April 11-14, 2007
San Francisco, California

Remixing Exhibits: Constructing Participatory Narratives With On-Line Tools To Augment Museum Experiences

Matthew Fisher, Night Kitchen Interactive, and Beth A. Twiss-Garrity, The University of the Arts, USA


This paper highlights the power of Web 2.0 tools and services to transform museum visitors' experiences from passive viewing events into interactive, empowering and inspiring educational opportunities. On-line collaboration tools – such as those for blogging, podcasting and image sharing – are transforming museum visitors into active on-line contributors. When empowered to construct their own narratives in response to museum exhibits, visitors establish new connections to the exhibit content. Beyond expected content synthesis, these immersive activities stimulate learning in the affective domain. The participation in collaborative narrative activities engenders creative, independent analysis, promoting learner self-efficacy and a personal connection with exhibit subject matter that is unparalleled in more traditional and passive approaches. Both this kind of participatory storytelling and the educational impact of adopting a collaborative framework are presented through two case studies – The Franklin Remixed and The Art of Storytelling.

Engaged with in this immersive way, museum artifacts become rich sources of innovation and personal growth. Follow-up studies are indicated to examine the impact of creative "Remixes" on self-efficacy and innovative thinking skills.

Keywords: participatory storytelling, digital storytelling, interactive exhibit, Web 2.0, podcasting, blogging, museum remixes, museum education research, on-line collaboration, middle school education, innovative thinking ideas

The creative act is not performed by the artist alone… The onlookers make the picture. (Marcel Duchamp as quoted in Dalia Judovitz's Unpacking Duchamp: Art in Transit)

Author's Note

Growing up in Philadelphia, the historical cradle of the United States, this author and his peers developed a barely palpable yet inescapable disdain for America's founding fathers. Unaware of the origins of this resistance at the time, the author today can clearly see how the stilted, celebratory and altogether unrealistic narrative that historians, tour guides and teachers wove around such greats as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin made these icons seem all too unapproachable. What could middle school children, with all of their prepubescent insecurity, have in common with these mythic figures?

When The Franklin Remix project began – a project in which middle school students remixed artifacts and narratives from two museum exhibitions about Benjamin Franklin – we detected in the students this very same contempt toward arguably the most famous of the founding fathers. Freed from the constraints of the textbook narrative through the exposure to exhibits providing a rich and well-rounded view of Franklin, students immediately gravitated to the faults and cracks in this great man's character. While many focused on the fact that Franklin was a slave owner, others explored his prejudices against Germans. One student seemed preoccupied with his renown as a womanizer. Collectively, students proclaimed that Ben was no saint. Guidance from the teaching team combined with each student's own free exploration of these shortcomings made Franklin human in their eyes. The students were able to come through the experience with a new-found respect and affinity for Ben. Suddenly, students saw Franklin as a real, and still great, man. Equally important were students' abilities to express this new-found admiration in their own words, through a Web site that they had authored themselves. It is this transformative visitor experience that we as museum professionals aspire to facilitate.

Fig 1: A playful yet somewhat irreverent cartoon created by a middle school student early in the Franklin Remix project. The Philadelphia School, Philadelphia, PA, March, 2006

Fig 1: A playful yet somewhat irreverent cartoon created by a middle school student early in the Franklin Remix project. The Philadelphia School, Philadelphia, PA, March, 2006


