Does Visitor Generated Content have a place in Learning Experiences?

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Martin Bazley

The main focus of my PhD research, just completed, was to investigate how digital technologies in museums are impacting on visitor engagement.  I specifically looked at the use of digital visitor generated content and considered it’s impact on visitor engagement with museum content.  Here I share some details of my research and ask how this research could have a bearing on digital learning in cultural heritage.

My time on the DLNET committee has been a bit quiet of late, as I have been focusing on my PhD.  I’m pleased to say that of the 20th June 2014, I passed my PhD Viva (with minor corrections) and I’m now Dr Claire Ross! 

I thought it would be helpful to share some details of my PhD research and to start asking questions about how this research could have a bearing on digital learning in cultural heritage.

For the past three years I have been working on a PhD in Digital Humanities in the Centre for Digital HumanitiesDepartment of Information StudiesUniversity College London

The overarching aim of my work was to investigate how digital visitor generated content systems in museum spaces impact on visitor engagement.  Concentrating on the complexities of visitor engagement and digital visitor generated content; investigating whether or not, and how, digital visitor generated content can impact on visitor engagement with museum content. 

Museums have a long history of involving visitors in contributing content to museum collections and exhibitions, primarily as a means to gather feedback and assess effectiveness of exhibitions through the use of visitor books and feedback forms.  Most recently museums are encouraging visitors to create their own experiences and interpretations of museum objects at a deeper level.  This notion of visitor-generated content has taken a new dimension with the advent of social media, and visitors increasingly expect to be actively involved in their own individual experiences rather than passively consuming museum content.

I have used two key case studies to illustrate my research: QRator and Social Interpretation.

The QRator project  is in the Grant Museum of Zoology, its a collaborative project between the Centre for Digital Humanities (UCLDH), UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), and UCL Museums and Public Engagement.  QRator is a project that allows museum visitors to get involved in conversations about the way that museums operate and the role of science in society today. DLNET interviewed the Grant Museum Manger, Jack Ashby about the QRator project in 2012.

The Social Interpretation project at IWM London and IWM North was a Research and Development exercise joint funded by the NESTA / Arts Council / AHRC digital R&D Fund, and Imperial War Museums (IWM). At its heart, it aimed to bring successful social interactions already found online and apply them across IWM’s collections – making social objects out of museums objects.

In a nutshell, my PhD discovered that Digital Visitor Generated Content on the whole is a good thing because it allows visitors an equal voice in the museum.  But I do wonder how it could be used in aspects of digital learning.  The idea behind digital visitor generated content is that it helps museums to become more open and diverse, to encourage debate and present a range of different voices and perspectives.  

  • But does inviting visitor generated content really help fulfil these aims?

  • How can digital visitor generated content work with formal learning resources?  

  • Should visitor voices be encouraged – what are the learning outcomes?

  • How do we measure success in terms of VGC and learning? Numbers, quality, debate, what?

I would love to hear your thoughts on how digital visitor voices could work with learning experiences. 

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