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Designing for the cooperative use of multi-user, multi-device museum exhibits

, University of Michigan, United States

University of Michigan . Awarded


This work explores software-based museum exhibits that allow groups of visitors to employ their own personal mobile devices as impromptu user interfaces to the exhibits. Personal devices commandeered into service in this fashion are dubbed Opportunistic User Interfaces (O-UIs). Because visitors usually prefer to engage in shared learning experiences, emphasis is placed on how to design software interfaces to support collaborative learning. To study the issue, a Design-Based Research approach was taken to construct an externally valid exemplar of this type of exhibit, while also conducting more traditional experiments on specific features of the O-UI design.

Three analyses, of—(1) museums as a context, (2) existing computer-based museum exhibits, and (3) computer support of collaborative processes in both work and classroom contexts—produced guidelines that informed the design of the software-based exhibit created as a testbed for O-UI design. The exhibit was refined via extensive formative testing on a museum floor. The experimental phase of this work examined the impact of O-UI design on (1) the visual attention and (2) collaborative learning behaviors of visitors. Specifically, an O-UI design that did not display any graphical output (the "simple" condition) was contrasted against an O-UI design that displayed multi-element, dynamically animated graphics (the "complex" condition).

The "complex" O-UIs promoted poor visual attention management, an effect known as the heads-down phenomenon, wherein visitors get so enmeshed with their OUIs that they miss out on the shared context, to the detriment of group outcomes. Despite this shortcoming, the "complex" O-UIs better promoted goal awareness, on-task interactions between visitors, and equity in participation and performance. The tight output coupling (visitors see only one shared display) of the "simple" O-UI condition promoted emergent competition, and it encouraged some visitors (especially males) to become more engaged than others. Two design recommendations emerge: (1) incorporating devices with private displays (e.g., O-UIs with output) as interfaces to a single large display better promotes collaboration (especially equity), and (2) O-UIs with "complex" displays may be used in museum exhibits, but visitors would benefit from mechanisms to remind or encourage them to direct their attention to the shared display periodically.


Lyons, L.B. Designing for the cooperative use of multi-user, multi-device museum exhibits. Ph.D. thesis, University of Michigan. Retrieved November 22, 2019 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

Citation reproduced with permission of ProQuest LLC.

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