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Smartphones as mobile labs in science centres & museums

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 these new technologies in our museums to cultivate interaction and curiosity of the visitors? Can these digital approaches offer an added value without distracting from the ‘real’ objects? We’ll discuss arguments both in favour and against the use of digital devices and share the paths we’ve walked.


Head of Exhibition and Education

Session speakers

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?
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. at this session we will share our first responses and reflect on both the first application as the new activities Do they really have an added value on top of the science center experience?
Associate Director Exhibit Content Development
San Francisco
United States
Even without offering a specialized smartphone program, we know visitors are using their phones during the museum visit. How can we better understand their existing usage patterns and improve the design of a smartphone based experience? With findings from recent visitor and educational technology research, we could have a better chance of predicting what visitors are willing to try, likely to avoid, and what kinds of engagement could enhance their experience and satisfaction.
Exhibition and Programs
Since 2016 phaeno is offering measuring-with-smartphones activities on special days. From these activities we developed an explorer tour with two main goals: to generate additional value for several exhibits in our exhibition and motivating exploratory usage of smartphones as a measuring device. A first version of the tour was tested and discussed with a group of teachers in 2018. I would like to share the outcome of this discussion about target group, usability and bring-your-own-device. Phaeno is still working on the completion of the desired app and will present the current state of the project.
Senior producer: Public engagement and Learning
Imperial War Museum
Senior Producer: Public Engagement and Learning IWM