Testing Technology: How Augmented Reality Helps Museum Visitors Appreciate Paintings

In their article "Development and Behavioral Pattern Analysis of a Mobile Guide System with Augmented Reality for Painting Appreciation Instruction in an Art Museum," Kuo-En Chang and Chia-Tzu Chang, et al examine the learning effectiveness of an art museum augmented-reality guide platform by observing the behavior of museum groups using different guide systems.

The authors conducted a quasi-experiment of 135 college students from Taiwanese universities who were given 60 minutes to examine 16 specified paintings in the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. The students were divided into three groups. One group was not given any guide, another used the audio tour commonly offered in the museum, and the third group used an augmented reality-based guide. Augmented reality (AR) allows for the integration of physical and virtual elements. To use the AR museum guide, visitors were given a 10-inch tablet and directed to point the tablet's camera lens at a painting they wished to examine. Once the tablet recognized the painting, a series of interactive, audio-visual, and text-based commentaries appeared on the tablet screen overlaid onto the painting's image.

The authors note that a significant benefit to the AR-guide platform is the ability for a user to visually shift focus between the painting's image on the tablet screen and the actual painting on the wall. Viewers never have to avert attention from the artwork, as is the case with conventional guide material such as wall text or informational kiosks. The AR guide commentaries were developed to lead users through four stages of painting appreciation: noting background information and basic impressions; analyzing formal elements and artistic techniques, interpreting intention and meaning, and finally, making an informed judgment. The judgment stage, in particular, encouraged visitors to construct subjective aesthetic reactions that contributed to a deeper comprehension of the painting, making it easier to digest information.

The study showed that out of the three groups, members of the AR-guided group spent more time in front of each painting and retained the most information about the paintings according to the results of pre- and post- tests. However, the AR guide had occasional technical difficulty with recognizing paintings, and some users felt the text commentaries were not long enough. Additionally, AR-guide users focused so much on the paintings and commentaries that they interacted less with their peers during the museum visit.

The authors suggest that with a few improvements, the AR-guide concept could be extended beyond painting exhibitions and can be used for other types of art, other types of museums, and even theme parks and education centers.

Chang, Kuo-En and Chia-Tzu Chang, et al. 2014. "Development and Behavioral Pattern Analysis of a Mobile Guide System with Augmented Reality for Painting Appreciation Instruction in an Art Museum." Computers & Education 71: 185–197. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2013.09.022

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