This blog is about my thoughts on joining the Hidden Museum project and the partnership with Aardman and Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. I use my experience of going to the museum and meeting some of the team for the first time (early April). I also use this as an opportunity to unpack a bit about the research we will be doing on the project during April and May (see also milestone 4.4 for further info about the research design).
To begin; some context … I have just begun a research assistant role on the Hidden Museum project. I will be based at the University of Bristol within the Graduate School of Education and will be working with Dr. Frances Giampapa. The second bit of context is that the research we are conducting is focused on questions about how the Hidden Museum game app affects the nature of interaction, learning, and engagement among museum users (I will unpack this below).
Before I go on to explore some of the research themes, the first thing to say (and I think it is worth saying) is that I am excited to know the museum it will be my research location for the next couple of months – it’s a fascinating place. Secondly, it was real a pleasure to meet some of the Hidden Museum team (Gail, Laura, Jake, Amy, and Al). When speaking with you, what quickly came to mind from a research perspective was the need to include and, to some extent, start with your ideas and understandings of the key research themes such as ‘digital technologies’, ‘museum cultures’, and ‘engagement’. (The following week I got the chance to interview Laura and Jake from Aardman and Gail from the Museum about this). Third, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience of using/testing the Hidden Museum app.
Testing the app and the research themes
Generally speaking, what social scientists like Frances and I do is use qualitative and/or quantitative data to build up a ‘narrative’ about a topic (e.g. a place, or community, or set of practices) which we then analyse within a particular framework. Here the aim will be to develop a narrative about the three intersecting themes of digital technologies, museums, and learning/engagement. We will collect qualitative data through observation and short interviews and analyse it using ideas from education studies literatures. It is on this platform that more ‘layers’ can be added. For example, in the team meeting, we began discussing the possibility of incorporating questions about socio-economic diversity. This prompted ideas about potentially inviting particular groups from more deprived areas of the city to use the Hidden Museum app. In turn, it was suggested that this could form the basis of a small case study within the research.
The observation part of my research began to take shape from my first visit to the museum both because I got the chance to go around the museum and get to know the space, but I also got a chance to use the Hidden Museum game app – Frances, Amy, and I (all first-time users) played the Hidden Museum game in a team of three. Despite some initial technical hitches, which were speedily and impressively resolved, the game successfully revealed a hidden museum as it directed and delivered us to different parts of the building. For me and Frances, the question we are interested is, in what ways did the Hidden Museum game app shape or change how we engaged as visitors to the museum? To me it seems that one of the keys to answering this question is unpacking what we mean by ‘engagement’ and by thinking about the multiple ways that we engage. That is, to think of engagement as a combination of different forms of engagement. So, for example, on one occasion the game asked a member of the group to find out a fact about the item and then to quiz the other group members on the item. In response to the app a form ‘social’ engagement occurred as our group interacted and collaborated in the quiz. A ‘creative’ engagement occurred as one member of the group had to construct a meaningful question on the spot about a museum object. And a new ‘emotional’ engagement occurred as one group member slightly panics to come up with a question and the other team members wait with a degree of anticipation and playfulness.
Additionally, it is not always about the increase of engagement, for example, engagement with digital technology, especially the iPad and the game itself, fluctuates. This is something the team were discussing at the meeting, especially the idea that the app is designed to discourage the users from over-engaging with the game or the iPad in order that they could engage more fully in other ways with the space of the museum, with their group, and with exhibitions and items in the museum.
I hope this ramble has gone a little way in providing an insight into some of my initial thoughts as a researcher on the project and how we develop our side of things. I look forward to learning about how people will use the Hidden Museum game app in Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.