Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mobile Interpretation for Museums: From Web 2.0-3.0

Instructor: Nancy Proctor

Course Syllabus

Increasingly the museum is becoming a portable experience that engages our audiences in a range of networked environments beyond the Museum’s walls and website: from YouTube to iTunes, from Wikipedia to iPhone Aps.

This trend is nowhere so evident as in the cross-platform landscape of mobile interpretation in museums. This course takes as its premise that portability means first and foremost mobility, and in this spirit aims to establish approaches and best practices in mobile experience design that will in fact support the full range of media engaged in museum interpretation, including fixed and analog platforms as well as mobile.

Module Schedule

The module runs from 25 May - 12 July 2009.

Module Objectives

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

  • The basics of all major mobile platforms currently in use and in development for museum interpretation.
  • Specific issues in using each platform, including best practice principles for developing a museum interpretation program integrating mobile tools.

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

  • Evaluate a museum’s interpretation needs and make recommendations about the most effective platforms and approaches for developing a mobile solution.
  • Design a mobile interpretation solution for a museum or other cultural site.

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

  • Familiar with the major mobile interpretation concepts and projects developed to date.
  • Aware of the role and value of interpretation in cultural sites.



The first week is structured as follows:

A video introduction to the course (15 min), in which the professor introduces the syllabus and explains the course requirements.

A video presentation(45 min), in which the professor presents the main principles that govern the teaching and ideas presented in the course.

A research assignment in which students begin analyzing interpretation in cultural sites and start applying the principles of the module.


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

Topic(s) of the week >

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

Focus of the week >

These weekly readings and activities are the practical counter-part of the topic(s) introduced in the week. In this section you will be required to read a text, review a video or audio recording, and/or perform an activity, to be carried on in cooperation with your colleagues or individually.

The output of individual activities will be shared afterwards for comparative overview and critical discussion. Activities will help you to keep up with the module, and to collaboratively build knowledge with your colleagues, who are, as you, professionals in the field.

Course Topics

The course will cover the following topics:

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

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




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

‘Socratic dialogues’: audio and video recordings of discussions with leading practitioners in the field, to be viewed online. Up to 1 hr each in length.

Readings: In addition to the online articles linked to from the course materials, students should subscribe to and read a number of these major museum publications regularly to inform their course work and professional development:

Forum & Wiki: Both the course Forum and the wikis.

Required readings (subject to revision):

Week 1 >

Proctorn, N. (2008) “Outside in the Agora: Mobile Interpretation and Socratic Dialogue in the Networked Museum”, presentation at the DEN Conference,

Rotterdam, Dec 9, 2008 (video). An Audio Tour Review: Warhol at the De Young (podcast)

Week 2 >

JP Getty Museum. (2007) “GettyGuide™ Audio Player Survey, 2007


JP Getty Museum. (2005) “Rembrandt Handheld Evaluation, 2005”


Week 3 >

Proctor, N. (2005), “Off Base or On Target? Pros and Cons of Wireless and Location-Aware Applications in the Museum”


Sims, Glenda (2004), “Benefits of the iTour”


Week 4 >

Samis P. and Pau S. (2006) “‘Artcasting’ at SFMOMA: First-Year Lessons, Future Challenges for Museum Podcasters. Museums and the Web”.


Museum Podcasts: A Dialogue (podcast)

Week 5 >

Haley Goldman, K. (2007), “Cell phones and exhibitions 2.0: Moving beyond the pilot stage”


MoMA Wifi & Next Generation Mobile Tour Systems: Interview with Lotte Meijer (podcast)

Week 6 >

Burton, J. and Allegra Burnette, (2008) papers presented during the Tate Handheld Conference Sept 5, 2008 downloadable at:


McGonigal, J. (2008) “Gaming: the Future of Museums” Nov 2008 paper presentation for AAM, available from Jan 28, 2008 at


Week 7 >

Manabe, M. and Chris Alexander, (2008) papers presented during the Tate Handheld Conference Sept 5, 2008 downloadable at:


MacManus, Richard.
Understanding the New Web Era: Web 3.0, Linked Data, Semantic Web

Instructor > Nancy Proctor

With a PhD in American art history and a background in filmmaking, curation and art criticism, Nancy Proctor published her first online exhibition in 1995. She co-founded in 1998 with Titus Bicknell, aiming to publish virtual tours of innovative exhibitions alongside comprehensive global museum and gallery listings.

TheGalleryChannel was later acquired by Antenna Audio, where Nancy headed up New Product Development for nearly 8 years, introducing the company’s multimedia, sign language, downloadable, podcast and cellphone tours. She also led Antenna’s sales in France from 2006-2007. When Antenna Audio was acquired by Discovery Communications in 2006, Nancy worked with the Travel Channel’s product development team and subsequently headed up research and development for the nascent Discovery Audio brand.

She now works cross-platform again as Head of New Media at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where she continues to teach, lecture and publish widely on museum interpretation for digital platforms



Detailed Course Plan


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