Annemieke Berckenkamp

Annemieke Berckenkamp


Please Do (Not) Touch. Interactive Exhibits With a Sensorial Approach Aimed at Adults

The research question of this dissertation is; ‘to what extent can museums offer sensory learning for adult visitors’. The focus lies on the research of the theories behind touch, applied in interactives.

Life is experienced through the senses, which all have their own individual importance. Most experiences are multi-sensorial, museums can take advantage of this by designing sensory interesting interactives. These often deal with different senses, including the somatosensory system.

In the past collections where often touched. The general belief was that this would cause harm, but by preventing the public from touching it would diminish the learning. The change towards visual apprehension of objects came hand in hand with the increase of visitor numbers. Preventing touch would mean that only an interpretation of an object or artwork will be preserved. It needs to be determined for each object if touch will add to its value. Touching will provoke a reaction both from the body and the mind. It will provide access for diverse audiences, but these need to learn how to touch. One of the ways to direct this process is to make use of interactives. These are historically 6 used as devices to explain science content to visitors. Especially children’s museums are associated with interactives, but they could be equally interesting for adults. There are some differences between the learning strategies of children and adults. Adults have more context. They are also more likely to learn because they want to, not because they have to. Including adults in interactives will not automatically exclude children, the main difference will be the approach.
Interactives will be considered fun by many visitors but they will also transfer knowledge. To provide an optimal learning experience thety should connect with their surroundings. Together with other exhibits they should provide a rich learning environment. Every visiting person, comes with his own background, interests, reasons and company. Because people are different, museums should provide for different learning strategies. Interactives can therefore be designed according to the principles of flow, experiential learning or multiple intelligences. With a rich learning environment every visitor would be enabled to gain something from the experience. But learning is also a social thing, interactives can help people to engage with eachother which will help to construct knowledge.

To get a grip on all the discussed theories a tool has been constructed, which is is designed to determine structurally which of the components of the theories discussed in this dissertation are represented in an exhibit. The validity of this tool is however debatable. It has been tested in practice only once, by only the 7 author. It is therefore certainly not without flaws. In the future the tool should be thoroughly tested by different people on different exhibit(ion)s. It is not the aim of this dissertation to present the perfect tool. The aim is to research the theories behind the attraction and learning attributes of touch and interactives.  

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