Museum artifacts: How online representations can link to the museum environment.



The topic of my study is “Museum artifacts: How online representations can link to the museum environment.” From this statement the question I am asking is “Does the construction of personal meaning from museum artifacts change with contextual variation?” By “contextual variation” I am referring to the online three dimensional digital environment versus the physical object and questioning if online representations of museum artifacts convey the ideas, values, and knowledge outcomes originally intended by the primary curator.

The contextual variation I am observing of museum artifacts within the digital environment is the three-dimensional context specifically utilizing Arius3D technology. When describing what the 3D environment is, Dr. Brad Eden, author of Information visualization, indicates the one-dimensional context involves text only (and is an aspect that I am considering for inclusion with my dissertation project). Examples of the two-dimensional context are the pictures we see in paper and on computer screens. They exist as a flat object with no depth. The three-dimensional context goes beyond this because it incorporates depth or volume with the image.

This is big picture, or the “So what?” of this study. That is “Do online representations of museum artifacts convey the ideas, values, and knowledge outcomes originally intended by the primary curator?” When the curator of a museum displays artifacts within an exhibit specific pieces are chosen and set up within the museum space with a specific goal in mind. The artifacts chosen by the curator are placed in public view and within a certain space contained in the museum on purpose. That purpose for the curator is to convey an idea or to tell a specific story about a particular culture the piece represents. There are certain knowledge outcomes the curator would like the museum visitor to leave with. These knowledge outcomes are going to differ from one person to another because of previous experiences every individual has had in the world. These experiences define how the world works and where one fits into that world as individuals. Artifacts are displayed within a museum environment for the purpose of conveying an idea or value held by a culture, thereby creating a knowledge outcome for the benefactor. This is why I am inquiring if the construction of personal meaning from museum artifacts changes with contextual variation. I am interested in determining if the ideas, values, and knowledge outcomes meant to be translated to the museum visitor via digital interface are translated?

Framework and General Research Questions

Museums display artifacts belonging to different historical societies and groups. Bodies of knowledge, beliefs, and value systems are displayed through the use of exhibits. The curator, when choosing artifacts to display within an exhibit is attempting to tell a specific story about people. When people visit the museum and view these different exhibits, one is incorporating what they see and constructing new knowledge based upon previous experience. Today's museum traffic is measured in the millions because the online exhibit is seen as being just as important as the brick-and-mortar museum.

Telecommunications has become a powerful tool for people to communicate and access information on a global level. Museums, according to Maurita Holland and Kari Smith from the University of Michigan ( have found that curators and educators are studying how technology can increase the number of people to their collections and help researchers locate and access specific information they need regardless of time or location. The World Wide Web has further enabled people to not only consume information but also to produce information thereby adding to what can be found on the Web. It is in this light that the curator can connect the digital visitor to the artifact and how the visitor can partake in the construction of personal meaning from museum artifacts. But how does this construction of personal meaning change from the museum environment to the virtual one? With this concept in mind I am interested in knowing if the construction of personal meaning from museum artifacts changes with contextual variation. There are three specific questions this study will explore: (1) Do visitors of the museum gain the ideas, values and beliefs originally intended by the curator; (2) Do visitors of online 3D environments gain the ideas, values, and beliefs originally intended by the curator; and (3) What are the similarities and differences between the ideas obtained from 3 dimensional digital online environments and the original goals of the curator?

Theoretical Perspectives Informing my Study

Post-modernism/constructivism/contemporary literature theory/meaning-making: “Affecting a range of disciplines concerned with the nature of information exchange, including museology, the paradigm has transformed the definition of communication from a one-way linear path, where 'meaning' represents the significance intended by a sender to a receiver, to a process of negotiation between two parties in which information (and meaning) is created rather than transmitted (Dervin, 1981), and 'meaning' is in the eyes, head, and heart of the particular beholder. The shift highlights the role and authority of the individual or 'reader' in shaping the meaning of a 'text' or experience. Yet meaning is also influenced by the social and cultural norms, attitudes, and values that surround the communicators; therefore, patterns in meaning-making are usually discernible” (Silverman, p. 161, Visitor meaning-making in museums for a new age).

Flow experience: “Generally described as a state of mind that is spontaneous, almost automatic, like the flow of a strong current (Csikszentmilalyi, 1975). A general characteristic of activities that produce flow is that they have clear goals and appropriate rules. …flow activities usually provide immediate and unambiguous feedback. One always know whether one is doing well or not. Another characteristic of flow experiences is that they tend to occur when the opportunities for action in a situation are in balance with the person's abilities. In other words, the challenges of the activity must match the skills of the individual. If challenges are greater than skills, anxiety results; if skills are greater than challenges, the result is boredom. Flow experience is constantly enjoyable” (Csikszentmilalyi, 1975).

Constructivism: “…asserts two main principles whose application has far-reaching consequences for the study of cognitive development and learning as well as for the practice of teaching, psychotherapy, and interpersonal management in general. The two principles are (1) knowledge is not passively received but actively built up by the cognizing subject and, (2) the junction of cognition is adaptive and serves the organization of the experiential world, not the discovery of ontological reality” (International Encyclopedia of Education, Constructivism in Education, 1987).

“Constructivism refers to the idea that learners construct knowledge for themselves - each learner individually (and socially) constructs meaning - as he or she learns. Constructing meaning is learning. There is no other kind. The dramatic consequences of this view are twofold: (1) we have to focus on the learner in thinking about learning (not the subject/lesson to be taught) and, (2) there is no knowledge independent of the meaning attributed to experience (constructed) by the learner, or community of learners” (Hein, p. 2).

  • - “There is no such thing as knowledged 'out there' independent of the knower, but only the knowledge we construct for ourselves as we learn” (Hein, p. 3).

  • - “Learning is a personal and social construction of meaning out of the bewildering array of sensations which have no order or structure besides the explanations (and I stress the plural) which we fabricate for them” (Hein, p. 3).

Design Scenario of How Online Digital Representations of Artifacts Can Link to the Museum Environment

Insert Image 1