A study of portable computers and interactive multimedia as a new tool for interpreting museum collections
Over the last two decades the introduction of interactive multimedia applications complimenting existing interpretative techniques in museum displays has become a widely accepted practice. Indeed fixed interactive multimedia applications can communicate large amounts of often complex information in a user friendly and accessible way. A drawback is their fixed position. This research project identified the potential of using a portable computer with an interactive multimedia application manipulated through a touch screen interface. This thesis describe& the results of a series of empirical studies to design and test the effectiveness of a portable computer as a new tool for interpretation in a museum gallery. The central aim of the research, funded by the GEMISIS 2000 initiative, was to examine potential innovative applications of new interactive technologies for heritage attractions and museums. Exploratory research progressed from discovery and gaining insights into the diversity of interactive multimedia applications in heritage attractions to the dynamics of interactive multimedia as a powerful communication medium. The main study fell into three distinct yet complimentary research pathways namely 1) to design an interactive multimedia application for a portable computer, 2) to examine the use and effectiveness of the portable computer with museum visitors, 3) to assess the application as a new tool for interpretation in a museum setting. The conclusions of this research project are based upon the results of a rigorous and comprehensive evaluation study, which combined a questionnaire survey, structured unobtrusive observation and interaction logging. As the research project was initiated there were few other projects in this field of study, and no formal evaluation had been published. At the completion, four research projects were identified and are detailed in the conclusion. The results of this research project have confirmed the hypothesis that a portable computer with an interactive multimedia application has the potential to enhance interpretation and to become a new tool for interpreting museum collections. As the number of homes with multimedia capable computers equipped with CD-ROM drives and connected to the Internet grows and exposure to computers at work and at school increases, visitors are well prepared to handle the new technology. The projects results show ease of use and an increased recall of exhibits by visitors. Visitors experienced discovery based learning at their own pace facilitated by a portable touch screen computer. Limitations of the project are discussed and future research topics identified. These included expanding the interactive multimedia application to cover the whole gallery, exploring alternative interaction models, evaluating the impact of age and gender, evaluating the portable computer within other categories of museums, to evaluating location aware positioning systems and to investigating Personal Digital Assistants as a potential hardware platform.