The touch table and touch wall have been in the visitor center about a month and it has been fascinating to watch the reaction to this technology. Countless visitors have interacted with the Open Exhibits software displaying different science content and seem to have an interest in what this tool does. Touch surfaces have become more common with regards to smartphones and tablets, but to see one the size of a coffee table is unique. I started considering the ages of the users and their behavior directed towards this object. For children and young adults, the touch technology is likely more familiar. They were immediately drawn to it and appeared to have an idea about what types of gestures would allow image manipulation.
This week NPR had a feature on kids growing up with mobile technology, some considering them a “touch screen generation”. One story included information about the amount of time children use touch surfaces such as smartphones and tablets. The concept of “passive” screen time versus “active” screen time and the influence on baby and toddler development piqued my interest. Passive screen time is compared to scrolling through photos, whereas active screen time is social and requiring more focused engagement. Georgene Troseth, a developmental psychologist at Vanderbilt University, claims that a program like Skype allows for active social interaction, even if through a screen, and can help babies learn. What could active screen time mean for learning about concepts such as science in a museum or aquarium setting?
The touch table and touch wall do allow for individual exploration and social engagement. People walk up and investigate on their own, and then call their friends or family over. Some users would initially discuss the technology and then the content of the software. From limited observations, I noticed that some were commenting on “how cool” the touch table was and then reading the science content out loud to those around them. Some users verbalized connections between the content and other personal experiences they have had. The social element seems to happen naturally. The challenge is creating dynamic and interactive software that can be a tool to supplement learning even if the stay time at the exhibit is brief.