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Online Course: Mobile Interpretation for Museums

Page history last edited by Nancy Proctor 14 years, 9 months ago

Online course developed for TEC-CH Online, Università della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano:


Mobile Interpretation for Museums, from Web 2.0-3.0

Instructor: Nancy Proctor


Online registration


Course Syllabus


Increasingly the museum is becoming a portable experience that engages our audiences in a range of networked environments beyond the Museum’s walls and website: from YouTube to iTunes, from Wikipedia to iPhone Aps. This trend is nowhere so evident as in the cross-platform landscape of mobile interpretation in museums. This course takes as its premise that portability means first and foremost mobility, and in this spirit aims to establish approaches and best practices in mobile experience design that will in fact support the full range of media engaged in museum interpretation, including fixed and analog platforms as well as mobile.


Click here for the detailed course plan. 


Module Schedule


The module runs from 25 May - 12 July 2009.



Module Objectives


1.    By the end of the module you will know: 

· The basics of all major mobile platforms currently in use and in development for museum interpretation.

· Specific issues in using each platform, including best practice principles for developing a museum interpretation program integrating mobile tools.


2.    By the end of the module you will be able to: 

· Evaluate a museum’s interpretation needs and make recommendations about the most effective platforms and approaches for developing a mobile solution.

· Design a mobile interpretation solution for a museum or other cultural site.


3.    By the end of the module you are supposed to be: 

· Familiar with the major mobile interpretation concepts and projects developed to date.

· Aware of the role and value of interpretation in cultural sites.





This module lasts 7 weeks and awards you 3 learning credits (ECTS - European Credits  Transfer System).


The first week is structured as follows:


  • A video introduction to the course (15 min), in which the professor introduces the syllabus and explains the course requirements.
  • A video presentation (45 min), in which the professor presents the main principles that govern the teaching and ideas presented in the course.
  • A research assignment in which students begin analyzing interpretation in cultural sites and start applying the principles of the module.


The following 6 weeks are organized into Topic(s) of the Week, and Focus of the Week.   


  • Topic(s) of the week: These are the main themes and ideas of the module; the videos, audio and readings will give you insight into the benefits and weaknesses of each of the main platforms and issues in mobile interpretation for cultural heritage.


  • Focus of the week: These weekly readings and activities are the practical counter-part of the topic(s) introduced in the week. In this section you will be required to read a text, review a video or audio recording, and/or perform an activity, to be carried on in cooperation with your colleagues or individually. The output of individual activities will be shared afterwards for comparative overview and critical discussion. Activities will help you to keep up with the module, and to collaboratively build knowledge with your colleagues, who are, as you, professionals in the field.



Course Topics


The course will cover the following topics:  


  • The role and value of mobile interpretation in the Museum as Agora;
  • The history of mobile interpretation in museums and cultural sites;
  • An analysis of each of the main platforms currently in use or in development for cultural interpretation, with evaluation of the pros, cons, and best practice for each;
  • The principles of working cross-platform and strategies for achieving economies of scale in technology, content and audience development/outreach;
  • The value of an integrated approach to interpretation program development.


The final week is dedicated to the group student projects and their presentation. It is also an opportunity for students to project coming issues in museum interpretation and brainstorm strategies for responding and building the future of museum interpretation.





Students are evaluated on three assignments and course participation:


  1. Case study (20% of final grade): Your analysis of an audio tour at a museum or cultural site of your choosing should be recorded in the ‘Case studies’ section of the Handheld Wiki (tatehandheldconference.pbwiki.com/) in week 2 of the course.


  1. Position Paper (20% of final grade): Your ‘position paper’ on a critical aspect of cultural interpretation of interest to you is due in week 4. Choose a ‘Vox Op’ from those available on the Wiki and respond to it in your paper, which should include an abstract (up to 500 words), keywords, your written text (2,000 words in English, French or Italian) and bibliography. You are encouraged to bring in other references and your experiences of cultural interpretation. Please publish your position paper and bibliography on the course Wiki.


  1. Group project (50% of final grade): Project groups select an existing cultural site and design a mobile interpretation program for it in the ‘web 3.0’ world. Together the group members must address each of these aspects of the project design:
    1. User experience
    2. Content design, including sustainability and expandability in future
    3. Technology, including sustainability and expandability in future
    4. Business model
    5. Marketing
    6. Operations, including distribution and signage, if applicable
    7. Extra credit: describe how the program can exist on or operate across multiple platforms, with attendant economies of scale in technology, content repurposing, and marketing/outreach effect

The group’s presentation of the project plan is due in week 7 as a powerpoint with audio accompaniment in English.


10% of the final mark is derived from participation in the other weekly class activities and discussion, including communication in the class forum and contribution to the wikis used in the course.





All course materials are available online and are linked to from the course wiki. They include:


  1. ‘Socratic dialogues’: audio and video recordings of discussions with leading practitioners in the field, to be viewed online. Up to 1 hr each in length. 
  2. Readings: In addition to the online articles linked to from the course materials, students should subscribe to and read a number of these major museum publications regularly to inform their course work and professional development:
    1. MuseumMobile.info
    2. Museum 2.0
    3. Musematic
    4. Museum Computer Network Listserv
    5. conference.archimuse.com
  3. Forum & Wiki: Both the course Forum and the wikis.



Required readings (subject to revision):


Week 1:


Week 2:


Week 3:


Week 4:


Week 5:


Week 6:


Week 7:



Instructor: Nancy Proctor

With a PhD in American art history and a background in filmmaking, curation and art criticism, Nancy Proctor published her first online exhibition in 1995. She co-founded TheGalleryChannel.com in 1998 with Titus Bicknell, aiming to publish virtual tours of innovative exhibitions alongside comprehensive global museum and gallery listings. TheGalleryChannel was later acquired by Antenna Audio, where Nancy headed up New Product Development for nearly 8 years, introducing the company’s multimedia, sign language, downloadable, podcast and cellphone tours. She also led Antenna’s sales in France from 2006-2007. When Antenna Audio was acquired by Discovery Communications in 2006, Nancy worked with the Travel Channel’s product development team and subsequently headed up research and development for the nascent Discovery Audio brand. She now works cross-platform again as Head of New Media at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where she continues to teach, lecture and publish widely on museum interpretation for digital platforms.


Comments (2)

Maartje said

at 8:36 am on Mar 9, 2009

Dear nancy,

As a Masterstudent in the Art, Culture and Media studies in the Netherlands I am very interested in this course.
Is the course open to students, or only meant for museumprofessionals?

I'm an intern at the Netherlands Institute of Cultural Heritage at the moment, and doing research about digital technologies in museums, and the way restauration-and conservation issues can be made visible to the museumaudience through e.g. multmedia tours.

Nancy Proctor said

at 10:11 am on Mar 9, 2009

Dear Maartje,
The course is open to pretty much anyone, and we'd love to have you in the next session which starts 25 May, 2009. You can go to the online registration link above to get more info. I've started posting the podcasts that will be some of the 'texts' for our course at http://museummobile.info/archives/category/podcasts

Best regards,

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