Study reveals that teenagers want interactive technology in Museums

It became apparent that teenagers were not fans of museums.

Museums today are actively involved with visitors, considering their needs and desires. However, with diverse audiences, it is difficult to follow a single strategy. For younger people, museums want to make more use of technology.

“We identified a gap in museum content adapted to teenagers in the field of Interactive Design”, says Vanessa Cesário, PhD researcher in Digital Media, who is dedicated to the study of public interaction in museums.

Vanessa develops her research at the Institute of Interactive Technologies (ITI) and teaches at Instituto Superior Técnico (IST). In partnership with the Natural History Museum of Funchal, Vanessa studied how the museum could better involve teenagers

“We wanted teenagers to help us understand what a pleasant experience would be for them, which led us to hold participatory design sessions with 155 young people”, he adds.

The objective was to develop a mobile application to complement the visit to the museum and encourage the involvement of young people. “The Natural History Museum of Funchal cannot ignore the technological tools that teenagers use to access information”, declares Ricardo Araújo, director of the Museum.

“We want to meet the expectations of the new generations, using technology to transmit knowledge, moving away from the traditional exhibitions of other times”, he adds.

Teenagers are less interested in museums

The first design sessions resulted in concepts for interactive experiences on mobile devices. It became evident in these sessions that teenagers were not fans of museums.

“On the one hand, our participants characterized museums as boring places. On the other hand, they were quite excited about the possibility of interactive technology to guide them through the exhibitions”, says the researcher.

Subsequently, he categorized the contribution of adolescents into two themes: game mechanics and narratives. Most groups proposed gamification experiences. Only a small part focused on the narrative, focusing more on building an adventure storyline.

games versus stories

Based on feedback from teenagers, the Interactive Technologies Institute built two different interactive mobile experiences to be used in Funchal's Natural History Museum.

“We created two prototypes, one based on the game and the other based on the narrative”, reveals Vanessa Cesário. The applications were then tested in the museum, and some conclusions were drawn about their use.

Vanessa and her team studied the relationship between teens' personalities and their levels of engagement when using the two apps. They found that competitive teens generally preferred game-oriented approaches.

On the other hand, teens who are willing to listen and who are intrigued by the plot prefer story-based approaches. In the end, most teens prefer a story, except for the most competitive ones, who are more involved with game-based methods.

The research project reached its last stage based on the knowledge gathered over the years. “Our studies show that gamification and storytelling are closely related. Teenagers are particularly drawn to being the lead character in an exciting adventure, and a captivating and emotional journey can heighten their engagement with the museum experience,” explains Vanessa.



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