The Museum of Australian Democracy is a cornerstone of the Australian educational curriculum. Most Australian students will visit the museum at least once in their lifetimes.
The question for this project was; how can an institution that supports 75,000 annual school visitors motivate a deeper connection with the artifacts, while providing students with the autonomy to move through the building at their own pace? The museum needed an automated method of guiding the students around the collection, that was fun to use and enabled students to direct their own learning.
I worked with EDM to develop this award winning solution, which later went on to become a core interactive product for EDM.
Each student team receives a lanyard containing an RFID card. Placing the card on an RFID reader identifies the team to the system, so they can engage in an activity, then find out where to go next.
The custom made RFID readers include LED lighting that illuminates when the card is held near, indicating the card has been read by the system.
Teachers can explore the Museum’s collection before their visit, request specific Trails, and make a reservation for their class.
Individualized student Trails can be downloaded after a visit to the museum, so the educational journey can extend back into the classroom.
Trail is a smart-card based system designed to get students looking, thinking, and talking about a museum’s stories, images, and artifacts. The technology provides a modern touchscreen alternative to the traditional worksheet-based approach to museum learning. With minimal instruction, students embark on unique learning trails that guide students through the museum's collections - helping to increase their engagement with the museum’s material culture.
On entering the museum, students are divided into groups of 3 or 4, and issued with a smart-card embedded with an RFID chip. After being orientated to the building and the Trail experience, the groups are directed to register as a team at any one of the 36 touchscreens located throughout the building. Once they have chosen a team name and a graphical avatar, the system provides location-specific activities such as matching games, “go and sees'' and opinion polls - always using the collection to find the answers. The technology is designed to let students explore the museum at their own pace — engaging with location-specific interactive activities that encourage observation and group discussion.
The system also keeps track of where each team has been and automatically finds free stations as they become available. Trail chooses and reserves new destination screens, providing dynamic “heads up” maps to the next destination. This prevents bottlenecks and helps students move around the collection without ever getting lost or disorientated.
When museum exhibits stop feeling relevant it can be because the technology doesn’t enable the curator to easily update the content. More often than not, this is the fault of the media producers for “black boxing” the media system.
With this in mind, we designed the Trail software to include an easy to use interface that enables museum staff to add new activities and quickly change any of the words, images or videos. Known as “TrailBuilder” the Content Authoring System also enables curators to tailor programs to suit different age groups and to rapidly respond to political events. The “Preview Mode” function enables the Museum’s educators to thoroughly test every activity before they it goes “live” across the museum galleries.
Students are welcomed by museum guides and spilt into small teams. Each team recieves one RFID card to help guide them through the collection.
Placing an RFID card next to a reader activates the inbuilt LED lighting and triggers an activity to appear on the screen (students wear white gloves to help protect the historic building).
The interface includes long “sliding switches”, so students have more time to discuss the correct answer and potentially change their minds.
Once an activity is completed, the system automatically reserves the next kiosk and the screen directs students on how to get there.
We chose to use large touchscreens - as they enable students to gather together, and share the work of making decisions.
Most activities encourage students to find the answers looking closer at the exhibition - so they spend more time off the screen than on.
Activities can be easily updated by Museum curators using the Content Authoring System. These can then be tested privately before sending to the kiosks in the galleries.
Trail won an Association of American Museums 2016 Silver MUSE in the category of Education and Outreach. Jurors said;
“This project combined digital elements and a self-directed learning environment in a new and effective way,” and, “It features intuitive digital way-finding to guide groups of students, small and large, toward authentic content connections. We cannot overstate the importance of “authentic content connections”. “Too often digital museum experiences are disconnected from the surrounding material culture. TRAIL was designed from the ground-up to engage students with the building, the stories, the education staff and each other. Museums, after all, are social spaces.”
I developed the interactive concept, produced detailed design documentation, wireframed the interaction design, and developed templates for the visual design. I also worked closely with our software development team and our client in Australia, helping ensure a smooth production process.
The Museum of Australian Democracy, Canberra, Australia.