Animating Scientific Collections

Mobile presents a significant opportunity for museums to offer engaging content to audiences in a form and depth not always possible via traditional means. However, mobile also represents a challenge: they can be notoriously ‘heads down’, drawing the user into their device, rather than engaging them with the authentic, ‘real’ collections. With the Hidden Museum research project Oxford University Museums set out to understand how best to use mobile to walk the line between engagement and distraction. We wanted to encourage our visitors to use their personal screen not to look in, but look more closely at their surroundings and gain a deeper understanding of the collections. The culmination of this project is ‘Pocket Curator’, an app for the Museum of the History of Science. This museum is home to complex displays of scientific instruments which can often be difficult for visitors to engage with: scientific instruments are designed to ‘do’ things, and that dynamic can be difficult to communicate through static displays. Our aim was to bridge this gap by allowing the user to try the instruments, replicating their use with their mobile device as proxy. We built a series of instrument interactives: the user can simulate the use of a sextant to determine their latitude; experiment with their own digital lodestone; recreate Marconi’s wireless demonstration of 1896; and convert between 12-hour and decimal time (referencing an unusual ‘Revolutionary’ clock). Integral to all these interactives was a focus on haptics: wherever possible the user is not just touching buttons on a screen, but turning and tilting their device, in the same way they would manipulate the mechanisms of the scientific instruments. In this case study I will showcase highlights from the app, talk a bit about the research and development process, and share insights from our extensive evaluation. Speaker(s) Session Leader : Jessica Suess, Digital Partnership Manager, Oxford University Museums MCN 2016 Presenting Sponsor: Piction New Orleans, LA