The AVICOM Sessions during the 26th ICOM General Conference in Prague 2022: Reports and Papers

AVICOM Contributions to the ICOM General Conference in Prague

Joint Session AVICOM & CECA – Digital media for the preparation, implementation and follow-up of the museum visit. Sense, superfluity or nonsense? (22 August 2022, 16:00 – 17.30, HYBRID FORMAT)

Dr. Michael H. Faber, Cultural Anthropologist, President of AVICOM, State Museum Director LVR Open-Air Museum Kommern (retired), Bonn, Germany: Communication and mediation: digital, analogue, personal? About Must-Have, Nice to Have and Nonsense

Michael Eulenstein, Artist, M.A. Cultural Education/Mediation,  Hildesheim, Germany:  Best practice examples based on website analysis. Results of the survey by the MPR-AVICOM-Project “The COVID 19 Challenge”

Wuyan Li, Postdoctoral Researcher, Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, Shanghai, China: Discussion Children’s Learning Effectiveness by Digital Media during Museum Visiting: Based on an Empirical Survey of Museum Visitors

Joint Session AVICOM & MPR & ICOM – The Covid 19 Challenge: Museums and their digital engagement in times of crises. Results of the Solidarity Project of AVICOM, MPR and ICOM Germany and other contributions (23 August 2022, 14:30 – 16:00, HYBRID FORMAT)

Introduction into the project by Dr. Klaus Staubermann, CEO ICOM Germany, Dr. Matthias Henkel, President of AVICOM, Director of the Museum Neukölln, Berlin, Germany and Dr. Michael H. Faber, Cultural Anthropologist, President of AVICOM, State Museum Director LVR Open-Air Museum Kommern (retired), Bonn, Germany

Michael Eulenstein, Artist, M.A. Cultural Education/Mediation,  Hildesheim, Germany: Results of the survey by the MPR-AVICOM-Project “The COVID 19 Challenge”

Elisa Monsellato, Project Manager,Swapmuseum, Lecce, Italy & Carola Gatto, PhD Student University of Salento, Lecce, Italy:  The impact of lockdown on public engagement and involvement in small and peripheral museums: the case study of Swapmuseum digital strategy

Prof. Alan Miller, Lecturer,University of St Andrews, St Andrews, United Kingdom & Dr. Kamila Oles, Catherine Anne Cassidy, Research Fellow, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, United Kingdom: Enriching engagement through digital responses to COVID 19 VIC

Daniela Fuentes Arenas, Master in Cultural Heritage Management and Museology, Independent Museum Researcher, Santiago, Chile: The Role of virtual platforms of museums and cultural centers of Santiago de Chile throughout the social and health crises

Hosan Kim, Curator, The Kochon Memorial Hall, Seoul, Korea &  Jookyung Rhee, Director, Kochon Memorial Hall, Seoul, Korea: 2023 Pandemic Hero: Context based learning game as educational program in museum environment

Session AVICOM – News from the world of audiovisual and digital museum media (23 August 2022, 16:30 – 18:00, HYBRID FORMAT)

Elina Vikmane, research assistant, Latvian Museum Association; Research Centre at Latvian Academy of Culture, Rīga, Latvia: Characteristics of digitally innovative museums

Yuqiao Hu, PhD student, University of Leicester, School of Museum Studies, Leicester, United Kingdom: Rural youth engagement on Kuaishou: opportunities and challenges of Chinese museums on new social media platforms

Dr. Anna Maria Marras, research fellow, University of Turin, Turin, Italy: Conversational assistants, chatbot: how language technologies interact in the everyday life of museums

Mgr. Aleš Kapsa, Program and cultural educator, Video specialist, Muzeum Jana Amose Komenského, Uherský Brod, Czech Republic: The Labyrinth and the Theatre on the Stage of the World

Indrani Bhattacharya, Professor of Museology, University of Calcutta, Kolkata, India & Mr Supreo Chanda, Head of Museology, University of Calcutta, Kolkata, India: Digital Assistance in Indian Museums’ Educational Programme Design

Kumiko Matsui, Postdoctoral Fellow, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., United States & Yuri Kimura, Curator, National Museum of Nature and Science, Tsukuba, Japan: Museums at risk by leaving 3D image policies unwritten

AVICOM Off-Site Meeting in the National Technical Museum with AVICOM’s Media Festival F@IMP 2021/2022 (25 August 2022, NON-HYBRID)


Jeanne Pommeau, curator and restorer, Národní filmový archiv, Prague, Czech Republic: The Digital paradox: Digital tools as a mean for valorization of materiality – the example of Lumière’s vintage prints

Mohamed Harb, lecturer, Ain Shams University, Cairo, Egypt: Virtual Museum of Tutankhamun

Fatemeh – Kimia Amini Khashouei, Admin of social media ICOM Iran, Iranian National Museum of Science and Technology (INMOST), Tehran, Iran & Parastou Manteghi, Translater and Reasercher New Media, Privet Museum, Tehran, Iran: Report of 11,000 kilometers, digital historical narrative. See museums at home

Simona Chalupová, Director, Chrudim Puppetry Museum, Chrudim, Czech Republic: International cooperation during the pandemic: the Exhibition “Secrets of Wooden Puppets” in the Seoul Museum of History

After the session: F@imp Festival Ceremony and  reception of the festival participants



Before, During and After the Visit
Critical questions to guide the choice of content
for digital offers

Marie-Clarté O’Neill, Ecole du Louvre, Paris, President of CECA

A long time practice of applied research around exhibitions and the various media used to build a scenario easily shared with the visitors, has convinced me that , still too often, the digital offer has not yet reached a mature development. The question is certainly not  anymore a reluctance of museums for the use of numeric communication tools. Cost or related expertise are usually the obstacles. But what is obvious is a relative awkardness in adapting these new possibilities to the already complex museum experience. Still rather seldom are the visiting experiences where a digital proposal brings visitors exactly what they need to enrich their experience. The contribution can be twofold : an appropriate technique supporting a relevant content. The choice for approaching this topic is  here, clearly, the content, or more precisely  considering digital offers from the perspective of their educational potential because this is the DNA of CECA . Another orientation is also chosen, taking into account only visits of museums presenting material heritage and the use of technologies in these environments.

If we decide to focus on educational potential, the question then arises of how can one decide that a content, whatever its support, is educational. Museology, the science around museums, offers two diverse means for reflecting around education effectiveness :

  • Theories developed by recognised museum education theorists


  • Data issued from applied research on reception of museums by visitors

Before exploring this evironment, it may be useful to recall the definition adopted by  CECA of education: education different from learning, education whose definition  is based on the Latin ethymological roots of the word : e-ducere, leading further, making grow, helping to branch out, in museum environment, allowing visitors to have a rich personal experience.

Leaning on these two guidelines could help escaping the lure of novelty and the false certainty of unverified personal or shared opinions

Why, now, organize the reflection around specific moments of the museum experience :

before / during / after the visit? The question can be seen as : What happens during these three moments and how can a digital museum offering accompany visitors in each special experience,aiming  to transform it into a fundamentally educational one?

“Temporality of reception” process, or the way visitors live in an exhibition is a process we have observed, with my Ecole du Louvre student team, over the course of our extensive research into four major Parisian exhibitions between 2000 and 2004 at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais (Visions du futur, une histoiredes peurs et des espoirs de l’humanité, L’or des rois scythes, Matisse-Picasso, Vuillard) . We could witness there how visitors react very differently to these three moments of their experience and show needs linked very precisely to this specific chronolog. Starting  from this field research, the concept of temporality of reception was further widely exploited by the french sociologist Antigone Mouchtouris, member of the research team, in numerous publications. Some of the patterns observed around the various moments of the visit have been confirmed by subsequent research

Given the enormity of the territory covered only a few examples will be analysed in order to try and design a methodological approach that will:

  • Be likely to support the reflection of professionals, who are currently being asked to use digital technology without having any guidelines other than experiential ones
  • Generate further research

Before the visit

The selected dimension chosen here is the expectation horizons i.e. what visitors bring with them before they come and what they can build around the experience they imagine before coming .

What can be evoked here are two scientifically validated theoretical assertion from education Sciences, namely :

  • A satisfying and lasting intellectual experience is one that is connected to a previous personal experience
  • New knowledge builds on prior knowledge

These trends could be verified through applied research among a large number of visitors to the four major Parisian exhibitions . Among those, one can quote a counter example , one of the results of the “before the visit” research

In the exhibition Visions of the Future: A History of Humanity’s Fears and Hopes, the title  evoked, for the visitors interviewed, the future world, something linked to science fiction. The chosen communication images appeared to be very mysterious, not allowing a change of this first misconception.

Moreover, the first encountered object was  problematic for the visitors and unable to adjust their expectation horizon as the beginning of the exhibition featured a mummy.

The  consequences  observed in the further course of the visits were  a typical case of cognitive dissonance

  • Difficulty in starting the meaning-making process when the theme was intellectually demanding, i.e. “how various ancient civilizations have imagined the future”
  • Distraction at the beginning of the exhibition

Through this example, one sees that one of the roles of pre-visit offers, whatever the conveyed media, including the numeric ones,  is therefore to encourage cognitive consonance to help the visitor enter the exhibition with the themes already in focus, to help foster rapidly harmonious psychological and intellectual activity and reach cognitive conguence.

Which practical consequences for the pre-visit ?

One of the aims of a pre-visit offer will therefore be, through a website or social networks, to first create the expectation horizons

  • Describing the nature of the on-site offer (collections, programming, target audiences)
  • Providing practical information
  • Offering specific products (interviews, short videos, presentations of works, etc)Once covered this first step, one can also try to enrich the expectation horizons

A good example of this second trend can be found at Cernuschi Museum, Museum of Far Eastern Art of the City of Paris:

The founder of the museum gathered the bulk of the collection through a long journey through asian countries. Describing and showing  through a map Henri Cernuschi’s journey, the beginning of an interest and of a collection, is a powerfull way to create a valid expectation horizon before the visit, either on line or on site. The visitor knows what type of objects will be on display and why these objects are on view in the galleries.

During the visit

Let us consider now one of the educational potentialities of  any kind of numeric appliances during a museum visit.

The selected dimension is the importance of supporting observation of the objects and the meaning that visitors can draw from them

The justification provided comes again from applied research in museums. According to Daniel Schmitt’s field research (Museums of Strasbourg), the museum is largely seen by visitors as a place of proof: Though the evidence and the materiality of what is shown and through the evidence of the veracity of the information displayed.

