October 24-26, 2007
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Paper: MUSTEL: Framing the Design of Technology-Enhanced Learning Activities for Museum Visitors

Palmyre Pierroux, InterMedia, University of Oslo, Norway; Victor Kaptelinin, Department of Informatics, Umeå University, Sweden; Tony Hall, Department of Education, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland; Kevin Walker, London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education, London, UK; Liam Bannon, Interaction Design Centre, University of Limerick, Ireland; and Dagny Stuedahl, Department of Media and Communication, University of Oslo, Norway



In this paper, we discuss our emerging approach to museum learning involving the use of new technologies in museums. Our approach is shaped by the experiences of the multidisciplinary EU Kaleidoscope MUSTEL team (Museums and Technology Enhanced Learning), which includes researchers with experience in art history, cultural studies, IT development, interaction design, education and learning sciences, and social science. The outline framework is grounded in a Vygotskian sociocultural approach and Leonte'v's activity concept, and has been employed in a number of design interventions in museum contexts by MUSTEL members in recent years. The group is currently engaged in collating their experiences and insights concerning the design of ICTs for museums. Several examples of our work on augmenting visitors' activities in museums through the use of ICTs are presented and discussed. These examples focus on the integration of ICTs in exhibition design, and on the design and implementation of mobile devices in art museums.

Keywords: activity contexts, artefacts, learning, design, sociocultural


Two decades ago, Dobbs & Eisner (1987) cited the need for reliable data and research concerning the ways technology might be used to support the accomplishment of various educational objectives. At the time, museum educators and directors were divided in their views on the benefits of technologies in their educational programs in art museums. The arguments are still familiar today, with the potential benefit of increased entertainment value and artefact-related information provision weighed against the potential drawback of museum technologies to distract the visitor from directly encountering the material artefact itself, as well as potentially inhibiting social interaction around the artefact. Indeed, although technologies are increasingly introduced in museum settings for the purpose of enhancing engagement and learning, recent investigations of visitor interaction and discourse suggest that technologies and devices may in fact distract visitors, undermine the atmosphere of authenticity that is so important in museums, and interrupt social conduct, discourse, and interactions that are an essential part of museum learning (Falk & Dierking, 2000; Leinhardt & Knutson, 2004; vom Lehn, Heath, & Hindmarsh, 2001).

This problem is being addressed through a range of design approaches. These include embedding computer functionality in multiple artefacts in exhibition spaces, developing 'open' interfaces that support collaboration and interaction, allowing for user-generated content, and perhaps most importantly, involving museum staff and visitors in a participatory design process in order to better understand and analyze contexts of use (Bowers et al., 2007; Hall & Bannon, 2006; Walker, 2007). However, the call made by Dobbs & Eisner for relating knowledge gleaned from ongoing design experiments to perspectives on learning in museums remains largely unanswered. Design-led research based on short-term interventions seldom moves beyond prototyping and pilot studies to allow for investigating how technologies may actually support learning and engagement with museum artefacts in actual exhibitions.

This is the core concern taken up in this paper. We propose that different interests and perspectives, design-led on the one hand and learning research focused on the other, can mutually inform and add value to the respective practices. This requires a more comprehensive framework that makes explicit the concepts and premises related to learning that are motivating design research practice in museums – and vice versa. In this paper we draw on research in museum learning and on recent work in museum technology design in order to identify some emerging issues that are relevant for such a framework. First we present some key concepts from sociocultural perspectives and museum learning research. We then explore these concepts in relation to two recent trends in the design of technologies for museums, specifically, the use of novel ICTs embedded within exhibition settings, and applications involving the use of personal mobile phones. We discuss recent findings in the research literature as well as examples from our respective practices. We conclude by reflecting on several concepts that may be useful in framing the design of educational applications for technologies in museum settings.

Framing Learning and Technology Design in Museums

In considering design approaches to technology enhanced learning for museum visitors it is important to recognize that learning perspectives are often specific to the type of museum and its collection. In historical museums, for example, perspectives are developed to understand learning as the cultivation of cultural, national, and personal identity. In science centers, theories of learning are developed to explain and analyze how visitors make sense of abstract scientific concepts. In fine arts museums, perceptual and affective theories of learning are intertwined with long traditions in aesthetics.

