Virtual Reality in Museums: Exploring the Experiences of Museum Professionals
2.1. Aim and Research Questions
- How do museums currently use VR technologies in their spaces? How do museum professionals perceive the role and uses of VR technologies?
- Which museum departments are responsible for handling VR and do they have a digital strategy/vision in place that includes emerging technologies?
- What are the advantages and challenges of VR technologies according to museum professionals?
2.2. Research Design
2.3. Selection of Participating Museums and Interviewees
2.4. Data Collection and Analysis
3. VR Uses and Museum Professionals’ Perceptions
3.1. Uses of VR
“The reason that we have not really adopted this form of technology is also because we believe it’s not really a technology that—as an art museum—is interesting to have inside your museum as it closes you off from the environment. You’re already in an immersive environment once you’re in an old art museum. You don’t want to close people off from that experience. So, we don’t really see it happening in the museum. But outside the museum, yes”.
3.2. Museum Professionals’ Perceptions about the Role and Uses of VR
“I think where it gets challenging is when you try to use VR to replace the gallery experience or to provide a gallery experience in a virtual environment. That’s not what it’s good for. It’s good for offering a different kind of experience. So, use VR to create experiences that people can’t get anywhere else. People can walk into museums and galleries all over the world. So, don’t try and make a virtual museum or a gallery, make something else, a studio, a scene, a location, or send them to the moon. But don’t try and create a gallery in there”.
“The expectation today of people and technology is high. A lot of people try and interact with screens that are not interactive. I don’t think this is always because people want to know more about what they are watching but rather they are used to interacting. I think it’s important to be up-to-date with emerging technologies to remain relevant in the public eye but also do this in a respectful way, not to diminish the reason the technology is there [that is] the content”.
“It might not be one experience that does all of those things, but you might have multiple different experiences that serve different aims. Some of them will be about presenting the museum to audiences who either have never heard of us or who just don’t think we’re there for them and to help them feel excited and engaged and that there is something here that is relevant to them. Sometimes it might be about surprising people with something that they didn’t think the museum would do. Some of these experiences are to offer those wow moments that just get people coming in and queuing to try out an experience. And then some of them are about offering really deep learning, meditative, thoughtful experiences. It depends what you want to achieve and who you want to achieve it with and for”.
4. Departments/Teams Handling VR in Museums and Digital Strategies
4.1. Departments and Teams
“I think the immersive technologies sits with the digital department as a sort of natural extension of what we do online. But it also sits with our interpretation colleagues as a natural extension of what they do in the galleries. So, this is about two departments having to work closely together to deliver something using this new technology”.(Interviewee 16)
4.2. Digital Strategies
“We do not have a written down strategy regarding emerging technologies. Basically, we just want to deliver content in the most effective way possible. If it turns out that it’s an emerging technology that we think would provide the best experience or the most effective way to deliver content for visitors, then we would go with that”.(Interviewee 14)
5. Perceived Advantages and Challenges of Using VR Technologies
5.1. Perceived Advantages
“If they can step into a virtual environment, there is another way of connecting through emotion, through being immersed in an artist’s world. You can feel a connection that is more visceral, that you can’t access necessarily or not everyone can access through reading a wall text”.
“I can remember when I was young back in the ‘90s, I was seven. Me and my dad went to an aviation museum describing how the Americans parachuted out of the planes and fought the Germans in the Second World War. They had this harness where you would get into and they had the VR headset and you would jump with the soldiers out of the plane. This was one of the most intense and cool experiences I’ve ever had in a museum. And this was because of the VR and because I had this whole visualization of a story that was being told which didn’t really have an impact on me until I used this VR headset. And it had a very lasting effect on me”.
“I think the largest advantage of having VR in our museum is the exposure and opportunities our visitors get. I often take for granted the access I have to this technology and I am always surprised at the numbers of people that still haven’t had the chance to experience VR”.
“Some of the feedback we had was that until then, they haven’t thought about the artist as a man who really lived. It was just the name associated with these pictures on the wall. So even though the artist himself didn’t figure in the VR at all, but because we were looking at his living environment, it has brought him to life with a sense that he had really existed, which again, gave them a sense of a greater emotional resonance with the artworks”.(Interviewee 16)
5.2. Perceived Challenges and Limitations
“The thing we must never forget is the [visitor’s] experience around the technology. It’s not just what happens when they put the headset on, it’s who did they speak to in order to be able to do this? Was that person able to make them feel comfortable? Is the equipment clean? Is everything working when they press the button? It’s all the attention to detail of the experience for the person who’s coming into it before they even put the headset on. And then also, what happened when they took the headset off? Was there somebody there to greet them, to point them which way to go now? That’s what makes the experience great. And that’s how you can make it feel authentic and not just like something that’s stuck in a corner that you can have a go at if you like, but nobody really cares”.
“I find a lack of industry standard a challenge when receiving content or feeding into the creation of new VR content. The greatest limitation I find is the video resolution available at this stage. Battery life and overheating for portable devices and cable tethering for larger systems also limit the experience”.
“You can use Rembrandt, for example, as an inspiration. But once you start to add onto his paintings and create these 3D worlds, you are never going to be as good as the artist himself. And the technology isn’t there yet and the graphics are not there yet. So, this was one of the first problems that I came across”.
“The technology itself made more of an impact than the story the VR was supposed to connect to. Many visitors walked away with their first experience using VR, while positive, did not connect with the content to the degree we had hoped”.
6. Future Directions: What Does the Future Hold for VR in Museums?
6.1. Suggestions for Incorporating VR Applications in Museums
“It has to be organic. We can’t force technology on a museum. It must interact with it, just like the construction and flow of an exhibition directed by a curator. It must interact with the narrative you want to tell as well as the experience the visitor wants to have”.
“Technologies are just a set of tools to be put in service of a greater goal. A hammer is only as good as what you want to build with it. Similarly, technology in museums must be in service of providing the best, most engaging experience with the actual content. Any good technology project must be visitor-centered, accessible to people of all abilities, and in service of that higher goal: To educate, to inspire, or to motivate people to take action. Technology for technology’s sake is not a worthy aspiration for museums. We should not be distracted by what is new and shiny, but really think about people, about our mission, and what we can do to serve audiences in the best possible way”.
“My advice would be not to dive into paintings, but maybe create the world around it, create the context around it. So, for example, you could dive into the 17th century on the Dutch canals where Rembrandt painted the Night Watch. You can build the context, build the world around it, but don’t go in it”.
6.2. Envisioning the Future of Emerging Technologies in Museums
Conflicts of Interest
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Shehade, M.; Stylianou-Lambert, T. Virtual Reality in Museums: Exploring the Experiences of Museum Professionals. Appl. Sci. 2020, 10, 4031. https://doi.org/10.3390/app10114031
Shehade M, Stylianou-Lambert T. Virtual Reality in Museums: Exploring the Experiences of Museum Professionals. Applied Sciences. 2020; 10(11):4031. https://doi.org/10.3390/app10114031Chicago/Turabian Style
Shehade, Maria, and Theopisti Stylianou-Lambert. 2020. "Virtual Reality in Museums: Exploring the Experiences of Museum Professionals" Applied Sciences 10, no. 11: 4031. https://doi.org/10.3390/app10114031