Museums have shifted radically in recent years from having a focus on collections to being focused on their visitors. But some observers, such as philosopher and cultural critic Hilde S. Hein, would say that being visitor-centric is not enough. In Hein's 2006 book Public Art: Thinking Museums Differently, she argues effectively that a compelling model for museums of all kinds is that of a forum for public art. She characterizes public art not as the traditional concept of art staged in the public domain, but public art in a broader sense. While Hein devotes much of her book to defining public art, we will attempt to summarize her public art definition in a sentence: Hein's definition of public art in the museum context is the creation of new cultural objects and knowledge through a transformative process involving public engagement with museum collections and exhibits. The inclusion of the public in the creative process is key here, and it is this inclusion that sets Hein's definition apart from other visitor-centric ones. Many museums, particularly science centers and cultural heritage institutions, have employed both public interaction on the one hand, and narrative techniques on the other to successfully promote visitor-oriented experiences. While such methods provide key insights into the concept of museums as stages for public art, these methods do not strike at the heart of it, which is this: Public art, as Hein defines it, requires the public's involvement "by means of an aesthetic interaction… [A] reaction is crucial to the work's actualization." (2006, 49-50) This "aesthetic interaction" qualifies as an affective experience for the visitor. In this sense all museums, from art to science centers, cultural heritage to historical sites, are considered forums for the creation of public art.

Hein suggests that in creating forums for public art, Museum curators act as public artists, curating experiences that inspire and engage the public. If we accept Hein's model, then we must welcome visitors not only as the center of the experience, but also as active participants on the museal stage. Through our collaborations with visitors, we as museum professionals promote this interactive experience. While there are many forms for such collaborations, we discuss in this paper the concept of the exhibition remix – the remix as a technology-facilitated "constructivist" approach to the visitor experience, in which visitors are supported in creating their own original narrative drawing from the larger context of the exhibition narratives. Remixing both instructs and supports visitors in their quests to construct meaning and also inspires a personal and lasting connection with objects in museums.

In our current information age we are overwhelmed with media from every screen. Meaning and knowledge rarely are simply transferred: they are actively constructed – in fact, must be so-constructed in order to be learned. Modes of digitally constructing knowledge have become the norm in this 21st century. Searching, tagging, and sharing allow the greater population the opportunity to actively construct and organize knowledge. Micro-casting, collaborating and remixing information and culture have allowed us the constructivist means of understanding our complex world. The future relevance of museums is threatened if museums do not open themselves to these new modes of knowledge construction. If museums are agents for creating public art and cultural understanding and not simply repositories of authoritative collections, then we as museum professionals have a responsibility to share collections in ways that allow visitors to engage with objects more meaningfully, out of which a subjective, relevant and potentially inspirational experience is born.

How do we do this? One approach is to allow visitors to construct and present their own narratives using easily accessible technologies. This participatory approach brings museums into greater relevancy in two key ways. First, by encouraging individualized constructive experiences, we allow visitors to connect with collections in ways that are personally meaningful. Inviting visitors to become active learners promotes the museum and its mission, its collections and its curatorial aims. Second, by involving visitors in an actively constructive experience we both exercise and promote knowledge construction skills – the creative assimilation and re-contextualization of information into a coherent narrative framework that uniquely reflects a visitor's viewpoint. While the latter goal might not be as central to the missions of our museums, we suggest here that, "Who, if not museums, are best positioned to promote it?" We as museum professionals construct meaning out of vast bodies of knowledge and collections in order to present compelling narratives to our visitors. Shouldn't we pass along these same valuable storytelling skills to our visitors, skills that are so vital to understanding the world today?

We will explore two case studies that represent distinct yet similar approaches to remixing exhibits, using on-line tools to create new narratives, in an effort to understand this approach and determine its efficacy. The first example is The Franklin Remixed project, in which a class of middle school students remixed two museum exhibits about Benjamin Franklin into their own on-line exhibit. The second case study is The Art of Storytelling, a two-part project, in which visitor-crafted stories inspired by works of art are podcast in the museum. Following this first Art of Storytelling project phase, an interactive, kiosk-based activity allowed visitors to create their own visual narratives and record accompanying audio stories. While the latter of these two projects just began in the winter of 2007, the first was evaluated after its completion in the spring of 2006 and was found to promote learning in both the cognitive and affective domains.