What are the practical consequences of such a representation ?

The digital offer within the galleries must therefore accompany this conception by either supporting observation of these factual proofs, the displayed objects and, at the same time, by supporting solid meaning making around these same exhibits

We can select another dimension, like the importance that could be given to a strict insertion of the digital offers  in the galleries inside the general process of meaning making expected from the visitors in a thematic display, for example.

The justification that can be here  provided comes from the theories of constructivist museum education, a scientifically validated theory , advocated by world recognized museum education specialist like George Hein or Eileen Hooper-Greenhill, among others. The constructivist therory  establishes that it is the visitor who constructs his visit by using, at the same time his intellectual and psychological tools and what the museum offers to make sense of what is on display.

The practical consequences of this process are the vital importance of a strict insertion of digital offers in the general process of a meaning  making construction, requiring , at the same time, a strict relationship to the exhibits, the same relationship to the messages communicated and support for the psychological activity of visitors

Another dimension can be selected, of great importance in the present museologists’interest, the central role of interactivity

Justification can be found in the scientifically validated theory of John Dewey and his followers advocating the efficiancy of fostering intellectual and emotional activity through interactivity.

But interactivity , they say, should be together physical, sensory and intellectual , promote fun and memorization  and foster interpersonal relationships.

Practical consequences of this theory should then promote looking for multiple modes of interactivity beyond the push button  and trying to enrich the bond within the social group

After the visit

A recent research led by one of my student shows that very  few attempts are made to provide a follow up of a visit, outside some pedagogical extensions  for schools.  What applied research has provided, again in the research around our four exhibitions in Paris is noting an evident mental overload immediately after the visit, relagating an after visit offer to a further moment and a outside place


Digital technology can no longer be seen as an attractive gadget because of its novelty because it is not . It should be always used to reinforce the universal educational power that museums can possess , up to the point of being able to replace absence with digital presence , the way archeologists use it, but having always in mind hints given by museum education trough recognized theories or applied research.



Communication and mediation: digital, analogue, personal? About Must-Have, Nice to Have and Nonsense

Dr. Michael H. Faber, State Museum Director (retired), President of AVICOM

Almost to the day, it is the third anniversary of an experience that continues to haunt me to this day. To this day, as an experienced museum director and previously long-time head of museum education at this museum, I like feel something post-traumatic stress disorder. What happened?

We AVICOM colleagues were invited to a museum in Osaka on the occasion of the last ICOM General Conference, which proudly offered us a virtual flight over the ancient imperial tombs. Each of us helped the other to put on the approximately 10 centimetre thick pilot’s glasses correctly, which were to give us the VR experience. And than I experienced the flight like a rollercoaster ride. I got afraid of heights, I felt dizzy, I tore the glasses off my head. And I was ashamed of some of the others who survived this virtual flight.

Since then, I know that virtual reality goggles are not for the faint-hearted. Maybe they are not for older people in general. Later, by the way, I discovered traditional exhibition boards in this museum with large aerial photos of these graves. Thank God! Here even scaredy-cats could enjoy looking at the graves from above – without barriers.

I will come back later to the keyword accessibility in connection with digital media. Before that, however, the question arises as to the relevance of the digital for the mediation of the analogue, i.e. the objects and their narrative context in the exhibition.

The digital exploration tour through a museum or an exhibition via website or app is a welcome offer for those who, for whatever reason, are not able to visit physically. Especially in the long period of the pandemic, museums have enormously expanded their offers in this regard and have thus also been able to retain their clientele. The digital visit is thus fundamentally a means of barrier reduction, has proven itself as a sustainable means of communication with the public and is thus at least a “nice to have”.


In onsite  exhibition visits, however, the efficiency of the use of digital tours and object explorations is considered controversial, as studies have shown. The use of a device that can be borrowed, such as a tablet, is perceived by many as a hindrance, and accordingly they are little used – classic audio guides are the exception. We have the same situation concerning the mobile museum’s apps, resident on the visitor‘s device: The American „National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study“ (2017 /2019) has revealed that only 6.9 per cent of visitors use such an app onsite (2019). This study has also shown, that the increase of visitor’s satifaction by onsite usage of an app is only 0.7 per cent in relation to visitors not using that source. „This is alarming! Because increasing visitor satisfaction is the very point of (…) mobile applications!“ (Dilenschneider) For the communication of the original and its context, visitors still expect classic analogue displays. For a more detailed exploration of the object, for a deeper immersion in its context, interactive information systems installed directly near the object are perfectly adequate. Ultimately, they can provide all the information that would otherwise have to be retrieved via a mobile augmented reality app.

Comparing such stationary information systems with the mobile app, one can say: the former is a must-have, the latter is at best a nice additional toy that might fascinate younger visitors.

Do we need virtual reality or augmented reality applications? Do they satisfy visitors bringing the real exhibits closer? Virtual reality is in contrast to augmented reality: both offer in-depth information, but VR is based on reconstructions of what no longer exists. Virtual reality makes castles out of ruins, equips dinosaur skeletons with fur, eyes and teeth, sets the table in the baroque dining room with candlesticks, crockery, cutlery and all kinds of delicacies. As with all reconstructions, scientific accuracy determines the degrees of fact and fiction. And it is precisely here that the devil is in the detail: I know of countless VR apps whose content has not been sufficiently scientifically curated, but has been left too much to the production company. Nevertheless, a scientifically well-designed VR app can be good edutainment and bring objects closer – as long as you don’t wear 3-D glasses. Then you don’t see the real object at all!

By the way, there has been an interesting empirical study with the title: „Does it move you? Evaluating the impact of virtual reality on the visitor experience at the German Emigration Center“ (Deutsches Auswandererhaus) in Bremerhaven. The evaluation focussed on the following four questions:

1) What impact(s) does virtual reality have on visitors’ emotions during an exhibit visit?

2) How does virtual reality affect visitor satisfaction?

3) What is the impact of virtual reality on learning in a museum setting? It is easy to imagine the potential entertainment value of VR in a museum, but will that entertainment translate into learning?

4) How do visitors experience real and virtual objects differently?

In the German Emigration Center, two rooms with the same theme were set up next to each other. In the room on the right, a complete living room was staged with conventional information displays. The left room, on the other hand, was empty. Here, there were only chairs on which the visitor could turn around and explore the room using a virtual reality app.

The effect of both exploration options, according to the results of the study with more than 700 test persons, was different, related to the two well known different types of emotions:

The first are “visitor-experience emotions.” You know that those emotions that relate to the experience of visiting the museum rather than the specific exhibit content. Such emotions are, for example: entertainment, joy, curiosity, excitement, trial and error. Visitor-experience emotions are significant because positive visitor experiences open the door to higher levels of learning and engagement.

The other type of emotions are “exhibit-subject emotions.” These emotions come directly from the exhibit narrative, and are pulled from the exhibit subjects’ experiences.


The results of the study showed the following:

Firstly, the physically staged right room aroused more exhibit-subject emotions, i.e. caused a more intensive engagement with what was shown, including the information provided. In the left-hand room, on the other hand, mainly visitor-experience emotions were aroused, i.e. related to interest in exploration, satisfaction, etc.

Secondly: The later questioning of the test persons regarding their memories of the details of what was shown confirmed that these were more pronounced in relation to the physical presentation. With reference to a high level of response in both types of emotions the offer of Virtual Reality may be a useful addition to classic forms of information. Therefore don’t you need 3D glasses. Corresponding VR technology is also offered for the tablet.

I encourage you to take a look at the study, which is exciting in terms of its method and results. You can find it in English on the website of the German Emigration Center:

Keyword website: With that I change the subject and come to what is really a must-have when preparing for a visit to the museum. Of course, almost all museums today have a website. But is this site constantly maintained, is it always up-to-date, does it provide precise information about the core competence, the corporate philosophy of the respective museum? And above all: Does it comply with the international norms of accessibility? Hand on heart: Do we museum scientists and museum educators really know exactly what counts in terms of accessibility and how to implement it. How to implement them in digital? At least those who produce digital media for us should be familiar with the standards, especially since these are now mandatory, at least for public institutions and their digital offers. By the way, the website of the German Emigration Center is a best practice example of barrier-free communication.

The EU Web Accessibility Directive (EU 2016/2102) from 2016, transposed into national law in 2018, has set deadlines by which websites, apps and other mobile applications must be barrier-free. This deadlines have already passed: for websites at September 2018 and for mobile apps at  June 2021!

Internet sites must state in their accessibility declarations to what extent the sites meet the legal requirements and which elements are not yet accessible and for what reason. This also includes a feedback mechanism with which users can report barriers directly. State monitoring bodies monitor the barrier reduction processes. Governments are obliged to report to the EU.

If you are responsible for the digital presence of your museum, you, dear colleagues, are well advised to check these presences for accessibility. A whole range of tools are available for this purpose, that you can use by yourself, even it seems for someone a little bit complicated. Google’s „Lighthouse“, an open-source and automated tool for improving the performance, quality, and correctness of your web apps is just one example: When auditing a page, Lighthouse runs a barrage of tests against the page, and then generates a report on how well the page did. From here you can use the failing tests as indicators on what you can do to improve your app. Of course, you can also have your digital offerings checked for compliance with EU directives by companies specialized in this.

The standards prescribed in the EU Web Accessibility Directive are based on the rules set out by the World Wide Web Consortium in the “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” (WCAG). The WCAG 2.1 describes four principles, 13 guidelines and 61 success criteria/conditions as well as recommended techniques for implementation.

Here I would like to mention only the four basic principles:

1) Perceptibility: Can everyone perceive it? This concerns the senses of sight, hearing and touch. This concerns, for example, contrast between text and background, easily readable font, screen readers for the blind, exclusive operation via the keyboard …, for the hearing impaired transcription of audio information, subtitling of videos and information in sign language.

2) Usability: This concerns motor impairments, mobility and strength. For example, coins need to be large enough to click on.

3) Comprehensibility: This concerns content and language, but also the complexity of the tool and its structure. Text information must be understandable, also available in plain language. The structure of the digital information must be predictable. Accessibility helps people with a wide range of impairments that we often don’t even think about: people with autism or ADHD can also be affected by bright colours, poor contrasts and inconsistent design.

4) Robustness: Here the technical dimension is addressed. Does the medium function without errors and is it compatible with other operating systems and end devices (responsive web design)?

