Digital Media Critique: Mobile Guides at the Museum of Fine Arts

Today we bring you an article by Christina Errico, currently a Tufts student in the Museum Education Master’s program. For the Tufts course Museums and Digital Media, students investigate and critique the real ways that museums are implementing a variety of digital media.

Recently, I visited the MFA for the first time and, realizing that I would most likely be overwhelmed by the vast amount of art in the museum, I decided to make use of their mobile guides while I was there. I didn’t mind paying the $6 because I had gotten into the museum for free with my Tufts ID, and I liked that the guide was free for those who really needed it. But if I had to pay the full $25 admission fee, it might have been a little harder for me to justify paying an extra $6 for the audio guide.

The actual device was simply an iPod touch fitted into a sturdy case that had a durable lanyard attached to it. The headphones were standard plastic headphones, nothing fancy, but what I liked about them was that the cord ran up the lanyard and came out where your collarbone would be so that the cord wouldn’t get tangled or caught on anything. As someone who owns an iPhone, I found the device’s interface very familiar and easy to use. The only issue I had with the device itself was that the case didn’t allow you to lock the iPod which meant that it was using its battery the entire time I had it. For someone like me who wanted to use the guide for multiple exhibitions, it became an issue because I eventually ran out of battery. Overall though, I really enjoyed the device itself because it was easy to use, comfortable, and well-designed.

I decided to start with the “Class Distinctions” tour and I have to say that it really enhanced my experience in that gallery. As someone who has an interest in Dutch painting but not a lot of knowledge about it, I really appreciated how they included the curator in almost every tour stop. The curator was very down to earth, engaging, and never condescending. She pointed out interesting things about the context of each painting rather than simply describing what was going on or the techniques used to paint it. Almost each stop had a “Going Deeper” section and what I loved about these were that they often focused on a different painting that was right next to the original one. These were then compared to show what the differences and similarities were and what themes were present in Dutch painting as a whole, making the entire guide seamless with the exhibit. I also liked that it usually gave directional cues on where to go next or where to look. Many of the stops had videos which were very interesting, and I appreciated how the guide would tell me exactly when to look at the screen for a video and when to look back at the art so that I never had to worry if I was missing something.

While the audio guide as a genre is not the newest idea in the museum world, I think the way the MFA handled it still made it fresh and new. By including a “Going Deeper” option, they allowed the visitor to have some choice on how much they wanted to explore rather than locking them into a specific time frame. I also liked that they brought in different voices like the curator and a poet, for instance. I additionally appreciated that, by including secondary artworks in the “Going Deeper” tracks, the audio guide actually covered most of the paintings in the gallery. For me, I felt that the “Class Distinctions” audio guide really met its learning goals of helping the visitor to slow down and learn a lot about the paintings in the greater context of Dutch art, culture, and history.

Overall, the benefits of the MFA’s mobile guide greatly outweighed the few drawbacks. I thought that it was absolutely an appropriate and almost essential use of digital media given the size of the museum and huge amounts of art. The small, personal size of the device did not take away from the art or the museum experience and the headphones didn’t bleed sound into the galleries. The MFA’s mobile guide was well-designed and well-executed and I would definitely go back and use it again.

Weekly Jobs Roundup

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Keep Up Those Connections

Today’s post was written by Ken Turino, Manager of Community Engagement and Exhibitions at Historic New England, and a Tufts professor. Ken is currently co-instructor of the Tufts courses Exhibition Planning and Revitalizing Historic House Museums. Here he offers insights to career development and shares stories from his own fascinating path.

Over the years, I have found networking to be a great way to stay in touch with classmates, colleagues, and Tufts students. You often don’t know where these connections may take you so it is important to keep them up. Thirty-four years after completing graduate school, I am still in touch with my professor, the head of the Museum Education Program at George Washington University and over the years she has served as a reference for me and we have co-written an article together for History News, gotten together at conferences, and socialized. These many years later I am still in close contact with several of my classmates (we rented a castle together in Scotland for a big birthday two summers ago).  Over the years, we have offered each other support and advice. Some have left the field but our experience together has bonded us, and we have used each other as consultants for projects, sounding boards, and served as references for each other.

It is also important to keep up your further education which leads you to new contacts.  In my case, the contacts I made while attending The Seminar for Historic Administration, led many years later to my current job at Historic New England. One of my GW classmates and I participated in the seminar and I became friendly with one of the faculty, Bill Tramposch. Subsequently, I had him speak for the Museum Education Roundtable in Washington, DC, and we kept up over many job changes in both our careers. I even visited him when he ran the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Subsequently, he came to Historic New England and asked me to come work with him to create an Exhibitions Program. Although I was director of my own museum, this was an opportunity I could not pass up on.

The point is these connections can lead you in many different paths but you have to keep them up and yes this takes effort but the benefits can be both personal and professional. I am happy to pass on job announcements, internship opportunities, etc. to my friends, colleagues and students. You should too. I have found our museum community particular warm and inviting. So go to the national and regional conferences and talk with people, keep up with your professors and classmates, take seminars and make new acquaintances. All are a great way to make new connections and keep up older acquaintances. It paid off for me.

Weekly Jobs Roundup

Here’s our weekly roundup of new jobs. As always, they go up immediately on their own page. Happy hunting!

Welcome back!

Welcome back to a new year and a new semester! Hopefully you are rested and rejuvenated from the break, if you are a student.

We would just like to take this time to ask you to think of us this semester – if you have a great idea for a post, we would love to hear it! We would also like to post any papers you wrote in previous semesters, or new ones you write for the upcoming semester. We are happy to help edit or bounce around ideas.

If  you have an idea or piece of writing to share, please email us at tufts.museum.blog@gmail.com

Good luck this semester!

Colleen & Jess