Showing the idea of innovation: The challenge of integrating artifacts, people, ideas and buildings in a cross-campus hybrid museum

Susan Frankenberg, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, U.S.A.

Is it possible to create an effective, engaging museum using physical objects, locales and information dispersed across time and space by constructing an online interpretive shell that can be used both on the ground and at a distance? Will people understand how to use and participate in such a museum, and will the museum actually convey the narratives and levels of understanding we think it does? Can we do it rapidly and cheaply, in a way that accommodates different interests and knowledge levels, and also allows expansion and evolution of topics and content? This paper attempts to begin to answer these questions by describing and assessing the Illinois Distributed Museum project. This ongoing project uses freeware to create a proof-of-concept website/smart phone app intended to enrich people’s understandings of innovation processes, knowledge flows and academic environments. It tells University of Illinois stories and creates several exploratory pathways that highlight how innovations occur and intersect with life outside academia. The online interpretive framework ties together physical objects, locales and information dispersed across time and space, and links extant museums, archives, exhibits, built landscapes and online digital resources. The paper addresses the theoretical and practical reasons for the design decisions and processes used. It explores the utility of using an alternative, more experimental approach in place of the conventional carefully planned development of a museum exhibit or interactive. It also outlines challenges, limitations and next steps in evaluating and improving this self-directed, free-choice learning tool targeted to adults and multi-generational groups.

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