Finally, I would like to come back to mobile apps and talk about Multi-Media Guides for pre-visit usage and the visit. First things first: Museums should consider apps because people are using apps more and more. Even the aforementioned survey on app usage by Colleen Dilenschneider reveals low usage rate for museum apps in comparison to other media for planning the museum visit. What are the reasons? A lot of museum apps are brutal: their design is poor, they lack key information like address and accessibility, they miss integration into the museum’s philosophy and strategy and the handling is simply horrible.


We know a lot of digital museum guides that are nothing more than route planners through the exhibition, with brief information and pictures of the exhibits. I have never understood why museums have had such crap produced for expensive money, but I do understand the producers who like to make money with it. The classic orientation flyer with exhibition map, the hall leaflet are cheaper and ready to hand for everyone on site – as long as you have thought about reprinting them in time.

If the guides are multimedia-based and meet the WCAG criteria for accessibility, they can be used equally by people with and without disabilities and will be better accepted by visitors in general. They are therefore a highly democratic means of communication.

Good multimedia guides can be handled in such a way that text, images, audio and video can be optimised for the different target groups on the one hand and also combined on the other. It is important to note that a good guide is not a special solution for people with disabilities, but it takes into account the special requirements of the user groups and guarantees technical accessibility. Its content design, structure, operating and selection tools follow the principle of being used by all people of all ages with different abilities on an equal footing and without assistance.

A best practice example is the Multimedia Guide of the Dresden State Art Collections, whose software was developed by the Technical University of Dresden for both smartphones and tablets. I would like to briefly mention a few characteristics: There are no nested menus, control elements have been replaced by easily understandable terms. When describing the paintings, the texts are provided in detail, but also in simple language, and a screen reader is available for the blind.

In addition, the exhibits are described audibly. Attention is also paid to the description of pictorial details that are imperceptible to the target group. For people with hearing impairments, the description of the paintings is in sign language, while the work is presented visually and with a text that can be read along.

A problem that I only discovered after completing my contribution: On the internet you only discover a conventional multimedia guide, but not the barrier-free version. When I called the museum, they only could give me the link to the conventional guide. Super bad service! If you offer digital services, please promote them, let them find!

Thank God, that the Dresden State Art Collections do not rely on digital tools for accessibility. They rely equally on personal mediation to people with disabilities. Barrier-free tours for the deaf, blind and visually impaired as well as tours in simple language are offered regularly. By my opinion, personal mediation to those target groups still remains a must-have.


– As the example of Dresden shows, classic, personal and digital mediation must have the same importance in order to achieve inclusion for all. The digital complements the analog.

– Digital communication must follow international guidelines on accessibility. This starts with the website, continues via mobile apps and ends – we couldn’t talk about that – with the appropriate design of communication in social media.

– The use of digital media must be closely linked to the strategy of content and communication/museum education. Strategic processes require the implementation of digital communication planning right from the start. Please consider very critically, dear colleagues, what is necessary and makes sense, what could be more of a bit of luxury and what remains nonsense.

– Keep an eye on the cost-benefit ratio: Wouldn’t it make sense to put the money that a complex and then for some reason even short-lived app costs into personal placement, into living guides welcoming the visitors, exploring the objects together with them? Have conventional mediation and communication have not had their day. And despite all the digitalisation, museums remain analogue.

The museum as a place of experience may also remain a place of retreat from the digital world that is gradually overloading us – as a place of contemplation and recreation.


Dilenschneider, Colleen: Musing On A Mobile App For Your Cultural Organization? Read This First (NEW DATA) […; 11 August 2022]

EU Web Accessibility Directive [; 11 August 2022]

Haage, Anne: Digitale Barrierefreiheit. Grundlagen und Richtlinen. In: In: rheinform. Informationen für die rheinischen Museen 1/2022, ed. by Landschaftsverband Rheinland, pp 50 – 53

Heidsiek, Katie: Does it move you? Evaluating the impact of virtual reality on the visitor experience at the German Emigration Center. Bremerhaven 2019 [; 16 August 2022]

Loitsch, Claudia: Mit barrierefreien Multimedia-Guides mehr Besucher*innen erreichen. Ein Praxisbeispiel aus den Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden. In: rheinform. Informationen für die rheinischen Museen 1/2022, ed. by Landschaftsverband Rheinland, pp 44-49

Morrison, Debbie: Museum Apps: Why They’re Brutal and How to Fix Them [; 11 August 2022]

WCAG 2.1 [; 11 August 2022]



Discussion on Children’s Learning Effect by Digital Media during Museum Visiting: Based on an Empirical Survey of Museum Visitors

Wuyan Li, Postdoctoral Researcher, Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, Shanghai, China


In recent years, the development environment of museums has changed in many ways. And children, as important visitors to many museums, are different from what they used to be. In this context, museums should seek to survive by strengthening their capacity to provide educational resources. The emerging digital technologies have opened up many new possibilities for museum education and has greatly enriched children’s learning experiences. However, the role of technology in the museum experience is ambivalent, with its effect being questioned or disputed, makes it important to examine the necessity and effect of its use on which this paper is focused. Through observations and interviews with 36 children and their companions in exhibitions of two museums in China, this study can preliminarily summarize the interactive learning behaviours, learning effect and influencing factors of children’s learning with digital exhibits during their visit. It turns out that interactive learning behaviour have three modes: children’s interaction with digital media exhibits, companions’ interaction with digital exhibits, and interaction between children and their companions. Most children with positive interactive behaviours through digital media cannot actually achieve the expected effect in all dimensions, and the relevant factors influencing effect can be categorised as physical, personal and social factors. On the basis of the findings, suggestions are made to optimise the design of digital media exhibits to improve children’s learning effect. In addition, significant and consistent differences in the learning behaviour and effect of digital media among children aged 3-6, 7-9 and 10-12 are also found.

Key Words Museum; Children; Digital Media; Learning Effect


Museums today are in a new development environment full of opportunities and challenges (Loveland, M et al.2015). First, as non-profit, informal learning organisations, they faces fierce competition with other institutions, especially commercial ones, for the cultural capital of audiences, and the impact of the information explosion in this age makes people prefer to pursue short and fast information (which is the strength of for-profit organizations to produce), and museums are faced with the crisis that whether they can still attract visitors. Secondly, COVID-19 has profoundly changed the world, posing huge challenges to the on-site service of museums and increasing financial pressure(UNESCO 2021). Although more than half of museums in China are fully funded by the government, many of them still have been forced to get income through multiple channels and introduce market mechanisms to operate under financial pressure. At this time, attracting more visitors and providing a better museum experience has become an “inelastic demand”. Thirdly, the characteristics of visitors have changed dramatically, with people are in the “filter bubbles” result from algorithms(Eli Pariser 2011), leading to increasingly diverse needs and elusive visitors, and “reconceptualising the relationship between museums and visitors” has been considered to be one of the biggest challenges for contemporary museums. (Eilean Hooper-Greenhill 2000) In recent years, discussions in the museum world have been dominated by “new changes”, “new visions” and “new development”, and the definition of museums are changing drastically, indicating that museums, the institution that has been inherited for many years, urgently need to reform and meet the new needs of visitors in terms of learning and entertainment through new methods(Graham Black 2005).

Children are among the target visitors in many museums. Compared to adults, children have special characteristics in reading skills, cognitive abilities, life experiences and so on(David R.B et al. 2020)(Pagano, A., & Cerato, I. 2015), for example, they have a high degree of creativity and curiosity. There are many studies on children’s museum learning,and it is found that it presents different characteristics in learning behaviours, such as learning through touch, feeling, and imitation(Men, Y. et al. 2019). Since children’s visits are generally accompanied by adults, engaging children is an effective strategy to attract visitors of all ages(Zvyagintseva, L. 2018). Children are also different in new era. For example, the Z generation, who are digital natives, have many new needs. They are ‘immersed in technology'(Kraemer, H. 2018), and adept at using digital tools and have different learning styles, preferences and habits(Lessa, J. 2020). Therefore, under these backgrounds, museums should respond to the dramatic changes in the outside world and seek new survival through the reform of education supply.

Digital transformation is a highly valued solution put forward by global museum community. Ubiquitous digital media has completely revolutionised museum exhibitions, with a large number of museums have already commonly adopting digital media technologies such as digital projection, touchscreens, Augmented Reality(AR) and Virtual Reality(VR) as tools to interpretation, resulting in dramatic changes to exhibitions, exhibits and museum learning. Those promising technologies mentioned in 2010-2016 Horizon Report: Museum Education Edition published by the New Media Consortium NMC such as Mobiles, Location-Based Services, Gesture-Based Computing, Tablets, AR, VR, Smart Objects, Natural user interfaces, Games and Gamification, Networked Objects, are gradually shining into reality and play a part in museums, generating new devices, new models and new environments for communication(T. Smirnova, D. Vinck.2020) that not only contribute to improve the quality of content, enrich the perceptual experience of pleasure(Wang, Y., Yu, J. 2020)(Aimi F.H. et al. 2014), excitement and even deeper understanding, make children’s interaction with museums shift from looking to touching, engaging and even immersion, facilitate a lasting dialogue between visitors and exhibitions, and provide unprecedented opportunities for collaborative learning(Mohd N.S. et al. 2018;Zhang, Y. 2020; Aristova, U.V. et al. 2020), but change the learning paradigm(Papathanasiou-Zuhrt, D. et al. 2019). It also helps educators to better facilitate children’s meaning construction, bringing many benefits to them(Plowman, L., & Stephen, C. 2005; Loveland, M et al.2015). The use of technology has been so prevail that many museums even hold exhibitions full of digital media artworks, which ignite visits, and become internet sensations and museums reap the benefits of both social and economic success. All of this makes technology seem like a panacea for all problems.

Although technology offers great opportunities for museum displays, the practical effect has not yet been fully proven(Tay, J.L.MJ. 2021;Carrozzino, M., and M. Bergamasco. 2010; Candello, H. et al. 2020;Areti D. et al. 2019) and their negative effect cannot be ignored(Jessie Pallud 2017). The widespread use of digital media has raised concerns among educators and parents that it will be too entertaining and addictive(Cowan, K. 2019), or hinder the intake of knowledge(F. Braña Rey, D. Casado-Neira. 2014), discourage social interaction(Loveland, M et al.2015), and some conservative museums fear the virtual representations of objects will supersede the real objects for visitors(Stogner, M. B. 2009;Pop, Izabela Luiza and Borza, Anca. 2016;Roccetti, M., Marfia, G. & Bertuccioli, C. 2014), and some practitioners believe that as children in this age are growing up with technology, digital media will not be attractive enough(Linzer, D. 2013). In addition, the use of technology often means higher costs than many traditional exhibits, and those hardware invested in can quickly become out of date(Candello, H. et al. 2020). In many circumstances, museums’ strong desire to catch up with new technologies can easily lead to blindly using of digital media as a means to reshape exhibitions rather than a rational decision in order to improve real effect, so it is important to examine the necessity and effect of the use of digital media.