Similarly, design perspectives differ in relation to museum type. Science and art museums, for example, introduce digital technology into the galleries in different ways. Science museums generally embrace technologies, give them prominence, and seek to integrate them with other exhibits, while art museums tend to separate technologies from original artworks and relegate them to an 'education' corner of the gallery. Furthermore, there are differences in visitors' attitudes toward ICTs in different kinds of museums. Art museum audiences seem to be much more reluctant to use technology according to Samis (2007), who reports that visitors to a contemporary art exhibition overwhelmingly preferred traditional, non-digital forms of interpretation over digital ones, although digital resources were rated higher by those who used them. Together, these differences suggest that perspectives on museum learning and ICT design should not only consider the epistemologies embodied in museums' collections and functions, but also be grounded in understandings of visitors and their situated activities.

Activity contexts: visitors and artefacts

In perfect accordance with its name, Vygotsky’s cultural-historical approach (in a broad sense, that is, including activity theory) links human development to cultural-historical contexts. Human beings learn and develop by appropriating values, meanings, and knowledge from previous generations. Material artefacts and other semiotic resources, particularly language, play a special role in transmitting culture: as mediators of our activities they bring with them accumulated experience of other people and thus make this experience relevant in the activity.

A sociocultural approach thus considers appropriation of culture in social contexts fundamentally essential to learning and development, and specifically emphasizes the role of artefacts as mediating tools (Kaptelinin & Nardi, 2006). This is the basic premise of the dialectic method in a sociocultural approach to learning, Bakhurst (2007) explains, to comprehend the processes through which human development emerges. In analyzing museum learning, then, there is a concern with understanding how visitors make, master, and appropriate meaning as it is mediated through discourse and social interaction and other cultural tools in museums, including ICTs (Pierroux, in press; Wertsch, 2002). This means that analysis includes the specific and cultural-historical characteristics of available resources (Stuedahl & Smørdal, in press), including the museum's authentic objects, practices, architecture, exhibition displays, analogue and digital material and devices, but also their significance in situated activity, that is, how they are understood or interpreted (Bakhurst, 2007).

In terms of designing ICTs to support meaning making, this means that both the context of use of the tool and the motivation for using the tool must be made highly relevant (Gay & Hembrooke, 2004). A degree of involvement and craving for new knowledge must serve as the point of departure for learning (Vygotsky & Davydov, 1997). Therefore, in order to realize the educational and developmental potential of museums, there is a need to (a) 're-contextualize' museum artefacts, rendering explicit and accessible the latent contexts associated with the artefacts and (b) bridge these artefact-related contexts with visitors’ activity contexts. This is the perspective on mediation and museum learning that frames our design research.

Technology design: bridging activity contexts

The main objective of designing technologies for museums is to augment visitor experience and meaning making. This entails bridging two distinct (if potentially overlapping) contexts: visitor’s activity contexts and activity contexts implicitly contained in the artefact. From a technology design point of view, the challenge is to enrich experience and improve visitors' engagement with museum objects and their narratives. From a learning research point of view, the challenge is to understand how these technologies – as but part of a multitude of other resources - are made significant in visitor activity.

The potential of museums for learning and development is enormous. But museums as places for learning also have serious disadvantages. In ‘everyday’ learning, the appropriation of artefacts is tightly integrated into activities of the learner. Learning how to use fishing gear, for instance, is likely to take place within a meaningful social context and be a part of a memorable personal experience. There is a close match between two contexts: the context of the individual or group's interests, aspirations, goals, and challenges on the one hand, and the context of fishing as a culturally-historically developed form of human practice, with its artefacts, rules of conduct, secrets of trade, unwritten rules, and inherent values on the other hand. In museums, there is more likely to be tensions between the activity contexts, challenging designers to provide means of closing the gap between visitors' activities that are motivated by less clearly defined learning interests and the culturally-historically situated activity contexts of the artefacts.

