This week we visiting the American Museum of Natural History and were asked to use the museum’s MicroRangers app.

Unfortunately, my phone died about ten minutes after we arrived, and I had forgotten my charger (sorry Sara!), so I was unable to take any photos or interact directly with the app. But, before arriving to the museum I had some trouble downloading the program. First, my phone was out of space so I had to go through and delete some things, then my wifi disconnected and the file was too big to download over my data plan. I hadn’t thought to download it onto my iPad, but that would have been a good solution as it has a lot less stored on it and keeps a better charge.

On most days the museum has free fast wifi available to visitors, unfortunately it went down right before we got there, otherwise it would have been an easy situation to resolve. The whole situation definitely got me thinking about museum interactions with and without technology. While the app provided a much more interactive and learning fueled environment within the museum, the exhibits can definitely stand alone. I definitely felt like I was able to get a very full experience within the museum without the use of the app.

One thing I would suggest would be to offer charging stations throughout the museum, or accessible plugs for visitors to use if they bring their own chargers.

I also noticed that they don’t offer device rentals for people without smart phones to use. While a lot of people do carry an iOS or Android device, there is a huge portion of the population that does not and can not afford to have those devices. It would be such an incredible opportunity to open accessibility to the app by offering a chance for people to rent iPods or iPads to use the application Obviously, you run into issues of security and cost, but so many museums have figured out how to offer audio guides on iPods without issue, I don’t think it would be too difficult as long as the funding were available.

I wasn’t the only one with phone battery issues so we were able to pair up and play in groups. I herded some buffalo back into their enclosure with Claire, and looked for the beaver. The interactivity with the coin was really interesting. It definitely gave the user an interesting perspective and a cool add-on that made the game really unique. We were kind of impatient and found the voice-overs to be a little wordy, but I think if I had been playing alone I would have listened to the entire speech and have been able to learn a bit more from the game than I had trying to listen and hear over Claire’s shoulder.

After playing the game for a little while we met with Hannah Yaris who explained some of the background on the game, and gave us a few other exercises to play with.

Hannah explained the timeline and process behind developing the MicroRangers app and the number of collaborations that happened to bring it all together.

MicroRangers was developed along with a team of high school students that worked side by side with programers to develop the script and ideas that the app would cover. They were directly involved in creating the games characters, and choosing which exhibits would be featured in the game. They tested different ideas and came up with a succinct model that they felt would draw in the most users; to keep the game to one floor of the museum, and to use the game to educate the public about something that they might not know, but that the students found really interesting. The project took two years and two separate groups of students before it was completed.

The AMNH is now working with high school students to develop other forms of programing for the museum. Hannah showed us a coloring page that when used with the museums application Explorer allows for you to see a 3-D rendering of your design. The front side of the page told a story about a little boy, and taught you a little about the culture of the Northwest Coast Indians. The back side of the page showed the handle of a spoon that exists within the museums collection. You color the handle of the spoon in, and then are able to see your drawing in 3-D on the app. She explained that these program materials are given out on weekends, and were designed to encourage people to stop and take a closer look at exhibits that might been seen as “walk through zones”.

I had gone uptown to see a friend run in the marathon on Sunday and took him through the hall of Northwest Coast Indians (after he had had a moment to rest). He’s a print makers and illustrator and has roots in Alaska, so it felt silly not to take him through that sacred space. While there we were able to see some of the interactives in action. There was a large group of girls around ten or twelve years old that were running from case to case trying to complete a scavenger hunt of sorts that had been given to them by one of the carts. It was so great to see them taking interest in the pieces within that hall and pause to take in more of the space than to just pass through it.