Research Objective and Method

Qualitative research is applied to uncover children’s learning in museums through digital media. Existing studies rarely conduct systematic research on learning by digital media, and study focused on specifically on children. Therefore, this study aims to answer the following questions:

Q1: What types of digital media are used in museum learning?

Q2: What are the learning behaviours while children interacting with digital media in museums?

Q3: How effective is learning by digital media for children in museums?

Q4: What are the factors, which affect the digital media learning for children in museums?

Q5: How can digital media in museums be optimised to enhance children’s learning effect?

Data Collection and Analysis

This study uses qualitative emperical methods based on the research objectives, and the complexity of visitors and the difficulty of accessing children’s thoughts in particular. To prevent the researcher from intervening the natural learning condition of visitors, data were collected by using non-interventional observation of visitors and interviews after their interaction with digital media. Observation focuses on the behaviours, deductive effects and influencing factors of behaviour, and interviews focus on obtaining demographic data and self-reported effect of learning by digital media of visitors.

The empirical survey is conducted in the exhibitions of Shanghai Natural Museum and the Shanghai Astronomy Museum who have higher level exhibitions as well as more and newer digital media exhibits, can represent the current status of digital media applied in museums. 23 digital media exhibits of different types in the exhibitions were selected as observation points, coded S01-S23, and regard children those who interacted with the exhibits for more than one minute as effective interacting visitors, then observed children and their companions, and made detailed records of their behaviour and conversations during the interaction, such as visitors’ gestures, body movements and the duration of the interaction. When interaction ended, they were asked for consent and interviewed to examine the learning effect. As children are wary of strangers, some questions were asked by parents to help get answers. The survey was conducted in September-October 2021, 11:00-15:00 every time. Data of notes of 36 groups of visitors was collected, with 15 groups of children aged 3-6 years, 13 groups aged 7-9 years and 8 groups aged 10-12 years. Only 3 groups were repeated visitors, the others were all first-time visitors. The code of the observed child is followed by the a-d (for example, the 3rd visitor who interacted with S11 would be coded S11c).

The interview outline referred to the informal learning evaluation frameworks called General Learning Outcomes (GLOs)  developed by the University of Leicester, and the Informal Science Education (ISE) framework developed by the National Science Foundation, which uses knowledge, attitude, skills, interest and inspiration as the dimensions to measure learning effect. The outline has three sections: basic information about the children, including demographic information such as gender, age, grade, and the relationship between the child and company; learning effect, including ease of use of the device, knowledge or skill learned, and whether enlightened, interest was enhanced, or attitude was changed; factors that influence learning.


Classification of Digital Media in Museum Learning

Two museums have many digital media exhibits including those are usually used in museum field. To classify by function, there are three types:

Type I. Information integration. The exhibit integrates a large amount of relevant supplementary knowledge and other information into devices such as touch screens for interested visitors to search and browse.

Type II. Reality Alternative. By using audio, video and other digital media means, the exhibit makes up for the spatial or temporal absence of objects, scenes, phenomena and other real existence in museum field in the form of virtual demonstration/reappearance/real-virtual combination. They usually installed with other static exhibits (such as cultural relics, specimens) and physical scenes.

Type III. Gaming platform. The exhibit is only the carrier of the game, which is relatively independent from the exhibition. The content of the game is related to the exhibition, but can be interacted without other exhibits.

To classify by interaction, there are also three types:

Type a. Browse. No operation is required, and visitors only receive information such as text, video and other information by gaze.

Type b. Manipulate. Different contents in digital media are triggered by sounds, gestures or body movements. The responds are fixed, and the communication is still one-way.

Type c. Contribute. Different contents in digital media are triggered by sounds, gestures or body movements, but interaction can generate personalised results.

Among the digital media exhibits visitor interacting with in this study , 5 were Type I, 13 Type II, 6 Type III; 2 Type a, 20 Type b, 1 Type c; 5 Type Ib, 2 Type IIa, 9 Type IIb, 6 Type IIIb, and 1 Type IIIc 1. Except for 2 exhibits that require body movements to trigger, the rest are only to browse or operated by hand.

Learning Behaviours though digital media

Three types of visitors’ learning behaviours when interacting with digital media exhibits were observed, which are children’s interaction with digital media exhibits, children’s companions’ interaction with digital exhibits, and children’s interaction with companions.

Children’s interaction with digital exhibits are watching, listening, observing and operating the exhibits by sitting, standing or leaning on. Seven common gestures are used: drag/move, enlarge/shrink, rotate, tap, sweep, flick, and hold (Uta H., Sheelagh C. 2011). Body movements are standing, waving hands, griping and catching. Children’s learning behaviours are differ from different types of exhibits. Gestures used to interact with type I are relatively homogeneous, such as clicking and swiping on the screen, and keep watching; Behaviours visitor have when interacting with Type IIa depends on the size of the screen, visitors may walk when the screen is huge. Actions taken to interact with Type II and Type III depend on the shape of the device and interaction designed, which may require wearing devices. However, children’s behaviours are particularly different from adults, for they may not have the motivation of learning. Small children aged 3-6 have a large number of meaningless behaviours, such as touching, poking, and patting the touch screen, accounting for about 90% of their actions on average, and even repeatedly slapped defunct screens; the proportion of meaningful behaviours increased at the age of 7-9, and began to approach what adults act at the age of 10-12.

Children’s companions’ interaction with digital media exhibits depended on the identity of companions. If the child visits with peers, the behaviours will be same as the first type, and in the case of adults, there will be few meaningless interaction and most adults interact as designer’s intention, and thus be able to introduce to, instruct, guide, or discuss with children.

However, neither children nor adults are always able to accurately follow the pre-determined interaction. For example, S13a, an exhibit on turtle eggs hatching, indicates the days required for hatching by means of a circle progress bar, but some visitors assume the bar is to select and run their fingers over the circle, which didn’t trigger expected response.

Children’s interaction with companions include behaviours initiated by children and by companions. The former ones include introducing, demonstrating, rising questions and discussing, types of behaviours are differ with identity as well. There were no interaction with museum staff were observed, most children visited with parents, grandparents and peers. The latter ones include supporting, managing and intervening (Riedinger, K., Taylor, A. 2019). Some parents support learning by introducing, inducting and guiding; manage learning by pacifying and correcting, and sometimes have negative effect. Different parent-child relationship leads to different behaviours (Luo L., Kou X. 2020). Parents who ignore their children rarely interact with children or only react when children introduce or demonstrate; Parents prefer to instruct and control and have a great deal of managing and intervening behaviours; Parents collaborate and Negotiate with their children conduct more supportive behaviours. interaction between children and their peers are more likely to result in playing together or even have conflicts, generating meaningless interaction with digital exhibits, but many of them still build up relationship to explore together, and conduct supportive behaviours.

Learning effect though digital media

Comparing the judgments of learning effect by observing visitor behaviours with the self-reported effect reflected in the interviews, it can be found that the actual learning effect of children who conducted positive learning behaviours with digital exhibits and other people are generally not good enough in dimensions of knowledge, attitude, skills, interest and inspiration, especially in terms of knowledge dimension.

Among those digital media types, Type I is the least effective for small children across all dimensions of learning, with meaningless behaviours decreasing with age increasing. Literacy skill is a major threshold, and illiterate children will lose interest even when parents explain the content to them. Among Type II exhibits, Type IIa is a one-way communication that seems to fall into the mould of didactic education in perspective of constructivism(George E. Hein. 1998), and it can’t be denied that just gazing is not so easy to transmit knowledge, but it can generally provoke intuitive feeling and have more visually stimulating, especially for small children, and more likely to arouse interest than static objects. Type IIb have effect of all dimensions when the content is accurately understood, but a major challenge with the virtual-real exhibits is children’s misunderstanding of the physical object showed on the screen. For example, although S17a interacts with the meteorite on the touch screen through AR, he didn’t know the meteorite on the screen is exactly the object behind the screen. The learning effect of Types IIa and IIb are both increased in with parents’ explanation, with potential effects on knowledge, attitudes, interest and inspiration; Type III was most likely to stimulate interest and lead to immersion, results in the poor effect of knowledge, but skill dimension may be improved, like s18b’s father stating “he didn’t know how to play this game on the screen at first, but slowly figured it out “. Types IIIb and IIIc were easy to stimulate children’s interest, but the effect was poorer in all other dimensions.

In addition to individual learning effect, some exhibits can enhance learning effect by facilitating social interaction. When the exhibitions are crowded, some digital exhibit occupied could also have similar effect for other visitors those who were waiting and gazing beside, while some are strong experiential exhibits ones which will have poor learning effect. Different companions also lead to different learning effect, for example some children show the potential for peer learning by increased interest and engagement in exhibits with complementary knowledge, cognitive ability and skills(Liu X.L. 2015).

It’s also observed that the advantages of digital media are not absolute. Traditional mechanical means such as physical buttons which are regarded as technology belonged to the last generation, are still popular.

Relevant factors affecting the learning effect of digital media

The survey reveals that there are many factors that influence learning effect. Taking Falk’s museum learning context model as an analytical framework, those factors can be generalized as three aspects: personal context, social context and physical context.

Physical factors. The design and operational condition of the digital media exhibits themselves have the greatest impact. Damaged or out-of-service equipment was the most frequently mentioned problem. And if the content is too difficult or too complex to understand, children will also feel confused; Inappropriate design, including the problems that interactive instructions are not obvious enough, results in visitors’ wrong way to interact; and dismatching design to content, will easily cause misunderstood. Technology still can not achieve some envisaged learning effect. For example, although the natural user interface is typically effective, it is still difficult for the actually adopted technologies such as Kinect to sense motions in a truly “natural” manner, which in many cases frustrates visitors. The museum environment can also affect children’s learning, for example, due to visitors are so crowded and interactive exhibits are relative attractive to children (especially games), often resulting in many children have to wait in queues become irritable.

