EAGER: Collaborative Research: Designing Digital Rails to Foster Scientific Curiosity around Museum Collections

PIs: Steven McGee, Michael Horn, Northwestern University (Award Details)
Jaap Hoogstraten, Matt Matcuk, Field Museum of Natural History (Award Details)

One of the best ways to engage people in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) at a young age is through informal museum experiences. Yet, the research base on understanding how learning and engagement develops through these experiences is still emerging. Technology opens new ways to research these experiences to understand these processes better. In this proposal, researchers from Northwestern University and the Chicago Field Museum will collaborate to develop digital interactive displays to enhance the experience at various exhibits by providing additions varying in complexity from simple menu navigation, to 3D model manipulation, to fully interactive games. These will replace the typical static plaques that go along with an exhibit. In addition to enhancing the experience with the exhibits, these displays allow researchers to collect more data on people’s interaction with exhibits, particularly touch screen information regarding how visitors interacted with the 3D models, games and touchscreens. The proposed research will help address questions regarding the role of games in learning, for instance, do these games provide enhanced motivation and learning, or do they limit social interaction and create small silos in the midst of a group experience? It will also answer questions about how creativity is fostered in these environments by observing interactions and combining that with the digital data collected for a fuller picture of the development of engagement and learning.

Researchers from Northwestern University and the Chicago Field Museum will develop digital rails, interactive computer displays mounted on exhibit case railings that function as dynamic labels and provide enhanced experience features such as the integration of 3D modeling and games. They propose to augment the digital rails with near-field communication (NFC) tracking devices (RFID readers) to monitor amount of interaction and to link with user cell phones. They will collect NFC tracking data, computer logs of touch interaction, and interaction with mobile apps and observe visitor behavior around the interactive display cases. This early stage research study will employ design-based research to investigate this new form of interactive technology. Through iterating on observations and linking the observational data with the digitally collected data, the team will develop an understanding of the design principles for digital rails that best foster interactivity, social interaction, creativity, and learning of the material the exhibits focus on.

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