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Hands-on, Hands-Off: the personal, social and physical context of interactives in museums

Grahame Ramsay , University of Western Sydney, Australia

Session: Evaluation

"Interactives" have become an integral part of the exhibits of many museums. The term "interactives" has been used as a shorthand description for interactive multi-media displays based around a computer and operated by an individual. In the Powerhouse Museum, Australia's largest museum, the term's usage has been expanded to include manually controlled exhibits that don't use a computer at all. These "interactives" share the common characteristic that they require a person to manipulate them. This research relies on the proposition (Dierking and Falk,1992) that each museum visitor "constructs" their own museum experience. This has been called the "Interactive Experience Model" and has been used as the key framework for this research. This model postulates that the museum visitor's experience is a combination of three contexts : the personal, the social and the physical. A sample of computer based " interactives" and non-computer based "interactives" were chosen for observation. Four hundred and seventy-eight people were observed using interactives. Similarities and differences in usage were noted and the usage of computer based and non-computer " interactives" compared. The research also investigated the history, classification, instructional design and purpose of "interactives" as part of exhibitions within the Powerhouse museum. The study considered trends in interactive exhibit design, key success factors for "interactives" and key limiting factors on the use of "interactives" by museum visitors.