Personal factors. Some children’s common characteristics affect digital media learning, on the one hand, physical characteristics such as height, physique and cognitive level that differ from those of adults, such as digital exhibits that are too tall and parents have to lift children up in order to interact. On the other hand, there are psychological characteristics, such as the children’s preference for dynamic devices, “I like things that will move and can be manipulated (S12a)”; the touch and play instincts, and the tendency to persue the completion of interaction rather than learning in the process with impatience. Such as S20, although he interacted alone for 15 minutes and excitedly showed the exhibits to his father, he did not actually read the instructions. His father then pacified and guided him:”This is science, it’s not a game you know…This is not a riddle, you can’t just see one thing and make decision immediately…” which calmed the boy down and made him begin to seriously read the content.

Individual differences in knowledge structures, interests and relevant experience among children also affect learning. Interactive digital media such as touchscreens require texts to   introduce knowledge or instruct how to operate, so literacy levels largely determine whether visitors can interact correctly. If children have learnt related knowledge, it will promote understanding. Among those children with good learning effect, most of them know some knowledge about the exhibit told by kindergarten teachers (S19a), books (S13b), documentaries (S11a); Interest is a fundamental motivation for children to learn. S05a was not interested in natural history, so he have completely meaningless interaction with digital exhibits for long periods of time while his father loves natural history museums so much that he would like to foster S05a’s interest by taking him here.

Social factors. It is mainly reflected in the influence of different companions. For example, in the parent-child families surveyed, families that adopt positive guidance and other support or management behaviours, children’s learning effect is generally better than that of other families. The lack of guidance will have a negative impact on children’s learning. For example, S21a interacted with the game which is too difficult to get a high score, her parents blamed her for not being accurate enough, which deviated from the original intention of the game. Parents’ motivations also had impact, with most parents believing that gaining knowledge and experience was the main motivation for visiting, and therefore encouraging children to explore, even if they did not understand the meaning, they would still actively guide them, S03a’s mother believed that “children will absorb what they are interested in …… and form the concept” and S20a’s mother said that “bringing her to visit is not to gain knowledge directly but learn something gradually through exploration. Now it may be just a fresh thing for her, and by one day, she may suddenly understand.”


All types of digital media used in museum exhibits have actual or potential effect to enhance museum learning, but neither can fully achieve all dimensions of learning effect, and most problems exist because the characteristics and potential of the digital media type do not fit with actual conditions. Most Type I exhibits are designed for adults, but children are usually attracted by touch screens. So when designing exhibits by using Type I, possibilities of interaction from small children should be considered. Attempts can be made to cater for both children and their companions in the interface, such as having a visual video and simple texts at the same page on the screen, with the texts are written for adults in many pages and when pages are turned, the video continues to play in order to engage children and reduce their impulse to make meaningless interaction.The learning effect of Type II for children relies on how deeply they understand the knowledge delivered by the exhibit, and the increase in the knowledge dimension leads to increase in the other dimensions, so improvements need to be made primarily through displaying knowledge more concise to enhance children’s understanding when they learn on their own, and to help their companions to build scaffolding for them. Virtual demonstrations and virtual reality exhibits should be made more intuitive so that children can relate the graphics to real objects, real images should be supplemented with audio narration to bridge the gap between illiterate children and knowledge. Natural user interface should be used only when it can be truly “natural”.Although Type III reduces the cognitive load children will have when trying to figure out how to interact and has a very rapid and huge appeal to children, it tends to make children too obsessed with digital media and occupied the time which should be spend enjoying other objects and scenes, and the significance of onsite museum learning is somewhat lost.On the one hand, the design of the Type IIIb game should avoid complex rules and excessive difficulty, and make visitors use digital media devices more accurate by methods such as integrating knowledge of objects and others with intuitive elements (such as simple icons), making more direct connections between icons and the game rules, designing gestures and flows in the same way as those commonly used in tablets used in daily life, using easy-to-understand texts to help children just able to read and helping parents quickly understand the rules. In a limited space, installed more than one devices for the same game rather than for some different games in order to avoid children spending too much time waiting in queues as well as the negative effect of children’s being addicted to the game. In addition, as Type IIIc exhibits do not need to follow rules set before interaction and have the potential to spark children’s creativity and promote social interaction with companions, the number of this type of digital media should be increased, not only to promote parent-child family and peer learning, but also to develop staff involvement in children’s interaction. For Type b and Type c, digital media devices of different heights can also be set up for the same content to facilitate the interaction of visitors of different ages, while making content shown more dynamic and vivid, as well as increasing physical participation and making the exhibits more body-cognitive. The use of new technical means to achieve personalised recommendations can also be explored. Except for the individual exhibit design, it can be considered from the whole exhibition. In order to fully enhance the various dimensions of the learning effect during the visit, different types of digital media can be interspersed throughout the exhibition so that the pace of visiting can be controlled as well. Also take character of different types into account when thinking of recommend path for children.

Additionally, after a preliminary analysis of literature and survey results, it is found that not only children have different characteristics from adults, but there are also some significant differences in children’s learning behaviours and effects of different age groups, which are consistent with some theories and viewpoints in psychology and pedagogy. It has not been covered in past research. The exploration of children’s segmentation will be more conducive to the improvement of learning effect. This paper attempts to summarize some characteristics, which may provide a reference for the digital media design in future museums.

Children aged 3-6 years are mostly unable to receive the knowledge conveyed by digital media exhibits, but are very active and engaged in interest dimension. Meaningless interactive actions such as tapping and poking at screens are instinctive and driven by Interest-Curiosity, and they are strongly fond of interacting with all types of digital media exhibits, but exhibits that communicate information in one-way, such as videos, are difficult to attract prolonged attention if the content is not visually vivid, whereas exhibits that provide real-time feedback through touch and other interaction are capable of sustained interaction. However, this engagement is not based on the interest in the content, but rather on a great curiosity about the digital incentive and a strong expectation of a ‘treat’ from feedback after the interaction, combined with a lack of literacy and basic knowledge that leads to a failure to understand the content. The effect of companions’ guidance is very limited. The research of cognitive science suggests that stimulating perceptual curiosity activates the hippocampus and is beneficial for enhancing learning effect. Parents of preschoolers do not take their children to museum with the motivation of making their children get knowledge immediately, but rather to activate their memories when they are reintroduced to the same knowledge in the future, as a seed for future learning.

Children aged 7-9 years are able to recognise texts on digital media exhibits and therefore interact with them in a more logical way than preschoolers, learning effect in dimensions of knowledge, interest and attitude are enhanced, and the positive effects of parental guidance begin to emerge. They begin to develop an intellectual curiosity due to the deprivation of access to specific information, which stimulates the urge to explore and generate effective learning. But at this age, the influence of personal and social contexts on physical contexts begin to emerge since most children in this age group have not learnt content presented in the digital media exhibits in formal education and lack a certain understanding of what the exhibits are intended to convey, but those who have been taught by teachers or parents have much better effect.

While the interest-curiosity to interact with digital media exhibits is still present in children aged 10-12, as their cognitive level and knowledge grows, the effect in the knowledge dimension lifts significantly, a strong intellectual curiosity is formed, the ability to self-learn is present and the pattern of parent-child interaction changes significantly. The difficulty of drawing children’s attention for long periods of time increases, and some children may even be reluctant to interact with digital media exhibits that stimulate interest-curiosity, the effect of parental guidance drops again.

The design of digital media exhibits should take these three main children groups into account. The third group is already closer to adults and need mainly add interest and the respect of independent learning and exploration, the first group in particular needs to avoid using texts and add audio, and the second group can be helped by providing a manual of basic knowledge and other guides.


This study uses observation and interview methods to investigate the children’s learning through digital media in Shanghai Natural History Museum and Shanghai astronomy museum, trying to summarize interactive learning behaviours, measure learning effects, and explore the factors that may influence learning. The results show that in the process of children’s interactive learning through digital media in museum, diversified interactive behaviours are conducted, including children interacting with digital media, their companions with digital media, and with their companions, but the actual learning effect is not as good as it seems to have. No matter which type of digital media, they cannot achieve learning effects in all dimensions which may be influenced by physical factors such as digital media exhibits themself, personal factors such as children’s common characteristics and individual differences, and social factors such as the characteristics of companions. Inspired by this, the design of digital media exhibits should be based on the characteristics and potential of different digital media types, fully take children’s special needs into account, and refine various relevant influencing factors, so that the advantages of digital media can be brought into fully play.

The limitation of this survey was that it carried out in areas with a high degree of economic development. Because of the pandemic, most visitors observed and interviewed were locals with relatively good digital literacy. In the future, the survey can be extended to children in less developed areas to examine the impact of the “digital divide” on learning through digital media in museums.


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The impact of lockdown on public engagement and involvement in small and peripheral museums: the case study of Swapmuseum digital strategy 

Carola Gatto, Department of Cultural Heritage, University of Salento, Italy

Elisa Monsellato, Swapmuseum


Swapmuseum is a project of cultural participation, based on mutual exchange between teenagers, between 16 and 29 years old, called “swappers”, small museums and companies. The project aims to involve an under-served target group in museums, that of teenagers, in order to carry out non-specialised voluntary activities, agreed upon with the scientific direction of the museum. The exchange process is as follows: museums identify activities suitable for their own context, such as communication activities (contests, blogging, social), promotion (creation of memory archives, organisation of visits and events for teenagers); fruition (emotional audio guides, sensory paths, simplified captions, maps, treasure hunts). The young volunteers can choose the activities according to their aptitudes, in exchange for benefits commensurate with the number of hours spent, ranging from a series of discounts granted by affiliated shops, to the possibility of using cultural services, to the recognition of training credits.

The project was launched in 2016 with funding under the “Con Il sud che partecipa” call for proposals by Fondazione con il Sud, and has been refinanced several times by various public and private bodies to date. Geographically, the project is located in the Apulia region (Italy), and has intervened precisely in the consolidation of the museum network, acting in particular on small and peripheral museums.

Due to the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, all project partner museums were forced to close. Therefore, Swapmuseum invested in the creation of digital content using different online tools to reach and engage the target group. The project turned into a transmedia experience during the lockdown, thanks to the integration of innovative digital tools and proven engagement strategies.  Digital has thus become a tool to increase active participation, as it contributes to the expansion of the museum world through user-generated content, triggering processes of enjoyment and emotional involvement. Storytelling takes on the connotations of a transmedia narrative, becoming a collective narrative.

This paper analyses the data and outputs of the project before and after the lockdown, investigating the ongoing transformation in terms of engagement and effectiveness of the methodology.


Swapmuseum is a cultural participation project that has been active since 2016 in Apulia, a region in southern Italy, based on mutual exchange among young people, between the ages of 16 and 29, called “swappers,” small museums and companies.

