Digital Environments at the Indiana State Museum and the Eiteljorg Museum

16 Feb

After reading “A Methodology for the design of online exhibitions,” as well as “Strategies for Meaningful Gamification,” I set out to explore the Eiteljorg Museum and the Indiana State Museum for applications of digital technology both in the physical exhibit halls and online. Having visited each of these museums previously, I had vague expectations for what I might encounter. In general, I found that the State Museum utilizes digital components more effectively in its physical environment than its virtual one. I discovered digital interactives that I had missed the last time I was there; however, when I visited the State Museum’s website, I was a bit disappointed to see that they include no interactive activities (at least that I could find), either for people who are unable to visit in person, or who want to continue their Indiana history experience after leaving the museum.

I made fewer new discoveries at the Eiteljorg Museum. I had visited in October when my parents came into town for the weekend, and on this second visit I discovered little that I hadn’t seen the first time. I primarily experienced digital technology through the Native American continuing exhibitions, where small television screens allow visitors to sit and watch/listen as American Indians describe their traditions related to artifacts on exhibit in the surrounding cases. When I returned home and visited the Eiteljorg’s website, I hoped to find that the videos I had watched in person would be available for those exploring the museum from home. I did find that virtual visitors can view photographs of the collections online; however, the videos are not part of the online exhibit. 

With this week’s readings still on my mind, I began to reflect on my experiences at each museum. I found mini “ludic learning spaces” aplenty at the State Museum, where I was able to participate in active learning and explore history at my own pace.[1] Most of the digital technology that I interacted with was along the lines of a rudimentary form of gamification. The “play factor” was most definitely present, for instance, as two friends and I took a quiz that tested our knowledge of archeology. This application of digital technology definitely encouraged communication, as we discussed which answer to pick.[2] I also thoroughly enjoyed experimenting with the OmniGlobe found in the natural history exhibition. A touchscreen allows visitors to select planets, population patterns, and geographic features that they would like to see projected on the globe. Visitors are also able to control what part of the earth they are looking at using the controls on the touch screen. Both the OmniGlobe and the archeology quiz stood out in their respective exhibition halls as some of the only applications of digital technology. On the other hand, when we entered the Amazing Maize exhibit, like Nick, I found myself a bit bombarded by technology. The array of videos and sounds coming from the exhibit did more to hurry me through the space than they did to engage my attention.

I think the State Museum’s digital web presence might be enhanced if it were to create virtual exhibit halls for its permanent exhibits. Initially I thought that it would be neat to focus on presenting the temporary exhibits (such as Amazing Maize) online, but the expense associated with developing online content as physical museum exhibits change might be too costly. Either way, I feel that a more engaging web presence might attract visitors or offer something to those who cannot visit the museum in person.

Though I made no new discoveries while at the Eiteljorg, I found that this museum does a good job of balancing expectations for an art museum with those of a history/culture museum. As the Nicholson article pointed out, visitors generally have fewer expectations of entertainment at an art gallery than they do at a science or children’s museum. While at the Eiteljorg, I enjoyed spending time in the quite of the main floor art galleries just as much as I did watching the videos provided in the contemporary American Indian culture gallery upstairs. Upon reflecting on my experience at this museum, I concluded that the Eiteljorg’s digital technology might be rethought in the future in terms of its ability to encourage conversation or collaboration between visitors, as viewing the videos that currently exist can sometimes feel like a solitary and passive way to interact with technology. Similarly to the State Museum, I think that the Eiteljorg’s online exhibitions might be improved to encourage interaction with the collections from home.  

[1] Scott Nicholson, “Strategies for Meaningful Gamification,” 5-6.

[2] Angeliki Antoniou, George Leouras, Costas Vassilakis, “A methodology for the design of online exhibitions,” 5.


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