The 21-Tech initiative has allowed me as a Discovery Guide to push myself further on how much information I can process and share with each visitor I encounter.- Odis Garrett, Children’s Museum of Houston Discovery Guide
21-Tech is a bridge between our museum guides and the visitors in that it creates connections between educational concepts and the real world.- Shawn Waxali, Children’s Museum of Houston Discovery Guide
21-Tech has helped Discovery Guides engage visitors by extending their experience through the apps and applying it to the exhibits.- Ian Tibby, Children's Museum of Houston Discovery Guide
21-Tech is a way of ‘hiding the vegetables in the fruit’ where the kids do not realize they are learning, but instead having fun and being fed knowledge that intrigues their minds.- Lauren Bell, Children's Museum of Houston Discovery Guide
21-Tech provides a new outlet for our Discovery Guides to interact with the visitors in a way that further enhances their experience and makes the visit overall extra enjoyable.- Sylvia Garcia, Children's Museum of Houston Discovery Guide

21-Tech Tip: Communicate the rationale behind “Why iPads?”

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Recently, Edudemic posted an article about critical mistakes schools make when integrating iPads in classrooms. I couldn’t help but notice the many similarities to iPad integration in museums, and how museums, too, can avoid critical mistakes in order to have a successful 21-Tech program.

My next few “21-Tech Tip” posts will focus on challenges we’ve faced at Children’s Museum of Houston, and advice we’d like to offer to help guide other museums.

21-Tech Tip: Communicate the rationale behind “Why iPads?”

Putting a techie device in the hands of facilitators is actually a trivial detail of the 21-Tech implementation. Even if the tablet is loaded with kid-friendly, content-related apps, that doesn’t mean facilitators will use the device. It is absolutely crucial to be transparent, and explain why your museum has chosen to use tablets, and exactly how the technology will deepen and extend visitor learning. If your facilitators aren’t convinced, it will be almost impossible to proceed!

Let me explain why. Most children’s museums are interactive spaces where families have a multitude of hands-on experiences, even in the absence of technology. That’s why facilitators are often baffled when they learn of the technology integration. They are confused as to why we are choosing to replace authentic hands-on experience with something that’s “fake.” Some facilitators think they are supposed to detract visitors by saying, “What you’re doing is great, but I have an app for that!”, and others think the tablet is to be used on busy days as a substitute for the exhibit components. Yet others think the tablet is to help visitors find the nearest restaurant. Of course, these are some (of the many) misconceptions which can be clarified if the 21-Tech goals are made clear from the beginning, and reiterated along the way. Facilitators should know that technology will be used very briefly to enrich and extend the visitor learning experience, and used only as a tool to help start a conversation about the exhibit content.

If possible, allow facilitators to ask questions, raise concerns and anticipate challenges – not just in the beginning, but all along the way! Providing a channel for feedback will give facilitators ownership and help them feel part of the process.

  1. January 15, 2013

    Ali Jackson

    Needlam, Great post. I would emphasize the point about an iPad (or any other technological device) being just another tool in a facilitator’s toolbox. We are still relying on them to make the most of a visitor-facilitator interaction. Sometimes the iPad can help achieve a richer experience, but it’s not a replacement for any of the wonderful hands-on practices they already employ.


  2. January 29, 2013

    Neelam Damani

    Ali, you’re absolutely right! In fact, I’m so glad to hear that we’re not the only ones who struggle with this concept. We have to constantly clarify misconceptions about the iPad, and reassure facilitators that technology is just a tool; it should never replace that sacred hands-on experience.

    Just thinking out loud here — wouldn’t it be great to have our facilitators speak with one another via Skype or some similar platform? I’ll email you about that soon.

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Project Brief

21-Tech partners study and share the effective use of Personal Mobile Technologies (PMTs) by gallery facilitators in their work with visitors. The initial three years (2011-2013) of 21-Tech are funded in large part by a 21st Century Museum Professionals award from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The project is led by the Children’s Museum of Houston in partnership with Lawrence Hall of Science, New York Hall of Science, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and Sciencenter. For more information, please visit the About page.

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