We will briefly discuss how both of these projects share many parallels with the more general concept of student-created museums, an effective educational model in the museum education field. We also will point out features of these two projects that are distinctively different from other types of student-created museums, primarily in that they take advantage of on-line technologies. Web 2.0 technologies provide some key advantages for these projects, making them affordable, repeatable and universally accessible (inasmuch as the Internet is universal). In closing, we will discuss our observations about this constructivist type of approach, including some of the challenges and concerns that were raised, and discuss next steps and possible departure points for further research.

What is Remixing?

We define the remix as the process of understanding a body of knowledge by using technology to rearrange and recontextualize its elements in order to construct an original narrative. The origins of the concept of remixing dates back to the 1960s – to the early days of the Jamaican dub music of such obscure notables as King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry. According to John Von Seggern, ethnomusicologist at the University of California, Riverside, and author of the on-line exhibit "Postdigital Remix Culture and On-line Performance", remixing was an "art form of taking prerecorded rhythm tracks and rearranging them into a piece of music" (Seggern, 2007). While the roots of such musical forms can be found in the bardic tradition of the West African griots – oral storytellers whose influences continue to echo in hip-hop and popular music today – the key differentiator of the early dub remixes was the use of technology to facilitate this effect. Originally through mixing vinyl and tape loops – now largely done with purely digital technology – musicians have popularized an art form of recontextualizing and making meaning out of pre-existent, and often culturally alien, media. Though parallels of this approach exist in other art forms, from early 20th century montage in visual art to 19th century American quilting, Seggern suggests that "[the musical remix] is a major conceptual leap: making music on a meta-structural level, drawing together and making sense of a much larger body of information by threading a continuous narrative through it." It is this definition that will inform our discussion of remixing in the context of the museum experience, as we are specifically interested in museums that inspire visitors to understand a sophisticated body of knowledge through the digital construction of their own unique or collaborative narrative.

This remix or digitally constructivist approach – that of constructing our own narratives through surfing, searching, tagging and sharing – is becoming the dominant means by which we consume media, learn and communicate in an Internet-driven information age. We will not belabor the point that today's media overwhelm even the most culturally-absorbent person. And just when it seemed that the diverse and multitudinous corporate media sources found from TV to the Internet would engulf us, the recent rise of Web 2.0-facilitated micro-casting through blogs, podcasting, YouTube and more have exploded the number of our media outlets exponentially. But, as Seggern suggests, "We have developed the technology for all to access massive quantities of information, yet our tools for handling, organizing, managing, and understanding these mountains of information have not developed accordingly..." Those of us raised in a more prosaic media pasture of three networks and the local newspaper might simply choose to largely ignore the media glut, selecting a blog here or a podcast there to supplement our trusted media diet as if selecting a few exotic cheeses at the local fromagier. Many of us will not ignore the onslaught – certainly not members of the younger generation. This generation has embraced the media cornucopia in all of its channel-surfing, Google-driven, YouTube complexity. And more significant than accepting the quantity and complexity of new media is the shift from passive viewer or reader to active surfer, searcher, tagger. It is this active role that parallels that of the remixer – one who creates meaning by threading a narrative story – or journey – through complex information. Again, Seggern indicates that

The importance of this cannot be overstated: in an era of information overload, the art of remixing and sampling as practiced by hip-hop DJs and producers points to ways of working with information on higher levels of organization, pulling together the efforts of others into a multilayered multi-referential whole which is much more than the sum of its parts. (

Those of us involved in museum curation and education, as well as interactive design, understand this kind of construction as a major aspect of what we do professionally. But to extend this construction beyond the role of the media and exhibit creators to the role of the museum visitors themselves is to allow visitors to share in the same rich creative learning process that we professionals experience. Pete Rojas (2002) points out that to

the teens buying the latest all-remixes J.Lo album… or even hacking together their own bootleg, recombination – whether legal or not – doesn't feel wrong in the slightest. The difference now is that they have the tools to sample, reference, and remix, allowing them to finally ‘talk back' to pop culture in the way that seems most appropriate to them.

