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ScopifyROM: Using Technology to Teach History in Museums

Posted by Jesika Arseneau
17 October 2013 - 2:11pm

A large portion of my academic focus has been on the integration of technology into history and culture. How can archives adjust to rapid developments in information management systems? Will museums be able to satisfy a generation that is increasingly glued to their cell phone? Can technology be brought into institutions without compromising educational integrity? These are not easy questions to answer, and I am often disappointed by the introduction of QR codes into museums. I have found myself sighing in disappointment a number of times when my attempts to use these codes have led me to small pages that repeat what is already on the text panels, uninteresting and low-quality videos, or broken links.

A couple of weeks ago, my position in Communications at the Royal Ontario Museum allowed me a sneak peek at the recently revealed ScopifyROM app for the Museum. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the app avoids gimmicks, using the platform to compliment the educational material presented in the galleries in unique and engaging ways. Created by Kensington Communications, the producers of the wildly popular Museum Secrets television series, the free app highlights 15 objects in the permanent galleries of the Museum. After scanning the QR code, the object is brought onto the screen and can be activated using several different "scopes", including: x-ray, skin, animate, and periscope.

Each "scope" allows you to see the object in a new light, whether it is animating the extinct Dodo (a long-lost member of the pigeon family) or decoding hieroglyphs on Djed-ma’at-es-ankh’s coffin. Each page includes an information icon allowing the visitor to learn more about what each scope reveals. The x-ray scope, one of my personal favourites, uses real x-rays to show you the broken bones beneath the skull of a mummified cat, demonstrating that it was killed intentionally as an offering to the gods.

There is a fine balance between enhancing the educational experience of a museum’s galleries by adding technology and winding up with a herd of visitors walking around with their faces buried in their phones. ScopifyROM manages to illuminate the history of the ROM’s collections, using simplicity and interactivity to promote the curiosity that a museum visit strives to inspire for visitors of any age. As I wandered the galleries on my own, using the periscope to examine the peg-like teeth of the giant Futalognkosaurus, a crowd of visitors surrounded me to see what I was up to. They eagerly watched as I demonstrated the app, and parents were thrilled to learn that scanning objects throughout the Museum would unlock games, such as one about bats, where the player uses "echolocation" to avoid obstacles and catch prey.

As time moves forward, technology is increasingly an unavoidable component to education. ScopifyROM is a great example of how a cultural institution can incorporate technology without becoming gimmicky – the dreaded fate of those who sacrifice valuable substance in favour of flashy appearances.

How do you include technology in history education?