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Mobile Access to
Cultural Information
102
The MUSEpad Project
148
Some cultural heritage institutions already use mobile access technologies to enhance
communication with their visitors.
149
The MUSEpad Project implemented in Indiana
University's Mathers Museum of World Culture
150
is a good example of the application
of this technology. MUSEpad was designed, developed and evaluated by a group of
people from Mathers Museum, in partnership with Information in Place.
151
With the
help of a Small Business Innovation Research Grant by the National Institutes of
Health
(NIH),
152
they ran a six-month feasibility study to determine whether a mobile
computing tool that enables users to customise and optimise their own learning experi-
ence within a museum could serve as a useful device for people with disabilities.
153
They
focused on customising content for users with impaired vision or hearing, or mobility
problems.
A crucial innovation of the MUSEpad Project was the decision to enable content to
be accessed interactively and customised for an individual user, rather than having it
pre-packaged by disability category.This approach takes account of the personal, social,
physical, and mental context of specific visitors. It responds not only to individual disabilities,
but also to moods, preferences, and personal circumstances.
Self-selection of the presentation of content in a museum enriches not only the inter-
pretation of each exhibit or artefact, but the wider learning activities of the visit. Using
MUSEpad, museum visitors could select content in various formats, whether text, sound,
image or graphic, to aid their understanding and interpretation of specific exhibits.They
can also select tools (e.g. multimedia games) to facilitate interaction with the museum's
resources. Information might be an audio description of the artefact, either in scholarly
form for adults, or as a story for younger children, music from an appropriate musical
period, text in large print, graphical representations of the object, photographs of other
related objects, or simply more detailed information.
MUSEpad is based on, and enabled by, the WorldBoard
154
concept: the idea that
information can be associated with (and `attached' to) any location. Conceived at
Apple Computer
and developed at Indiana University, WorldBoard is an extension
of the Web that utilises the convergence of handheld computing devices, wireless net-
working, and positioning and proximity devices to enable visitors to access Web-
based information correlated to physical locations or objects. This notion of `putting
information in places' lies at the core of the development of augmented reality
systems.
The development of WorldBoard began in the mid 1990s as an attempt to bring about
improvement and innovation in educational tools. Organisations from higher education,
government and industry collaborated in the development of authoring tools, new models
in mobile computing, and building online communities to interact with and improve this
148 This case study is based on materials available over the Web. All sources are given in footnotes.
149 Judy Kirk (2001), "Accessibility and New Technology in the Museum", Museums and the Web 2001:
http://www.archimuse.com/mw2001/papers/kirk/kirk.html
150 http://www.indiana.edu/~mathers/home.html
151 http://www.informationinplace.com
152 http://www.nih.gov
153 Electronic Guidebook Forum (2001): http://www.exploratorium.edu/guidebook/forum/report/HH1.pdf
154 http://www.worldboard.org
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