maybe game-like activities that involve more than one visitor in concerted and collaborative forms of looking, examination and experience.
If anybody has seen examples like this, please let me know.
Heath, vom Lehn. (2004) Configuring Reception. Theory, Culture and Society Vol21(6): 43-65
Heath, Luff, vom Lehn, Hindmarsh, Cleverly. (2002) Crafting Participation. Visual Communication. Vol1(1): 1-33
Hindmarsh, Heath, vom Lehn, Cleverly. (2002) Creating Assemblies in Public Environment. CSCW Journal Vol.14(1): 1-41
Leinhardt, Crowley, Knutson 2002. Learning Conversations in Museums. Routledge
vom Lehn, Heath 2005. Accounting for Technology in Museums. International Journal of Arts Management Vol7(3): 11-21