Context in museum learning research

In museum learning research, the problem of overlapping contexts has been acknowledged and conceptualized in several ways. Perhaps the most influential approach is Falk & Dierking's Interactive Experience Model (1992), which was further developed as The Contextual Model of Learning (Falk & Dierking, 2000; Falk & Storksdieck, 2005). The analytical aim in this approach is to make sense of the entire complexity of a museum visit from a visitor's perspective by identifying characteristics and relations between personal, social and physical contexts of human interaction. Described as an important milestone in museum research (Rennie & Johnston, 2004), visitor experience is thus envisioned as a shifting interaction among these three contexts, and may be conceptualized as "a series of snapshots" freezing in time moments of critical intersections (Falk and Dierking, 1992, p. 6).

However, it may be argued that the metaphor of a museum experience as a 'snapshot' of overlapping and distinctly analyzable contexts, while compelling, directs attention away from the "realization that things don't just happen in a context; the context is part of what's happening" (Rennie & Johnston, 2004, p. 7). While the scope of studies carried out in this tradition of identifying learning factors is rich and varied, and contributes to awareness of the complex task of analytically framing context, it differs in significant ways from the dialectic, sociocultural perspective on learning that frames our investigations. Merriman points to the methodological dilemma in sociocultural museum research in which mentalist theories nonetheless remain implicit:

... although it identified socio-cultural factors as being important, it is unable to move beyond this observation to an understanding of how it is that these factors actually operate to bring about the patterns in cultural consumption continually detected by surveys.

(as cited in Hooper-Greenhill & Moussouri, 1999, p. 11)

The sociocultural perspective adopted in this paper has a different take on theorizing and analyzing context, with a more integrated, holistic understanding of human activity. Rather than identifying characteristics of three distinct contexts and analyzing their significance for meaning making, it is human activity itself that becomes the analytic unit. Activity contexts, as referred to in this paper, are thus understood as comprising phylogenetic, ontogenetic, and sociogenetic processes that span, intersect, and develop on multiple timescales and trajectories (Lemke, 2000; Ludvigsen, Rasmussen, Krange, Moen, & Middleton, forthcoming). This is in keeping with the Hegelian and Marxian roots of Vygotsky's cultural-historical perspective. In contrast to isolating 'sociocultural factors' (Falk & Storksdieck, 2005) that impact on meaning making, the analyst chooses a level of activity and 'zooms in' on the ongoing event in order to understand how meaning making emerges and is mediated (Ludvigsen et al., forthcoming; Roth, 2001). Consequently, context is conceived as mediating rather than effecting learning, and there is a focus on analyzing meaning making as an emergent process in specific settings.

Applying the Frame

In the following we focus on two approaches in design research to the problem of using ICTs to bridge activity contexts in museums. The first approach is concerned with the design of hybrid technologies that become integrated and embedded in displays and exhibitions. The purpose, among others, may be to augment the experience and understanding of museum objects and their narratives in historical museums or to support learning of scientific principles in science centers. The other area of design research that we take up in this paper is related to mobile devices, mobile phones in particular, reflecting an awareness that people are bringing their own technologies as well as their own voices into museums.

Hybrid Technologies and Meaning Making

Designing for narratives

As mentioned above, a criticism of ICTs in museums is that they can distract visitors from artefacts, undermining one of the primary functions of museums: to encourage museum visitors to engage with material culture. For this reason, designers are exploring the potential of ubiquitous computing and new possibilities for hybrid design, where computational devices like actuators and sensors are embedded in objects and the environs. In their discussion of new approaches to the design of digital technologies in museums, Falk and Dierking see the hybrid approach as combining the "best of both worlds," and they propose that "the future [of technology in museums] lies in the blending, not the separation, of the virtual and the real world" (2000, p. 231).

In exhibition design, curators and designers use hybrid technologies to create interactive environments and spaces for visitors without being tied to the desktop, laptop or similar ‘fixed’ metaphors of the computer. The interactive capabilities of RFID and 3D tracking, for example, allow visitors to explore new digital-physical constructions that synergize the properties of objects (Hall et al., 2001; Hsi, 2002). These new paradigms of computing also enable the integration of technologies in architectures and artefacts in ways that are faithful to the experience of the objects in an historical context. These new technologies are creating new contexts for understanding artefacts and shaping visitors' activities, with narrative playing a central mediating role. From a meaning making perspective, such technologies provide new opportunities for what Wertsch (2002) calls 'narrative production' and 'narrative consumption' in museums.

