There is a tendency for online history interactives to be linear, wordy, and often times just plain boring. They perpetuate the misconception that history cannot be exciting and that learning about history is a tedious task best left to college professors. This is why I was happy to stumble across the the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Presidential Library and Museum’s interactive exhibits page, where they offer a fresh look into some of history’s most pivotal moments. I intended to sample a few, but one in particular intrigued me so much that I spent a good portion of my time exploring it interactive in-depth, from start to finish.
We Choose the Moon is a fun, informational, and visually-pleasing look at the Apollo 11 moon launch. The interactive was truly well-thought out, both in design and content. Accessible for people of all ages the interactive is set up stage-by-stage, highlighting the most important moments of the mission. Within each stage there are several layers of photographs, audio, and video. Each stage also features a “mission status” and “mission transmission” sidebars that display a countdown and actual mission transmissions. A particularly intriguing aspect of the mission transmissions is that they are displayed in a Twitter-like format, providing younger audiences a familiar platform and bringing the transmissions into the 21st century.
The audio version of the transmission is being played at the same time that the transmission feed is being updated, making it accessible for hearing-impaired users. A “mission tracker” status bar on the bottom of the screen allows audiences to track the exact location of the lunar module throughout each stage. The overall design is clean and appropriate to the content. Some may be overwhelmed by all the status bars, but that can be easily remedied by a click of the button. Not only is the platform highly interactive but customizable in that sense that users can choose to display as little or as much content as they like.
As the interactive moves from one stage to the next, the status bars disappear and a computer simulation of what was happening during that particular stage fills the screen. I have a new computer and good internet connection, but for a user with older equipment or a slower internet connection this may not run as smoothly as it did on my machine. Despite that possibility, the simulation is clear and exciting to watch. The photographs and video available to watch within the interactive are equally interesting. The best part? Minimal text. Each photo and video has a small caption, but the images, video, audio, and simulation really hold their own in telling the story; proof that not all history narratives have to be read. The use of music in the final photo montage is exceptional and really helps to convey the importance of the mission. The photographs do tend to get pixelated but does not detract too much from the overall theme of the final stage. At the end of it all, users get to print out a certificate stating that they completed the mission and can check off all the various aspects they participated in.
Visual storytelling is a great way to engage younger audiences, and this could be a fun interactive for families to participate in. The excitement audiences get from using it can put into perspective how people must have felt watching the first moon launch. Older audiences can benefit from this interactive by reliving this exhilarating point in history. Previous visits to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum have indicated to me that it is not the best institution for family learning. There are a lot of objects and reading, and the lack of interactives within the museum itself* can make the museum experience a trial for families with younger children. Minda Borun in her article “Why Family Learning in Museums?” writes: “It is important for the museum to be a facilitator and not an obstacle to family exchange.” Although the museum itself may be an obstacle, an interactive of this nature is definitely a facilitator. The lack of text allows children to ask questions and explore through images what it must have been like to be the first astronauts to go to the moon. Parents and grandparents can contribute to the conversation by sharing their experiences. Multi-generations can make use of this interactive and it is a gateway for exploring other historical events or other aspects of space and travel. The JFK Presidential Library and Museum certainly did an outstanding job with this interactive. In the future, I hope to see this creativity extended into the physical museum.
*My last visit to the museum was in September 2012. I hope to return in the near future to see what interactive or media elements, if any, have been added to the museum. Critique to follow!
Minda Borun, “Why Family Learning in Museums,” Exhibitionist Spring 2008: 9, accessed September 23, 2013, http://nameaam.org/uploads/downloadables/EXH.spg_08/EXH_spg08_Why_Family_Learning_in_Museums_Borun.pdf