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facilitate deeper engagement with objects
and thus provide time for reflection and the
building of personal meanings and inter-
pretation.This virtual contextualisation
could also be made available within the
gallery, to provide this additional dimension
to the interpretation of artefacts, and to
enhance the visitor experience.
W
e have already gathered evidence
through our work that virtual visits
to our sites have prompted subsequent
physical visits, and vice versa.The findings
from Burma and Virtual Victorians show
that the virtual objects promoted an appre-
ciation of the value of physical objects and
of displaying them in museums, and
increased the desire to see them for real.
T
he virtual museum can help to attract
visitors from non-traditional museum
audiences. An engaging and enjoyable vir-
tual visit can dispel negative preconcep-
tions of physical museums and their
collections and encourage new audiences
to become museum visitors.
I
t goes without saying that well-designed
museum Websites can build a worldwide
audience and engage them in contextualised
and meaningful virtual visits.Virtual
Victorians, for example, has had strong take-
up in classrooms around the world, includ-
ing Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Dubai,
USA, South Korea and even Scotland!
E
ach of our projects has a social science
research methodology underpinning
it. Primarily, this is concerned with the
analysis of user data gathered through a
range of means including electronic and
paper-based feedback forms, analysis of
user contributions and interactions
prompted through the site such as `ask a
Victorian questions', registrations to build
exhibitions, or exchange of e-cards.We
also employ a lot of qualitative face-to-face
techniques, such as focus groups, inter-
views and observation.
I
n our work there is a
symbiotic relationship
between `virtual visiting'
and physical museum-
going.We recognise that
each has its strengths and
limitations, and would
argue strongly that the
virtual should be designed
to promote, complement,
extend and enhance the
physical experience rather
than seek to replace it.
Too many heritage
Websites fall into the trap of simply trying
to create a surrogate virtual copy of the
physical exhibition, rather than creatively
embracing the potential of the ICT medi-
um to provide exciting and meaningful
learning experiences, such as being able to
record yourself playing on a Burmese
Gong Chime Circle, asking a `real'Virtual
Victorian a question via the Web or build-
ing your own virtual exhibition.
T
he relationship between the real and
the virtual museum visit appears to
be mutually beneficial. Active engagement
with the objects in the virtual environment
contributes to the users' conceptual under-
standing of the objects that they see in the
real museum, but cannot touch.
Inadequacies in the digital objects, such as
loss of ability to appreciate and `read' scale
and textural quality, are compensated for
by the users' own prior knowledge, experi-
ence and beliefs, constructed in the real
world and, of course, the opportunity to
participate in meaningful, exciting and
rewarding virtual interactions.
T
he well-designed online museum site
will provide a meaningful addition to
the formal and informal learning experi-
ence and enjoyment of the museum visit. It
will enable the visitor to explore more
deeply the context in which the objects
need to be placed in order to understand
their meaning.The virtual visit should
ship with Tiverton and Mid Devon
Museum Trust, the Centre is researching
and developing a Web-based resource
built around museum artefacts, news-
paper archives and photographs.This
resource is designed for use by schools
(primary and early secondary), and life-
long learners. (Funded by the Depart-
ment for Education and Employment
Museums and Galleries Education
Programme and the New Opportuni-
ties Fund).
EVE (Everyone's Virtual Exhibition,
http://billdouglas.ex.ac.uk/eve/): we are
creating tools to allow users to create
their own virtual teaching resources and
exhibitions from the collections of items
encompassing the development of popu-
lar entertainment housed at the Bill
Douglas Centre. EVE is designed for use
in Further and Higher Education.
(Funded by the Arts and Humanities
Research Board).
Burma (http://www.molli.org.uk/
burma/): based around the Burmese
Theatrical Orchestra, or `saing', part of
the reserve collection at the Royal
Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, this
project allows users to see and hear the
Burmese instruments and express their
own musical talent by making a record-
ing of themselves playing the instru-
ments.This project is designed for
primary education. (Supported by the
re:Source Designation Challenge Fund).
Playing the Burmese Gong Chime Circle
Ex
eter City Council and the Univ
ersity of Ex
eter
,
2002