Personalising the heritage visit

One the things that my external examiner pointed out during my viva is that I had not put in enough about personalisation. A number of the articles that she recommended I look at for my corrections address that issue and this is one. Not, Elena & Petrelli, Daniela. 2018. Blending customisation, context-awareness and adaptivity for personalised tangible interaction in cultural heritage. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 114: 3-19. doi: 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2018.01.001.

I think one of the reasons why I had somewhat skimmed over the subject in my thesis is, coming out of a career based on live interpretation, which is essentially a conversation, personalisation is built into the way I think about heritage. My work in the PhD might be summed up as trying to ensure that conversation takes place even when there isn’t an excellent live interpreter working there. Of course, my examiner, Daniella is coming at the same aim, but from a different direction, and so she does not take personalisation for granted as I am wont to do. This paper however is a useful resource looking at it from the HCI point of view and I think there will be a number of quote from it and a summary among my corrections. But which quotes? What is summarised? As you might already have guessed these posts are a first pass at answering those questions. A Bit of practise as it were before creating a restructured version of my thesis. So, the paper starts off asking what personalisation actually means in this context:

“‘Personalisation’ is a broad term that encompasses three types ofsystem behaviour: adaptability (also called customisation, the term we use hereafter) offers users a number of options to set up the application/system the way they like it; context-awareness is the ability of the system to sense the current state of the environment and to respond accordingly; adaptivity implies the system maintains a dynamic model of the on-going interaction and dynamically changes its own behaviour to adapt to the changing situation.”

I can see why they chose to call adaptability customisation, adaptivity sounds far too similar and might be confusing. Of course one factor we have to consider is that although people do make heritage visits on their own, the vast majority are as part of a group; self-organised like couples, families, or friendship groups; or organised groups such as school visits and coach tours. As the authors point out “Research that directly addresses the social dimension is still limited” but they point the way to studies that look at conversation around a context aware-table, and sharing tables around a group, among others. However it is important to include this social dimension in any consideration of personalisation, which is something I did at Chawton – the choice there were made by the visiting “group” even if, sometimes that ‘group’ consisted of one person.

The paper of course starts with some case studies of similar work, including the Italian trenches soundscape I looked at a couple of days back. In another project at the same museum uses a “pebble” with NFC capability that activates media when places in certain places around the museum. When the visitor leaves, the pebble’s journey is read and a personalised postcards printed for the user to take home. In the Hague, a similarly NFC enabled system has the user place replica objects in “an interactive ring” which plays media from a choice of three different viewpoints (two military and one civilian). A third project, The Loupe, uses a phone disguised as a magnifying glass to present AR media. My problem with all these is an HCI one, two these systems force the users to learn a new interface, placing the pebble or replica in a certain spot to activate media that seems unintuitive, especially in environments where conditioned behaviour often precludes touch, picking things up, or even putting things on museum surfaces. On the other hand, the authors do make a point later that “A synergy can be created with tangible and embodied interactions to increase visitors’ awareness they are building their own visit path.” And I must admit that when the personalisation is invisible, the visitors do not perceive it. However my evaluation of Ghosts in the Garden suggest that even when tangible interactions are involved, the visitors may still not be aware that their experience was personalised.

But leaving my issues aside. There is some really good overview stuff in this – including a table that summarises some of the factors to consider when personalising interpretation. This includes: “stable” visitor factors – like age and disability, interests and Learning preferences; factors related to the current visit – motivations, fatigue, visit history and available time etc.; the type of tracking – two in this table, proximity tracking and interaction with objects; the location – indoor or outdoors, layout, noise etc.; and the content – the media, the story.

The team brought together 25 participants in a co-design workshop (curators , computer scientists and engineers) and they came up with a classification of features by the type of personalisation they support. The first group includes features that depend on content and are activated by “customisation preparation”: is this about on-site visits or virtual visits? Is it indoors or outdoors? What are constraints – is there power and wifi? The next set is decided by the curator or interpretation staff, Most of these come under “customisation preparation” too: what is the heritage topic?; The media type?; the genre of the text?; The thematic threads?; the supported visitor profiles? the type of group? Then what is the structure of the narrative, for example a story or a Q&A? Finally what is the structure of the visit? For example, is it guided, free exploration, or a treasure hunt?

One curatorial decision that falls into context awareness is does the interaction involve augmented objects, an if so wha are input and output abilities of those objects? were I the curator on this project I would look for forms of content awareness which do not rely on objects, even though some I have written about elsewhere are fun. But that move me into a set of context awareness features that are modelled by the system itself (according to the authors): user location, proximity to exhibits, proximity to other users, and the current state of the exhibits. To give the experience the adaptivity it needs, the he system will also use data about the shorty of the individual interactions with the space/objects and delivered content – just as in my Chawton experiment the system selected content based on what had been shared with the user before.

Finally comes the customisation choices, chosen, or course by the visitor and based on their motivation and expectations. They might have been given the opportunity to express interest in topics and narrative threads, as I did (somewhat clumsily) with my Clandon prototype. And, as at Chawton, the expected a duration of the visit is a factor (though I suggest it is less an active choice of the visitor, and better modelled by the system). Of course another factor that is totally out of the control of anyone other than the visitor is what the visitor thinks the type of visit is – they might be coming for an emotional reason, or social, or fun or for learning.

The paper concludes that “fully automatic adaptivity, where the system takes all the decisions on what to present to which visitor, when and how, may not be the best solution” and argues that therefore what curators (or interpreters) value as most meaningful should be the driver of of the personalisation model. I agree, but with the proviso that if the intent is top emotional engage the visitor, many heritage stories don’t do the job well enough. The authors say “This requires a radical rethinking of how personalisation in cultural heritage manifests itself and the role curators and visitors play” and I think think that my thesis might contribute to that rethinking.

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