Students and museum interactive

What do visitors really want?

I have a big idea, I have a problem and I need your help…

We are offering new and innovative opportunities for our visitors to engage and connect. But do they want technology? Do they want to participate? Do they want their voices heard? How do we know and how can we be sure our efforts are hitting the mark?

Presented by Gabrielle Edwards, National Museum of Australia




I’m Gabrielle Edwards, digital learning designer at the National Museum of Australia. So what visitors want. So as a digital learning designer, I design products, as we all design products, to engage and to help our visitors engage, connect, and learn. But what tools do we use to design this product, and, even when we have designed them, how do we know that we’re designing what visitors want? And how do we test that? And how do we demonstrate that? This is what I have to offer today.

First a story, and I make apologies. It is a bit of a shiny story, and I could just as easily have done what Amelia did. In fact, you’ve inspired me for next time. Maybe I’ll do a bloopers story about this. In 2010, at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, we designed a learning product for students. It was an interactive trail using RFID technology. And I’m just going to show you a short snippet of it now to give you an idea of what it involved.


-Pair up or get into small groups and they’re each given an orange key card, and that is their identifier. When they log into the programme, they are able to choose the amount of students in their group, and they’re also able to choose an image which represents them throughout programme. The software generates an individual trail for the students navigate their way throughout our exhibition. It moves them seamlessly around the room. Quite frankly, it’s organised chaos.

-Students can orient themselves within the exhibition and find their way around without needing a teacher or a presenter to direct them.


So the trail is part of a one hour programme where the students also interact with objects and have an immersive experience in one of the historical chambers. So the technology is only one aspect of the programme. But just as I was thinking about how we design products for visitors and how we assess how effective they are, and this was making me curious and a little bit uncomfortable about how we do this, a wonderful thing is this trail won an award in the States. It won silver for a Muse award from the American Alliance of Museums.

It was up against 200 applicants from across Europe and North America, Asia, and Australia. So a product that’s nearly five years old up against that field– it even came in ahead of the Smithsonian and the Met. So clearly something is working well here. And I got in touch with my co-collaborators to say what do you think it was, what do you think worked. And I’ll share you one of the strategies that we used with you today, and it’s not a definitive solution but it’s one idea I’ll share.

We developed user stories. Is anyone familiar with that concept? Yep. It’s developing a scenario from the point of view of potential user. So rather than looking at separate audience segments, we really narrowed it down to an individual user, an individual profile example.

Obviously a student point of view is essential because we’re developing product for students, but we looked at individual students and how they liked to work. And we know that this is typical of many students, so we built that into the system, but we also developed a profile of the student who likes to work alone so we could accommodate that. And we’ve developed several dozen user profiles for students.
And then we thought about different teacher profiles. Everything from the basic meeting curriculum, to a teacher who wants to opt in, to a teacher who wants to opt out, and we developed resources for teachers who want to develop their learning back in the classroom.

We had mentioned earlier that technology can be really disruptive, and this was certainly a very different mode of operation for our presenters. So we looked at this product from the presenters point of view, and every way we could support them to deliver a good programme for the students. We looked at curators who need to change over objects, who need objects to be showcased and engaged with in a way that keeps them safe, and we developed an online authoring system so that we could update our content as soon as changeovers were necessary.

And we looked at how students interacted with other visitors as well. And on and on it went. I mean, you think about the director’s point of view and straight away you’ll be targeting mission statements and ministerial requirements, who’s on the advisory council, sponsorship, partnership requirements. It’s just one tool for systematically and rigorously looking at the product you’re developing from the user perspective to give it the best shot of developing a design that the user, the visitor, is going to want.

But even when we’ve designed this product and we think it’s working, how can we really tell? What tools do we have to analyse it? As Linda was saying earlier, sometimes it’s as simple as having a conversation and that might be more valuable, really, at getting a real feel for a product than KPIs. Or walking past the exhibition and seeing up to 60 students and hearing the buzz of them as they interact with objects, and ideas, and to each other. So what tools do you use to design products? I’d love to hear about them. And what tools to use to assess their effectiveness?

Thank you.




MoAD Learning Trail – RFID Technology – YouTube video


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