By Ann Isaacson, Laura Krueger, Sheila McGuire, Scott Sayre and Kris Wetterlund
See also the 2011 essay, Enhancing Group Tours with the iPad: A Case Study
Building a Community of iPad Users
One of the most rewarding outcomes of introducing iPads into the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s tour programs is the way in which guides are coming together to share content in formal and informal settings.
Inspired by the desire for specific images and videos for special exhibition tours, small groups of guides are collectively creating contextual material for their distinct tour needs. Each person in the group takes a topic or object to research and build content around. They then meet in person, email, or post information on the museum guide Web site forum to share their findings with each other and museum staff. The guides are also sharing how and when they are using the iPads and reflecting on successes and drawbacks while touring.
Generally, the guides most likely to organize these small iPad communities are those that have recently completed their training. The museum provided them access to iPads, instruction on how to use them, and encouragement to experiment with iPads from the start. A small group of these guides meets once a month outside of the museum to share content, information and presentation tips. Most guides now own their own iPads. In addition to sharing content, one member wrote that they are, “sharing the insights that we have all gained attempting to use this technology in a convenient, supportive environment.” Taking it yet another step, this group plans to further their technical skills by scheduling a follow-up session with instructors at the Apple store.
A few guides are exploring various methods to both share and manage content folios, such as the museum guide Web site forum mentioned earlier. Most guides prepare their tours at home and this method of sharing can provide them the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the content before their tours. The interest amongst guides to build, manage and share contextual resources is an exciting step towards expanding the use of iPads on museum tours.
An iPad of Their Own
The optimism surrounding the tour guides sharing content in an unprecedented scale has also ushered in the reality that many prefer to use their own iPads. The “I am more comfortable using my own” phenomenon is understandable given an individual can organize content in the way that makes sense to her, on her own schedule, and, in many cases, with the assistance of trusted family or friends. Although more tech savvy guides organize information on personal Web sites, most are adding photos on an as-needed, per-tour basis to the Photos app that came with the iPad. They can search for and locate an image on the Web, simply tap it a couple of times to add it to the Photos app in the order they want it, and easily access it during their tour without the anxiety of searching through the many dozens of folders on the iPads supplied by the museum. It makes sense.
Museum staff is taking steps to make using the on-site iPads easier for more volunteers. Recognizing that many people will gain confidence with the iPad only by having time to experiment and explore on their own time, the museum now allows the tour guides to check out the devices overnight. As more iPads are added to the fleet, the guides will be able to borrow them for extended periods of time. The hub computer is now in a more accessible area in the tour guide’s study to facilitate peer-to-peer learning and sharing. A docking station will eliminate the onerous task of individually syncing all of the iPads. The hope is that these changes will make it easier for tour guides to add content to the shared iPads as well as their own.
Interviews with tour guides showed that while they felt the iPad was useful for web-based research many felt that performing spur of the moment searches during their formal tours to be too complicated, disruptive, and time-consuming. However, the same guides were interested in exploring additional applications of the iPad to serve visitors’ learning needs and to answer their questions when looking beyond tours. Some of the tour guides expressed future interest in having museum volunteers with iPads positioned in the galleries to answer visitors’ questions. These roving guides could engage visitors in conversation and use the iPad to look up information relevant to the visitors’ questions. While the Minneapolis Institute of Arts currently does not have full-time gallery-based interpreters, the museum’s building-wide WiFi can provide limitless opportunities to experiment with this technique. The Columbus Museum of Art is exploring iPad use with their roaming docents who are in the museum galleries in the afternoons, answering questions, directing visitors, striking up casual conversations and telling stories.
A Post Tour Digital E-Souvenir
Many of the digital assets used on iPads by tour guides are generated by the museum for print publications and online access. And while many tour guides will mention that some or all of the resources they show in their tour can be found on the museum’s Web site, there is a great opportunity for providing a more formal summary/souvenir of the object and topics covered in a tour. Recent development in ebook publishing such as Apple’s iBook Author will provide new opportunities to produce free or low-cost e-souvenirs directly tying the resources related to a tour to an extended post-visit experience. Tour guides offering iPad enhanced tours could conclude the tour by showing a preview of a related e-souvenir book and either collecting email addresses or providing a URL where the publication can be accessed. These e-souvenirs offer a great deal of future potential as collectables and launching points to both online tour related content and other commercial electronic and print-based publications.
More Museums Adopt iPad Tours
Since this article was first published a number of other museums have adopted iPads as multimedia touring devices. While the guides at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts have been sharing tips, techniques and content around their use of iPads, the Museum of Modern Art’s in gallery educators have followed suit. MoMA staff posts challenges for their gallery educators each month, and one month recently the educators were challenged to use iPads on tours and share their results via a blog on MoMA’s internal educator network. The discussion confirmed findings by MIA tour guides that one of the most powerful features of the iPad is the ability to zoom into images. MoMA educators discussed a successful game in which details of painting were shown on the iPad, and the tour group guessed which part of the painting was shown based on close examination of the painting in the gallery. Other successes included showing works of art related to MoMA’s but that were not in MoMA’s collection. Gallery educators also confirmed that the speaker on the iPad 2 was adequate for groups in MoMA’s galleries.
The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts education department purchased iPads for use with visually impaired visitors. The museum provides touch art tours of 3D objects for individuals with visual impairments but wanted to expand the tours to include paintings and works on paper. The iPads allow visitors with visual impairments to zoom in on details while the docent is providing a verbal description of the work. The museum’s advisory committee includes many experts in the field of low vision and blindness studies who recommended iPads. Pearl Rosen Golden, an Access Consultant, concurred with Kalamazoo’s ideas, pointing out that even labels and text panels can be increased to a comfortable viewing size for visually impaired visitors, and screen light intensity can be controlled. In the future, Rosen Golden imagines, museums will provide tour images that can be downloaded and visually impaired visitors can come prepared with their own iPads ready for the tour, ushering in a new world of access for the visually impaired visitor.