Because of the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, all of the project’s partner museums suffered a forced closure. Therefore, Swapmuseum invested in digital content creation, using various online tools to reach and engage its target audience. This paper analyzes the transformation of the audience engagement and development process, in terms of the effectiveness of the strategy and tools, implemented by the team precisely in reaction to the forced and prolonged closure of the museums. In fact, during the pandemic we were faced with two orders of problems:

  • On one side, teenagers were increasingly isolated with a consequent impact on their mental health.
  • On the other side, museums were forced to close, and they had to manage an increasing marginality and loss of all the work done until then.

We decided to turn these problems into opportunities by rethinking the strategy and choosing to move online the whole steps of Swap’s activities, thanks to the collaboration of museums staff.

The project has as its two fundamental pillars precisely well-being, understood as the construction of cross-sectoral practices that include health, culture, education and sociality, and exchange, understood as a generative process between the public, the museum (and its professionals) and other entities in the area, such as companies.

Swapmuseum in detail

Swapmuseum[1] is a cultural participation project based on a mutual exchange between young people, aged between 16 and 29, referred to as “Swappers,” small museums and companies.

The project was launched in 2016 with a grant of 70,000 euros, as part of the “With the South Participating” call for proposals by Fondazione con il Sud, and has been refinanced several times by various public and private entities, to date, for a total of 145,000 euros invested in the project over six years. A total of 548 Swappers have been involved, spending 13,700 hours in the 61 participating museums, bringing through the project a total of 2,000 visitors.

During the years, the project has received the following prizes and awards: Europa Nostra Awards 2022 for the category of Citizenship Involvement and Awareness Raising (September 2022), AIPH2022 Conference Poster Competition (third place, 2022), Sele d’Oro Mezzogiorno Award on Youth Participation and Active Volunteering in Culture (September 2021), and Share in Action by Accenture Foundation (2015).

The project aims to engage an underrepresented target audience within museums, that of adolescents, in order to carry out non-specialized creative activities of active volunteering, in agreement with the scientific direction of the museum. The Swapmuseum project is part of a regional cultural context, that of Apulia, which is strongly marked by two orders of problems: high rates of educational poverty and the consequent low rates of cultural participation of the youngest, and the isolation suffered by small local cultural institutions too often unknown to their fellow citizens.

The project was created specifically in response to needs that emerged from a series of reports including Save the Children’s 2018 report “Swimming Against the Current. Educational Poverty and Resilience in Italy,” which places the Apulia Region at the top of the ranking drawn up according to the educational poverty index (IPE). The project involved several institutes in Puglia, reaching very small and peripheral museums, unlike traditional visiting circuits. This allows working with a perspective of creating networks between museums, animated not only by cultural workers, but also by young people, direct witnesses and ambassadors of the cultural activities carried out. This process was facilitated and supported by the use of the technological platform, which represents the first point of contact between the subjects. The team is composed of female professionals with different specializations, ranging from project management to museum education, from facilitation to communication.

Process and methodology

Going into the details of the process, the swap process implemented is as follows: museums identify activities suited to their context, such as communication activities (contests, blogging, social); promotion (creation of memory archives, organization of visits and events for teenagers); fruition (emotional audio guides, sensory paths, simplified captions, maps, treasure hunts). Young volunteers, according to their aptitudes, can choose the creative activities to be carried out, in exchange for benefits commensurate with the number of hours spent, such as benefits provided by affiliated businesses, or tickets for cultural services, or the recognition of formative credits.

The strategy implemented focuses on three lines of action, based on the need for museums to make themselves visible to the public, on the development of young people’s skills and the expression of their creativity, and finally on the opportunity for companies to trigger virtuous processes to support culture.

The characteristics of the process that have been validated over the years are:

  • scalability, that is, the project’s capability to adapt to different geographical contexts and to be activated in different museums, in agreement with its scientific direction.
  • co-production, as young volunteers act as producers and consumers (prosumers) at the same time. Each output of the volunteer work actually remains available to the museum and to the users, who will be able to learn about the local cultural heritage from new points of view.
  • development of a sense of community, thanks to the production of a vademecum containing Swapper’s guidelines and ethics, an important document on the topic of cultural volunteering, for international discussion.
  • peer-to-peer approach, as the young people involved disseminate the skills acquired among their peers, thus amplifying the expected impacts through specially organized give-back events.
  • Reward process, that stimulates and invites collaboration.

The participation of younger people in the process of museum enhancement has allowed museums to reposition themselves in the collective imagination as accessible and livable places in the everyday lives of young people. By acting on communication tools, the process has fostered the modernization of the places concerned, through an increased presence on digital media. As a tool to counteract immobilism, the project generated a new sensitivity toward museums, not only in the Swappers but also in the museum operators, always prioritizing the involvement of the local community.

With respect to the activation of a voluntary participatory approach for young people, some of the Swappers involved not only returned to the museums several times, but also involved their age peers and went in search of new cultural spaces. The youths generated a small social community that strengthened their sense of belonging to the museums.

Lockdown and digital strategy

Among the weaknesses that have been challenging the project, we can certainly count the difficulty of involving museums located in the most peripheral areas of the Region, especially during the lockdown period, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The order of problems on which we chose to intervene was twofold: on the one hand, the risk of isolation of teenagers, with the consequent impact on their mental health; on the other hand, the increasing marginality of small museums, with the risk of losing all the work done up to that point.

However, these critical issues were addressed and turned into resources thanks to the rethinking of the strategy and the decision to transfer all phases of Swap activities, online, thanks to the involvement and collaboration of the staff of each museum.

This strategic transformation allowed us to enhance the services provided by the project up to that point, and to extract value from the moment of crisis, by managing to:

  • Strengthening and transferring digital skills. In fact, Virtual Tours were created and then published online for each museum, enriched with in-depth digital content. A total of 11 museums were digitized and put online, through the acquisition of 360° photos that enabled the creation of virtual tours, enriched with additional content and web links.
  • Enhancing creative learning in a digital environment, since Swappers have acquired soft skills such as using cloud professional tools.
  • Increasing digital storytelling, as the project’s web strategy was specially redesigned and Swappers were actively involved in this planning process.
  • Involve a broader target audience, as calls have been activated with young people living outside the Apulia Region, such as students away from home.

Operators in small museums involved were not used to managing digital tools in audience development processes since that moment. In total, in a few weeks, 11 museums were digitilized through the acquisition of 360° pictures which led to the creation of virtual tours, enriched with more content and web links. Thus, museums got ready for their virtual young visitors.

Swappers improved their digital and soft skills by carrying out activities, such as social challenges, the creation of memory archives, the organization of virtual events for other teenagers, emotional audio guides, and captions, maps, treasure hunts. The availability of a digital environment with a digital toolbox allowed them to interact with team members in problem-solving, brainstorming, and co-creating ideas for museums’ digital transformation. For instance, for the Ecomuseo della Pietra Leccese in Cursi (Lecce), Swappers built a virtual game like the game of the goose and challenged their friends online (Figure 1).

All of the outputs have been collected inside a Fanzine, which has been provided to all of the Institutions involved and to the participants (Figure 2).

On-line activities were held on Google Meet, according to an agreed schedule (Figure 3).

Virtual tours were held on the Thinglink web application, while other platforms, such as social media Facebook and Instagram, Youtube, Canva, and Spotify, were used for activity development and contents creation, depending on the specific goal of the activity. In addition, for each museum, a preliminary online guided tour was conducted by the museum’s own guide or manager.

During these activities, Swap has increased digital storytelling: the web strategy of the project was redesigned and swappers were actively involved in its planning and managing. For instance, we opened a Tik Tok account and strengthened our Instagram presence, thanks to the Swapper horoscope about museums. We enlarged our target, as young people who lived out of the Apulia region, such as transfer students even beyond national borders, joined in the activities online.

A total of 116 young people participated, in 2130 hours of activities, between September 2021 and June 2022. For each call, they were divided into groups and worked on collective activities on a weekly schedule, discussing museum themes, supervised by a mentor.

Survey and results

After each activity, a survey questionnaire evaluating the activity performed is provided to swappers. In the case of calls carried out entirely online, the questionnaire was reshaped and adapted to the new requirements. The goal was to evaluate the experience but also the effectiveness of the new strategy and these newly adopted tools. The questionnaire is anonymous and, in addition to questions on gender and age, has 15 questions rated on a 7-point Likert scale, also called the satisfaction scale, and four open-ended questions with short answers.

Likert scale questions:

  • I felt involved in the virtual tour.
  • The content was useful and interesting
  • I could interact with the tour guide as if I were in the real world
  • I was able to unplug from the outside world
  • I felt like a real participant in the experience
  • I forgot my worries and thoughts during the online tour
  • The images of the scenes have a good visual impact
  • After the online tour, I felt as if I had returned from a short trip
  • The place visited with the online tour felt like “a place I visited”
  • During the virtual tour, I felt like I was really at the museum
  • During the online tour I forgot that I was in the middle of an online experience
  • My body was in a place, but my mind was inside the museum
  • The functionality of the system lived up to my expectations
  • The system is easy to use
  • I needed a lot of practice before I was able to make full use of the system

Short open-ended question:

  • I suggest improving the experience, for example, in this way
  • The thing I liked best about the online activity was
  • I define the experience in one word
  • My general, personal and completely honest comment

We collected and analyzed responses from 46 participants, using a google form.

The results showed a high degree of satisfaction with the solution adopted, especially because the children had the opportunity to meet their peers online, make new friends, and give space to their creativity and curiosity even at a time of prohibitions and closures. The degree of involvement and participation was quite high, as were the tools’ adequacy and the content’s quality.

The survey shows a high level of involvement and participation in the online experience as 63% of participants valued “I felt myself a part of the experience” with 7 points, so actually, they felt like visiting the museum in an effective way.

The survey underlined also a high level of satisfaction with the technological solutions adopted since 54% of participants evaluated “The system is easy to use” with 7 points, and 30% with 6 points. The most relevant data is that the young were satisfied since they had the opportunity to meet people who lived far from them and to give space to their creativity and curiosity also in a period of lockdown.

Indeed, the answers to the question “What do you like the most?” were like: “The fact that I could move like I was actually there”, “To connect with other people and create something together”, “The possibility to experience the virtual tour of a museum for the first time”.

Conclusions and future work

All these collected data show the impact of Swapmuseum digital strategy, on the target group.

