The Stanley Spencer Gallery iMuse project week 2

This is retrospective because this project has taken on a time consuming life of its own – and the one thing to fall by the wayside has been actually writing up what we have done… Knowing that AACT is stuffed full of serious academics they will be horrified at this – but this is real life.

Going back to the beginning:  Annette and I had a long chat about what we were trying to achieve, and time and again we said – we’ll just see what develops.  The point of the exercise is to work out a sustainable, inexpensive way forward to use IT to enable a better visitors experience to the Gallery for all abilities.

We started with an iPad (provided by AACT) onto which I loaded information about a loan painting collated through iBooks Author.  (see separate blog about that).  We identified a list of about 60 things to think about, but in the end they all broke down into a few main categories:

1) Visitor user friendliness

2) Custodian user friendliness

3) Security

4) Effectiveness.

Following the launch on 14th Feb we have had very positive feedback from those who have used the iPad – most, but not all of the users were familiar with the iPad, all found it ‘easy’ or ‘OK’ to use and without exception they all had high praise for the positive addition it made to their visit.  So far so good.

We launched initially without headphones as the speaker level (with Guided Access) was set to conversational level, and as the iPad was in a corner of the Gallery we decided to see if the audio level was intrusive.  Several visitors actually ASKED for headphones – mainly because they felt embarrassed to be making a noise, and secondly they didn’t want other visitors to know if they skipped a bit!

So we added two pairs of headphones and a splitter.  This is not ideal for sharing.

One issue with iBooks Author is that you create a virtual book – which cannot be looped, and so has to be swiped back to the opening page ready for the next visitor.  This is a problem – if the visitor does not finish the presentation and get to the page asking them to swipe back then obviously they don’t and the next visitor starts half way through……  It would be great to find a way of looping the book – other than by copying the pages over and over – which would create a huge file and again pose problems on getting back to the beginning.

Some custodians have embraced it and are very happy because of visitor reaction, others are more unsure, and there is some uncertainty about taking the app out of Guided Access in order to leave on charge overnight.( it will not sleep in guided access and heat build-up overnight might pose a problem.)

We now have one iPad tethered to a bench and resting on a stand (we would have put it on the bench but decided it would be sat on if we did.. (the iPad, not the bench….)  This is not ideal but the best we can do with space available.

Custodians so far have reported no objections to it being in the gallery.  I have had no report from them yet about the proportion of visitors who look at it – but hopefully will get that in due course.

Subsequently were lent a second iPad by AACT.  This became necessary as we started to expand the scope of our experiment and introduce the iPad into some more visitor experiences.   Our ‘disabilities’ Custodian arranged a visit from the TalkBack group in Amersham.  They are a charity empowering challenged young people, and it was decided to run a self-awareness project with them using the Self-Portraits currently in the Gallery exhibition.  Ten students arrived, and the ipad was used to take photographs and manipulate them and email the results.  It was a great success and added to their experience.  Annette was present and can report on the day.

More updates later….

Chrissy Rosenthal

Volunteer, Stanley Spencer Gallery