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My personal research as a PhD student at the University of Exeter aims to examine user engagement, and how this relates to the development of digital content in the heritage and museum sector. The development of digital content in the museum environment, both physically and online, is helping to compliment the traditional text which accompanies most museum exhibitions and the items of interest contained within them, and through thoughtful research and evaluation museums can create dynamic visitor and user experiences which are relevant to an increasingly digitised and interactive world.

In the spirit of this endeavour, our recent workshop with Ross Sloman and the blue class at St David’s Primary School in Exeter highlighted a variety of ways in which children engage with heritage, and how digital content can help young people create and express relationships with both the physical environment of the past and its material culture. Utilising their own experience of multimedia tools and an impressive use of imagination, the children created not only some fantastic images and stories to publish on the Moor Stories website, but also provided some invaluable feedback which helped us to identify and confirm some good ideas for the continued development of both the Moor Stories project and RAMM’s Exeter Time Trails content.

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As expected games played a prominent part of the feedback provided by the class, and included a number of thoughtful and interesting ideas which will be considered in our development work. Gaming is an interesting aspect, because well developed interactive features engage a variety of cognitive functions which can educate, challenge and reward children; in addition, it is clear that games are a significant aspect of young user expectations and will continue to play a significant role in both the learning and leisure environments of young people.

In terms of environment, the feedback also highlighted the children’s desire to have their own identity on the site, with many members of the group suggesting separate Kids content. Further to this, other personalised elements such as creating your own collection to share with the public, and the development of personally tailored tours showed that both ‘Moor Stories’ and our other project ‘Time Trails’ have a popular underlying theme and ethos.

It was also suggested that any tour based functions should be guided, with over 80% of the class favouring maps over instructions, and that both tours and artefacts should be divided into chronological time periods, identifiable themes and object groups. They should also be child friendly, much like text boards in the physical museum which use specific writing techniques.

One element of this session was to formulate ideas of how to stimulate audiences in the absence of Tom Cadbury and the objects. The resulting answers provided lateral suggestions of replacing him with more audio and video links. These links could be used in a number of ways, primarily introducing material and asking questions. These questions would not necessarily need to have specific answers but should be aimed at meeting the thinking criteria set by the curriculum, and perhaps also towards older demographics who do not want information fed to them but appreciate guiding stimulus.

Visual and audio content is clearly an important aspect in delivering digital materials and represents the move away from a view of literacy that is confined to reading and writing text. In terms of additional visual content, the group felt that the site could benefit from being more vibrant and easier to read. As for audio the feedback suggested more narration, a welcome voice and a theme tune; although it may be preferable to have an optional audio background of music and/or sound to make the site a more immersive environment.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is felt that ‘Moor Stories’ should have more stories. This of course will be helped by increased use of the site, with users contributing material as hoped. However, in order to make this a definitive ‘go to’ site for those interested in teaching, studying and enjoying Dartmoor, it was suggested that the site should be populated with existing stories or interpretations of folk tales, based upon themes such as myths and legends (as suggested by the class), ghost stories and stories about the people who lived there, both factually based and fictional.

Finally a good look at all the feedback sheets, so generously provided by the class, revealed two suggestions which occurred regularly…Indiana Jones and Hound of the Baskervilles! It would appear that themes of adventure and detective work, based upon popular culture, are desired in order to create an immersive and interactive experience with a recognisable frame of reference for this potential user group.

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