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: Give facilitators a choice

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In our eagerness to see all facilitators using iPads, for a time, we required them to carry an iPad throughout their shift. Our intentions were good. We thought – the iPad is a tool which will help facilitators improve their interactions with visitors, so we want everyone to have that opportunity. However, what we had imagined didn’t happen. In fact, to our dismay, this angered many facilitators. Some rolled their eyes as they picked up an iPad at the start of their shifts, and others simply refused to carry it. For a while, we couldn’t figure out why there was so much negativity towards the iPad. Was it the weight? If so, we can purchase iPad Minis, we thought. If it’s the apps, we’ll clear the iPads of unnecessary apps. We went through 5 rounds of eliminations, cleared almost 200 of the 280+ apps, and organized apps into folders, labeled by exhibit. We even began re-testing the remaining apps to be sure they were easy to use, and had a clear app-exhibit connection.

There was a slight improvement in attitude, but not as much as we had hoped. Quite a few facilitators began to come around, and started using the iPads in various galleries. Some liked that apps were now easier to find, and some were attracted by the new lightweight Minis we had purchased. A few even began to approach us with questions, and became almost giddy when they successfully used the apps. However, there were still those who remained steely in their resolve to never use an iPad, no matter what.

It finally dawned on us that if some facilitators don’t want an iPad, maybe we should just listen, and not give them one. And finally, that worked. Resentment started melting away because now they weren’t being forced. Those who didn’t want iPads were happy to be relieved of the additional responsibility, and others who loved it were glad they could use it freely, without negative attitudes weighing them down.

Things are not perfect, but we have definitely seen a pendulum shift in attitudes. I guess in our enthusiasm, we had forgotten one of the two key purposes of 21-Tech – that the iPad is used to extend the museum experience, and that it’s a tool for facilitators. In order to implement 21-Tech effectively, facilitators must be given that choice to decide whether or not they want to use the iPad as a tool. Asking that one simple question has really made all the difference for us.

  1. January 25, 2013

    Anita Vyas

    I also think that giving the facilitators accountability has worked. For example, the ‘rate the app’ cards that we used while testing and re-testing the apps. The facilitators had to fill in very basic information such as whether they liked the app, whether it worked in relation to the exhibit and most importantly whether they thought they were experts in using that app. I think it gave them a sense of personal achievement that they tested the apps’ uses in novel ways and reflected on their own expertise. In addition the meetings where we share favorite 21-tech experiences, challenges as well as successful interactions has really nurtured that sense of a collaborative community. Lately we have been hearing so many stories of facilitators teaching each other how to use certain apps. You’re right, things are not perfect but there is a sea change from where we had started 🙂 Kudos!

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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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