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Integrating mobile technologies into exhibit facilitation

On Sunday, Beyond Cell Phone Tours: Exhibit Facilitation with Mobile Devices reviewed interim results, including lessons learned, of 21-Tech, a three-year project in which institutions are using free or low-cost mobile apps in combination with hands-on exhibits as a way to extend and deepen visitor engagement. The project, largely funded by an IMLS 21st Century Museum Professionals award, is led by Children’s Museum of Houston in partnership with OMSI, Sciencenter, New York Hall of Science, and Lawrence Hall of Science.

21-Tech’s goal is to lengthen, deepen, and extend learning with personal mobile technologies (smartphones and tablets). The project uses only existing exhibits and mobile applications—no new content is being developed. Facilitation using mobile application was meant to meet visitor interests and advance hands-on activities, not replace them. If an application was too engaging and drew people away from a physical exhibit, its use was discontinued. A list of applications and hardware recommended by the project partners can be found here.

Panelists shared their experiences integrating mobile technologies into facilitation, including the challenges of training floor staff to use the devices in an effective way. The project website has a Gallery Facilitation and Training section that includes lessons learned and best practices.

Evaluation is ongoing, and Cecilia Garibay, Garibay Group, was able to share some early findings. The project has found that connections between mobile apps and the exhibits they are supplementing have to be tight for facilitation that switches between mobile technology and physical components to be seamless. Hardware and software must be easy to use. An application should not be so compelling that it takes away from activity on the floor, and ones that engage adults work best for engaging whole groups. Overall, the groups studied were highly engaged with the physical exhibit, the mobile apps, and the facilitator. A small percentage of visitors were unengaged, and that appeared to be related to group size. In larger groups of visitors, one person was more likely to step back.

For more information, visit 21-tech.org.