According to Siva Vaidhyanthan, cultural historian, media scholar and the author of Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity,

What we're seeing is the result of a democratization of creativity and the demystification of the process of authorship and creativity… It's about demolishing the myth that there has to be a special class of creators, and flattening out the creative curve so we can all contribute to our creative environment (in Rojas 2002).

While it is not the purpose of this paper to explore the political and cultural debate surrounding copyright, it is important to acknowledge that we cannot employ these participatory approaches without confronting and redefining our notion of intellectual property and the concept of fair use.

Remixing as Public Art

Artists, from musicians to filmmakers, bloggers to writers, often see themselves as curators and remixers of media and culture. Beyond the well-known realm of hip-hop and popular music, the remix concept pervades modern media. A few examples include the notorious 2001 remix of the Star Wars movie The Phantom Menace entitled The Phantom Edit, in which an unknown fan uploaded to the Internet a version from which some 20 minutes were deleted out of the film. Critics raved that it was better than the original, though LucasFilms swiftly shut down the distribution of this unauthorized bootleg. Another wonderful and openly authorized remix example is that of the Internet music project Redd Blood Cells ( In 2002, amid the rising success of superstar rock'n'rollers The White Stripes, the bass-player of the rock band Redd Cross created a truly unique remix. Finding the Stripe's hit album White Blood Cells – with its sparse soundscape of vocals, guitar and drums – anemic to his ear (if you'll forgive the term), he mixed in his own bass lines and uploaded the entire record as – you guessed it – Redd Blood Cells. With over 60,000 downloads and write-ups in The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly, it was an immediate remix hit. It is important to note that both of these works, unlike current commercial remixes, were freely-distributed forms of public art, with the Internet acting as the agent of their dissemination.

According to Hein, "The audience is no longer figured as passive onlooker but as participant, actively implicated in the constitution of the work of art" (1996, 3). Let's take this concept of the remix as public art one step further. In our current culture's fixation on the user/visitor/audience, in short, the public, as the essential voice of our times, the very fundamental authorship of media has begun to shift. For example, the ingeniously hyped 2006 B-movie Snakes on a Plane took off on the Internet before it was even released, leading to viral videos, fan Web sites and blogs. According to a New Yorker article by David Denby (2006),

Quickly, a giddy atmosphere developed on the Internet; the movie became the subject of songs, mock trailers, merchandising contests, Pennsylvania Dutch quilting bees. A typically profane Samuel L. Jackson line became an Internet joke even though it wasn't in the film. Well, it's in the film now. It was added when, in March, New Line, the production company, shot extra footage to juice up the thrills.

Through a spontaneous outpouring of public participation and with the whole-hearted support of New Line Films, the public shifted from audience to participant in the storytelling itself. Similar acts of audience participation have been long-rumored about such popular yet open-ended television shows as ABC's LOST, where staff writers are rumored to lurk and even post anonymously on fan sites in an effort to tie-up loose plot threads and determine the fates of less popular characters. While many television shows actively promote participation through real-time polling, e-mails and call-ins, at least one show has taken this one step further. The brand new Finnish TV show Accidental Lovers allows the audience to control the outcome of each episode via mobile phone text messages, according to an Engadget article by Cyrus Farivar. These high-visibility participatory narrative projects clearly are just the tip of the iceberg. The success of such projects in part can be attributed to the sense of ownership and identification that the public gains by being included in the process of shaping the narrative. It is just this sort of subjective identification on the part of the audience or visitor with artwork, collections and exhibits, that museums have a vested interest in engendering. When museum collections are demystified through the presentation of non-authoritative narratives, the visitor is invited to engage with objects on a personal, and potentially inspirational, level.

In the words of renowned musician/producer Brian Eno in an interview with Wired Magazine (quoted in Kelly 1995):

An artist is now a curator. An artist is now much more seen as a connector of things, a person who scans the enormous field of possible places for artistic attention, and says, What I am going to do is draw your attention to this sequence of things… This is why the curator, the editor, the compiler, and the anthologist have become such big figures. They are all people whose job it is to digest things, and to connect them together.

Likewise, we argue that a curator is reciprocally an artist – and a remix artist at that. Again, it is important to emphasize that this applies to all curators, not simply curators of arts collections. In Hein's words (2006, 76-77),

Today's public artists incline to replace answers with questions. They seek to advance debate and discussion. Their art is left open-ended and invites participation. Its orientation is toward process and change rather than material stability. Since its borders are indefinite, so is its authorship.

Museums as Forums for Public Art

In Public Art: Thinking Museums Differently, Hein builds on her earlier scholarship in an effort to redefine museums of all kinds as community-focused stewards of public art.

My approach to the museum in terms of a public rather than private form of art… is meant to underscore the quality that the museum itself now chooses to emphasize, namely, its concern with the public interest (2006, 139).

She discusses how "[Museums] are striving to reach new audiences, but that goal is coupled with the more fundamental objective to redefine themselves. ‘From being about something to being for somebody'." (2006, 125) Here, Hein is quoting Stephen Weil, former deputy director of the Smithsonian Institution's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and emeritus senior scholar at the Smithsonian Institution's Center for Museum Studies.

Hein acknowledges that museums are shifting from the collections-based, curator-narrated experience to a visitor-centric experience in which the visitor has a voice: "The monotonous voice of authority, long associated with didactic schooling and the conventional curator-interpreted museum, has given way to visitor-centered museums, with options that encourage the public to create meaning." (2006, 113) She also acknowledges the current trend of deemphasizing museum objects in favor of storytelling: "Decentering the revered object to foreground narrative instead, [museums] focused on techniques to tell and distribute stories, loudly, diversely, and dramatically." (2006, 119). She identifies the very real concern about how effective museums can be in this market arena when "they are no match against well-funded media or Disneyland." (2006, 119) Instead, Hein emphasizes what she sees as the primary power and responsibility of museums; that is, to inspire the transformative experience that visitors have when they are confronted with an object.

Hein refers to this transformative connection between visitor and object, inspiring in the visitor "the occasional and momentary feeling that things are right with the world", as "the museal gaze" (2006, 118). "[Museums'] much underestimated strength is not in their yarns but in the capacity to inspire the museal gaze…" (2006, 119). Clearly visitor-centric exhibition narratives are not enough, but rather museum experiences which promote visitors to construct their own narrative are required. In thus defining museums as forums for public art, she urges them beyond visitor-centricity toward a more vibrant environment in which transformative experiences can occur. She quotes Philip Rhys Adams in saying that the museum is "the controlling intermediary who sets the scene… then bids the actors take the stage and be their best artistic selves" (2006, 111). These actors, the objects, the curators and the visitors, create a much more dynamic experience. In this context, being our best artistic selves is seen as being creative, constructive participants in defining our narrative(s) through the curated museum experience.

One means of fostering these participatory museum experiences is the use of digital technologies. While she does not explicitly investigate on-line narrative techniques, Hein discusses the use of digital storytelling techniques that allow visitors to construct meaning virtually: "[T]he ‘virtual museum' can be an avenue to information exchange unformatted by the authoritative voice of the museum. ‘Virtual visitors'… can freely rearrange their downloaded treasure and shape it into ‘collections' of their own devising, however and in the company of whomever they like (2006, 117)."

The Educational Efficacy of Museum Remixes

Museum remix projects are constructivist in nature, allowing for the optimal scenario of transformative learning experiences. In looking to understand this formula for learning, it is helpful to refer to Linda D'Acquisto's 2006 book, Learning on Display: Student-Created Museums That Build Understanding. In this practical guide to student-created exhibits as educational devices, D'Acquisto discusses the advantages of such a transformative learning approach. First, she offers that "…when students were presented with a genuine problem, they were motivated by the task itself, not by the promise of getting good grades or obtaining other external rewards…" (2006, xi). This motivational factor is key in appreciating the success of such participatory learning activities. She goes on to describe the benefits to the affective domain, such as problem-solving and confidence in their creative skills. She says,

…students were driven by a sense of personal and shared responsibility for what they were creating. As students were building their museum, something special happened – they not only developed their knowledge of content but also gained a better understanding of their strengths and potential (2006, xii).

She reinforces this personal transformation by stating that "successful school museum projects… provide students with meaningful, powerful, and memorable learning experiences that demand intellectual and creative effort" (2006, xii).

D'Acquisto identifies the key learning areas addressed in student-created exhibits (2006, 6-7):


Students [will learn]

D'Acquisto is clear in differentiating museum exhibition projects from more typical science fairs and collaborative learning exercises. In doing so she describes the key differentiator: "School museum exhibits (like their professional counterparts) present displays that tell a coherent ‘story'" (2006, 12). It is student-led participatory storytelling that distinguishes a museum exhibition from other collaborative educational experiences.

The museum exhibition remix projects described herein have much in common with D'Acquisto's model of student-created museums – particularly in that they are participatory narratives created by the public (or a segment of the public: in her case, school children) for the public. In addition, these projects represent collaborations among the museum or subject matter experts, educators, and the public or visitors. There are some crucial differentiators among the projects described in this paper and classically-defined student-created museums, however. First, exhibition remixes are based on museum object collections and exhibit narratives, and as such reflect the expertise and authenticity of the collaborating museum curators. Second, the remix projects are facilitated using Internet-based, easily accessible tools and media. Such accessibility greatly enhances these tools' applicability in a museum education context. Rather than semester-long projects requiring exhaustive classroom time and resources, on-line remix projects can be completed in months, weeks – sometimes hours. The other key factor is that the product of on-line exhibition remix projects, unlike their location-based, school-specific counterparts, is universal. Anyone with Internet access can visit, interact with and even respond to these virtual exhibits.

Two Museum Remix Projects

Two projects completed in 2006 reflect the highly participatory "remix" approach to constructing narratives in response to museum exhibits and collections. The first, The Franklin Remixed project (referred to as "Remix,") was completed in the spring of 2006. In conjunction with this project we conducted an evaluation of its educational efficacy, the results of which appear below. The second project, The Art of Storytelling project (referred to as "Storytelling,") launched in December of 2006, and has not yet been evaluated.

Fig 2: Middle school student completing the Art of Storytelling kiosk exercise in which she will write and record the voiceover for her own story. Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE, December, 2006

Fig 2: Middle school student completing the Art of Storytelling kiosk exercise in which she will write and record the voiceover for her own story. Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE, December, 2006

Both projects utilize Web 2.0 tools to support visitor-authored original narratives inspired by objects in the museums. In the case of Remix, students authored their own exhibition themes, skits and label copy. In Storytelling, visitors wrote their own short stories inspired by works of art – stories which were then recorded and podcast in the gallery space, allowing others to experience the visitors' own non-authoritative, original narratives. Both projects allow visitors to search, select and remix museum objects in their own way. In Remix, students selected and wrote about artifacts that supported their chosen themes, and then recontextualized artifacts through image-editing tools to create mock film posters and cartoons. In Storytelling, visitors compose images of subjects, backgrounds and props drawn from museum artwork, to which they then narrate their own audio stories. The projects differ in that the Remix project took place largely in the classroom, and as such was a more comprehensive educational exercise. We found this format was more appropriate for producing a transformative experience around complex and nuanced cultural heritage subject matter. The Storytelling project occurs primarily in the gallery space, and as such acts as an inspirational springboard for narrative musings. We felt this format was more likely to inspire moments such as those described by Hein in her definition of "the museal gaze". In the words of Delaware Art Museum Executive Director Danielle Rice in her recent article in the Delaware News Journal, "What makes art really sparkle is the creative energy that we as viewers bring to it when we really open ourselves up to the experience."

