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„Geschichte zum Anfassen“ erobert Schweden

Wie können Museen interaktive Anwendungen zu Bildungszwecken nutzen? Eine regierungsnahe schwedische Agentur hat bei uns nachgefragt. Gesprächsgrundlage ist das „Mobile LearningCenter“ der Gedenkstätte Berlin-Hohenschönhausen und die dazugehörige iPad-Anwendung „Geschichte zum Anfassen“, die wir gemeinsam mit beier+wellach projekte realisiert haben.

The iPad as educational tool

Mobile applications can further enhance and deepen the exhibition experience for the visitor. A guide on how to transfer exhibition content to the tablet. beier + wellach is a Berlin-based agency for exhibition concept and design. Sharing office spaces on several levels with 3pc Neue Kommunikation, a web development agency, they team up to design and develop educational applications for iPad, iPhone and Android tablets to be used in exhibitions. Peter Wellach, CEO of beier + wellach, and Armin Berger, CEO of 3pc Neue Kommunikation, explain ways of communicating exhibition content in an educational manner through mobile applications for the iPhone and iPad.

In general, Peter Wellach says, You can use the tablet as a tool to convey education through a narrative—an element which neither a text book used in school can’t deliver, nor an exhibition can’t easily provide. With an iPad application you can set up a cliffhanger, you can develop a dramatic composition and you can put in audio recordings and film clips for demonstration. Armin Berger adds, The exciting part with a tablet is that you can show carefully preserved, historical objects and documents in greater detail which you could never do in an exhibition environment. Thus these historical items are revived on the digital screen, they can be explored and unfold their own story each.

Immerse in the exhibits afterward

For the Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland Foundation, a German institute about post-war history located in Bonn, the team beier + wellach and 3pc developed a mobile iPad application for its ongoing The American Way. The USA in Germany exhibition. It is not designed to accompany the exhibition but to unlock additional content after the visitor has walked through, therefor making it a more diverse experience for the user afterward. In the application, there are eighteen objects and images out of the 1,000 exhibits from the exhibition. The app deliberately shows each object without its given context or an introduction the visitor would encounter at the show’s entrance. By touching each object on-screen the user unlocks several short texts. A timeline on the bottom serves as structure for the objects from which the user can select. An additional timeline for each object provides the historical context.

Keeping the visitor drawn to the exhibition

Armin Berger says about the reduction of the content to fit the mobile dimension for The American Way: – An essential part of the navigation is that the objects speak for themselves without further explanation. We did not want to add several layers of meaning to the objects right from the start. The tablet’s advantage is its explorative function for each user. – The core concept of a mobile application is its limitation. Unlike a website for desktop it can’t display all of the information due to the size of the smartphone’s screen. Instead the application’s content is all about reduction.

Abandon the concept of linearity

Peter Wellach recalls how the app’s interactive navigation was only reluctantly approved by the institution in the beginning: – The Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland Foundation is an educational institution and used to linear exhibition walk-throughs. Letting the user freely choose what to explore in the application—with him or her not following a chronological order and jumping between objects and different times—was completely new to them. The information itself is tied to each object through pop-up texts.

Hands-on history at the Mobile Learning Center

For an interactive Mobile Learning Center to be used in schools the team of beier + wellach and 3pc developed several educational tools including an iPad application in 2010. It was commissioned by the Foundation Gedenkstätte Berlin-Hohenschönhausen, a former prison in Berlin that used to be run by the State Security Service of the GDR. The Mobile Learning Center consists of a converted Barkas B 1000, a former prison transporter, which is regularly driven up to local schools in and around the greater Berlin area. Audio players including headphones are mounted on all sides of the vehicle for the pupils to listen to former prison inmates telling their stories. Inside the car there is a touchscreen with a video of the exhibition walk through the prison.

The tablet as a learning tool

The second part of the mobile exhibition is titled Leben nach Diktat—Erwachsenwerden in der DDR and deals with coming of age in the GDR. In this educational module pupils can watch video recordings of contemporary witnesses on an iPad. Lastly the pupils are handed out several tablets with an application giving tasks. Peter Wellach talks about how the pupils have to work using a digitized archive on the iPad: – The pupils are given a question and have to acquire knowledge themselves to answer it. On the iPad’s application they access an archive with historical documents, images, film clips, and recorded interviews. For each object they have to find out the issue revolving around it by touching the right ‘hotspot’ on the on-screen object. Step by step they thus proceed to the next object. Finally they use their findings to put together a group presentation about the issue. The results are then sent to their teacher for further evaluation.

The iPad as magnifying glass

In 2011 the Wunderkammer exhibition at Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen in southern Germany was displaying airship memorabilia, such as coins, letters and toys. beier + wellach and 3pc were commissioned to develop an interactive educational element for the show consisting mainly of these small objects. First they firmly mounted iPads in front of the vitrines. On them was the Wunderkammer application installed that displayed objects from the vitrines. These could be magnified and rotated by the visitor. Furthermore, as an educational element, the user had to answer a random set of questions about them.

A transient experience at most

Armin Berger says about the challenges of adding a touchscreen device to an audience not familiar with these gadgets: – The exhibition was held in 2011—at a time when many visitors weren’t familiar with touch screens or tablets at all. We added several help and explanatory symbols to the application’s navigation. – The iPad in the museum generates a transient experience at most. We noticed that many visitors tend to pass by the tablet, touch the screen and try a little and then continue their exhibition walk. Whereas if there is an application installed on the user’s own device, he or she tends to explore it much further at home.

by Verena Dauerer