Display: Consume: Respond – Digital Engagement with Art

Digital Quill – SERENA Project

Last week I attended the Computers and the History of Art conference for the first time, the conference took the broad theme of Display: Consume: Respond – Digital Engagement with Art and had an eclectic programme.

I was delighted that The CHArt committee awarded me a Helene Roberts Bursary Award, as a recieptent of this award  the committee asked that I write a blog post on the conference. I’m sure many of you have read previous conference blogs by me, I want to try and do something different for this post, rather than trying to cover each paper I’m going to pick out a few highlights, papers that really stood out for me – mainly because they aligned well with my own research. Abstracts from all the papers can be found on the CHArt website

Exploring New Models for Mobile Learning in Museums – British Museum  (Shelley Manion et al)

The British Museum team presented the approach they have taken to developing mobile learning for school groups. The main focus of their presentation was evaluation, and iterative development. The team specifically talked about a mobile app they developed for the Hajj exhibition, the app was designed to move school visits away ‘from audio to mobile experiences’. Rather than simply directing students around the exhibition, the app was activity orientated and challenged students to draw objects, answer questions, and prompted social engagement as the pre planned routes of the app meant that students had to work in teams to complete some tasks.

  • Two external influences guided the development of the app 1. Cultural and religious sensitivities 2. No network connectivity in the gallery space.
  • This wasn’t a big budget project, but the team were able to reduce production costs by reusing videos from the BM’s website/ exhibition etc.
  •  All school sessions where facilitated and had tech support – this demonstrates that app was used to facilitate learning, rather than substitute the role of educator.
  •  Evaluation was carried out in a variety of ways with 33% of participants completing surveys after the exhibition. The team categorised responses as:
  1. Factual
  2. Functional
  3. Emotional
  •  And found that Drawing was the most popular activity, followed by watching videos:
  1. Drawing ( this was the most popular the list is in decreasing popularity)
  2. Watching videos
  3. Voice recording
  4. Answering questions
  • In developing future apps, they want to encourage students to freely engage with exhibitions, to do this the BM intend to work with teachers to encourage them to let the mobile learning app guide students – moving teachers away from a ‘control’ to ‘facilitator’ role.

Hacking Art History – Oonagh Murphy

Slightly biased as this was my talk, but I thought it would be good to include a couple of links to projects I talked about for those that attended the conference, and those that followed it online, I hope to publish this research in the coming months:

This is Our Playground – Ulster Museum

Paint Job – RijksMuseum

3D Scanning and Printing Hackathon – The Met

Encouraging reflectivity in mobile interactions in Mobile Interactions – Mel Woods

I found this talk fascinating, Mel talked about a SERNA research project that she is Principal Investigator for:

‘The vision of the SerenA project is to transform research processes by proactively creating surprising connection opportunities. We will deliver novel technologies, methods and evaluation techniques for supporting serendipitous interactions in the research arena.’

In her presentation she talked about the value of serendipity, reflection, delight and creativity – the joy of the unexpected and how digital technology could become facilitate and prompt the joy of the unexpected.

Mel spoke about designing for reflection – and asked how do we do this in a mobile device? she suggested that slow technology may be the answer.

Some interesting apps that Mel suggested demonstrate the potential to facilitate serendipitous experiences:

In a second paper Mel talked about ‘The Digital Quill’ see picture above – this project looked at how design could inspire creativity and set to tackle the chunkiness of touch screen. Touch screen is great by there is something so much more enjoyable about painting, or writing with your favourite pen – The talk over lunch was how do we get our hands on one of these beautiful iPad stylus – the bad news is they have no plans to develop them commercially -yet anyway.

State-of-the-Art: German Museum Education on the Social Web – Bianca Bocatius

I really enjoyed Bianca’s talk – as it had a lot of overlaps with my own work. Bianca is looking at why museums are not using social media to engage with visitors in Germany (while I’m looking at why museums in Northern Ireland have been slow to embrace the opportunities that digital technologies provide museums).

In her talk Bianca showed a number of blogs, and social media platforms of German Museums and discussed the low levels of visitor engagement. For example she showed a blog which was written in heavy academic language, and she explained that the lack of a holistic approach to social media demonstrated a lack of understanding.

She concluded by providing 5 explanations of why the German Museum Sector has been slow to embrace social media:

  1. Lack of Know-How
  2. Reluctance of Technologies
  3. Fear of Losing Control
  4. Fear of Marginalization
  5. Web Presence Has no Priority- Lack of time, money and will

I know I could relate to all of the above – and it was great to see someone talk about digital uptake across an entire sector – all to often research focuses on one museum, one funding stream, or specific cultural policy.


I really enjoyed the CHArt conference and all the papers – it was great to present my research to a new group of people, I hadn’t meet anyone at the conference before I attended, but I made some great connections and look forward to following the projects I discussed above develop….

Conferences for me are all about the people, and one of the really interesting people I met at this conference was Cassiope Sydoriak, A recent graduate from an MA in Art History at Oxford she has set up  Broken Spike Bike Co-Op  . It sounds great! So if you live in Oxford make sure to pop by, learn how to fix, use their tools – or have a cup of tea…

Thanks to the CHArt committee, and everyone I met for a great few days.

2 thoughts on “Display: Consume: Respond – Digital Engagement with Art

  1. Bianca says:

    Hey Oonagh, I just found your review about the latest CHArt conference while searching for hackathons. I decided to mention this socio-technological phenomenon in my thesis with a brief explanation and some best practice examples. And thanks for enjoying my talk

    • Oonagh Murphy says:

      Hi Bianca
      It was lovely to meet you, glad you found the article useful. Good luck for the rest of you PhD!

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