Vol 7|No 2|October|1997
Museums of the Future
Reach Out and Touch Something
Painting by Sarah McKenzie,
Virtual Reality Transforms Virtual Museums,
|What if we could walk into a museum and touch things?
Virtual Reality software (VRML) may revolutionize
Imagine putting your arms around a Rodin or shaking one of his marble hands?
What if we could walk up and peer closely at Georgia O'Keeffe's brush strokes without setting off one of those shrill new alarms they have installed in the most technologically advanced museums?
What if we could line up all the Picassos ever painted in one great collection? Match them up with works by Picasso contemporaries. Organize them by theme. Organize them by time.
What if we could enjoy great works of art without fighting off crowds, strollers and guards? What if we could really get close to archeological treasures and artifacts?
Virtual Reality now allows us to visit the National Gallery of Art and Zoooooom right up close to a statue.
The software takes a long time to download and it requires a fast (180 Mhz) computer to make it work well, but the results are surprisingly impressive. You can pick from half a dozen rooms of ancient Cambodian treasurers. Twirl around 360 degrees to see what is there. Zoom in. Zoom out. See that statue over there? Let's "walk" over and look him in the eye.
The RealSpace Viewer 2.0 is a plug-in for Web browsers. It allows users to view and navigate environments created with VRML 2.0 specifications and the RealSpace Image Worlds file extensions. The RealSpace Viewer is available as a browser plug-in for Netscape Navigator and Microsoft® Internet Explorer.
There are many more VRML products emerging which hold promise.
3D models can provide simulated visits, also. To view these 3D models, you need a VRML browser. If you don't already have one, you can download one of these.
Live3D for Windows 3.1, Windows 95 and NT.
Virtus Player for Macintosh, Power Macintosh. Along with the application software, Virtus includes several sample files, one of which is called
WebSpace (tm) Navigator 1.1for IRIX 5.3 & 6.1
Template Graphics Software, Inc. "WebSpace" for other platforms.
Now travel to Singapore to see these programs in action:
Tour the Singapore Science Centre
Visit the Omni-Theatre
Do not touch!
The training begins early.
You may look, but don't touch.
Sometimes it seems the finer the art and the more valuable the treasures, the greater the distance we must keep.
Fortunately, to balance these kinds of museum experiences, we have seen in recent years the development of hands-on museums, discovery museums, living museums and exploratoriums.
Some of these exploration museums have been leading the way when it comes to exploration of new possibilities and new visitor experiences. The distinguishing feature of all of these experiments is the focus upon interactivity and exploration.
The Exploratorium in San Francisco offers an impressive collection of interactive online exhibits which push the potentials of new software and new technologies to support active participation by the visitor.
For some of these exhibits you will need to install Apple QuickTime VR (QTVR) which is available if you click here.
Another superb collection of interactive online exhibits is provided by the Science Learning Network, a collaboration involving half a dozen science-related museums supported by grants from Unisys and the National Science Foundation. These projects extend the reach of children beyond the already artificial world of the classroom to a newer version of virtual reality.
Sometimes virtual may be better than real. Tired of disecting cow's eyes for real? Visit the online interactive version instead!
When was your last visit to the desert? Why not enjoy a visit from the comfort of your home . . . spinning 360 degrees to "take in all the sights" as you "stand" in the middle of Arches National Park.
Go to Desert Quicktime VR
It's not the same as being there . . . true. But QTVR is a far sight more powerful way to "visit" the "real thing" than most printed materials. For most citizens of the world, a virtual visit may be the best they can hope for.
When was your last visit to the Pyramids? Why not enjoy a visit from the comfort of your home . . . exploring the deep tunnels which penetrate far below the stone surface to reveal the burial chambers within.
Ten years ago I visited these same pyramids but never went inside! The lines were long, the passages narrow and the prospects unappealing. I voted for the ride around the pyramids on horseback instead. Now at least one of them is closed to visitors and the only way to visit is with QTVR. If it were not for NOVA Online, I would never have seen the insides.
How are students making use of these technologies? Illinois has led the nation in providing funding for museum-school partnerships which explore the potential of the Web and new technologies to display, interpret and share artifacts of various kinds. The next site includes instructions for the creation of QTVR resources by students as young as third grade.
For a more extensive collection of QuickTime VR . . .
What Can Schools Do?
The World Wide Web provides a remarkable opportunity for schools and students to create online learning experiences and environments with museum partners.
For a description of this partnering process, take a look at a paper delivered by me at the Museums and the Web Conference in L.A. last March, 1997. "Building a Virtual Museum Community."
For those wishing to sponsor a hands-on two day workshop for museum and school folks to learn how to design online exhibits and exploratoriums, the following outline may be of interest:
Creating Online Exhibits,Museums & Exploratoriums
This workshop is designed to develop your appetites, challenge your inventive faculties and inspire you to mobilize the folks back home to build something something wonderful.
Just what is a "virtual museum?"
an "online exhibit?"
The answer, it turns out, all depends upon the work you will do when you leave this workshop. This is a frontier and you are the pioneers. Most of the early development so far has imitated marble museums and physical spaces, taking little advantage of the interactive quality of Web pages.
We believe that young people, with your help, will help us invent and build entirely new models for exploration and discovery.
By the time this workshop is over you should be able to
Construct dynamic working definitions of "virtual museum," "online exhibit" and "exploratorium"
Develop personal visions of what a school virtual museum, online exhibit or exploratorium might deliver in support of student learning and curriculum
Acquire planning, design and HTML skills required to construct a virtual museum, online exhibit or exploratorium prototype
Apply these skills to the development of a school-based virtual museum, online exhibit or exploratorium
Identify strategies to engage a broad group of staff and students in the design, construction and management of a virtual museum, online exhibit or exploratorium
For more information about this workshop, contact Jamie McKenzie .