I thought long and hard about what I wanted to write about for this post. The first thing that came to mind was this old school topographical relief model map that would light up when you pushed a button. One of my favorites is at the Canyon Visitor Education Center in Yellowstone National Park. I loved looking at it when I was kid and seeing where I had hiked, or seen that grizzly bear, and now I like to take my daughter there and show her the same things. The difference is that now the Visitors Center has a ton of new technology that focuses on the geothermic features of the greater Yellowstone area. I remember when I was in my teens we went to a Ranger talk at Old Faithful and learned all about the caldera and the super-volcano that lives underneath the park, the technologies that have been implemented into the new Visitor Center at Canyon now allows my daughter to have a hands on exploration of what those things are and what it means for the park. Much in the same way the Canyon Visitor Center has reinvented itself, so has the Draper Museum, which is a section of the Center of the West (formerly the Buffalo Bill Historical Center). I was shocked when I went back through my photos trying to find pictures for he post to discover that I barely had any. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that when the museum invited you to interact with it, there are less moments when you pull the camera out, because you are too busy playing with hands on exhibits!
While the Canyon area of the park has been open in some capacity since 1910, the newest renovation to the Visitor Center occured in 2006 and focuses heavily on the geologic history of the area, the geysers, hot springs, canyons and the supervolcano helped to shape life in Yellowstone. The relief map is still there, only now you can check out where lava flows went, where the earthquake faults are and where glaciers cut through the park creating mountains and canyons. The entire thing is also narrated.
The Visitor Center also has a 9000lbs rotating kugel ball. the first time we visited we were not entirely sure what this was besides something cool to look at. Upon closer inspection you can see that the ball actually seems to float on the water that spills around it and into the pedestal that holds it up. This particular one shows all the volcanic hot spots in the world!
Besides this, the center has exhibits that show real time earth quake and other geological data as it's being collected in the park.
The Center for the West in Cody, Wyoming has always been my favorite museum. In fact it's the museum that made me want to join the Cultural Heritage Preservation program. If I had a dream museum to work at, The Center of the West would be it. The whole museum does a great job integrating technology which includes a cool steam projection of Buffalo Bill welcoming to the museum and several videos of the Wild West shows. For me, the museum has two highlights in particular. One is the Draper museum, which is the Natural History wing of the museum and lets visitors learn about the wildlife and ecology of the area. As visitors move through the spiraling ramp that leads you through the different ecosystems you can interact with the exhibits. I particularly like that you can watch videos of the different animals that live in the area as well as listen to what they sound like in the wild. The video and audio is built right into the exhibits, so you can watch/listen and then look to see the size and scope of the ecosystem including the wildlife that lives there. It makes for a very comprehensive exhibit.
Beyond that, kids can pick up passports that let them explore each area, watch the videos and interact with the hand on activities.
The other thing that The Center for the West does really well is use technology to expand their reach. There have been numerous times that I have reached out the McCracken Research Library for information or resource and been given back a wealth of information, including digital access to their exhibits. Now you can access
their online collections on their website at any time. To me this is just another layer of using technology to assist in interpretation. From their website you can search their digital collections, visit virtual exhibits and create your own own exhibit to save and use later. The online collection is taking the physical experience of visiting the Center of the West and delivering to you where ever you are, whenever you need it. I'll admit to losing several hours browsing the collection online!
That said, when I think about integrating technology, it's all about supporting the exhibits and not overpowering them. You don't want the technology to become the thing. If the bells and whistles begin to pull focus from the information then you have missed the mark.
When deciding what to use, it's really important to know your audience and what you are trying to show them. Sometimes it's enough to have a wall of hats and a few saddles to let the visitors climb on as they imagine they are in the Wild West show. If you keep your audience in mind, and design your exhibits to meet their needs, then you will likely have a successful exhibit.