Week 8: The Onsite Museum II – The Churchill Museum

Hello everyone, sorry for the delay….

There is so much to discuss that Joleen and I thought that we would raise some of our observations and key issues in order to prompt further discussion on the blog.

Philippa; After wandering round the Cabinet War Rooms, the Churchill Museum seemed to provide a complete contrast in terms of space and technology. It is packed with technology and it felt quite different to anything I had previously experienced in a museum setting. Plus, everything appeared to be in working order – even more impressive!! I was particularly interested in the parallel with the War Rooms as both spaces seem to complement each other really well, yet still maintain different identities.

Joleen; I too found quite a contrast between the two Museums and before entering (from the map) and found the placement of the Churchill Museum quite intriguing. First I wondered around the Cabinet War Rooms and left the Churchill museum to be discovered last. The war rooms pride themselves on being quite authentic and staged the exhibits according to photographs often referring to dates in which the room looked a certain way. About a quarter of the way through the authentic WW2 maze, the Churchill museum gave an extreme change of pace with dramatic lights, sounds, computers, video and top of the line interactives. I found it quite easy to get sucked into the space and the transition was surprisingly easy (think that had a lot to do with the well maintained machines!!!). At the time it didn’t occur to me to ask Sarah but I now wonder if the transition was taken into account and if they had any comments from visitors?

Philippa; The museum itself is split into six sections although I didn’t follow any particular path through. In fact, there didn’t seem to be much of a path to follow but this wasn’t a problem as it encouraged me to explore the space and engage with what it had to offer. After exploring the museum ourselves, we then met with Sarah Clarke, the Exhibitions Manager, who explained some of the research and processes that went into the design of the Museum. This turned into a more general discussion where we shared our experiences and comments.

One of the first points raised was whether the museum had too much technology. It is a relatively small space and I could see how this could be quite daunting for some visitors. I was encouraged by watching people of all ages interacting with the technology and found the timeline to be one of the highlights. I loved the rewards (what a great way to test your knowledge of significant dates!) and the way in which this created a shared social experience over the table. Sarah pointed out that there were 26 workstations at the table and so it could be used by an entire class. During the group discussion, the idea of enabling visitors to change information within the timeline was raised. If it can be updated from an office in a short amount of time (or even from America!) then the possibilities for lesson plans are endless.

Joleen; Did the visitor engage with the systems or was the learning curve too steep? I found most of the interactives to be quite user friendly and observed that visitors from every age group seemed to engaged at one time or another. I followed a senior citizen who particularly was touched by the video of Churchill’s funeral and later observed her at the painting interactive in the house section. A class of 10-13 years olds couldn’t tear themselves from the timeline table. Once I did observe three girls from the class who found the video’s to be quite boring and used their silhouette on the screen to comb the frizz from their hair. The only hesitation or confusion I observed was my own and Chris’s at the chess piece interactive. We tried to figure it out, but didn’t seem to have the right touch. Sarah later told us that the sensor connecting the piece to the machine is placed at the top of the chess piece (where we had placed our hand) was a common mistake, and was being remedied soon

Philippa; I’m sure everybody had a favourite section/interactive – I personally loved the fish in the pond – although I must admit I didn’t realise that they could be enticed with food! I did think that the fact that there was no text pointing this out was a good thing – again, this encourages exploration. I also liked the way that video screens were integrated within display cabinets. I felt that you could walk round the museum a few times and notice something different each time.

Sarah pointed out that the golden egg interactive wasn’t one of the most successful due to the fact that visitors weren’t looking in the case, to the right of the interactive, for the answers. It was really interesting to hear her discuss these issues and possible ways of resolving them. The same goes for the issue of space – the small amount of display space is addressed by using options like directional speakers, which help save space.

Joleen; I did notice that the lack of space did create an intimate environment to engage with the interactives but I can foresee a problem during a particular busy day. Sarah mentioned this briefly and said that layout pattern addressed this issue by creating an open path (unlike the war rooms) was particularly designed to avoid the bottle necking effect.

Overall, we both thought the museum provided a really stimulating environment which helps put Churchill’s life into context. We also feel that the next time we look at any museum interactives they now have a lot to live up to! We would love to hear your comments, as I’m sure we have missed lots out! I think we all enjoyed the trip and must say a big thank you to Sarah for talking to us all.

Philippa and Joleen