New Technologies in Exhibits

January 1st, 2016

This Knowledge Base article was written collaboratively with contributions from Molly Mandeltort, Claire Pillsbury and Jenny East. This article was migrated from a previous version of the Knowledge Base. The date stamp does not reflect the original publication date.


New technology “affords new routes to interpretation, engagement and participation with an exhibit” (Jewitt 2012). New technologies that are being integrated into exhibits can create enhanced interactivity and different ways to model, present, and simulate scientific content (Gammon & Burch, 2008). Specific uses for new technology include accessibility such as audio descriptions for sight impaired visitors (cite science museum London) and translated and illustrated labels for non-English speakers (Cite exploratorium multi lingual labels).

Recent trends include:

  • Interactive multi-touch devices (tables, walls)
  • Retro reflective floors and screens with video camera capture and projection
  • RFID wristbands or lanyards
  • Applications for mobile devices
  • iPads and multimedia handsets
  • Virtual and augmented reality components (Watershed sandbox for example)

Findings from Research and Evaluation 

Visitors are attracted to unique technology that is incorporated into, or existing as, the exhibit. Sandifer’s (2003) research on visitor attraction and holding power across 61 different types of exhibits in a science center, found that technological novelty and open-endedness were contributing factors to the variance in average visitor holding time.

“Creating Museum Media for Everyone” is a collaboration between the Museum of Science in Boston, WGBH’s National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) and Ideum; the project is focused on creating experiences to provide information and learning experiences to audiences of all abilities. **Needs a better description of what this project is, sort into a section?**

Tabletop touchscreens have been used to explore and interact with new types of content (such as ocean temperatures and historical data) at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and the Oakland Museum of California In Oakland. *Also at Harvard Museum Natural History (Build-a-Tree)–phylogenetic relationships*

Interactive learning projects such as (Lindgren, Moshell 2011) are exploring how the use of physical movement across a tracked floor surface can allow learners to more richly explore physics principles, and facilitate new understandings. This NSF project’s multiple testing passes used two areas of physics – gravitational forces, and wave theory.

Mixed reality, the dynamic blending of the physical and virtual world, is another area where researchers are looking to engage the imagination. (Hughes et al, 2005) In this study, researchers dynamically used mixed reality to “virtually” flood the 4th floor of the Orlando Science Center to bring the prehistoric sea creatures to life inside the museum floor. This project evaluation showed rich growth in visitor engagement, high level of post-experience discourse between family groups and non-connected visitors, and a high level of interest to experience more exhibits in this interactive, engaging fashion.

Insert project information about ARIEL from The Franklin Institute…

Directions for Future Research 

Use of new and emerging technologies in the museum space needs further research to understand how individuals and social groups physically engage with the technology, as well has how they interpret the content (Heath, Vom Lehn, & Osborne, 2005). Collaborations between computer sciences / human-computer interaction field with the learning sciences field will provide opportunities for the integration of research on physical engagement with hardware and software usability and meaning-making.

Further Reading

Museums and the New Web: The Promise of Social Technologies by Jim Spadaccini

Designs for Learning: Studying Exhibits That Do More Than Entertain by Sue Allen

RFID enhances visitors’ museum experience at the Exploratorium by Sherry Hsi and Holly Fait

“Whoa! We’re going deep in the trees!”: Patterns of collaboration around an interactive information visualization exhibit by Pryce Davis et al.

Tallon, Loïc, and Kevin Walker. Digital Technologies And The Museum Experience. Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2008. Print.


Jewitt, Carey. ‘Digital Technologies In Museums: New Routes To Engagement And Participation’. Designs for Learning 5.1/2 (2012): 74-93. Retrieved from:

Charitonos, Koula et al. ‘Museum Learning Via Social And Mobile Technologies: (How) Can Online Interactions Enhance The Visitor Experience?’. British Journal of Educational Technology 43.5 (2012): 802-819. Retrieved from:

Gammon, B., & Burch, A. (2008). Designing mobile digital experiences. In L. Tallon & K. Walker (Eds.), Digital technologies and the museum experience: Handheld guides and other media (pp. 35–60). Lanham: Altamira Press.

Heath, C., Vom Lehn, D., & Osborne, J. (2005). Interaction and interactives: collaboration and participation with computer-based exhibits. Public Understanding of Science, 14(1), 91–101.

Patten, Dave (2015) ASTC conference Mobile Technologies in the Museum session (described mobile phone app for audio descriptions of exhibits and objects for sight impaired).

Sandifer, C. (2003). Technological novelty and open-endedness: Two characteristics of interactive exhibits that contribute to the holding of visitor attention in a science museum. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40(2), 121–137.

Spadacini, Jim, Case Study: California Mapping Multitouch Exhibit (2010) , website.  

C. E. Hughes, C. B. Stapleton, D. E. Hughes & E. Smith, “Mixed Reality in Education, Entertainment and Training: An Interdisciplinary Approach,” IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications, 26(6), November/December 2005, 24-30.

Lindgren, R., & Moshell, J. (2011) Supporting children’s learning with body-based metaphors in a mixed reality environment. Proceedings of the Interaction Design and Children Conference