In particular, regarding direct impacts, the survey demonstrated that the digital strategy mitigated the risk of isolation of young people through team working, common purpose and co-production, and the risk of marginalization of small museums, thanks to activities carried out remotely with the active involvement of museum staff. It is essential also to notice that some indirect impacts have been reached, such as the updating of digital skills for museum professionals in audience development processes.

To summarize, we can assume that the Covid-19 pandemic forced museums to close, and, for this reason, Swapmuseum invested in creating digital museums by using several online free tools. The project has thus become a transmedial experience, thanks to the integration of innovative digital tools and consolidated engagement strategies. Digital has become a method to increase active participation, since it contributes to the expansion of the museum world through user-generated content, triggering enjoyment and emotional engagement processes. Storytelling has become a transmedial story and a remote collective narration. All of these changes don’t have to remain an exception, but an opportunity for transformation, that can become a crucial part of audience development strategies even for small museums with few financial resources and competencies.

Digital allows professionals to establish a shared decision-making process, so in the future, we wish to use digital tools to create an interregional young board that supports museum management in planning long-term activities.

In accordance with the new definition of a museum, approved by the ICOM Plenary Assembly at its last session in August 2022, the museum institution is thus invited to take note of the impact of its activities on the territory in which it operates, an impact that is not exhausted within the experience of enjoying the collection, since it starts from the objects but is able to achieve broader personal and collective reflections.  This is a mission statement that Swapmuseum aims to accomplish through its future activities, starting from its consolidated methodology (Figures. 4-5-6-7-8-9) and innovating progressively the process according to special needs and new challenges.


D. Cameron, A viewpoint: The Museum as a communication system and implications for museum education, in Curator: The Museum Journal, n. 1 vol. 11, 1968, pp. 33-40.

M. E. Colombo, Musei e Cultura Digitale. Fra narrativa, pratiche e testimonianze. Editrice Bibliografica, Milano, 2020.

K. Cotter, J. Pawelski, Flourishing Aims of Art Museums: A Survey of Art Museum Professionals, in PsyArXiv, 2022.

D. Fancourt, S. Finn S., What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review [Internet]. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe. (Health Evidence Network synthesis report, No. 67, 2019.

G. E. Hein, Learning in the Museum, London: Routledge, 1998.


ICOM Italia, Definizione di Museo: Last access: August 2022

Swapmuseum: Last access: August 2022


  1. Game of the goose for Ecomuseo della Pietra Leccese, in Cursi. Swapmuseum copyright.
  2. Fanzine with the output of the project. Copyright Alice Caracciolo
  3. Volonteers during a online Swapmuseum’s call to action in the Castromediano Museum in Lecce. Copyright Elena Carluccio
  4. Volonteers during a Swapmuseum’s call to action in the Ceramics Museum in Cutrofiano. Copyright photo Elena Carluccio
  5. Volonteers during a Swapmuseum’s call to action in the Ceramics Museum in Cutrofiano. Copyright photo Elena Carluccio
  6. A volonteer with the shopper and gadgets of the project. Copyright Alice Caracciolo
  7. Volonteers during a Swapmuseum’s call to action in the Castromediano Museum. Copyright Emanuela Tommasi
  8. Swapper Fest – december 2021. Copyright Alice CaraccioloVolonteers and Swapmuseum tutors during the Swapper Fest – december 2021. Copyright Alice Caracciolo



The Labyrinth and the Theatre on the Stage of the World

MgA. Aleš Kapsa, Programme and Cultural Educator, J. A. Comenius Museum, Uherský Brod, Czech Republic

Dear colleagues, let me introduce you to the use of audiovisual and digital media in the new permanent exhibition that opened in our museum five months ago.

For this presentation I use mainly original texts and sources – texts, photographs, media and the catalogue of our new exhibition, the original writings of Teatrum universitatis rerum and videos of our museum.

On the Stage of the World. John Amos Comenius and His Times

A new permanent exhibition entitled On the Stage of the World. John Amos Comenius and His Times was opened in the Uherský Brod Museum in 2022, on the occasion of the 430th anniversary of the birth of Comenius. It replaced the successful exhibition called John Amos Comenius’ Contribution to Mankind, which was inaugurated by Czechoslovak President Václav Havel on 28 March 1992. The new exhibition has crowned the endeavour to remodel the museum’s exhibition premises into the form that meets current museum standards, provides visitors with greater satisfaction levels, and speaks a contemporary language.

The new permanent exhibition is divided into the following basic parts: Life, Labyrinths, Work – (Comenius in Print), Educationalist, Man of Letters, Philosopher and Theologian. As one of the leading intellectuals of early modern Europe, Comenius was extremely sensitive to the problems of his time. Many contemporary scholars were troubled by three key issues, the three labyrinths in the terminology of the time, which permeated Comenius’ entire work. They are usually referred to as the crisis of knowledge, of religion, and of politics.

Comenius longed for Improvement of All Things Human – and therefore sought A Way Out of Three Labyrinths.

Scheme of the new exhibition

This diagram of the new exhibition shows all its parts, such as Comenius Life, Bookplate, Work and Comenius Portrayed. However, there are two parts that this presentation focuses on – Labyrinth and Theatrum. It is here that the new exhibition makes the most use of digital media in original audiovisual form.

Baroque Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart in the form of videomapping

John Amos Comenius began working on this drama about the „futility of the world“, as he himself called it, at a time of personal and social disruption. In 1623 he spent months in seclusion and away from the duties of his profession, while writing the Labyrinth. The Labyrinth of the World is considered one of the supreme prose works of earlier Czech literature. It describes an allegorical journey of the Pilgrim accompanied by Mr. Searchall Ubiquitous and Delusion. Together, they walk through the world, which Comenius conceived as a city in his own drawing. The Pilgrim gradually discovers its faults, futility, and chaos. Although this part is a critique of man, the author treats mankind with compassion. Through Christ, the Pilgrim regains the security and finds the meaning of life in faith and resting in the arms of God.

In videomapping adaptation the Pilgrim first looks at the city surrounded by a dark abyss, seemingly boundless and bottomless. The Pilgrim is pleased with the arrangement of the streets, but as he passes through the city, he can see its vices-hypocrisy. Videomapping uses 4 projectors and light work in the interior of a medieval bastion. It is the first work of its kind in a museum environment in the Czech Republic.

Theatrum universitatis rerum – Theatre of the World

Since antiquity, the term „theatrum mundi“ had denoted the Theatre of the World, staged by a deity, with people playing their roles. Moreover, in the early modern period, this term referred to cabinets of curiosities-encyclopaedic collections of various natural artefacts apparatuses, and pieces of art. Comenius combined the theatre of things with his encyclopaedism. The image of the world as a theatre served him to demonstrate the concept of the Universe and all the relationships that occur in it, including dramatic moments of human life. The theatre of the world was intended to bring humans back to God and his wise order.

The film adaptation aimed at a contemporary update of Comenius’ baroque ideas. The quotations are taken directly from the original work, and the film uses stock footage, music and movement to illustrate Comenius’ quotations. The aim of the adaptation is to show that suggestions from Comenius’ literary work can also appeal to people today with their timelessness and general validity. The composition of the quotations is subordinated to the biblical chronology, which is also the basis for the sequence of the thematic chapters of the original text.

John Amos Comenius

: a clergyman and scholar, is one of the great characters of European and Czech history. Born in south-eastern Moravia in 1592, he completed his studies at universities in the western parts of Germany and intended to use the knowledge he gained to promote education in his homeland. As a result of war and religious situation, he was forced to leave his country and found himself set on the stage of the world. He lived and worked in Poland, England, Sweden, Royal Prussia, Hungary, and the Dutch Republic, and became a respected scholar. He excelled in many fields, especially as a reformer of education and teaching methods. His main aim, though, was the improvement of contemporary knowledge, religion and politics. His life’s journey ended in Amsterdam in 1670. Through Comenius’ life and work, we can better understand the history of the early modern period and reflect on timeless issues that are still relevant today.


Enriching museum engagement through knowledge sharing and open-source digital responses to the crisis

Dr. Alan Miller,  Dr. Kamila Oles, Open Virtual Worlds, University of St Andrews, Scotland, Smart History

 Keywords: crisis, digital response, digital transformation, open-source, virtual museum


Although many museums haven’t recovered from the pandemic yet, the long-anticipated post-Covid time has brought the museum sector directly into an inflation crisis with an acute call for action to mitigate biodiversity and climate crisis.[1] According to Artdaily, nine out of ten (92%) museums must ‘adapt and innovate’ to survive post-pandemic times.[2] Heritage institutions have embarked on the urgent need to re-conceptualise their strategies and respond to the crisis creatively, re-imagine inclusive digital engagement in terms of more economical solutions.

The pandemic has unprecedentedly increased the interest in digitisation and virtualisation of heritage resources, and it has also urged re-channelling visitor experience into a digital environment. The digital museum was no longer only an option for enhancing the museum experience. Yet, it became the only way to reach out to the public and the collections during the national lockdowns.

The high demand for digitisation and approaching visitors through digital platforms caused a great need for know-how, learning resources, experience, and knowledge sharing for institutions keen to learn. As Florencia Croizet, the Arts Manager at Museo Evita, claims, crisis raises new occasions to develop more efficient management. However, museums must be prepared to exchange skills to bring forward relevant proposals for the digital era.[3]

Figure 1. Virtual Museum of Caribbean migration and memory;, (access: 05.01.2023). The virtual museum combines physical and digital exhibits, offering greater audience accessibility and participation in order to develop a collection of previously undocumented individual stories. Collected stories, associated media and resources, and highlighted individuals are accessed by search, galleries and an interactive mapping interface, displaying the virtual museum’s collection in a comprehensive design.

Figure 2. 3D galleries of virtual EU-LAC museums; Galleries – VMCMM ( The virtual museum supports the creation of new media, such as video entries, 3D image-based modelling for the preservation of tangible heritage, and virtual tours of locations associated with stories.


