I spy, mines, flash Interactives and live interpretation

claire r

apologies for the long blog post!

I’ve been off adventuring over the past couple of weeks; most of it not work related but anyway.  I had some fabulous meetings with my e-learning guys Ian, Mike, and the newly titled ‘web innovator’ Rich (I’m not sure that’s the correct title but how cool is a job to be innovative with the web!).  Their approach to web development and e-learning is a breath of fresh air compared to some of the other parts of my project and its really nice to go up to Exeter and throw around ideas and to see what they come back with.  I’ve even managed to learn a little bit of code because of them, and I owe them an awful lot, so thank you!

CIMG1562As well as talking about flash Interactives and web design over the last 2 weeks, I went up to Nottingham to visit my boyfriend Matt.  He works for the coal authority, yes we both work in mines, yes we’re a big geeky couple, and yes we have endless debates about what is better tin mining or coal mining.  Whilst I was there, we did plenty of I-spying…. Quite a few people have been sent Michelin I Spy books, with the quest to complete the whole book.  My book quite aptly is ‘I spy below your feet’.  Because I’m very competitive and once a quest is set I go for it wholeheartedly, Matt and I ended up galavanting all over Nottinghamshire and the peak district in order to spy as many things as possible! It was great fun! Why am I telling you this? Well the process of I spy has lead to several interesting things:

Firstly:I Spy is awesome! Especially when you have obscure things to spy like drain covers and stink pipes! There are so many different types, shapes and sizes.  It really makes you pay more attention to your surroundings when you’re looking for something specific.  This is something that I think would work really well at Geevor.  Geevor is a massive site with so many interesting things to look at.  However some of it tends to get passed by on the way to the underground or to the new museum (both very good, I’m not trying to discourage people from going to either of these things- but I want people to be aware of the other gems that Geevor holds too).  Would an “I spy at Geevor” work? Would visitors take to it with the same va va voom as I have? Or am I just weird?   I think it would work, Geevor has done trails and hunts in the past but they have been orientated towards younger children.  From my I spy experiences it is something much more then a children’s activity it has potential for all ages.  Everyone loves a challenge.   it is also something that has potential web links, like what the London Transport Museum did with their scavenger hunt on flickr.  One of the major parts of my e-learning project is to link back to the actual real I am Geevor site as much as possible, and potentially with ‘I spy Geevor ‘the site could link back to the e-learning and flickr group I’ve created…. The idea has been suggested we shall wait and see if anything comes of it! I hope so!

Secondly: Matt and I went to the City of Caves in Nottingham.  There is a whole seires of man made sandstone caves underneath present day Nottingham.  The ones we visited were underneath the Broadmarsh shoppingcentre.  The caves were used for housing as early as the 11th century, and troglodytes were recorded in the 17th century.  These caves have a long a varied history.  This cool history is not the only thing that is good about these caves.  What I really enjoyed with the interpretation! More and more museums are now turning to active communication over passive communication, as well as realising the importance of inspiring and engaging their visitors as well as helping them to learn about the past/science/something etc.  I think the City of Caves did this brilliantly! Why?  They had live interpretation/living history/historical interpretation/ what ever you want to call it, and it was fantastic! I am a firm believer in good interpretation leading to a better visitor experiences not just enhanced visitor learning.

photo1113We entered the caves, full of trepidation (their was eerie music and I have a very over active imagination) wandered around in the caves following the instructions given to us by the man upstairs “turn left, do not turn right.  If you turn right we will lose you and you will never escape the maze of caves.  Remember DO NOT TURN RIGHT”.  This made both matt and I really want to turn right, but we behaved and went left and ended up in a 13th Century tannery.  We were told to wait.  We waited. And waited.  And eventually an old lady appeared behind a Hessian curtain, dressed in rags and a leather apron and looking generally haggard and filthy.  She then treated us like hopeful apprentices for the job of a tanner, and went through the roles of the job and what would be produced at the end.  It was fantastic! However the majority of the group being terribly English there wasn’t much interaction apart from me answering all of her questions, unfortunately she didn’t think I would get the job because I needed to “put a bit of fat on” otherwise I wouldn’t be able lift the barrels of wee to tan the animal skins.  Needless to say I was very disappointed to not be offered the job.  But the fact that I, as a visitor, was given a role play in a historical narrative was a really interesting experience.  All the previous live interpretation I have seen or interacted with has been almost like a window into the past, I was still an outsider looking in.  With this I was there I was a part of the process and it was brilliant! Without this live ‘tanner’ telling us things, we would of simply have been standing on a walkway above all be it very well preserved remains of a 13th century tannery in a cave, to a non archaeologist they are just a series of pits in a sandstone cave.  Would an interpretation panel be able to portray what working in a tannery would have been like or how the tannery would have worked?

Basically Live interpretation has much to offer and can not simply be dismissed as a gimmick.  It works, I learnt a lot, I was engaged and I was inspired.  In fact I was giddy for a good while afterwards going on and on about how cool it was to be talked to be a person from the past!

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3 Responses to “I spy, mines, flash Interactives and live interpretation”

  1. I think I Spy could definitely work at Geevor. I’ve been thinking myself that this I Spy experience is very transferable to museums and, like you, I’m finding it so refreshing to have something, however simple, to just make me take notice of my surroundings because of my I Spy book (London in my case). I think you could also adapt not only the way we’re all using Flickr but also the way we’re using Twitter…

  2. Glad you’re enjoying the I-Spy experience! 😀

    I have to agree with the comments about ‘live interpretation’ (I love this term, it makes the curators/actors sound like animals in a zoo) – it can REALLY add to the experience. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that providing live interpretation is the most valuable thing a museum can offer – especially those that are historic locations (such as mines or palaces).

    When I spent a week visiting the sites of New York, we went on as many of the ‘guided tours’ as possible – of the Statue of Liberty island, in the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, and so on, and they really made the experience come to life – the guides were fantastic, and their enthusiasm was infectious.

    One of the problems I’ve noticed, though, is that even though these tours are usually free, they often don’t attract many people. The Statue of Liberty island had tons of tourists, and yet we were one of only 4 people on the tour! I suspect that this is in part due to the social awkwardness of having to hang around and wait for the tour to start at a particular time at a particular location. People’s natural inclination seems to be to just idly wander, and so it’s hard to step out of this pattern and take part in a fixed experience.

    So I think there’s a job for museums to do to find ways to encourage people to get past this initial barrier, as if you can get more people experiencing the ‘live interpretation’, they’d probably come away from it pretty happy.

  3. […] like the audio guide), but what I love the most is the Live Interpretation.  I have enthused about Live Interpretation before whilst I was at Geevor.  When it is done well, it is fantastic. I know live interpretation has a bit of murkyness about […]

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