In his book Voices of Collective Remembering (2002), Wertsch examines from a sociocultural perspective the role of narrative – and its dialogic function - in Russian national museums. He draws on Bakhtin to distinguish between narrative texts and the intentions of their producers on the one hand, and the dialogical function of narrative-in-use as a cultural tool on the other. Wertsch makes an interesting distinction between the learning and mastery of a particular narrative account by a visitor, and their willingness to appropriate the same narrative account, that is, to make it their own. This analytic focus on visitor agency in encounters with museum narratives is not found, we believe, in behaviorist and constructivist theories of learning. Using interviews and historical texts as data, Wertsch emphasizes the need to study how context and narratives mediate - or are made significant - in visitors' meaning making. A similar perspective on the agency of visitors and the dialogic character of narrative is reflected in ICTs specifically designed to support conversation and interaction among visitors in historical homes and museums (Aoki & Woodruff, 2005; Ferris et al., 2004; Woodruff, Syzmanski, Aoki, & Hurst, 2001).

There are many aspects to this issue of narrative production and consumption within museum settings that we cannot detail here - issues of master or institutional grand narratives in national museums, for example, the need for alternative accounts, the uncovering of bias and prejudice in specific accounts, the willingness to allow for, and support the collection of visitor accounts, and creating alternative narratives.  The latter issue of encouraging more participation by visitors in the creation of accounts is a topic of interest in several recent projects. A dialogical approach to narrative is reflected in the design of the final exhibition of the EU SHAPE project by, among others, MUSTEL members Liam Bannon and Tony Hall (see Ferris et al., 2004). The exhibition interlinked two interactive visitor spaces for the Hunt Museum, Limerick, Ireland. A sociocultural perspective informed the development of the exhibition spaces. The exhibition was designed keeping in mind the following eight topics: narrative; collaboration; materiality and hands-on interaction with replicas of artefacts; active interpretation; multimodality; engagement; educationally productive dialogue; and unobtrusive technology.

The first space was designed to resemble an old study, based on the narrative of an archaeologist’s secret study room. The space was populated with furniture and the kinds of antique objects one would typically find in an old study, including a large bureau, books and maps, an old oil lamp, a trunk, old bookcases, rugs, antique armchairs, and a wireless radio.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Old and young collaborate in using RFID-tagged keycards to explore the interactive desk in the Hunt Museum exhibition.

Figure 2
Figure 2: The reproduction interactive study room.

The design of the space aimed for authenticity, with an attention to detail that included old glasses on the bureau and original pictures and light fittings. This created the ambience of an old study, with the interactive hybrid features concealed in artefacts and the architecture. The hybrid design captured visitors’ imagination and afforded interactions with digital narratives related to the museum objects. At the interactive desk, for example, visitors used RFID-tagged keycards to discuss and explore a map and geographical information related to the objects in the setting. Nearby, a second space was constructed for visitors to explore replicas of the artefacts and to record their own narratives about these objects through an augmented telephone device. Visitors subsequently browsed their own and other visitors’ opinions and narratives using the radio, which was rendered interactive through the integration of ubiquitous computing.

Figure 3
Figure 3: Browsing narratives and opinions on the interactive radio.

Figure 4Figure 4: Recording a narrative or opinion using the interactive telephone.

Visitors were fascinated both by the mysterious study room and the novel affordances of the ‘hidden’ computing. Based on interviews and analysis of observations of over 900 visitors over a period of several days we found that the hidden technology in this project enhanced visitors’ engagement in exploring the 'narrative of use' (Ferris et al., 2004) developed for the exhibition. These findings are similar to those from other studies and recent design research, namely, that the design of embedded technologies for innovative storytelling about museum objects can significantly enhance visitor interaction, curiosity, and engagement.

