Digital Partnership Event Summary

By Sarah Davenport, on 5 February 2013

Event date: 31 January 2013

Slides from the presentations are available here:

John Hindmarch’s Presentation

Jack Ashby’s Presentation

Matthew Cock’s Presentation

Jane MacDonald’s Presentation

Digital innovation and how museums and universities can partner to achieve this was the focus of this workshop. John Hindmarch, a PhD student at UCLDH, started the afternoon with his experience with the scanning of the recently decommissioned Shipping Gallery at the Science Museum. With museums being finite in display capacity, it is impossible to have every artefact on display forever. This raises the question about how we can preserve not only an exhibition, but also an experience? The Shipping Gallery was the largest gallery in the museum and largely unchanged since 1950’s. Locked in the Science Museum for five nights, Scanlabs and John took 275 individual scans equaling 265 GB of data! Even the 7-minute video we were shown used only 10% of the data and took 48 hours to render. There are definite accessibility benefits to digitizing decommissioned spaces, but there are obvious setbacks such as copyright issues of the boats that were on display and the high cost of such a project.

Giving a museum professionals side of view on a digital project, Jack Ashby, the manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology, spoke about QRator. Using radical trust of visitors, QRator invites visitors to share their comments to provoking questions about social and ethical issues related to natural history. He spoke about the importance of the symbiotic relationship between museums and universities. Museums want to engage visitors further and universities need a public space to fulfill their public engagement agenda. Next up was Matthew Cock, Head of Web, speaking about the British Museums Collection Online and how university research helped understand the viewership and use of the site. Using 30-question survey, UCLDH researchers teamed with the British Museum culminated over 2,657 respondents. The results helped drive a user-centered redesign incorporating direct feedback from the survey of the site. Limitations, such as self-selectiveness and length of the survey, were an issue. One-question, targeted surveys help to increase responses by decreasing length. Paired with Google Analytics to trigger questions based upon visitor page interactions, British Museum was able to get the responses they needed but without the length of the previous survey.

Lastly, Jane MacDonald, Project Administrator at Edinburgh College of Art of Tales of Things, spoke about the innovative site that used QR codes and RFID to link to the ‘stories’ of objects and what Jane referred to as a capacity to extend the ‘social history’ of that object. Partnered with university researchers, the Tales of Things sought to capture and share social experiences surrounding things from a shoe to a sewing machine using ‘ghost objects’ in museums. However powerful an object can be for eliciting stories, the project faced the obstacles of QR codes and interaction outside the museum. A new project she is working on is an application attaching information about attractions to taxi number plates.

An open discussion between the audience and speakers sparked conversation about how practical expensive technology could be in a museum setting. Yes, scanning an entire gallery is extremely expensive and time/resource consuming, but is it worth it? Arguably it increases accessibility and the ability to for virtual visitors to experience an exhibition from anywhere. Another issue brought up is how do we compare a virtual experience to actually visiting. For example, how can we measure user interaction with a virtual object? Furthermore, how can museums and universities work together to achieve a standard for measuring user interaction for comparison virtually and in real-life? Can you even compare them? These questions and many more are ones that universities and museums will have to consider when thinking about how to achieve digital innovation.

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