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National Museum of the American Indian: Infinity of Nations iPod Tour

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S: Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

BC: The End

FC: Heather Barto Educational Programming for Museum Audiences April 2, 2012 | National Museum of the American Indian: Infinity of Nations | Courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian - “Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian

1: The Exhibit Infinity of Nations, an exhibition at the George Gustav Heye Center in New York, brings together over 13,000 years of history and 700 objects from North, Central and South America into a comprehensive look at American Indian culture before Europeans arrived. The museum collaborated with over forty Native historians to interpret and create an exhibition that represents the museum’s expansive collection of artifacts and illustrates the importance of American Indian objects and culture across the Americas. Each region is highlighted in the exhibition with objects, stories or photographs that are representative of the Native peoples. Throughout the exhibition are ten key artifacts that were chosen to represent important cultural, historic and aesthetic significance and that tell the story of how the Americas were connected before Europeans arrived. | One of two entrances to the exhibition.Photo credits: Heather Barto

2: Problem: How to engage children and families with the Infinity of Nations exhibition and its content. Solution: Create a mobile guide that children and families can use throughout the exhibition. | Left: Welcome screen to exhibition guide. Right: Children using mobile guide. Photos courtesy of Smithsonian Institution.

3: This mobile guide was created for families and children aged 8-12. The guides' content focuses on similar, but simpler concepts from the adult version. The informal learning tool was created for the museum on iPod touch mobile devices. The iPods were available for free at the information desk. They were user friendly and made each user feel like they were a part of the adventure. The creators of this guide really thought about the needs of its audience, “The tools we use and the goals are universal in that we want to engage the visitor and provide a hook so they can find a way in” (NMAI Blog, March 2011). The target audience was chosen because they were old enough to understand its concepts, but not too old to need the more complex messages of the adult guide. The museum did a good job “balancing the desire to create an aesthetic, contemplative mood in the galleries, the need for information about works of art without overwhelming visitors, and the importance of creating a comfortable environment” (Schneider, 2008, p. 279). It was a good balance of questions, objects, stories and making the unfamiliar, familiar. I was able to relate to the objects through things I already knew. | The Hand, The Eye and The Compass, A Family Guide

4: All of the content was custom for this guide. The touch screen tour incorporated images, objects, photographs, stories, and audio clips in a scavenger hunt format. The home screen is a visual layout of the galleries with each region labeled geographically. There are key objects that each user needs to find in each region and are categorized into three points of view: an artist (a hand icon), a reporter (an eye icon), and a traveler (a compass icon). | Screen shots of the Hand, the Eye and the Compass.

5: The instructions let children know that there are several ways to look at objects and think about them. This helps parents and educators “strengthen students’ visual literacy and critical thinking skills and provide a deeper, richer understanding of cultural history” (Wetterlund, 2008, p. 117), an important goal for the museum as well. I thought this was an excellent way to have children feel like they were a part of the exhibition and in control of their learning through choices. It invites them to think in new ways and also includes audio of other children's reactions to the exhibition to make the user feel like they are a part of the group.

6: Each region was categorized by one of the three icons, “This allows kids to decide what they want to do and where they want to go. Choices give users the very clear message that there is always more than one way to look at objects (NMAI Blog). Children are challenged to find objects, interact with adults and learn more about the objects. This family guide was a fun way to explore the exhibition and experience it in a new way while meeting the goals of the museum. | Screen shot of exhibition floorplan and guide interactive. | Photograph used for deeper exploration of mask in collection with narration.

7: Examples of scavenger hunt ("Where is it?" and "I found it" with result after "finding" object.

8: Analysis and Evaluation | There were several things that were lacking despite the clever content and interactives. There was no way to choose any other item in the exhibition other than what was pre-programmed. No zoom options were available or links provided for more information. Its content was limited to the ten objects, but maybe that is all that children ages 8-12 have patience for. Adults would be able to share the information from their more in-depth tour with children and teach them about the other objects in the collections. Marketing also seemed lacking for this educational program. I didn’t notice anyone else using the iPods in the gallery, but did observe several visitors looking at my iPod and then asking security guards where to get one. The information desk didn’t offer me the tour as a program when I asked, even after asking about the iPod tours. Perhaps the tour is offered more to parents and families who inquire or mentioned during family activities. There were no signs, symbols or markers within the exhibit that talked about the tour, and the information desk only had a small sign asking for identification to check out an iPod. I also didn’t see any formal evaluation plans other than comments left in iTunes or on blogs. This could be a helpful way for the museum to grow their family programs and ensure that the messaging is effective and the tour is what families need. | Final screen of the tour. Narrator encourages visitor to think about new information and share with others. Reinforces hand, eye and compass.

9: Overall, The Hand, The Eye and The Compass, A Family Guide was an excellent informal educational program for children and families. It would be well received by Falk’s Facilitators seeking educational family programming and Explorers looking for more in depth information (1992). It provides parents and children the opportunity for engagement through dialogue and sharing activities. It gives parents enough information to feel knowledgeable and children enough new information to build on prior knowledge and create new meaningful experiences. The graphics, images, sounds and content worked well in a collaborative way to convey the messages of the exhibition in a simple and profound way.

10: Problem: How to make the Infinity of Nations exhibition accessible to families and children that are not able to visit the museum. Solution: Create The Hand, The Eye and The Compass, A Family Guide as an iTunes app and iPod guided tour and make available for download free of charge. | Posted on the Smithsonian Institution’s (SI) Commons are their Web and New Media Strategies. SI is proactively making their content and programs available through the web and new media platforms to reach a larger audience and support their mission. This family tour meets at least three of the eight strategic goals outlined by the Smithsonian Institute:

11: New Media and Mobile Technology helps SI reach out to its audiences and engage with them despite location or accessibility issues. | Goal 3.Learning: Facilitate dialogue in a global community of learners Goal 4.Audience: Attract larger audiences and engage them more deeply in long-term relationships Goal 6.Technology: Develop a platform for participation and innovation Source: Source: http://smithsonian-webstrategy.wikispaces.com/Goals+1+-+4+Mission%2C+Brand%2C+Learning%2C+Audience

12: These new technologies provide the opportunity for more accessible learning by providing text, audio, narration and images. They also provide self-paced approaches to informal learning that can be applied by classrooms, families or individuals (Sayre & Wetterlund, 2008). By utilizing new mobile and online technologies, the museum was able to reach a global audience to support their mission to increase the diffusion of knowledge.

13: References | Davis, D. (2011, March). Content creation is not for kids – Creating the infinity of nations family guide. Retrieved from http://blog.nmai.si.edu/main/2011/03/index.html Falk, J.H. & Dierking, L.D. (1992). The museum experience. Washington DC: Whalesback. Sayre, S., & Wetterlund, K. (2008). The social life of technology for museum visitors. Visual Art Research Journal, (47), 85-93. Wetterlund, K. (2008). Flipping the field trip: Bringing the art museum to the classroom. Theory Into Practice, (47), 110-117. doi: 10.1080/00405840801992298 Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. (2009). SI Web and New Media Strategy. Retrieved March 28, 2012, from http://smithsonian-webstrategy.wikispaces.com/

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