Designing for tasks

In addressing the problem of bridging activity contexts, education designers are particularly concerned with the balance between providing information and engaging people in developing their own interpretations or solutions to a task. Vygotsky discusses this in terms of double stimulation, or the need to introduce mediating tools that will support learners in solving a specific task. This means that there must be a 'match' between a task and resources that scaffold learners in solving the task for learning to take place.

A concern with learning tasks in seen in the exhibition designed by MUSTEL member Kevin Walker, among others, titled 'Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition' at the American Museum of Natural History. Here, technology was embedded in artefacts and the gallery space in order to immerse visitors in a historical experience and to engage them in a scientific task from the original context. In order to convey a sense of the difficulties and survival risks facing Sir Ernest Shackleton and five others in a small boat journeying across a freezing and dangerous sea, large projections of a rough sea surrounded the actual boat from the original journey, with accompanying audio. To augment visitors' experience and understanding of the challenge of navigating in such an environment, sensors were embedded in a real navigation instrument (a sextant). Accordingly, the activity context may be seen as 'contained' in the technologically augmented artefact.

Figure 5
Figure 5: The interactive Shackleton exhibit, including the boat, ambient displays and augmented sextant.

The task for the visitors' activity was a real one: take a sighting of the sun through the clouds and waves on the projection while sitting in a 'moving' boat. The task was designed to be difficult in order to illustrate the challenge, and accomplishment, of Shackleton and his navigator, but not so difficult as to not be meaningful for visitors. Based on observations and visitor feedback, the design of the task, the technology, and other resources were effective in bridging activity contexts, enabling visitors to engage meaningfully with the historical, cognitive, and physical experience.

Mobile Devices and Meaning Making

Designing for content engagement

In recent years, design research has focused on the use of mobile devices to support learning activities in cultural heritage, science, and to a lesser extent, art museums. Most of these are designed as multimedia tours but may also include inquiry-based games and activities. Carrying handheld computers or PDAs as they walk through the galleries, visitors can access multimedia presentations from the museum’s content servers through a wireless, location-based network system on the premises. Occasionally, access to the Internet and the museum’s website is incorporated into the design, and increasingly visitors are allowed to leave some kind of imprint, trace, or feedback using the handheld computers (Hsi, 2002). However, on the whole, the design and research of mobile devices as interpretative tools in art museums is primarily concerned with content engagement or ‘delivery’, characterized by a focus on the benefits of the technologies.

In mobile technology design research in museums, concepts like context-awareness, technology adoption and social interaction are variables often linked to learning, either implicitly or explicitly (Tallon & Walker, 2008). This 'link' builds on museum learning research, which has documented the significance of museums as social spaces and the fundamental part that conversation and interaction play in meaning making activity in these contexts. Therefore, a shared concern regarding mobile devices in museums is that they may tend to isolate visitors and inhibit social interaction (vom Lehn & Heath, 2005). Falk and Dierking (2008) confirm this concern, concluding that most of the evaluation data suggests that the current generation of digital devices do inhibit group interaction. Similarly, other studies have found that mobile devices, particularly PDA-type devices with headphones, inhibit visitors' ability to coordinate their movements and information (Woodruff et al., 2001; Fisher, 2004; Hsi 2008).

At the same time, there is evidence to suggest that many of the problems with digital devices in museums may be overcome in improved designs that are in tune with museum learning research. Falk and Dierking (2008), for example, suggest that mobile digital technologies, when designed well, can enable visitors to customize their visit, extend the experience beyond the museum, and 'layer multi-sensory elements within the experience' with the use of digital media. Audio guides, which are the oldest mobile technologies in art museums and date back forty years or so, have also consistently shown to positively alter visitors' experiences (Proctor & Tellis, 2003). Smith et al (2004) report that 'visitors who use audio spend more time in front of the works, develop a stronger interest in the artist, and are more likely to report a positive emotional response to the works.'

In other words, iterative design processes hold promise for the use of mobile devices in museums as a learning resource, which Fleck et al (2002) groups according to five functions: providing information about exhibits; providing instructions for how to use exhibits; helping visitors communicate with each other; guiding through exhibits in a meaningful order; and recording information for later retrieval. In Falk & Dierking's recent study (2008) of mobile devices in a science centre it was this last function, the recording of information for later use, which was regarded as most useful. In the last part of our discussion of mobile technologies we examine more closely this aspect of 'user-generated content' from learning and design perspectives.

