Co-creating museum exhibits for nomophobics
Ontario Science Centre
Ontario Science Centre's Cisco Science Fellow for Innovative Learning Technologies
Cisco Canada, Education, Innovation
The author, Sabrina Greupner, is the Ontario Science Centre's Cisco Science Fellow for Innovative Learning Technologies. This is Cisco's first museum-based fellowship.
A young Ontario Science Centre visitor explores the Bitmorph experience, a co-creation with students and faculty from Ryerson University's New Media program. Credit: Lucas Teng/Ryerson University
Have you ever suffered from "nomophobia"? I have. And it's not pretty.
Defined as "anxiety due to the fear of not having access to one's mobile phone", nomophobia can be brought on by loss, theft, a dead battery, or most commonly, forgetting it at home.
It can result in you calling a close relative and begging them to meet you half way to your place of work so a hand-off can take place in a Starbucks parking lot.
A Bitmorph terminal is readied for the exhibit floor by Science Centre staffer Anthony Sword.
The fact that we even have a word for this kind of thing speaks to the ways in which modern technology has infiltrated our lives and changed how we interact with the world and each other — a reality not lost on the modern museum. We've been struggling with how to engage 21st century visitors, many of whom no longer make any clear distinction between digital and physical experiences, thanks to the omnipresent tech in their pockets.
To find out what works and what doesn't, the Ontario Science Centre has embarked on a series of digital pilots. We want to try as many things as possible, as quickly as possible, to explore how science and digital tech can happily co-exist on our exhibit floor, while serving our mission. And we've discovered that one of the most interesting and efficient ways of doing this is through partnerships.
Our most recent experiment is called "Bitmorph" — an interactive experience co-created with students and staff from Ryerson University's New Media program. Grab a card, scan its unique code at one of five terminals throughout the museum, and watch a charmingly retro 8-bit character come to life in a 3D display. Use the same card at the other terminals and watch your character grow and evolve with each new scan. You can then use your phone or desktop to share your character through social media.
Ryerson students meet with Science Centre fabrication staff to learn about best practices in kiosk design.
It's a win-win for everyone involved. The design, development and fabrication of the exhibit were part of the students' course work, providing them with valuable real-world experience. "Our students get to see how a place like the Science Centre operates behind the scenes, and they get to work on a project that goes beyond the scope of what they would normally be able to do in one of their classes," added David Bouchard, the Ryerson New Media prof who taught the course.
For the Ontario Science Centre, it means an exciting and engaging new experience for visitors, and the opportunity to gather more data about the ways in which museum-goers interact with technology. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. In its four-week run on the floor, analytic software logged 110,046 scans with 27551 characters in the database. Science Centre staff completed dozens of one-on-one interviews to gauge user opinions and evaluate effectiveness.
Ontario Science Centre member families helped us test early prototypes.
We learned that kids like to collect tangible objects, often helping themselves to five or six cards at a time to get different characters (and by the way, we had Bitmorph on our exhibit floor a week before Pokémon hit…just sayin'). We learned that many cards were discarded and were a pain to clean up every day. We learned that Raspberry Pi 3s are fantastic pieces of flexible tech, but don't like the abrupt power-downs our venue management system inflicted. We learned that cool, retro sound effects really amp the fun factor.
But most of all, we were reminded that when a whole bunch a smart, talented and enthusiastic people create together, some pretty cool stuff can happen. We watched as families happily raced around the building, growing their "Bitmorphs". Students and staff took part in an excellent learning experience. And we've taken another step in forging the museum of the 21st century.