Enhancing Museum Narratives with the QRator Project: a Tasmanian devil, a Platypus and a Dead Man in a Box.
Emergent mobile and web-based technologies offer museum professionals with new ways of engaging visitors with their collections. Museums are powerful narrative learning environments and mobile technology can enable visitors to experience the narratives in museum objects and galleries and integrate them with their own personal narratives and interpretations.
The QRator project explores how handheld mobile devices and new internet enabled interactive digital labels can create new models for public engagement, personal meaning making and the construction of narrative opportunities inside museum spaces. This project is located within the emerging technical and cultural phenomenon known as ‘The Internet of Things’. The term refers to the cultural shift that is anticipated as society moves to a ubiquitous form of computing in which every device is ‘on’, and every device is connected in some way to the Internet. The project is based around the project ‘Tales of Things’ (http://www.talesofthings.com) which has developed a ‘method for cataloguing physical objects online which could make museums and galleries a more interactive experience’ (Giles, 2010).
QRator takes the technology a step further bringing the opportunity to move the discussion of objects direct to the museum label and onto users’ mobile phone, allowing the creation of a sustainable model for two-way public interaction in museum spaces.
The QRator project leverages multiple iPads as digital labels installed in the UCL Grant Museum to provide a fully interactive experience where visitors contribute to discussions and leave comments about individual exhibits. Visitor comments are synchronised with the QRator website to allow visitors to contribute with the continuing discussion away from a museum setting. The QRator website is fully integrated into the museum experience allowing users to contribute to the discussion from outside the museum. The application provides each exhibit with a QR code, a matrix barcode that embeds information such as text or an URL within a graphic that users can read using mobile devices, which links the physical exhibit with associated conversations. When scanned these codes allow users to discover more information about an object and allows them to join the conversation from their own mobile device.
This research aims to actively to engage visitors in the creation of their own interpretations of museum collections. This paper presents a collaborative project between UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis and UCL Museums and Collections. It will present our initial findings from the first 6 months of installation and the next steps for adding multimedia experience to the QRator project. We will also discuss the technical challenges associated with creating the QRator application and linking into the already established framework of the ‘Tale of Things’ project: highlighting the challenges faced with installation and the outcomes of user centred development activities, as well as providing an insight into how utilising mobile technology can enhance visitor meaning making and narrative construction.