We went to the Taking Liberties exhibition at the British Library which is a spectacular example of great museum exhibition design and pedagogy. I've worked in a few museum settings and have seen my share of piss-poor "interactive multimedia" exhibits. One particularly egregious one that will always stick in my craw was at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, where, after you saw the exhibition, you went into a small cinema and watched a series of clips giving you two sides of the argument around several serious human rights questions. You had a little podium in front of you with two buttons- at the end of each set of two clips, everyone in the room voted for which side they agreed with, with the totals shown on the screen. Worst thing: the construction of the examples was really infantile, and in one case (especially given the setting in a holocaust memorial) offensive. This case contrasted the right of gay groups to hold a gay pride march in Rome with the Pope's right to ban the march. That's right, not the Pope's right to call for a ban, or make a public statement against the march, or even to stage a counter-demonstration, but to actually ban. This was put forward as a freedom of speech issue. I can't recall the details but it made my blood boil, so much so that I wrote what may have been one of the few negative comments in the Anne Frank House visitor's book.
Anyway, my point is, I've just seen, at the British Library, a similar basic approach done really, really well. Now, on it's own, the exhibition would stand as a truly excellent, educational and fascinating piece of work. The interactive bit was icing on the cake, but it does add significantly to the experience of the exhibition. You get a wrist-band at the start with a barcode, and as you go through you stop at different points and are presented with case studies around particular issues; you then use your wristband to vote for one of four points-of-view on the issue (for instance: right-to-die; DNA databases; independence for the nations of the UK, etc.). This is mostly done very intelligently, and does therefore enhance the depth to which you think about the issues. If, like me, you are visiting with a companion, it also enables you to discuss things in more depth with that person while maintaining your private experience.
When you get to the end you see a large wall which projects the results to date from all the visitors- using very visually accessible charts and graphs. You can also privately go through all of the questions and answers and see how your answers fall within the wider count of previous visitors. Finally, there is a wall with bits of paper, where you can write comments about the exhibition- these were good to read. Now, I'm not saying there was nothing problematical in this exhibition- there was. For instance, no mention of the Criminal Justice Act, and several instances where you had to choose between two options that were virtually representing the same point of view (out of the four choices). Of course, th'girlfriend and myself were both convinced that there was a secret camera taking our photos each time we voted and storing evidence of our subversive tendencies in a big database out there somewhere. Joke. But not such a joke when we saw that the wristbands exhorted us to log onto the exhibition website when we got home and enter our barcode numbers.. paranoid? Nous?