Title:Hands Online
Authors:Martin Freeth
Publication:MW98: Museums and the Web 1998

Inspired by the Exploratorium, the Bristol Exploratory pioneered hands-on science in Britain. At the time this was the only interactive kind of public education about science. Of course, on television BBC Science in London and the BBC Natural History Unit based in Bristol lead the world in serious science and nature programmes, but theirs were all passive entertainment. There were few links with traditional museums. Now, with media convergence, interactivity is coming to Bristol in a big way. In Science World, the Exploratory is embracing multimedia, and in Wildscreen World, an electronic ARKive will make footage of endangered species available throughout the world. Media convergence will turn both traditional television and traditional education upside down by linking the world and by giving people real choice through interactivity. But how will this affect museums and science centres? Will there be any point in coming to buildings? Will an on-line virtual world do just as well? I shall suggest that a combination of real and virtual worlds will be extremely powerful educationally. If museums keep ahead of the frontier and recognise what they are good at, they will be the jam in the sandwich: the sweet emotional experience which makes the intellectual bread digestible! But it is not good enough just to tack web sites onto museums and add internet cafes to science centres. I shall attempt to present examples of combinations of real science, hands-on exhibits and on-line and off-line interactive multimedia which are only just now becoming possible.