In museums today, technology is no longer a stranger in a strange land. Digital exhibits now fit in seamlessly alongside the traditional dioramas, specimens, artwork and artifacts to enhance the whole learning experience without feeling awkward or out of place (we’ve certainly come a long way since the early days of CD-ROMs and Sony Walkman audio tours). But what about the social experience? Isn’t technology a solo event?
Technology often gets a bad rap for enabling nose-to-the-screen behaviour that takes away from the community experience that museums want to foster. But the truth is that technology doesn’t always have to be a one-person show – it can actually encourage cooperation between visitors in surprising and effective ways.
Multi-user digital interactive exhibits are wizards at facilitating these shared connections and experiences. The 7-by-5 foot digital DialogTable at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Art, for instance, is like a 21st century roundtable for museum goers. Visitors can highlight their favourite pieces which are then linked to other visitors’ favourites on the table, creating a social platform for people to chat about what they loved (or flat-out hated) about the artwork they just viewed in the gallery.
The interactive DialogTable at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Art. Photo: University of Michigan Imageworks.
Multi-player games are also excellent team builders. We all know that games are social stimulants (even to those who aren’t the hyper-competitive type), and multi-player educational games that encourage visitors to work together just amplify that potency. The digital interactive Watershed of the Future game at the Manitoba Museum, for example, gives up to eight visitors the collective task of shrinking the algae bloom in Lake Winnipeg. The Lake Winnipeg problem is far from a black-and-white issue, so strategy (and with that, social connection) is key to winning.
The Watershed of the Future Simulator at the Manitoba Museum. Photo: The Manitoba Museum.
When attempting to create a community atmosphere, technology can be one of a museum’s greatest allies. Whether it’s through multi-user exhibits, educational games, or simply encouraging visitors to contribute to something bigger than themselves, today’s digital world offers many options for constructing a rewarding social experience. And as technology advances, even more sophisticated and nuanced approaches to social engagement are likely on the horizon. It’s safe to say our awkward years are finally behind us.
-Jason Clarke, Content Strategist
*This article was originally published in the Spring 2014 issue of Roundup, the BC Museums Association quarterly magazine: