Web Based Tangible User Interfaces for an Online Constructivist Museum: The God Collector Experiment (DEMO)

Javier Pereda, UK

The rise of the Web has facilitated the distribution of information. Museums are charged with a similar responsibility, and as such, have attempted to develop a presence on the Web. However, they have encountered issues when engaging with audiences online. Currently, many museums have digitised and structured material from their collections and are in a need of innovative ways to approach and explore this data.  Also popular in museums, is the use of constructivist approaches to improve the experiences of their audiences. Whilst this approach has proven to enhance engagement and learning, in other areas, tangible user interfaces (TUIs) have been implemented and have used a constructivist approach to carry out alternative methods of learning. TUIs distributed across the Web can provide an environment for online museum users where appropriation of knowledge may be promoted through self-directed activities and the production of personalised narratives. This research project explores how far TUIs can enhance the engagement and learning in online museums by means of a tangible exploratory system.

This research contributes to a key issue within the cultural heritage sector; that of the use of the Web to engage audiences with collections held within museums is not being implemented to its full potential.  Since the Web went public, museums have attempted to have a ‘presence’ online. In most instances, this takes the form of a website, with pages describing the services that the museum offers, along with some details about the collection. One of the biggest challenges that museums face is to engage visitors meaningfully in the content in a way which fulfils the major aims for the organisation: namely to facilitate a learning experience for audiences.  This paper argues that online experiences of museums should allow for a similar level of engagement as experiences which are hosted within the building of the museum itself.

Museums are in need of a solution to this problem, and this research puts forward a way to facilitate a tangible experience with the museum collection, but away from the museum, through the use of learning experiences that are delivered simultaneously online and away from the museum itself; in the home for instance. Through an interdisciplinary approach synthesising human computer interaction methods, and theoretical approaches from Education and Web Science, this project aims to provide a new methodology whereby the use of online distributed TUIs with their basis in constructivist learning theory, can result in museums engaging in a meaningful way with their audiences online as well as in the real world.

This methodology has been developed through an experimental approach to TUI design and implementation, using three different interfaces to a museum collection, with a comparative study to test the extent to which each approach contributes to audience learning.