Digital storytelling for the Irish Jewish Museum

The deliverable outcome of this practicum is to provide a mobile app which can be used by visitors to the Irish Jewish Museum to elucidate the history of Irish Jewry through narratives which utilise elements of the museum’s display and relates them to themes including the Jewish contribution to culture, politics, and business in Ireland.

Audience

The museum identified the target audience for the app as their majority visitor demographic; people of Jewish origin visiting or working in Ireland. The objective, therefore, was not to explain Jewish culture to a non-Jewish audience, but rather to explore aspects of Irish Jewish life and history.

The museum

Housed in a building once used as a Shul (Prayer House), the display method is traditional consisting of labelled items relating to various aspects of Irish Jewish life and history exhibited in glass fronted cabinets. The first floor Prayer Room also holds items relating more generally to Jewish religious customs.

Spatial aspect

Space Syntax theory is a method of examining people’s movement through, and interaction with, exhibit spaces.

The figures above, by Bill Hillier and Kali Tzortzi, illustrate the two extremes of museum spatial types, (a) is the single ring of space in which every visitor follows the same sequenced order; and (b) at the other extreme is a complex and confusing sequence hard to complete. Hillier and Tzortzi posit that an intermediary between (a) and (b) is the best option as it combines an understandable ordered sequence with options which allow the visitor a certain amount agency in exploration and a sense of discovery.

 

The Jewish Museum’s spatial type is very close to (a) in the illustration above. Since museum visitors are reluctant to retrace their steps and often only read content displayed on one side of an exhibit path (Bitgood, 2006), one of the objectives of the project is to leverage the affordances offered by digital apps to encourage engaging exploration and movement around the space, thereby, mitigating against the negatives tendencies associated with spatial type (a).

Encouraging certain trajectories or display sequences can help build more coherent narratives (Hillier and Tzortzi; Christidou and Diamantopoulou; Griffiths), and the ability to embed gamification can be an effective strategy to provide an enjoyable sense of discovery. Both factors can foster engagement and increase learning outcomes.

Technology

The main emphasis of the practicum is digital narrative building, as opposed to a technical “building” of a mobile framework. The research into app delivery sought to identify which of the available technical solutions best suited the specific context and needs of the Jewish museum. The constraints of the project, such as time, were also a factor in the choice of technology. After assessing customisable open source frameworks, such as Ionic, and Framework7, the option of an off-the-shelf app built specifically for museums was considered the best fit. This was a more sustainable option considering maintenance needs, future expansion, and ease of use for non-specialist voluntary museum staff. In addition museum visitors often do not take the necessary time to figure out how an interactive device works (Bitgood, Borun, Friedman, and Serrell), therefore, having an app which functions in a familiar and intuitive manner will likely increase its usage. From a more technical perspective, the off-the-shelf solution facilitated easier integration with the triggering beacons adopted to enhance the element of novelty, interactivity, and sense of discovery.

The Benefits of Multimodal Approach

The ubiquity of digital technology and the cultural trends of usage have resulted in an expectation of multimodal information delivery. This multimodality can be utilised as a means of encoding more contextual information to enhance and support textual and/or audiovisual narrative delivery methods by supplementary illustrations, music, photographs, and video footage. The variety of modes can combine to encode meanings in non-textual and non-verbal ways, providing deeper understanding by more efficient means, therefore, aiding visitors in extraction information and creating meaning more quickly. This is important as perceived time and effort required to engage with exhibits, compared to perceived benefits, has been shown to influence engagement, which informed the basis of Bitgood’s attention-value model which suggests the presenting of information in small manageable chunks can encourage initially engagement and lead to sustain engagement (2010; 2011; 2013). Visitors are unlikely to make a time investment with audiovisual content beyond a duration of about three minutes (Chaidez), particularly on a device surrounded by available alternatives (Bitgood, 2011; 2013). These constraining factors can be mitigated against by utilising multimodal content which can encode meaning more efficiently through a combination of visual, auditory, and textual means.

Conclusion

Content: The variety of content researched includes visual imagery, audio and video archive footage, and an audio interview. These will be combined with textual information on areas such as Civic Life, Cultural Life, and Business life. In keeping with the principles outlined above, auditory and visual contextual media will be utilised to deepen the engagement and learning potential by supplementing the brief audiovisual and textual features.

Narrative: Narratives should utilise aspects of the museum’s collection to explore the core themes and encourage movement around the exhibits. An attempt to make connections between the different themes and further encourage explorative movement through gamification will also be explored to enhance the visitor experience in what is a restrictive space.

 

Works Cited:

Bitgood, 2006; 2010; 2011; 2013; Cited in Lessons Learned from Five Decades of Experience in Visitor Studies, session handout from the 2013 Annual Meeting of American Alliance of Museums.

Bitgood,S., Borun, M.,  Friedman, A., and Serrell, B. (2013) Lessons Learned from Five Decades of Experience in Visitor Studies, session handout from the 2013 Annual Meeting of American Alliance of Museums.

Chaidez, S. Digital Storytelling https://soniachaidez.com/digital-storytelling/. Accessed 21 Apr. 2018.
Dimitra, C. and Diamantopoulou, S. Seeing and Being Seen: The Multimodality of Museum Spectatorship. In Museum and Society 14 (1), 12-32

Griffiths, A. (2002) Wondrous Difference: Cinema, Anthropology and Turn of the Century Visual Culture, Cited in Space Syntax. In A Companion to Museum Studies, S. Macdonald (Ed.). doi:10.1002/9780470996836.ch17

Hillier, B. and Tzortzi, K. (2007). Space Syntax. In A Companion to Museum Studies, S. Macdonald (Ed.). doi:10.1002/9780470996836.ch17

 

 

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