Assessment of the Practicality and Effectiveness of Self-Guided Digital Resources for Families at the Museum of London

Sponsor: Museum of London
Sponsor Liaison: Simone Few
Student Team: Mario Castro, Ethan Martin, Daniel McDonough, Kevin Stern
Abstract: The goal of our project was to help the Museum of London capitalize on the growing use of technology in museums by assessing whether self-guided digital resources for families are a practical and effective means to complement visitors’ experiences. We interviewed staff and examined digital resources at several museums in London and used their advice to guide our development of an iPad application for the Victorian Walk gallery at the museum. After receiving feedback from 63 families and ten museum staff, we recommended that the museum should 1) implement more digital resources for families in its galleries, 2) further explore digital activities to promote family learning, and 3) consider implementing resources for visitors’ personal devices.
Link: Final Report
Final Presentation

Executive Summary

Digital technologies have changed the way we live our lives by providing new opportunities for governments and businesses around the world. Due to this change, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport in England outlined a strategy that focuses on the impact digital technology has on cultural institutions. “[T]echnology offers unprecedented opportunities for the [United Kingdom] cultural sector . . . We witness technology’s role in engaging new audiences, nationally and internationally, through digital platforms and distribution channels” (Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, 2017).

Museums are capitalizing on this potential by using technology to digitize collections, provide educational online content, and create self-guided digital resources for visitors to use in their galleries (“Digital Culture 2017: Museums,” 2017). In line with this trend, the Museum of London has been using digital technology for its exhibitions, school group activities, and galleries. From 2011 until 2014, the museum implemented a resource on iPads for families, but an evaluation of this resource found mixed results. While families thought that iPads were a good way to learn, they found difficulty with the resource’s story and several of the museum hosts voiced operational concerns about the iPads. Five years later, the museum decided to reevaluate the practicality and effectiveness of digital resources.

Our goal was to assess whether self-guided digital resources for families are a practical and effective means to complement the experience at the Museum of London. To begin this assessment, we met and interviewed stakeholders of three existing resources. From our visits, we discovered how mobile applications can be useful tools for visitors, how other museums implement their digital resources and challenges the museum faced when implementing their digital resources and they addressed them.

We developed our resource based on these findings from other museums, along with a digital resource framework for interaction in a museum and aspects of family learning. The human-computer-context interaction (HCCI) framework outlines that our resource should include content that facilitates interaction between the visitor, the device, the objects of the gallery, the context surrounding these objects, and the visitor’s peers or family members (Sung, Chang, Hou, and Chen, 2010). The aspects of family learning we aimed to promote through our resource’s activities were collaboration through conversation, recognizing context and culture, and joint attention (Tison Povis, 2017). Additionally, we developed our resource for only the Victorian Walk gallery. We chose this gallery because it had a single entrance and exit to allow for easy iPad distribution and collection, and the gallery had no existing exhibit descriptions to compete for visitor’s attention.

We built the application using the Swift programming language inside of the Xcode development environment provided by Apple. During development, two members of the team programmed the application while the other two researched relevant historical information and created activities that were designed to encourage the aspects of family learning and promoted the interactions outlined in the HCCI framework. The existing paper guides at the Museum of London, activities in other museums’ digital resources, the HCCI framework, and the aspects of family learning all inspired these activities. The activities on the application were implemented using only text and included discussion questions, quizzes, and searches for objects in different displays.

We used an iterative process during the development of our application. After initial development, we tested our application with family visitors and made changes based on feedback before testing further. By the end of our iterative design process, 63 families in total had used our application. Of these 63 families, we surveyed 45 and observed 20.

Data from our observations and surveys also showed that families have a favorable attitude towards digital resources. In general, families expected more digital resources from museums and enjoyed using our application in the gallery. Consistent with our findings, the analysis of the museum’s previous digital resource stated that families felt iPads provided an appropriate way to promote family learning. Based on the feedback and favorable attitudes towards digital resources among family visitors, we recommended that the museum incorporate more digital resources for families in its galleries.

Additionally, our data showed that our resource promoted family learning among the surveyed families. Families reported that the activities on our resource were effective in encouraging discussion, the recognition of context and culture, and joint attention. Based on this data, we recommend the museum further explore digital activities to promote family learning.

In addition to testing, we also conducted interviews with the hosts at the Museum of London. Our goal for these interviews was to investigate how practical it would be to include an application like ours in the museum, as well as what factors go into resource maintenance. The museum’s previous method of taking a £100 security deposit from visitors to rent out an iPad was impractical for the museum’s visitors and staff. The museum’s hosts, who do the most of the interaction with the museum’s visitors, did not want to worry about the safety of the iPads and the security deposit, while also worrying about the safety of the visitors. To address these issues of practicality, we recommend the museum should consider implementing resources for visitors’ personal devices.

Overall, our study showed that currently digital resources for families can be an effective but perhaps not practical means to complement the museum experience. While our resource demonstrated its effectiveness through its activities by showing that families enjoyed using the resource, and that it promoted family learning, we found practicality issues in the distribution model the museum used previously. From our efforts, we hope the Museum of London can add to the research we have done and continue finding new ways to use digital resources to engage audiences in the museum. These recommendations can help the museum address the push for digital seen throughout other cultural institutions in the United Kingdom, and help shape the future use of digital resources to promote family learning and enjoyment in the museum.