5.5.1 Reflections on Hidden Museum Pilot Days

On the 1st and 2nd of April the research team carried out a two day pilot for the Hidden Museum game app. The aim of the pilot was to test each aspect of the app and the user experience ahead of a more extended testing period. Overall, the pilot proved a success both in terms of the logistics and technical aspects of the app and in terms of a positive user experience. Here, I just want to discuss these two aspects in a bit more detail (including reflections on the interviews and observations).

Logistics and Technical Aspects

The research days were lead by Darren and Frances. Technical support was provided by Nate from Aardman. Research support was provided by our research volunteer, Amy. Laura and Jake from Aardman also provided help in getting us setup both days.

Over the course of the two days a total of 16 participant groups (1-6 participants per group) took part. This equated to 44 individuals taking part. Of the 16 groups that took part Darren conducted interviews with 14 groups. The length of interviews ranged between 7 and 20 minutes with an average of around 15 minutes. Alongside the interviews, both Darren and Frances conducted observations around the museum on both days. In addition to the research activities, Aardman employed a camera man to film the two pilot days; the footage will be used to produce a short promotional video for the Hidden Museum project.

From a technical perspective the pilot days went very well, the App and the iBeacon technology performed very well. There were no reports of any failures in the technology. A few of the groups commented on moments where the app did not recognise their location in the museum. When this did happen it was not noted to be a particular hindrance to the overall use and experience of the App. I believe that Nate from Aardman had noted down a couple of technical issues which he could report back to the developer.

The participant groups that took part in the pilot were recruited from friend and colleague networks from within the participating organisations. Those who wanted to take part were invited to register on an Eventbrite page – this worked well and will be used for the full research phase. On the first pilot day, we setup our Hidden Museum desk in a space on the ground floor in the Curiosity exhibition. This was chosen as it had a small area which is relatively secluded. Participants were given details of where we would be located on the Eventbrite page, otherwise they could ask the staff on the front desk. When Participants arrived they were asked to fill-in a consent form – this was very successful and will be used in the full research phase. After this, they were setup on the iPad and were given the opportunity to play the Hidden Museum game app. When they had completed the game, they returned to the Hidden Museum desk and were then invited to take part in a short interview (as noted, the majority did so).

Interviews

The interviews were conducted with 14 of the participant groups. The aim of the interview is to get an insight into how the use of Hidden Museum game app affects the visitor’s experience of the museum. The nature of the interviews varied depending on the group, for example, those with children had different questions to those without. The general theme of the questions was understanding how the app affected their ways of engaging in the museum, including: how they engaged with members of their group; with the exhibitions and items in the museum; with different emotions; with the digital technology of the iPad, and so on. As well as this, many of the participants gave specific feedback on the app itself, and many offered their thoughts on potential additions or improvements.

Generally, it has to be said that the feedback about the experience of using the app from participants was very positive. To put it simply, the app worked and it overall, in terms of the pilot days, it had its desired effect – the participants all but unanimously said they went to parts of the museum that either they had not been to before or that they rarely went to or that they thought they were not  interested in. In this sense, the app had a considerable affect on the ‘where’ the participants went in the museum. Again in most cases this change was very welcome and was viewed as something which enhanced their experience of the museum. Another interesting thing that came out of the interviews was the affect the app had on the ‘imagined identities’ of different individuals in the participant groups. For example, a number of the groups with children explained how the app allowed for a kind of role reversal whereby the children ended being ‘in charge’ of the museum experience rather than the parents/adults. On the flip side, a number of the adults explained how the app encouraged them to be more ‘playful’ than they would usually be in a museum setting. In other words, some of the expectations about how children, adults, parents, friends etc. should behave in a museum were challenged and new behaviours and ideas how to behave in a museum emerged. This is an area of the research that we will explore further. Finally, it is worth noting that in the small snapshot we obtained through the pilot, it appears that the coming together of digital technologies and museums is one that visitors both intuitively understand and find rewarding, but moreover, it is one that many perhaps are increasingly expecting.

Observations

The observations were conducted across the two days with X groups (FG observed 3 groups (1x two adults and 3 children; 1x 2 adults and two children; 1x 4 adults).  The average number of games played on the app were two.  In the mixed adult and children groups the children led on the app and there was a lot of talking, excitement and running around to search for objects.  For all of the observations conducted by FG, the groups were driven up to the areas such as the Bristol Artists, and Ceramics.  It was noted that these were areas that groups had not visited before despite seeing themselves as knowledgeable museum regulars.  At times groups would disperse to look for the hidden object and then come together with one group member reading out loud the information.  The flow and movement of groups was quick paced and there seemed to be pauses to read signs and work with the app’s compass to get to the next space.  Interestingly, it was the adult group that seemed to have difficulty finding their first two objects – mainly due to understanding and attention to what the app was describing.  Once they did find an object (on their third attempt) it became a motivator for continuing with the game and it drove their enthusiasm to explore further.  The ‘treasure hunt’ feel was noted by many of the players and this did work as a strong motivator.

Darren Roberts and Frances Giampapa

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