Reinventing Museums in a Broadband Environment
Kenneth Kobus , The Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, USA

Session: Technology: Digital Video/ Broadband

How will high bandwidth connectivity that will be ubiquitous in the relatively near future impact museums? The Adler Planetarium and Astronomy museum in Chicago has spent the last several years addressing that question. We feel that it may well have profound role-changing implications for the way museums function in this environment. This holds hold both for informal education in exhibits and foreshadows new and exciting roles directly in the formal education process as well as for “virtual” visitors.

Utilizing a grant from NASA in conjunction with private funding, Adler is building a prototype all-electronic space will pilot a new type of “programmable” gallery as well as host facilities to take Adler programs directly into schools as part of their curriculum.

The centerpiece for our Center for Space Science Education is a gallery that will house a video studio. Here programming will originate that will encompass the entire museum from exhibit floor to the behind-the-scenes collection to curator’s offices. Adler has spent several years and a good amount of money to become the only museum founding member (with seven universities) of a regional high-speed private ATM-based network. This network will be the Northeast Illinois backbone (including Chicago) of Illinois high-speed network, which will within two years connect 3,300+ Illinois schools, local governments, libraries and not-for-profit institutions at high speed throughout the state. Adler is building a prototype educational program that will utilize its rich science resources directly in connected classrooms via this broadband connectivity to explore teaching several-week “slices” of science curricula to state and national standards. Should this prove to be effective we propose building coalitions of museums and cultural institutions which will be able to assemble entire school-year curriculum of world-class resources offered to schools via broadband networks. We also hope to prototype a new revenue stream in which this program would be offered as a continuum of content, from static text-based web pages to web-enhanced with canned video up to full interactive lectures from content experts, all on a sliding fee scale. The program would be available to all schools but those requesting higher-level and more expensive teaching methods would pay for them, offsetting the museum’s production cost. Preliminary discussion indicates an interest in this concept from Illinois schools & school districts.

Regarding the on-site gallery, given that science content changes extremely rapidly and dramatically while it takes at least two years or more to build an exhibit, we’re building an all-electronic gallery whose content can be changed with a keystroke. While expensive, the implication of this are far-reaching: such a gallery would never be out-of-date. Broadband connectivity would allow for live and canned content to be streamed to visitors. Content could be changed thematically; programs could be crafted supporting live events such as NASA missions.

Design of this space is well underway. Construction is anticipated to begin February-March 2001 with a projected three to five million dollar budget. Ongoing support of this space will require drastically restructuring staff duties and responsibilities and redefine some museum roles.

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Published: 01/09/01
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