Digital Media In MuseumsDan Magerr
Today our generation is living in a unique time. We are living in a world of rapid technology growth and our generation is the first to be exposed to it. Everything technology based is transitioning into digital media. Digital media or digital technology can be defined as electronic technology that generates, stores, and processes data in terms of two states: positive and non-positive. Positive is expressed or represented by the number 1 and non-positive by the number 0. Thus, data transmitted or stored with digital technology is expressed as a string of 0's and 1's. Each of these state digits is referred to as a bit (and a string of bits that a computer can address individually as a group is a byte). Yet humanity is just getting started with what they can do with digital media. Have you ever thought about what the future is going to look like in the next 20 to 30 years? Not even that in the next 40 to 50 years? Let’s go into further detail and focus in on museums. How are museums going to look in the next few decades? How are they transitioning with this rapid digital growth? Museums are starting to realize that they are going to have to keep up with the digital age, especially with younger kids being more comfortable with handheld digital media. What I wanted to know is whether museums are preparing for the digital age or if they are sticking with their basic standards. I want to reflect on how museums are trying to attract new consumers and how they are engaging the normal museum enthusiasts. I am interested in this topic because I’m curious with all the MAC technology that is coming out and how museums will transition their information into digital use. What really grasped my interest in this topic is there is a scene from the movie The Time Machine. The main character goes forward in time and in the future he walks into a museum. In this museum there is a computer generated persona that tells you any information you would want to know. It is like a digital persona kiosk that basically is a hard drive of all the information in the museum. I thought that was very fascinating. It made me wonder if this could ever happen in my lifetime or in the distant future if museums could ever look and be like this. Humans today are only increasing their skills in digital media and technology as a whole. Moore’s Law states a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware: the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. This basically means new technology is coming out every two years and is becoming smaller and more accessible to the human consumer. With this technological growth museums are using digital media to reach and engage patrons but some new experiments will succeed and others may not.

One museum in particular has been taking strides in ways to engage patrons with digital media. That museum is the Smithsonian Institute National Museum located in Washington DC. This is one of the more famous museums in all of the country. According to the article I’ve read it is the American Indian exhibit where the museum is using digital media. The American Indian exhibit is using digital kiosks to interact with visitors and is hopefully giving them a whole new wonderful experience. The museum thought using this technology for this exhibit would be perfect because many non Native Americans have very little background on Native American culture. “It is through the museum and its various technologies that largely non-Native visitors are asked to shed their stereotypical misconceptions. Part of the museum’s objective is to increase understanding in its visitors and encourage ‘multicultural dialogue,’” (Brady 442-443). With these digital kiosks the goal for the audience is to experience a whole new aspect of a different culture and open up dialogue and broaden thoughts. The digital kiosks provide free choice learning and create a more interesting learning experience.The audience has control over three questions, What, When, and Why; the three basic questions of research. Also schools and museums are combining there efforts to create a more engaging and better learning environment. Schools have been taking field trips to museums for decades but now museums are trying to work with schools to create student activities while visiting the museums. Schools and museums know that kids these days are becoming much more involved in digital handheld technology like apple products. For example I’m talking about iPhones, iPods, Mac computers, and more. Schools and museums are creating different problem solving activities where children explore museum exhibits and try and learn information. For example these activities can be scavenger hunts, mystery stories, mazes, and more. “among the most important differences between post-1945 museums and those previous to it are increasingly mobile populations, the fact that exhibition is taking place in an era of decolonization rather than colonial expansion, the recognition of the rights of indigenous and diasporic people globally, and more pluralistic public spheres,”(Brady 445). Yet an objective view of digital museums is that not all people are for this new technology. Some criticism is that it takes away from the unique culture of that time. We don’t see the information as a whole and find it more fluid, multiple, and overlapping. It takes away from the understanding of the cultures tradition. Yet the positives are that museums believe people would use the traditional ways of learning exhibit information in tandem with the new digital media. Ultimately The Smithsonian Institute National Museum is hoping that people will use traditional ways of learning along with this new digital media way of learning to create a whole new learning tandem. Traditional + Digital = New Learning Experience.

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Another article I’ve read was Leaving a Trace: Supporting Museum Visitor Interaction and Interpretation with Digital Media Annotation Systems by Reed Stevens and Sandra Toro Martell. This article explores the use of using annotated systems. You might be thinking what are annotated systems? They are VideoTraces and ArtTraces that allow visitors to record different segments of their experience. “In these annotations, the visitor describes, interprets questions, explains, and notices aspects of the exhibits. Traces become elements of conversations between visitors and between museums and their stakeholder. The use of Traces systems in museums may achieve two goals: supporting new forms of connection among visitors and between schools and museums and conducting research on visitor experience and learning,” (Stevens & Martell, 25). VideoTraces work by visitors recording their interaction with the exhibit and then narrate their own trace per say with speech and sometimes pointing jesters. It’s like a computer program. You record your experience with the exhibit and then you record what you want to say about it. It is like verbally recording your own blog about the exhibit. ArtTraces work the same way as VideoTraces but visitors are recording digital images of museum paintings. “In both systems, traces are saved and displayed in a format much like a threaded online discussion. Other visitors can interact with the traces by viewing them and, if so inclined, making and leaving a trace of their own,” (Stevens & Martell, 26). Ultimately these traces provide feedback and further information from other visitors which create an exclusive learning experience.

