This summer my research will start on visitor use of the touchtable. I have been looking for content that is relevant and engaging beyond sorting or scanning through a collection of images. Many of the programs utilize these tasks and I am seeking something a bit more robust. Finding software that is coded in a way that will run on an oversized “tablet” and apply to a public informal learning environment seems to be a unique combination.
Being new to the world of communicating science via exhibits, there is a lot to learn about the integration of physical, personal, and sociocultural dimensions within an informal learning environment. If we are using technology as a medium for an exhibit, what can make it an engaging exhibit beyond the table itself? Research on visitor interaction with exhibits has advanced immensely in recent decades. One of the first papers I read in this area was Bitgood’s 1987 article on “Principles of Exhibit Design” in Visitor Behavior. Bitgood outlines aspects of exhibit design that influence viewing time. Some of these factors involve appealing to the senses or by using motion, where the object is placed, or how “real” it looks, and whether it facilitates personal meaning and social interaction between visitors. This last concept is particularly relevant to the touchtable as that it allows for multiple users at once, but if crowding occurs, that may influence the overall visitor experience. It is a fine balance!
So putting my software design cap on and thinking aloud for a moment… If I had access to a program I could install on the touchtable today, it would be formatted in a way that the public could interact with data to generate models or create visuals. For example, giving access to a dataset that can be manipulated and then transformed into something visually meaningful to the visitor. What might this look like? It might be a graph or some other creative means to represent their interpretation of the data. At OSU, there are so many different forms of data coming out of Hatfield alone, how might we allow a visitor the chance to make meaning from it? If there was a way for them to share this interpretation, how might it compare with what other visitors have created? Hmmm, I could be creating a future project for myself…I will continue to play detective as I search out what is useful for our environment at this time and for my project. Curious to hear what others might have to say about science “apps” or educational software for the museum setting. Feel free to share!