Posted by LoicT on | May 4, 2012 | No Comments
How do you grab the interest of teens and keep them engaged in a museum exhibit, especially when the topic is complex and difficult? That’s what I wanted to learn as I had the chance to catch up with David Klevan and JoAnna Wasserman from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).
Our conversation focused on their new text-based mobile tool designed to increase teen engagement in a special exhibition: The State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda. The exhibition reveals how the Nazi Party used modern techniques as well as new technologies and carefully crafted messages to sway millions with its vision for a new Germany, showcasing the pivotal role of propaganda in the Nazi effort to achieve and consolidate power and how it ultimately was taken to radical extremes during the second World War and the Holocaust.
The USHMM gets 500,000 students visitors annually and most of the visits take place between March and June. During this “busy season,” the exhibition experiences heavy crowds by visitors who are frequently rushing from museum to museum on the Mall, impeding the quality of their engagement.
The Museum’s challenge was to find a way to extend teen’s visit time and focus them on the key points of the Propaganda exhibition. They were looking for a mobile solution that met the following criteria:
• Takes place inside the museum
• Technologically agnostic
• Filters exhibit content /does not add more
• Is as authentic as possible and believable
• Engages and interacts with the teen audience
The solution: A self-guided, text-based dialog with a living Holocaust survivor. Not an easy combination of features to pack into a mobile tool. And they needed to find a survivor who would be happy to host the experience (the easy part!).
As visitors enter the special exhibit area, there is a text panel prompting them to make a call from their cell phone. They hear a message from their guide, Margit Meissner, introducing herself and the exhibition. The text-based dialog is then set up between Ms. Meissner and the visitor, so the text messages, as written, are personal, informative and authentic in order to effectively engage the teenage visitors. Not easy to do!
So via short 140 character texts, the 90-year-old Holocaust survivor guides a visitor through the propaganda exhibit, probing for engaged, critical responses to her questions. Based on each response, a visitor receives another text encouraging further exploration and directing the visitor to the next stop in the exhibition.
David and JoAnna worked with their colleague, Tim Kaiser, to develop approximately 40 text messages that guide the visitor on a linear narration of the exhibition. The linear path did prove to be a bit challenging, as visitors prefer to maintain as much control of their experience as possible. Therefore, an important early change to the tour was a modification allowing the visitor to control the pace of their visit (though, they still most progress in a linear fashion). The tour content is easy to change/modify – as the team analyzes which texts prove to be the most engaging and effective in eliciting critical responses from the teen visitors. The pilot period showed that engagement in the exhibition and amount of the exhibition viewed went up after the text-based tool was implemented. Without the mobile tour, teens spend approximately ten minutes in the exhibition; with the tour, they spend more than 40 minutes on average. Bravo!
As our conversation was wrapping up, JoAnna pointed out that there are additional activities for teachers and students to use in the classroom including lesson plans and a special exhibit website. This summer, they hope to add a new Web site and mobile app to support the exhibit as it travels across the US and extends the dialog on the power and dangers of Propaganda to a much larger teen audience.
To hear David and JoAnna and other colleagues explore best practices in teen mobile, join us at the Museums and Mobile IV Online Conference on May 9th at: http://www.museums-mobile.org