Designing for user-generated content

In a more recent project involving Kevin Walker called MyArtSpace, designers developed a number of technologically-supported activities for visitors using mobile devices to collaboratively create, edit and share trails through museums and other informal venues. The goal was to find the appropriate levels of structure, support, and focus for school visits as well as for casual visitors (Walker, 2007). This concern is based on recent research that shows that while visitors – especially teachers – consistently express a desire for the capability to 'tag' objects or exhibits in order to explore them further at a later time (Hsi 2008; Durbin 2002; Fleck et al 2002; Beer 1987), less than 15 to 20 percent of casual visitors typically visit the museum's web site to retrieve the data that they 'tagged' for perusal at a later date. Barry (2006) claims that this is even the case with personalized information such as biometric data or photos or video of the people themselves. She notes: "Research is therefore needed to understand what activities will be successful in providing the impetus for visitors to extend their journey into the virtual space. …Museums therefore need to anticipate ways in which visitors will create their own connections and deliver the tools and services that will facilitate this." This observation supports the need for exploring different activity contexts and how we can bridge between them, as discussed elsewhere in the paper.

The Exploratorium in San Francisco has done extensive research in this area, iteratively testing various technologies for bookmarking, stimulating discussions, and supporting research (Hsi 2008; Hsi and Fait 2005; Fleck 2002). A 1998 trial of wireless tablet PCs found that 'the areas where the science content overlapped with personal stories and anecdotes seemed to have the most interest for visitors' (Hsi 2008). Tablet PCs and PDAs were eventually abandoned for ever-smaller and less noticeable devices. RFID cards also proved effective in this regard, enabling visitors to 'tag' exhibits to explore subsequently on the web, capture photos of themselves using the exhibits (via fixed cameras at exhibits), and create personalized web pages. Museum staff identified the following activities for extending the museum visit: build, interact, share, collect, and remember a visit to a museum (Hsi 2008). A similar use of location and proximity-aware technologies is currently being explored by MUSTEL member Dagny Stuedahl in the ongoing project RENAME, which takes up the problem of opening for visitor interpretations of Norwegian cultural heritage (Stuedahl, (to be published in 2008)).

Designing for extended activity contexts

An interest in 'extending the museum visit' corresponds with the understanding that meaning making in museums enters into visitors' longer learning trajectories taking place outside the museum space (Ellenbogen, 2002). As early as 1984, Nelson Goodman (1984), reflecting on how understandings of art are developed over time through comparison and experience with other works, advocated "means of extending the museum's influence beyond the museum building into the more natural setting – of home and working places" (p. 59). Goodman points to the significance of photographs and postcards purchased at museum stores as the "commonest device" for enhancing and prolonging visitors' experiences in the museum.

Today, mobile phones are viewed as one of the most familiar and easily accessible technologies through which museum visitors can augment their educational experiences, both before, during, and after their visit to a museum. Recent research shows that visitors' familiarity with the technology is key to the successful design and implementation of mobile devices in museums (Gammon and Burch, 2008). Several researchers point to the quick adoption of mobile phones by teens in particular: "To them, the mobile phone is not a device for making phone calls, but rather, a 'lifeline' to the social network and an instrument for coordinating their everyday life." (Samis 2007). Another point has to do with personal ownership and control of the device. In a recent study by Hsi (2008), for example, visitors were reluctant to enter information into devices owned by the museum because they did not feel sure about how it might be used and who might have access to it.

The ongoing project Groups in Digital Dialogue (Gidder) with MUSTEL member Palmyre Pierroux builds on similar research that shows how teens draw on any number of personal, social, and mobile digital technologies and applications – SMS, mobile phones, LMS, cameras, iPods, Facebook, Wikipedia – inside and outside the classroom in order to accomplish their schoolwork (ref). Gidder is a study of high school students learning about modern and contemporary art history, in activities and technologies that move across classroom and museum contexts (Pierroux, 2007). The structure of the activity builds on the pre- and post-museum visit strategies commonly employed by museums in their work with schools, and the teacher, students, and curator are participating in its design.

