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Smartphones as mobile labs

We all use smartphones, every day – but few are aware of their potential for science and science education. The numerous built-in sensors turn any mobile device into a mobile lab, which enables visitors to experiment and measure physical phenomena. This offers a range of novel interactions with exhibits and adds another dimension to the experience with objects in science centres and museums.

How can we use this technology in our museums to cultivate interaction and pique our visitors’ curiosity? Can we integrate online programmes when our museums reopen? Can these digital approaches offer added value to the museum visit without distracting from ‘real’ objects? We’ll discuss arguments both in favour and against the use of digital programmes and devices, share the paths we’ve walked and explain how we made the most of the changing situation over the last 12 months.


Head of Exhibition and Education

Session legacy

All smartphone games can be found and reused here http://tinyurl.com/smartphoneEcsite

Session speakers

Meie van Laar
Head of Education
In 2015 we developed our first app for families in the museum. It didn’t last long. Although we really tried to get an added experience on top of their experience of the science museum, we noticed that the families not really wanted to use a digital device while they were exploring the museum. Maybe it was too early to start with. In 2019 we tried again. We developed a digital bingo and a documentary assignment for teenagers to go through the exhibition but then COVID strikes. At this session we will share our journey of digital and online programmes and reflect on the new experiences. Can they really have an added value on top of the science center experience?
Associate Director Exhibit Content Development
San Francisco
United States
Most visitors will use their smartphone during the visit even without a custom tailored museum app. But what are they doing with their phones? Everything from augmenting interpretation, creating personalized mementos, to reporting highlights to their social networks, and more. Findings from recent visitor and educational technology research provide insights to their motivations and identities. In turn, these ‘instinctual’ motivations and use patterns can inform the design of more responsive smartphone apps that will harmonize with and extend the visitor experience.
Science Educator, Head of Explainer-School, Researcher
We currently develop a program, in which the visitors use their mobile device as a pocket-lab in the exhibition to measure and do experiments on the exhibits. Additionally to this, we have developed a hands-on-workshop on sensors, which enables visitors to explore the concepts of different sensor-types. In a field study, we want to find out what benefits this approach – the use of smartphones as measuring tools – offers for different audiences in different settings in a museum. Does it foster curiosity and motivation? Does it help audiences to understand physical concepts? Is there a difference between a bring-your-own-device and a rental device setting?
University Professor in Physics
Universite Paris-Saclay
We have been collaborating with designers to develop various ways to use smartphones in outreach or teaching physics. We created games or labs to engage various audiences, for example the smartphone physics challenge where one can measure the height of a building in 61 ways ! During recent lockdowns in France, we could put them into practice, engaging the general public during successful live Youtube sessions, or through remote teachings with our own students at university. These new types of approaches rooted in everyday life open the route for new types of pedagogies and outreach formats, more interactive and participative. We wonder if they even modify the relation the public has with experiments and science.