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What's this? What our visitors are asking

Adrian Murphy - our Digital Media Manager - explains what we've been learning from our object case with iPad interaction in African Worlds.

In July this year, we set up a new case displaying an object in our African Worlds gallery. Around the case were two ipads, into which our visitors can put their questions, information or memories about the object.

We set this up as an experiment, so we could learn the different ways our visitors interact with technology, volunteers and to find out more about what questions they would like us to answer in our exhibition labels.

Two days a week, a number of volunteers stand by the case, ask our visitors questions, encouraging them to use the iPads and learn more about the object - an Italian gloved hand that is around 100 years old.

Matthew and Sze Kiu - two of our volunteers - have already blogged about what our visitors have been saying to them while they were working at the case.

Since the case was put into the gallery in July, our visitors have asked 898 questions.

Visitors can ask questions to the person who made the object, the person who uses it and our curator. Most questions were asked to the person who uses the object (379), with questions to the maker second (362) and finally our curator (157).

There is also a space where visitors can tell us something about the object - we received 329 pieces of information.

Top questions asked

The top 3 questions asked to the object's maker are:

  • What is it? What is it used for?
  • Why did you make it?
  • How long did it take you to make it?

Many questions asked to the object's user guessed at what its usage might be - the top 3 questions were:

  • What is it ?
  • What do you use it for?
  • What do you do with it?

The most asked questions to the museum's curator were:

  • What is this object?
  • How old is it?
  • Where is it from? Where did you get it from?
  • Why is this in the museum?

It might seem obvious, but from this, we understand that many people want a straight-forward type of information when looking at an object - what it is, where it comes from, what it is used for and why is it in this museum?

In addition to these frequent questions, visitors asked us many more questions - here are ten interesting examples:

  • Why is it in such a strange shape?
  • Do you make a lot of these objects? is this a special one or just standard?
  • Where is left glove?
  • Why did you give this to the museum?
  • Is your hand in it?
  • How do you know that this object works?
  • Do you think the use of iPads genuinely improves the experience and wonder of the museum?
  • How old is it and is it still used today?
  • How many years have you spent making it?
  • What type of person created it, working class or upper class?

What we've learned

In the section where visitors could tell us some information about the object, there were many different suggestions, hints and ideas given.

We learned that there was a connection between the object's gesture and spiderman's hands - something we definitely had not thought about before. Many visitors connected the gesture to the "rock on" symbol too, while many others suggested connections to other cultures - as Sze Kiu previously explained.

We also noticed that on the days our volunteers were by the case, visitors asked slightly more nuanced questions, having maybe learned a little by speaking with the volunteers.

We also saw that people asked questions about making to the user, using to the maker and all sorts of questions (completely unconnected to this object) to our curator.

Next month, we will be changing this object for a new one, and also changing the way the ipad screens work a little - so we can test a new approach for us. We hope you'll enjoy discovering the next object.