The launch of a multimedia tour at Tate Modern was one of the first of its kind and won a Bafta award for technical innovation. The judges said: ‘Genuinely groundbreaking, this was an exciting demonstration of how new technology can be used to enhance museum and gallery visits. Commendably, Tate Modern is working with day-to-day feedback from visitors to develop a system that complements an already stunning physical learning space.’
Why develop a multimedia tour?
Tate Modern wanted to remain at the cutting edge of educational technology by helping to shape a new generation of multimedia tours.
Using a hand-held device to deliver a range of multimedia content is particularly attractive to an art gallery like Tate Modern that is concerned to preserve the visual integrity of its displays. The devices are discreet and allow each visitor to access information in the order they choose and at their own pace, avoiding the problems of crowding associated with more conventional static computer terminals.
The tour experience
The tour experience was carefully constructed, with information provided in short segments, so that the viewer’s attention is consistently drawn back to the artwork on display. By incorporating a wide spectrum of voices and opinions, from inside and outside the museum, we aimed to promote a sense of genuine debate about ideas in modern and contemporary art. The interactive elements of the tour gave visitors a chance to offer their own opinions, and encourage a proactive approach to learning.
The handheld computers are Toshiba’s model e800 which include integrated wireless cards. Content is stored on a central server and is delivered to the PDAs through a standard 802.11b wireless network, running on a virtual LAN.
This use of a wireless network means that practically limitless information can be provided and visitors can also request the central server to send further information to their home email address. Content is programmed in Macromedia Flash, version 6. The operating system used is PocketPC 2003.
The initial evaluation showed that visitors using the multimedia tour spent longer in the galleries, with 87 per cent saying that the tour improved their visit. The most popular types of content were interviews with artists and videos of artist at work, and audio commentaries accompanied by images.
Tate Modern Multimedia Tour Pilots 2002–2003 (PDF, 204KB)
Ongoing research and development
Tate now runs a regular conference, the Handheld Conference, to discuss with other museum professionals new innovations in mobile digital tours.