The student task is to first find out about the works they will see on an upcoming visit to the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo. They will use digital resources made available by the curator and the teacher in the wiki and in the classroom, and select two or three works that they want to know more about. These works will form the point of departure for their 'collection,' and they will be asked to formulate several questions about the works related to their particular interests in advance of the museum visit. This classroom activity context has the wiki as a shared, collaboratively developed resource. Each group of two to three students will have their own space in the wiki space, but may also share their resources in the class blog, also a part of the wiki. As they gather resources – pictures, texts, audio – they will be prompted to tag their entries, which will appear in a tag cloud. The group's wiki space will serve as their presentation to the class at the end of the project. In this activity context, wiki technology is important because it corresponds with a sociocultural perspective on meaning making as an evolving, dialogical and collaborative process.

Figure 6
Figure 6: Preliminary Gidder wiki design.

On their museum field trip the following week the students will use mobile phones to access the wiki and tag and upload different kinds of entries to the shared blog. The design aim for the mobile phone application is to support a collaborative interpretive process across settings without disrupting the experience of a direct encounter with the artworks in the museum. Furthermore, although the project is not dependent on content provided by a museum, audio and video material developed by the curators for the gallery spaces is accessible to the students, and there are museum 'hosts' with whom the students may discuss the works and make audio recordings. When the students return to the wiki after the museum visit they may use material from the blog to develop their presentations.

Framing Reflections

The cases discussed above describe a diversity of settings, artifacts and technologies. At the same time, they share certain features, such as attempting to design technical applications or augmented artifacts that bridge two activity contexts  - one that is implicitly present within the museum artifact itself, and the other being the visitors' activity context(s) (including their interests and motivation). The notion of activity context is proposed in this paper as a useful concept for design approaches, developed from a sociocultural approach to museum learning. We have also identified some topics that may be useful in developing a frame for design approaches to technology-enhanced learning in museums.

In the discussion of hybrid technologies we identify a design approach to bridging activity contexts that uses ubiquitous ICTs embedded in artefacts, including replicas or reproductions, and exhibition displays. These technologies can be most effective in supporting visitors’ proximal engagement and hands-on interaction. The cases discussed are particularly concerned with providing visitors the possibility of interacting with and developing narratives about historical artefacts. We refer to Wertsch's (2002) sociocultural perspective on the dialogic function of narrative as a way of framing this design approach. Task design is also raised here as an emerging issue that we regard as under-theorized and somewhat neglected in both the design research literature and in analyses of museum learning. Vygotsky's concept of double stimulation, that is, the need for a 'match' between the task and the resources introduced into a setting to solve the task, is proposed as a way of framing approaches to bridging activity contexts.

In the discussion of mobile devices, we identify three emerging design approaches: content engagement, user-generated content, and designs for ICTs that move across activity contexts. Regarding the first, we note the connection between popular design approaches to developing content for mobile devices and a growing awareness of the fundamental role that social conduct, discourse, and interaction have for meaning making. An important issue emerging from recent design research on the use of ICTs to support user-generated content is the need to structure activities that are meaningful for visitors, what we call the need to bridge activity contexts. Here, sociocultural perspectives on motivation and identity warrant further investigation as means of framing this approach. Lastly, in designs for applications and activities utilizing mobile phones, a familiar and common device that visitors are bringing with them on their visits, we have identified the potential of extending meaning making within museums to learning trajectories and activity contexts outside museums.

The notion of bridging activity contexts implies that one of the key issues to be addressed in future research is a specific, detailed understanding of the activity contexts in question. Understandings of visitors’ activity contexts can benefit from findings of existing research, specifically in the field of visitor studies, but will also require additional empirical studies. Finally, these emerging issues and developments point to the need to continue to develop concepts and perspectives in museum learning research that may inform - and be informed by - design research and practice.


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Cite as:

Pierroux, P., et al., MUSTEL: Framing the Design of Technology-Enhanced Learning Activities for Museum Visitors , in International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting (ICHIM07): Proceedings, J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. 2007. Published October 24, 2007 at http://www.archimuse.com/ichim07/papers/pierroux/pierroux.html