Koen Snijders and Karen Drost of the Media Museum in Hilversum walk MuseumNext through their experience of developing a new educational app – Glitch – designed to enable students to enjoy an independent and engaging visit.
At the Media Museum in Hilversum – otherwise known as the Institute for Sound & Vision – Koen Snijders and Karen Drost are part of a team that is responsible for documenting the swift and seismic shifts that have taken place in the media landscape over recent decades. They also help to interpret how people can better understand the ways in which media culture contributes to and shapes society.
Koen Snijders, Product Manager for Education, explains: “We try to help people navigate their way through media in a safe and positive way. And in an active and interactive way.”
In a fast-paced, constantly changing field like media literacy, teaching methods and insights must continually adapt as the media landscape evolves. As Koen suggests, new innovations and technologies can make a dramatic difference in a short period of time: “We have seen that recently with the adoption of AI and machine learning. Because it is difficult to see inside the algorithms that digital users have become reliant on, understanding the nuances of disinformation and fake news, for example, can be difficult.”
Museum Manager, Karen Drost has worked at Media Museum for nearly two decades, having seen the museum evolve from an archive focused on nostalgia into the more dynamic and forward-looking institution it is today. She says, “In that time, we have seen the arrival of so many new platforms – from YouTube to Facebook to Instagram. The Media Museum building remains the same but our exhibitions and the way we use our space have changed a lot since we first opened 17 years ago.
Now, we our story is about exploring what has changed in the media landscape, how it has happened and how people can identify their role in the creation and consumption of media.”
The museum recently reopened as a super-modern museum and the first to continuously adapt to visitors’ actions through the creation of a personal journey. With a Museum app and facial recognition techniques, the museum visit is personalised by age, interests and media preferences. The longer you walk around, watch and interact with the exhibits, the closer visitors get to their own media personality.
The museum consists of five distinctive spaces to engage visitors: Play, Sell, Share, Inform and Tell. In fact, over 50 exhibits within the Institute for Sound & Vision give visitors the chance to investigate their place in modern media in an immersive and interactive way.
Given that many visitors are active participants in media – whether it is creating TikTok videos or communicating with friends via WhatsApp – it is hardly surprising that play and active experiences form a key part of the museum’s programming. And in developing an educational layer for schools visits, the team at the Media Museum recently came up with the idea of a tablet-guided tour format fronted by Glitch – an avatar devised to encourage an independent and immersive experience.
Getting to know Glitch
The initial driver for Glitch was to enhance engagement and to help student visitors explore the museum in a deeper and more comprehensive way. The other reason for creating an extra app was to help with capacity optimisation. As Koen explains,
“Before Glitch we didn’t have a tool that could help us monitor and manage the spread of visitors within the museum areas. So, from there we had the idea to create a tablet tour that could be used by students from the ages of 8 – 16.”
Karen adds, “Because of the topics covered by the museum, we are telling an abstract story and asking students to consider their own role in the media. It is difficult to communicate this through the app to an audience younger than eight, I would say.
“For adults it is easier to encourage that abstract form of thinking but for students in our target age group, Glitch provides a framework for discovery.”
Koen continues, “Additionally, we wanted any tour device to tie together the 50 exhibits and link all of the interactive experiences together – helping them gain more clarity in their learning. We didn’t want the solution to feel too educational or stop visitors from playing and having fun in the museum, though. And that’s where the idea of gamification came into the development of Glitch.”
Glitch is a character created by the museum to support young visitors on the tour around the museum. The story of Glitch begins with the character falling out of a “Media Reactor” and into the students’ tablet devices. Koen says,
“Glitch has had enough of media. He’s been bumped and bruised by the constant flow of information and is a bit overawed by it all. He asks the students to help him find his way back into media.”
In this way, Glitch is the perfect partner for a visitor. He helps students to explore the exhibits of the museum and discover what the museum has to offer together. By asking students questions and providing relevant information at different points, students are able to navigate their way through the spaces in an engaging and playful way.
“Glitch sometimes helps visitors to enter a new exhibit with their ‘educational glasses’ on,” Koen suggests. “And after every zone he helps to provide a round-up of information to cement those learnings.