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One of the main challenges of museums is how to have the visitors really interact with the actual exhibit but not be unfocused and or bored with the exhibit readable content. “Traditional storytelling aids for museums have been panels and labels with text placed along the visitors’ path. Yet the majority of visitors express uneasiness with written information. Usually time spent reading labels interrupts the pace of the experience and requires a shift of attention from observing and contemplating to reading and understanding,” (Sparacino, Davenport, & Pentland, 499). To fix this museums have created “Information Overlay in Smart Rooms (adding technology to the museum space) and Specialized Interactive Narrative with Smart Clothes (adding technology to the visitor),” (Sparacino, Davenport, & Pentland, 499). With these technologies the whole gist is to create a fun, easy learning experience. It’s basically letting all the digital media do the hard work for the audience while he/she sits back and is along for the ride. The museums want these technologies to create more of an emotional response. The museums want to engage patrons on all levels and give them a wonderful educational experience to the point where they are learning but also having a very fun time. Another cool interactive technology that museums are using is Wearable’s. Wearables are digital glasses and keyboards that museum visitors wear on there clothing while they walk around and explore the exhibits. It works by the Wearable recognizing where it is in the museums and then gives you the information. The wearable technology is “An embedded CPU, A sensing system for location identification, high resolution color head-mounted display glasses, and a touch sensitive keypad as input,” (Sparacino, Davenport, & Pentland, 504). The glasses are made to see 3D visuals as well. This creates for a very fun looking futuristic experience with museum visitors. Ultimately this is a digital technology take over where the technology does most of the work by narrating information to the visitor and the visitor hopefully just enjoys the experience. Museums want visitors to experience a fun and simple way of learning.

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Ultimately museums are just experimenting with these new digital tools. They are seeing what works with visitors and what doesn’t to create a better learning experience. It’s a give or take feel which museums will learn from their mistakes and go from there. Yet some exhibits/museums are staying the same keeping their nostalgic look. Everyone has there own opinion of digital media and not everyone is a fan. In the future we will probably see a tremendous amount digital media in museums but some museums might be set in the traditional way of learning which isn't a bad learning experience.

Works Cited

Brady, M. J. (2011). Subjectivity Through Self-Education: Media and the Multicultural Citizen at the National Museum of the American Indian. Television & New Media, 12(5), 441-459. doi: 10.1177/1527476410385478

Leaving a Trace: Supporting Museum Visitor Interaction and Interpretation with Digital Media Annotation Systems, Reed Stevens, Sandra Toro Martell, The Journal of Museum EducationVol. 28, No. 2, Sociocultural Perspectives on Museums Part 2 (Spring - Summer, 2003), pp. 25-31, Published by: Left Coast Press, Inc. Stable URL:

Sparacino, Flavia, Glorianna Davenport, and Alex Pentland. “Media in performance: Interactive spaces for dance, theater, circus, and museum exhibits.” IBM Systems Journal 39.3&4 (2000): 479-.

Final Exam Question #2 (Conor Scharr)
A. The overall thesis of this website seems to be that with the burgeoning embrace of digital media technology can and should be integrated into museums in order to create a more immersing experience for the average visitor, and more importantly to students, and foster genuine interest in the subject at hand. Also, this integration of technology is not intended to wipe out the old model of the museum, but rather build upon it in order to alleviate the emotional distance created by traditional text plaques, dioramas, etc. The choice to study digital technology in museums directly relates to any course material we have discussed in relation to technological integration with the classroom. The same strategies are being used, most notably for the field trip student type, as in school classrooms to engage the "digital native" student in learning without archaic reading and memorization techniques. Personally, I thought of Renee Hobbs' "Multiple Visions of Media Literacy" when contemplating this site's message because all forms of literacy (critical, information, media, etc.) are represented by integrating technology with a potentially fun learning environment such as a museum. Nothing is more important than getting these distracted young students to pay attention.

B. One of the main strengths of this web project is the detailed descriptions of museums that have already begun to use digital media technology to immerse their visitors such as the Smithsonian. It provides a contextualized image of what it might be like to walk through a museum and for once, not know what to expect. Also, there is a critical juxtaposition of what museums could be with technology and what they have been like for years. It is true that many people may prefer the traditional, quiet museum full of text plaques. But the author has realized that since museums are essentially a real-life embodiment of a book or web page, there is no need for more text. By interweaving a digital experience through special headsets or multimedia displays, a fully immersing experience is created and structured to illicit an emotional response that creates unique memories and therefore leads to more retained information. This way, schools could get the absolute most out of their students' field trip and create a learning environment that young digital natives can throw themselves into without even realizing they are learning. The information on this WikiSpace is organized from broad to specific and leads the reader through an argument by presenting information, much like a museum. I really like the use of the Time Machine clip, because it represents just how simple yet complicated it is to compile myriad bits of information into a small space like a museum or library, so technology is needed to bring that vast ocean of facts down to an accessible, personal basis for someone with little technological understanding like the films protagonist Andrew Hartdegen.

C. One limitation to this website that I observed was the presentation of ideas without explanation or analysis. In order to effectively present a concept, it is necessary to do more than simply acknowledge its existence. There needs to be more specific explanation of broad concepts like which media literacy skills are being catered to with these new digital additions to museums. While it is true that places like the Smithsonian have begun using technology integration and while there is a tool called ArtTraces, what do these annotation systems do for the learner? While there is clear explanation of these technologies, it is important for a website author to assume that the reader knows very little and to make the connections between ideas in a concrete, explanatory way. Also, it would be helpful to include images from these museums and of this technology in order to create a more tangible understanding of what it is like to be there and use that digital media.