Putting Virtual Museum Artefacts in the Hands – Engaging Exploration and Collaborative Discussion using Tablet Interfaces

Steven Neale, University of Tasmania, Australia

The physical handling and exploration of museum artefacts is a fantastic way of engaging people in participatory, “object-based” learning experiences that are able to connect people across time and culture. However, access to museum artefacts for collaborative exploration discussion is often limited. This might be due to the fragility of artefacts themselves, their display constraints, or in remote collaborative contexts simply due to the impossibility of physical artefacts being in more than one place at any given moment.

This limited access is problematic for collaborators in a variety of museum contexts, affecting visitors, educators, curators and researchers. Digital representations and images of artefacts are a potential solution, but have typically lacked the engaging, participatory qualities of “flesh and blood” objects. Consider the case of a museum deciding whether to purchase an artefact from an overseas institution – with time, money, and possibly reputation at stake, it would be hugely advantageous to be able to better understand the physical qualities of the artefact before committing to a decision.

Our paper explores an alternative solution, arguing that hands-on, manual interaction with 3D, virtual representations of museum artefacts using a tablet interface engages collaborators in an active, participatory experience that is more akin to that of handling a physical museum artefact. Drawing on themes such as reality-based interaction principles, 3D annotation, mutual focus and understanding during collaboration and meaningfully engaging activity, we discuss how this is specifically beneficial to collaborators across a range of museum learning contexts and scenarios, bringing previously inaccessible artefacts to life for visitors, educators, curators and researchers alike.

The proposed paper and presentation draw on a number of publications and resources across the fields of human-computer interaction, collaboration, engagement theory and museum studies, including (but not limited to):

Benyon, D. (2010). Designing Interactive Systems - A Comprehensive Guide to HCI and Interaction Design. Harlow, Pearson.
Boyes, A. and C. Cousens (2012). In the Hand - The Effect of Museum Handling Sessions on Student Learning. Networks. University of Brighton, Art Design Media Higher Education Academy Subject Centre.
Chatterjee, H. J. (2007). Staying Essential: Articulating the Value of Object-Based Learning. Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on University Museums and Collections. Vienna, Austria, ICOM.
Chatterjee, H. J. (2010). "Object-Based Learning in Higher Education: The Pedagogical Power of Museums." University Museums and Collections Journal 3: 179-182
Falk, J. H. and L. D. Dierking (2000). Learning from Museums: Visitor Experiences and the Making of Meaning. Walnut Creek, CA, Altamira.
Hindmarsh, J., M. Fraser, et al. (2000). "Object-Focused Interaction in Collaborative Virtual Environments." ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction 7(4): 477-509.
Hindmarsh, J. and C. Heath (2000). "Sharing the Tools of the Trade - The Interactional Constitution of Workplace Objects." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 29(5): 523-562.
Jacob, R. J. K., A. Girouard, et al. (2008). Reality-Based Interaction: A Framework for Post-WIMP Interfaces. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Florence, Italy, ACM: 201-210.
Kearsley, G. and B. Shneiderman (1998). "Engagement Theory: A Framework for Technology-Based Teaching and Learning." Educational Technology 38(5): 20-23.
Mastoris, S. (n.d.). "Learning Through Objects." Retrieved 5th October, 2012, from http://www.gem.org.uk/res/advice/ball/res_lto.php.
Pye, E. (2007). The Power of Touch. The Power of Touch: Handling Objects in Museum and Heritage Contexts. E. Pye. Walnut Creek, CA, Left Coast Press.