FACETIME: Lowell Robinson
Tell us a little about the Exploratorium and what it does.
The Exploratorium is a museum of science, art, and human perception based in San Francisco, California. We believe that following your curiosity and asking questions can lead to amazing moments of discovery, learning, and awareness and can increase confidence in your ability to understand how the world works. We also believe that being playful and having fun are important parts of the learning process for people of all ages.
What led to the Exploratorium deciding to produce these apps?
Our group, Online Engagement, is dedicated to learning experiences beyond the physical walls of the museum. I think using touch-enabled devices is a natural extension for a hands-on museum, and tablets are special because, with their portability and relatively large screen size, they lend themselves to social learning. Groups of people can have a shared experience with our apps, similar to how they might play with an exhibit together on the museum floor. For instance, when was the last time you took a hearing test with your friends in the same room? Digital experiences are often isolating, but they don't have to be. Our hope was to create authentic, visceral learning experiences that you could take anywhere and share.
Why were sound and colour selected as the subjects for your first two apps?
The Exploratorium has a rich history of exploring both sound and color. On staff we have scientists, exhibit developers and educators who have dedicated their lives to better understanding these phenomena, so our in-house expertise in these areas is immense. When trailblazing into new mediums (in this case, the iPad ) we thought limiting the variables would work out best, so we chose topics we knew well that we thought would translate to the medium best.
How do you think the apps could be harnessed in the classroom?
The apps take discrete ideas and invite you to explore. Because the content is experiential and interactive, the apps can be used by individual students or as an in-class demonstration, but there is no “teacher guide.” Many of the exhibits on our museum floor are actually very rich teaching tools, but you don’t need to know about this added dimension in order to enjoy them and learn something. So with the apps, you can do the primary experience and read the “What’s Going On?” to get a first layer of understanding but in many cases, there are additional ways to explore and experiment, and an educator can also take the content much further and tie it into a more complex lesson plan.
Have you been pleased with the reception that the apps have received?
We have been super excited about the success of both Color Uncovered and Sound Uncovered. Both have won awards and been highlighted by Apple for education in various ways. Most importantly, the feedback from users has been amazing. Color Uncovered has been downloaded well over a million times and Sound Uncovered (still in its youth) is really holding its own as well. Both apps have done well internationally, too.
Do you have any other apps planned for release?
This Fall we will have another update to Sound Uncovered, which we’re very excited about. Beyond that, you’ll have to keep your eyes out for what we’ll be launching next!
Lowell thanks for your time and we look forward to more great content from The Exploratorium. Find out more about this great organisation by visiting their site here.