Title:Beyond Cool: Making Mobile Augmented Reality Work for Museum Education
Authors:Shelley Mannion
Publication:MW2012: Museums and the Web 2012

In June 2011, more than a year of intensive experimentation with Augmented Reality at The British Museum culminated in a large-scale education project with 700 teenagers. This paper presents results of quantitative and observational research on the project focusing especially on how AR impacts learning and the use of tablets in museum galleries. It explores the challenges of implementing the two main styles of mobile AR (marker-based and location-based) in gallery environments with low lighting, visitor overcrowding and without wireless networks. The aim is to share our experience of implementing AR applications for children and families within the constraints faced by nearly all museum education departments: small budgets, lack of staff resources, technical expertise and technical infrastructure.

The British Museum's digital learning team launched its first mobile AR application in November 2010. Despite a tiny budget and only three weeks development time, the Passport to the Afterlife ( activity successfully introduced marker-based AR into museum galleries. It revealed crucial insights about the appropriate use of AR for children, the potential of mobile AR for kinesthetic learning and the importance of blending AR interaction with analog techniques to ensure a rewarding learning experience. Three more AR projects built on this initial experience.

The most recent and ambitious is the Gallery Explorer (, a location-based AR game that runs across five different galleries and features 35 carefully selected museum objects. It runs on Samsung Galaxy 7" Tablets which are shared by students age 14-15 working in groups of 5-6. This project provided the opportunity for formal evaluation ( of how groups work together with tablet-sized mobile devices, what specifically AR adds to students' experience of the gallery and how to design a compelling AR interface.

During the past 12-18 months, most museum use of AR was for one-off events or temporary installations for adult visitors. While incredibly exciting, these applications were not designed to run in the day to day context of museum education, with its continuous and demanding stream of children, teachers and parents. This paper gets down to the nitty gritty of how AR's game-like interaction can be integrated into proven and sustainable models for gallery learning activities and become a core element of digital education programs in museums.