Creating an iPED Tour of Nantucket

Sponsor: Nantucket Historical Association
Sponsor Liaison: William Tramposch, Executive Director NHA
Student Team: Andrew D. Labrecque, Robert F. Matrow, Brendan White
Abstract: To enhance visitor learning and enjoyment, museums are transitioning from the traditional delivery of information via maps and guidebooks to the use of handheld interpretive and wayfinding devices. The Nantucket Historical Association desired a handheld device to disseminate information about its historic sites. To address this desire, we evaluated handheld technologies, tested their acceptability among NHA patrons, developed our own prototype tour, and then tested it. Our project resulted in an expandable prototype tour and recommendations for the NHA.
Link: Creating_an_iPED_Tour_of_Nantucket

Executive Summary

1.1 – Introduction/Background

Throughout the world, and across the United States, museums, national parks, and other organizations have begun the process of modifying their interpretive offerings. By supplementing their existing tools for disseminating historical information (which include maps, guided-tours, and signs) with technology including GPS devices, cell phones, and iPods, these locations aim to increase accessibility and enhance the interests of museum goers. This modernization can enhance visitor understanding of history, the arts, and science in fulfillment of the educational mission of museums.

1.2 – Problem Statement

The Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) is the leader in the interpretation of Nantucket‘s rich history. To this end, the NHA owns and maintains over twenty historic sites spread throughout downtown Nantucket. The problem facing the NHA is that some of these sites are not fully accessible to guests and residents because of their hours of operation, limited number of interpreters, and lack of sufficient wayfinding. By addressing these issues, the NHA hopes to increase visitation to its wide variety of historical locations in both the downtown and surrounding areas, which include sites such as the Quaker Meeting House, Old Mill, and Old Gaol. The goals of this project are closely related to the NHA‘s mission, ―to preserve and interpret the history of Nantucket Island‖ (NHA, 2008).

To address these issues, the NHA proposed the development of an electronic walking tour–one that guests could use any time they wished and would achieve the NHA‘s aim of increasing visitation to these satellite historic sites. Our group began work towards the development of a prototype electronic tour, encompassing a subset of the NHA‘s historic sites and dubbed ―The iPED Tour of Nantucket.‖

1.3 – Goals and Objectives

The overarching goal of our project was to supply the NHA with an expandable electronic walking tour prototype, implemented on the technology platform best suited to fulfill the organization‘s unique needs, and the needs of their visitors. Such a platform would need to work reliably and have a potential for future expansion. In addition to the prototype, our project would include a set of recommendations for the NHA suggesting how best to move forward in developing the full iPED Tour of Nantucket program.

In order to accomplish this overarching goal, our group identified and outlined a set of key objectives. To determine the optimal technology for the iPED Tour prototype, we first needed to collect information on the needs of the NHA and their guests. The next step was to form criteria based on the data collected and compare them against our research in order to suggest the technology best suited for the tour. Once a final decision was made, we would move forward with developing the tour, testing it, and delivering recommendations based on what we learned throughout the process.

By keeping the needs of the NHA and their guests in mind throughout the project, we aimed to stay true to the organization‘s own goals and objectives. When choosing a technology we had to keep in mind the financial and staffing constraints of our sponsor, as well as the educational and interpretive mission that the tour would need to help fulfill.

1.4 – Choosing a Technology for iPED

1.4.1 – Process and Methods

Before beginning work on our first objectives, we conducted background research on how different types of electronic tours function and the different technologies that are available. We were also in contact with museums, historical associations, and technology companies from around the United States to discover more about the different types of electronic tours currently offered. This information was compiled into our literature review. During our proposal presentation we showed the NHA the different technology options that we had identified and researched. Knowing ahead of time the advantages and disadvantages of different types of electronic tours was especially useful in the early stages of this project.

Although not a common method of data collection, role-playing as tourists was very useful and applicable to this project. Since none of our group had ever been to Nantucket before, we were able to tour the island initially without any preconceptions or navigational experience. Literature relating to the behavior of tourists and museum visitors was especially useful during this task as well, where we were able to experience much of what we had learned. This helped us to begin analyzing what technology would be most practical, and how to best conduct a guided excursion from a tourist‘s perspective.

