Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Attracting and engaging the elementary school user

Jamestown Elementary at The Smithsonian
This week, I was one of the chaperones for my daughter’s first-grade class on a field trip to the American Museum of American History. I have been waiting for this day since the kids were born.

Once inside the museum, I had my group of three girls and 90 minutes to explore the museum. The girls offered their attention only to the exhibits that offered one of four attractions:

  • Tactile multimedia. The Star Spangled Banner exhibit offered touch screen table tops. The kids could touch the screen and make the text and images slide. The kids were concerned more about the motion than the slide. With guidance, they were able to read and absorb the text.

  • Text which they could read in short amounts. The words were not as important as the sounds of the word.

  • Video. Any video had an opportunity for attention.

  • Audio. Everything that talked directly to the user. If an exhibit played period music, they walked right past. If the narrative had spoken words, they stopped. If the narrative had children speaking, they stopped and listened.

Our group’s favorite exhibits were Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, the elevator and water fountains.

Walking through the exhibits, kids have an attention span of about 20-30 seconds. The adults walking behind them are no different.

Jamestown Elementary at The SmithsonianIn a Civil War exhibit, the kids pointed and shouted, “TV, TV.” It was a multimedia presentation a screen, audio and five buttons, which started five different narratives. Each narrative had a 5- to 8-second intro, with an opening text slide and period music. The kids’ attention span was … 5-8 seconds. Each of the kids wants to push a button to make something happen.

Once the kids watched an entire narrative (about 60 seconds), they were engaged. The stories were well told. But the narrative designer didn’t take into account the audience. The opening doesn’t require 5-8 seconds. In an room with 50 competing artifacts and distractions, the narrative start doesn’t need more than 2 seconds. Museum exhibits need to adapt to Internet audiences, whether they’re 8 years old or 50.

Jamestown Elementary at The SmithsonianTactile takeaways: The Smithsonian information desk offers bookmarks with URLs () and iTunes to search the museum online. The kids liked the bookmarks. Each held their hands out to get a bookmark, then handed them to for me to hold. Along with their coats.

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