Fig 3: After arranging elements drawn from museum works into their own original picture, visitors are prompted to write and record their own story in the final screen of the Art of Storytelling kiosk. Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE, December, 2006

Fig 3: After arranging elements drawn from museum works into their own original picture, visitors are prompted to write and record their own story in the final screen of the Art of Storytelling kiosk. Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE, December, 2006

A Closer Look: The Franklin Remixed

In 2005, four Philadelphia institutions – The Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, The Rosenbach Museum and Library, The University of the Arts, and Night Kitchen Interactive – joined together to design an inventive educational program using two Franklin-based exhibitions – the Tercentenary's Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World and the Rosenbach's Poor Richards: Anatomy of an Almanac. We created an educational project using collaborative multimedia tools to deepen students' understanding of Benjamin Franklin and his shaping of the American republic and character, with the ultimate goal of inspiring the students to admire and adopt some of Franklin's civic-mindedness.

Fig 4: Three students scripting their skit about Franklin’s use of kissing lovers to demonstrate electricity. The Philadelphia School, Philadelphia, PA, March, 2006

Fig 4: Three students scripting their skit about Franklin's use of kissing lovers to demonstrate electricity. The Philadelphia School, Philadelphia, PA, March, 2006

The Franklin Remixed project ( was an on-line exhibit designed "for Middle School Students by Middle School Students", in which students constructed a collaborative narrative exhibit in their own voice. Through the guided use of blogging (, podcasting ( and image sharing ( tools in a classroom environment, students conceived their exhibit's "big idea," established interpretative themes, and composed "label copy" for selected artifacts. They published images, produced audio narratives and dramatic skits, and composed personal reflection pages.

Fig. 5: Parallel to the group exhibit students curated their own page reflecting their unique interests. This student found Franklin’s philandering to be an excellent springboard for parody. The Philadelphia School, Philadelphia, PA, March, 2006.

Fig. 5: Parallel to the group exhibit students curated their own page reflecting their unique interests. This student found Franklin's philandering to be an excellent springboard for parody. The Philadelphia School, Philadelphia, PA, March, 2006.

Both direct and indirect measures, along with anecdotal evidence, strongly suggest that the participatory Franklin Remixed project experiences contribute to the development of the learner's creativity and self-efficacy. Each learner's purposeful adaptation of Franklin artifacts draws upon creative capabilities to redeploy (and thus revitalize) the cultural meanings of the material. When engaged with in this way, museum artifacts become rich sources of innovation and personal growth. This kind of growth can become the focus of follow-up studies regarding the ways in which creative ‘Remixes' promote among middle school students the development of self-efficacy and the skills associated with innovative thinking.

The Franklin Remixed Project Evaluation

Our goals for the evaluation component of the Franklin Remixed project were to produce a model museum education program for cross-disciplinary learning that takes into account multiple intelligences and a variety of learning styles. We sought to provide a group of middle school students with a creative and innovative way to learn about Benjamin Franklin and his role in early American history, and to foster critical and interpretive skills for students to better communicate the essence of Benjamin Franklin. We also thought that by introducing students to the basic concepts of developing a museum exhibition and the fundamental principles of on-line exhibition design through the use of on-line communication tools, they could assimilate and present their ideas in an organized, logical and creative manner using interactive tools to communicate and illustrate a collaborative narrative about Franklin.

Research was conducted at a series of checkpoints to determine base knowledge, to assess learning over time, and to determine the final impact of the exhibition and the Mini-course on student learning. The evaluation project tested differences and similarities between the control group (75 middle school students who did not take the Mini-course) and the 15 students who did.

Results indicate that intensive interdisciplinary and multi-media activities supplementing field trip experiences constitute a successful method for enhancing content acquisition and affective change in middle school students.

Control Group Results

In evaluating the program against six content goals, it is clear that all of The Philadelphia School students began with more previous content knowledge than one might expect of middle school students. Nonetheless, the visits to the two exhibitions were instrumental in knowledge procurement for all students in four of the goals: Franklin's scientific, writing, civic, and political achievements. Also, the students' perception of Franklin as a smart and influential person in American history was increased by the field trip experiences. Students began to see how Franklin may have influenced their own lives, especially through his inventions, but few were moved to see that they themselves could emulate Franklin's diplomacy, inventiveness, or intellectual curiosity. Those aspects of the exhibits that tried to make these abstract points, in general, were not well understood, and three months after the field trips, while specific content gains were maintained, there were no long-term affective gains for the control group.