Because this project was essentially the design and implementation of a product for the NHA, we approached our sponsor as a customer and their guests as the end users of the tour. We began our work on the island by learning as much as we could about the NHA. We held meetings with the NHA‘s department heads, interpretive staff, and other important individuals to better understand their need for an electronic tour and to establish a clear direction for the project.

We also used surveys to collect data from visitors to the NHA‘s Whaling Museum to determine in a broader sense the opinions, statistics, and feelings of potential users of the iPED Tour. The survey consisted of questions that helped us determine the interests and expectations of visitors and the desired medium for an electronic tour.

1.4.2 – Results and Outcome

From the information we gathered from the NHA, their visitors, and our archival research, we determined that the cell phone platform was ideal for the tour. This was due to the fact that 89% of guests surveyed owned cell phones, the NHA‘s limited time and resources for vending hardware, and the ease of accessing tour content seamlessly over the phone. Cell phone tours work by having users call a phone number, enter a number associated with a stop or exhibit, and listen to a prerecorded audio segment.

1.5 – Developing a Cell Phone Tour

1.5.1 – Process and Methods

With a technology chosen for the prototype, our next objective was focused on learning as much as possible about cell phone tours, speaking to various vendors as well as their customers. We interviewed representatives from these organizations to gather information about the intricacies of cell phone touring technologies, and gained insight into the differences and similarities of the different cell phone tour providers.

Parallel to this we began developing the scripts for the ten historic sites that would make up the prototype. Working in collaboration with the expert interpreters of the NHA, we revised these scripts to form the content for the tour. Literature on museum studies showed that it was especially important to balance the volume of information present in each segment, providing enough to tell a coherent story but not too much as to cause listener fatigue. Upon completion of the scripts, they were recorded and uploaded to a trial tour system provided by OnCell Systems.

After developing a working prototype, we conducted testing to aid in its analysis and to provide feedback on its functionality, interface, and content. Testing was conducted with fellow WPI IQP students, a limited number of visitors to the Whaling Museum, local residents, and NHA staff members. This testing consisted of hands-on interaction, followed by an exit survey to gather information and feedback about the tour. From this we evaluated the success of our implementation as well as the decision to utilize cell phone technology during the first phase of our project.

1.5.2 – Results and Outcome

Throughout the entire process, we compiled a wide variety of results. The guests‘ needs and wants, as gathered from the survey, were critical for the development of the prototype and the selection of content for the tour. Additionally, feedback from museums and tour providers suggested that signage was a key concern, as was the need to keep the segment lengths under two minutes. Our testing proved the latter to be true with visitor feedback suggesting that the segments be even shorter, possibly only ninety seconds in length. Also, the lack of street signage and minimal identification on the buildings created some confusion for the participants, yet the map handout we provided proved useful in these situations.

A critical component to the success of a cell phone tour is the quality of the provider. Through our contact with OnCell Systems, Guide by Cell, and Spatial Adventures, we gathered information on price, features, and customer service. Guide by Cell was eliminated as a company due to its higher than average price. Although Spatial Adventures had the best price, the quality of service offered by OnCell Systems set them apart from the other two providers. Apart from this, the features offered by the three were nearly identical.

Another instrumental piece for the success of the iPED tour is cell phone coverage at the historic sites. To achieve this end, we observed the signal strength of AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile using different generations of cell phones. The results showed that there is excellent coverage on both older and newer phones from these providers at all of the locations on the iPED tour.

1.6 – Conclusions and Recommendations

From our perspective, this project has been an overall success. We are confident in our technology selection because our research data, survey results, and the desires of our sponsor all converged with cell phone based tours as the ideal solution. Unfortunately, the feedback collected during the testing period was limited, due to the small number of potential users available during the off-season. However, what feedback we did receive has been quite useful in making recommendations on how to improve the tour, leading us to believe that the prototype testing was successful. The user-interface of the cell phone was simple to use for the majority of participants and many did like the idea of a cell phone tour. The map handout was useful for guests but navigation would have been greatly assisted through the addition of signs at each location. The testing also found that most users wanted more enthusiasm and clarity from the narrators, and some thought that the segments were too long.

We recommend that the NHA use OnCell Systems for one season, and then determine the feasibility of operating the tour in-house. We also recommended expanding the prototype tour to include the remaining sites, a process made simple through the OnCell web interface.