Latest Touch Screen Technology At The British Museum

Latest Touch Screen Technology

Takes Students Behind The Scenes

At The British Museum
     20 Dec 11

An investment in new technology sees students swap printed handouts for tablet computers on study visits, thanks to unique partnership between the University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies and the British Museum.


Photocopied handouts and clipboards may become a thing of the past on study visits with the University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies. The School is embracing the latest tablet computer technologies to help students get the most out of off-site trips.


Dr Janet Marstine and Dr Ross Parry worked with British Museum staff to create an app that takes students on an interactive learning tour of the Museum’s exhibits and galleries. The application is hosted on hand-held tablet computers, and includes video interviews with key staff and curators at the Museum.


The programme is used on study visits to help students think about ethical issues in museums.


The new app allows students to independently explore the Museum whilst simultaneously benefiting from the expertise of British Museum staff. Thanks to a close partnership between the School of Museum Studies and the British Museum, Drs Marstine and Parry were able to call upon key Museum staff to contribute short videos to the project.


Dr Janet Marstine said: “When we go on study visits, the students want to look and experience the place, but they also want to be informed by what the experts have to say. It seemed ideal to have short, taped discussions about ethical issues by Museum staff – then students could bring the tablets with them, hear what the staff had to say, and analyse and engage in the evidence that they saw.”


The School has already taken a group of students to the British Museum to test-drive the new app, with hugely successful results. The students used the app to guide them around the Museum, and recorded their thoughts and impressions using the tablet’s camera function and word processor. Working electronically meant the students could easily share and discuss their work.


“We asked students to email in what they’d been working on by 10 o’clock the next day,” Dr Parry said. “Because they’d been working digitally, it was a lot easier. They were able to put together a presentation for the group by the next morning.”


Both the students and the Museum were impressed with the new app.


“When we did the feedback session the next day, the students were absolutely riveted by it,” Dr Marstine said. “They liked having the technology, working with it in a group, wandering around on their own and having independence to really experience the place.”


Dr Parry added: “The students didn’t blink when we gave the tablets out. For us to give those out five years ago, there would’ve been a lot of discussion about it: have we created a barrier, have we made something unnecessarily complicated, are we expecting the students to have a skill set that they may not have? But it was unremarkable for them. It was completely normal.”


Xerxes Mazda, Head of Learning, Volunteers and Audiences at the British Museum, said: “We are delighted with the result of this experiment, one of the fruits of the strong relationship that exists between the British Museum and the School of Museum studies at the University of Leicester, and the Museum’s drive to use digital technology in many of its public activities, whether with schools, adults, families or local community groups.”


The innovation is the latest in a series of high-tech learning methods implemented in the School of Museum Studies, after they moved to new premises two years ago. At the new site’s learning lab, students bring their laptops to class and can share their work on three flat-screen monitors and via the main overhead projector. Dr Parry also makes use of online video conferencing to allow experts to contribute to lessons via Skype.


Dr Parry said: “I was able to have someone ‘drop in’ for twenty minutes. They came up on Skype on one of the big screens, and we were able to interact with them and talk about what we were doing. We could link desktops and they showed us a few things they were working on. In the past you’d have to pay for someone to come in on the train and they’d wipe out the day.”


“We’ve done a number of things over the years to think about how technology can change the way we teach and can reframe the learning experience,” Dr Parry added.


The new app has proved so successful that the School is considering developing similar applications for other study visits.


“Now we’ve done it with the British Museum, it’s not impossible to think about how we could use this for other study visits,” Dr Parry said.

“There’s no reason why we can’t use the tablet as a way of negotiating a city, taking in six or seven different museums.”