Before the pandemic, the Open Virtual Worlds (OVW) at the University of St Andrews had engaged with museums in Latin America,[4] the Caribbean [Fig.1, 2] and Europe, holding workshops on 3D digitisation and virtual museums.[5] In the process, we created libraries of digital content, including more than two hundred 3D models associated with nearly twenty museums. The outcomes made use of enriching engagement through digital responses to COVID-19. In response to the pandemic, we engaged with heritage professionals exploring how to maintain engagement with heritage audiences through physical isolation. This, in turn, led to a deeper understanding of the relationship between technology, digital literacies, heritage and engagement, which underpins the approach of developing virtual museum architecture based on free and open-source software. The experience gained in tackling the pandemic crisis has informed the following digital strategies on how museums can integrate 3D and immersive technologies into their offerings in the future.[6] Our experience has brought out that free open-source and open-standard software, amalgamated with knowledge exchange, are essential strategic priorities for enriching museum experiences and contributing to the resilience of the heritage sector in the current economic crisis.[7]

A. Knowledge exchange

We see knowledge exchange as a core activity in developing the use of digital technologies for natural and cultural heritage. The OVW have recorded satisfying results after delivering a series of transnational digital heritage skills workshops to inform heritage organisations of new digital solutions to help equip museums with the skills and connect with existing and potential new audiences through digital media. Free videotelephony software and experience in designing workshops in face-to-face, hybrid and online settings were crucial for the effective teaching and learning dedicated to remote and diversified groups of museum professionals and volunteers. In each case, it is important that the workshops address a real need, aim at sharing experiences between participants, and work with real heritage and examples that are considered as the inheritance of present-day communities.

The first example is HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS ENTERPRISE (HIE) and INTERFACE WORKSHOPS, which have formed a strategic working relationship with the OVW to support collaboration to enhance the adoption of technologies through digital heritage product development and digital skills capacity building within the Scottish Highlands and Islands cultural heritage sector.[8] During this collaboration, we have provided specialist and technical expertise to 17 cultural heritage organisations to create a substantive cultural heritage resource legacy through digital heritage product development. Each digital heritage product has been designed to help improve participant organisations’ visitor offerings and bring about commercial benefits, helping preserve and promote communities’ local heritage.

A programme of workshops was dedicated to empowering museums and their communities to explore and digitally promote and preserve their heritage. Collectively, the different workshop programmes attracted an audience of 48k via onsite workshops before the pandemic and during the Covid-19 crisis via social media streaming. The most important roles here were research and specialist workshops on making museums Covid-19 safe, but still attractive and inviting.

These were approached by creating digital product development, including virtual reconstructions of key historical events and sites. We utilised digital mapping integrated with 3D digital surrogates of museum collections and mobile phone apps with intuitive UX to enable visitors to turn mobile devices into mini virtual museums during lockdowns [Fig. 5].

In addition, we have created digital films, online exhibitions, and creative digital heritage content to create or enhance cultural heritage organisations’ online presence, which temporarily substituted onsite museum visits during the pandemic serving as a platform for the online museum experience.

Figure 3. VIRTUAL REALITY TOOLKIT – CUPIDO: CULTURAL POWER. INSPIRE TO DEVELOP RURAL AREA ( CUPIDO Virtual Reality Tool kit serves as a platform for knowledge and skills sharing to connect audiences with heritage assets.

Another example is ON-DEMAND: CUPIDO VIRTUAL WORKSHOPS [Fig. 3], which Open Virtual Worlds run to support social and economic development opportunities within the cultural sector. The workshops helped heritage institutions make more of digital to share their stories with new audiences, mainly while the pandemic restricted visitors from onsite engagement, shifting their experience to an online environment. The workshop agenda was divided into two series.

The first one, called ‘Bringing Museums to the Home’, promoted new ways of helping museums to reach audiences through virtual tours based on spherical media, galleries, live events and social media.

The second series had been designed to help those involved in heritage projects to reach audiences in new ways.[9] It’s worth noting that finding out how to develop a digital strategy and securing funds for digital projects must be as central to the workshops as learning practicalities for specific techniques, including live streaming, mobile app development, and securing funds for digital projects.

B. Virtual Museum Architecture

The most successful tool enabling the response to the pandemic crisis was OVW’s Virtual Museum Architecture, which has recently been developed into the ‘Museum without Walls Project’.[10] This versatile platform has been dedicated to addressing a persisting need for digitising heritage based on open-source software and knowledge democratisation. In times of crisis, these principles make the Virtual Museum Architecture combined with transitional skills workshops the most effective and affordable solution offering an equal chance for digital transformation to smaller or under-budget heritage institutions.

The virtual museum can provide a framework for organising digital content and providing resources which empower volunteers and professionals to create and curate digital exhibits and exhibitions.[11] It should help connect communities with their heritage and provide a platform for projecting that heritage to wider communities and audiences.

The infrastructure is built around OMEKA, a free and open-source web-publishing platform and content management system for digital collections, which has been significantly developed to tailor its functionality to museum needs. The system is also connected to WordPress, another free and open-source content management system paired with a MySQL or MariaDB database with supported HTTPS. Both discussed software creating an economic system supporting the museum sector to face barriers to inclusion in the recent crisis.

Figure 4. VIRTUAL REALITY TOOLKIT – CUPIDO: CULTURAL POWER. INSPIRE TO DEVELOP RURAL AREA ( The interactive maps feature multiple layers assigned to various categories marked with attributed icons. Relevant locations are linked to engaging media such as texts, images, videos, audio, 3D collections, and virtual tours.

There are many digital resources that can go to make up a Virtual Museum. These might include Digital Reconstructions of Historical Scenes, digital 3D models of artefacts, images and pictures, including representation of intangible heritage such as song and dance. The framework is also connected to apps and interactive maps, and galleries [Fig. 4], which we make use of in the exhibit. We also extended that slightly to include 360 images.[12]

We have also designed defined metadata for artefacts for museum collections, monuments and sites, as well as intangible heritage. Digital representations of physical objects are very much in line with the Europeana metadata standard, based on the Dublin Core metadata and International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF), which promotes open source and open standards.

The virtual museum operates on servers hosted at the University of St Andrews, providing the digital archive with a vast potential for advanced search engine implementation while serving as a resource platform and supporting virtual museum activities.

The master copy of the exhibit exists at St. Andrews and gives it global reach, which means that exhibits held at the St Andrews University repository are accessible via the web. All data is also stored locally and could be periodically updated remotely and offline. This solution reduces the number of IT support visits and is responsive to the temporal gap in Internet coverage. It means that even if the internet connection is prolonged, or it’s not happening at all, the offline updates still allow getting a responsive exhibit in the museum and global access to the content.

In terms of measurements that link to and align with overall strategic priorities and their review, the virtual museum platform allows for tracking visitors’ engagement through website visits, resource views, downloads, and shares. It enables museums to evaluate the reach and quality of their digital platforms and the assets it contains.

C. How to start

Enriching engagement through digital responses is a great way to ‘adapt and innovate’ to survive the recent and current crisis. We suggest underpinning the museum’s digital strategies’ re-conceptualisation with an increasing digital footprint. At crisis, free and open-source software and knowledge exchange and sharing are the keys to empowering museums and communities to work with their heritage in the digital domain. Providing digital tools, infrastructure and developing toolkits we would strongly suggest a virtual museum architecture is also based around open standards, connected to International Image Interoperability framework galleries, supporting re-use of content in virtual reality apps and exhibits within multiple contexts. Its worth remembering that digital surrogates should be accompanied by collecting appropriate metadata to hold the models in accessible repositories enabling them to be used in galleries and social media apps.

Before deciding what digital skills and open-source resources are needed, starting with heritage and digital audits might be good. The heritage audit is to set out the heritage themes that are important to the participating institutions by observing their social media and website. Following the latter, we can understand what has already been achieved and what has been missing and needs to be addressed. At the same time, we recommend conducting an audit of digital resources. These two audits could help us understand a starting position from which the heritage institution can further clarify a project’s digital strategy. Next, we suggest refining the project requirements to ensure the efforts are directed to achieve the appropriate goals.

When building the capacity of museums to work with digital representations of heritage seems like a core goal, we would suggest planning around three types of activities:

1) Creating, collecting and curating digital heritage resources.

2) Putting open-source infrastructure, tools and resources in place.

3) Participating in knowledge exchange activities, training and workshops that develop skills associated with digital transformation dedicated to museums. Learning from and including experts in the digital strategy re-formulating process is essential for quality and efficient digital transition. In this case, it is based on expertise instead of the premises of museum professionals who might need more time to make the best decisions.

Figure 5. Virtual museum mobile app with virtual reconstructions, 3D models, audio and video based on digital mapping could be available from home and act as a guide for on-site visitors.


By putting open-source software and knowledge exchange in the centre of crisis management, we believe that the proposed workflow and digital tools and infrastructure should support:

1) Access to museum resources from home by developing digital heritage products and services and enhancing their online cultural heritage offering.

2) Enhance visits to the museum.

3) Extend interpretation beyond the walls of the museum.

Open source software and knowledge exchange form a great starting point for reconsidering digital ‘on a budget’ strategy, which allows for improving engagement and outreach in the times of crisis as well as enable organisation to ensure readiness to respond in the event of crisis or emergency.


[1] For example, Adams, G.K., (2023).  Largest-ever museum collaboration takes on biodiversity crisis. Museum Journal, January 2023.


[3] Croizet, F. (2021). Smart Museums to Face the Crisis. ICOM VOICES: April 19, 2021

[4] Brown, K. E., Weil, K., Cummins, A., Brown, J. A., Miller, A. H. D., Cassidy, C. A., Antas, M., Claverie, M., Martinez, R., Barriteau, E., Keohane, K. F., Repetto, L., & Hermosilla, J. (2019, Nov 28). Report on a Policy Round Table by EU-LAC-MUSEUMS held at the European Commission offices, Brussels, 29 April 2019.,



[7] For example, Dawson, Tom & Oliver, Iain & Miller, Alan & Vermehren, Anna & Kennedy, Sarah. (2013). Digitally enhanced community rescue archaeology. Proceedings of UNESCO Congress on Digital Heritage. 2. 10.1109/DigitalHeritage.2013.6744726.

[8] (access: 06/01.2023).

[9] See also Cassidy, C. et al. (2018). Digital Pathways in Community Museums. Museum International. 70. 126-139. 10.1111/muse.12198.

[10] For example, Miller A. H. D. et al. (2019). Time Travel as a Visitor Experience: A Virtual Reality Exhibit Template for Historical Exploration. Immersive Learning Research Network, 103-116.

[11] For example, Miller, A. H. D., Cassidy, C. A., & Cummins, A. (2023). A case study of community virtual museums in the age of crisis: designing a virtual museum of Caribbean migration and memory. In Communities and Museums in the 21st century, Routledge.

[12] For example, Miller, A. H. D., & Cassidy, C. A. (2019). Digital Heritage 2.0: An infrastructure for Immersive and Mobile Virtual Museums. In Museums, audio visual and digital media in a world of changing communication: A collection of AVICOM papers at the 25th ICOM Conference Kyoto AVICOM.