Using mobile-phone film-making to engage young people with museum collections

Andrew Wilson (formerly of Blink now Studio for Co-operation) and Lee Hutchinson (formerly of Northampton Museums, now M Shed, Bristol) designed and evaluated a research project aimed at examining the potential of models and techniques for engaging young people with museum collections through the use of mobile technology.

                                                                   The full research can be read here.

Why Mobile Phones?

The project evaluated the pros and cons of using widely accessible pocket-size ‘DIY’ production technology – the kind of video phones that many young people already have – in combination with everyday distribution technology as a means of interpreting museum collections. Can it be done? If so, how?

Ultimately, it is anticipated that projects of this kind will engage audiences currently under-represented in the museum sector, and, in the case of Mobile X, hold a particular appeal for a non-visiting audience within the 13 - 21 age group.

13 young people took part in Mobile X, aged 14-20 and three adults supported the young people: one film-maker, one youth development worker and one museum officer.

Research Aims

1. Discover what functionality of mobile phones young people are using, how they are using them and how willing they would be to use their own mobile phones as part of a creative project (Mobile X)

2. Trial models and techniques to engage young people with museum collections through using mobile technologies that they already have, along with the resources of the collections and tutoring in film-making and new media

3. Try to uncover whether participants will share their finished productions with family and friends, using their mobile phones through Bluetooth and analogue sharing (showing people what is on their phone screen)

4. Discover how the participants feel about having their films made public using platforms like YouTube and Bluetooth distribution in the museum

5. Consider what implications research findings might have for the use of mobile technology in museums (e.g., should museums supply hand held devices to visitors or encourage them to use their own?)

6. Try to disseminate the conclusions of the trial and evaluation as an article or presentation to a museum sector audience

7.

  • Evaluate the models, techniques and outputs:
  • What are the obstacles and advantages of using DIY technology without expert technical and film-making support?
  • Look at the potential to develop a scalable model that can be copied by staff at other museums without need for specialist film-making expertise and equipment;
  • Are the resulting films any good, as explanation, entertainment or other criteria? Did the participants enjoy the process?
  • Do the participants have an improved awareness of museum collections?
  • Have the participants gained film-making and/or other skills?

Conclusions

What are the obstacles and advantages of using DIY technology without expert technical and film-making support?

There were very few obstacles to using mobile phone film-making to engage the participants with objects from the museum’s collection; the advantages in terms of cost and enthusiastic participation are clear.

Filming via the phones was quick, effective and stress-free. Four films were devised, storyboarded and filmed within three hours. Two supervisors sufficed to manage a group of eight: a film-maker to advise on film-making techniques; a museum officer to oversee research and care of objects.

Is there the potential to develop a scalable model that can be copied by staff at other museums without the need for specialist film-making expertise and equipment?

Mobile X did benefit from some film-making support, both in the crash-course workshop and in post-production editing, and it may be that it is always valuable to have enough funding to pay for a small amount of expertise.

However, this support has to be structured as part of the Mobile X model (the film-makers involved in the project initially suggested over-ambitious and inappropriate ideas and their input had to be rigorously directed). Future research will aim to create a strict brief that museum staff can insist is followed.

So long as museum staff can refer to these guidelines, film-making support can be relatively inexpensive, requiring only basic video editing skills.

Building on the experience gained from the first research project, Mobile X will also aim to create a zero cost model that requires no film-making support, but this is a more difficult challenge.

Are the resulting films any good, as explanation, entertainment or other criteria?

The participants chose to add basic sound and visual effects – the end result is effective low-tech entertainment. It’s evident from the films how much fun the young people had making them. When the films were screened at a community event at Northampton’s Guildhall, the audience visibly expressed their enjoyment.

Do the participants have an improved awareness of museum collections?

Pre-participation responses to the questionnaires indicated that:

The majority of participants were under the impression that Northampton Museums consisted primarily of shoes (a misperception: it also has sizeable art, social history and archaeology collections).


The majority claimed to know either ‘nothing’ or 'not a lot’ about the objects in the collection (with three exceptions: 'shoes are made in Northampton’; 'so very much’; 'they are old’).


All seemed unsure about what they might learn from the project. Answers ranged from 'anything’ to 'nothing’ and 'not much’


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In post-participation questionnaires, participants reported that their knowledge of Northampton Museums’ collections was not increased as a result of taking part in Mobile X. In response to the question, ‘What might you find in the museum?’ all participants referred only to the boot and shoe collection. One person added that there are “lots of historical things”.

In terms of what they had learned about the museum, one wrote:

“That people of all ages can look around it and see the history of Northampton’s shoe industry.”

and another:

“It’s cool.” Otherwise, this section was left blank.

The learning outcomes about the museum are more evident in photographs taken during Mobile X sessions, in which participants spent several hours looking at and handling a diverse range of objects (from all areas of the collections – not exclusively shoes).

From the project co-ordinator’s viewpoint, it appears that there is a discrepancy between what the young people actually learned and what they thought they had learned or were prepared to report that they had learned. Evidently, they considered it ‘un-cool’ to publicly admit to acquiring knowledge!

Only a minority of the participants’ films offered historical interpretations of the objects from the museum’s collection. This was an unexpected outcome and the participants’ perspective was balanced with the inclusion of a brief description of the objects’ provenance (where provenance was known) in the end credits of the films. Future development of Mobile X could aim to better integrate an increased understanding of museums into the model and to create learning materials in support of this. Participants might conceivably wish to make films about the museum, or the collections, or the provenance or production history of a particular museum object, in addition to imaginary forms and functions of the object. The challenge will be to increase factual input without stifling the participants’ enthusiasm and creativity.

Despite a lack of clear evidence in the completed questionnaires, the participants undoubtedly enhanced their knowledge of the museum’s collection through creatively and actively engaging with the objects.

Did the participants enjoy the process?

Of the four feedback forms so far received (eight participants completed the project), all responded ‘yes’ to the question ‘Did you enjoy Mobile X?’ (one ‘very much so’). All would recommend it to family and friends.

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From observation, it is clear that participants have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of Mobile X, particularly in terms of film-making, and this may stem from the relatively carefree task of filming with phones and the fact that they had a sense of direct ownership of the project.

Have the participants gained film-making and/or other skills?

The quality of the finished films, and the imagination and confidence with which participants used moving image genres, suggests that they did learn new, or improve existing technical skills. The crash-course workshop was well received. In their interaction with each other and the adult supervisors, it is evident that they developed or enhanced interpersonal social skills.

A larger-scale fully-funded project with an extended schedule might also directly include the participants in the editing and post-production process, equipping them with further new skills.

Mobile X has been a very successful proof of concept.


The full research can be read here.