“Over time he begins to feel better and gradually becomes ready to reintegrate with media.”
This story mechanism is undoubtedly integral to the experience and the sense of being overwhelmed by media is one that resonates with a young audience. By encouraging them to look with a critical eye, develop an understanding of how media can work and find new ways to interpret content, Glitch serves to take students on a journey of discovery with the aim of equipping them to navigate different forms of media themselves in the real world.
Karen states, “Students really relate to Glitch and their desire to help him develop his relationship with media again serves as an important process for them to turn that abstract idea into something they can implement themselves.”
There is no doubt that the youth of today are surrounded by different forms of media from a young age – as creators and consumers. And social media apps in particular are built on the idea of play, experimentation and gamification. By creating a playful environment in which to explore and investigate, the team at the Media Museum intend to help young visitors become discerning members of the media ecosystem.
Koen adds, “With this generation of young people, media is like air or water. It’s all around them; it’s impossible to get away from and it’s almost essential to everyday life.
Fun in learning and visitor flow
A key benefit of the app is that users are able to pass through the museum at their own pace but with the ability to fully interact with the museum’s exhibits, rather than traversing the spaces in large groups with a tour guide and risk losing the ability to fully engage with the interactive elements. As Koen says,
“To truly understand our museum you have to be able to touch things and participate in the exhibits. That’s very important to us because research in the Netherlands has shown that students learn better by doing things themselves and finding fun in learning. Dutch culture and the Dutch education system is quite focused around giving children autonomy, so we’ve tried to implement this, too.
“By giving kids the keys to their own visit or putting them at the wheel we can help them to feel in charge and, as a result become more engaged in their visit.”
The advanced technologies within the app not only shape the journey through the exhibitions for maximum enjoyment but also to optimise the flow of people through the museum’s spaces – communicating with the exhibits in each zone to find out which ones are free to use. Koen says,
“We can always adapt both the content and the order in which we send students – in duos – around those exhibits. The app can actually monitor where other visitors are and restructure the order of the tour in real-time to avoid bottlenecks or queues.
“That’s important because the last thing we want is a lot of bored 11 year-olds standing in line or checking their phones.”
Testing 1, 2, 3
Ahead of the launch of the app, the museum welcomed a number of school groups in for testing of the tour to ensure that Glitch was ready for release. Koen notes, “That was probably the most fun part but the scariest part for us. You know your product is 80% done and you give it to nine or ten year-old kids to pull apart. We learned a lot from that experience.
“Kids can be harsh and they don’t beat around the bush. But they often have valuable insights. And they know how to play. Observing whether they are genuinely engaged or not is something that we have to be open to finding out.
“Importantly, our content management system has been built to give us flexibility. So, we can make changes and improvements with relative ease. And even now we continue to work on new text and new visuals to always enhance the experience.”
Over time, these refinements and additions are enabling the Media Museum team to provide more targeted tours – even down to different variations for different school years. Not only that but the content can be adapted as and when the media landscape changes in the real world. In this way, it is hoped that the tour will remain relevant and up to date in the future.
This approach reflects the nature of many of the social media apps that the museum is shining a light on – taking an iterative approach to tour development. Indeed, Koen and his team periodically run new design sprints to develop new functionality and implement necessary changes or improvements. Koen says,
“This app is never done. It can always be better and my aim is to continue with design sprints long into the future.”
Karen adds, “We have a lot of fun during the prototyping process and bring in many of our colleagues to share their ideas – both on content and technical elements. But I think the big questions Glitch addresses remain the same – and will probably still be relevant in 10 years’ time.”
What next for the Media Museum and Glitch?
Koen and Karen say that there are other potential applications away from school groups and other forms of content that can be delivered in the tablet tour format. From children’s parties to senior citizen visits, the back-end structure gives the team great flexibility.
Asked what their advice would be to any museum or institution looking to implement a similar app or gamify it museum experience, Koen says, “Be iterative right from the start. This mindset means you are constantly looking for ways to improve your product and it opens you up to feedback – because you know your product is never truly finished.
“If you create something that you think is perfect, you are often scared to receive feedback. But if you work on the basis that products and projects are always there to be built on then you can embrace change and design programmes in ways that can always accommodate change.”
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