Title:Renwick Hand-Held Education Project
Authors:Claire Larkin
Publication:MW2004: Museums and the Web 2004

Three years ago, Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) started considering wireless technology and hand held computers as a means for delivering object information to visitors. At that time SAAM was in the early stages of planning the Luce Foundation Center for American Art, a study storage facility that would showcase thousands of objects from the permanent collection normally stored off site, allowing the visiting public to see objects that normally would not be on view. Since the display style planned for the Luce Center would not accommodate extended labels, the hand held solution seemed like a good way to support and enrich the visitor experience. SAAM determined it was necessary to conduct at least one pilot program to test software applications and a variety of educational elements that might be appropriate for the small hand held screen. The Renwick Gallery, a department of SAAM with its own building and collection of contemporary craft, was selected as the test site. A wireless network was installed and content was developed for 14 of the 70 objects in the four permanent collection galleries. In fall of 2002, the Consortium for Interchange of Museum Information (CIMI) selected the Renwick Hand Held Education Project as a test bed for HandScape, a research and documentation effort supported by Intel Corporation. Through HandScape SAAM had the benefit of collaborating with Dr. Geri Gay, Director of the Human Computer Interaction Group at Cornell University. Dr. Gay and her research associate, Kirsten Boehner, helped SAAM gather and assess visitor feedback to determine what was working well and what could be improved. This has helped SAAM tremendously in its effort to fine tune a system that will work well in the Luce Center, which will open to the public in July 2006. Phase I of the Renwick Hand Held Education Project was very well received by the public, and SAAM learned a great deal from the visitor feedback. Phase II will be implemented soon, to test a different software application and respond to visitor suggestions from Phase I.