Experimental Group Results

Mini-course students, on the other hand, not only maintained their content knowledge, but some of them also became inspired by Franklin's actions and could begin to identify personally with his traits. At the end of the project, they indicated they did not think they learned major new facts about Franklin, but they clearly now understood nuances of and context for his life. While at the beginning of the project, students had wanted to explore what they identified as the less flattering aspects of Franklin's actions and views, by the project's end, the Mini-course students said that they now saw how Franklin had been a product of his times and that he was able to grow and change his opinion over his lifetime. This capacity for personal transformation was perhaps the most inspiring quality that students saw in Franklin, in contrast to the anticipated goals of inspiring civic activism and diplomatic qualities.

In addition to enhancing knowledge and inspiring Franklin-like qualities, Mini-course students saw positive results in understanding how to glean cultural information from objects, how to create an exhibit, and how to use Web 2.0 technology. The blending of subject matter learning with the mastering of new communication tools (so that the information could be shared with other students) deepened these middle school students' understanding of the subject and engendered a deep pride in their own teaching abilities. While the course was by no means perfect, and the students provided insightful comments on how to improve it, the overall project is seen as a success by the students, teachers, and adult facilitators.

Evaluation Summary

From the evaluation it is clear that while project participation enhanced knowledge of substantive Franklin-related content, the project's main contributions consisted of

  1. helping students form a more nuanced understanding of Franklin,
  2. fostering a greater sense of personal identification with Franklin;
  3. learning about object study and exhibition process, and
  4. managing new technology as a tool for learning subject matter.

The evaluation clearly indicated that participatory narrative exercises supplementing exhibition field trip experiences constitute a successful method for enhancing content acquisition and affective change in middle school students. Evaluation participants not only maintained content knowledge, but also became inspired by Franklin's actions and identified personally with his traits. In addition, these students understood how to glean cultural information from objects, how to create an exhibition narrative, and how to use Web 2.0 technology to share their findings with the world. The blending of subject matter learning with mastering new communication tools for sharing the information deepened their understanding of the subject and engendered a deep pride in their teaching abilities.


This paper explored the concept of museum remixes in the context of understanding museums as forums for public art. We have defined the concept of the remix as using technology to recontextualize a body of knowledge and create an authentic, unique narrative. We briefly explored the origins of the remix and its evolution from a musical form to a more general concept of participatory, constructivist art form. In hopes of inspiring further action, we have discussed the viability of the remix as a form of public art, and argued that such a form of public art is appropriate for the museum setting. We have reinforced the educational efficacy of this participatory approach in the greater context of museum education and constructivist learning techniques through two case studies, The Franklin Remixed and The Art of Storytelling projects.

Evaluation data from The Franklin Remixed project shows the efficacy of the remix in enhancing subject matter acquisition and affective change in learners. Further research is required into the educational efficacy of the Art of Storytelling project, as well as gaining a better understanding of the implications of democratizing the museal voice and experience while maintaining the high standards and rich tradition of the museum community.


The authors would like to thank Dana Devon, formerly of the Franklin Tercentenary, Bill Adair of The Rosenbach Museum and Library, Margaux DelCollo, Anna Cataldo and Whitney Jeffers of the University of the Arts, and Emily Barry Marston and Rick Jacobsen of the Philadelphia School. We would also like to thank Danielle Rice, Anne Corso and Courtney Waring of the Delaware Art Museum, and Susan Hendrich and Juan Leon of Night Kitchen Interactive.


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Cite as:

Fisher, M. and B.A. Twiss-Garrity, "Remixing Exhibits: Constructing Participatory Narratives With On-Line Tools To Augment Museum Experiences", in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2007 Consulted

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