Children & Content Interaction

In developing my tablet app for a museum experience, I ran a survey with a group of students (while IRB would not be an issue for such a project and thus exempt, I do have on-file permissions from parents, and any information is completely anonymous) to look at using “the wisdom of the crowds” in compiling aggregate information to be used in search.  I chose art from the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago (as they have the most comprehensive existing web sphere, in my opinion), namely Winslow Homer’s The Water Fan (while AIC seems quite progressive in allowing its image to exist in cyber spheres, in the interest of existing copyright law and image protection I included a link to their site rather than include the picture here).EDIT:  As the AIC site encourages the passing of its artifacts via social media, I will post the picture, and the picture is a link to the dedicated AIC page.

I asked the students to write at least five words that described the artwork.  The results:

  • Boating (3)
  • Blue (2)
  • Bucket (2)
  • Ocean (2)
  • Water (2)
  • Thirsty
  • Lonely
  • Peaceful
  • Creative
  • Stranded
  • Searching
  • Getting Water
  • Sailing Away
  • Hard Work
  • Olden Days
  • Cloud
  • Fishing
  • Raining
  • Tuna
  • Island
  • Man

As a teacher and Ed.D student, the results were fascinating.  It’s interesting to see how different people respond to artwork, and the student responses were developed, considered, and thoughtful.  Seeing the dichotomy in some of the answers plays into cognitive theories of learning, where there is no reality, only construction, and we determine our reality based on common constructs that we engage with.

As a developer of information management, the results made me think about my plan of attack.  Originally, I thought the idea of a search engine geared toward children would be fascinating — a child is interested in butterflies, they can type in butterflies and see what the wisdom of the crowd provides.  That line of thinking gets questioned once you start to see the answers.  Perhaps an outlying child would say butterflies, or dinosaurs, or even Paris.  But would they say raining, or sad, or green?   I am skeptical.

My first foray into teaching creative writing started in the workshop mentality accustomed to most creative writing instruction — a student enters with an idea, and works on the idea as the group provides help along the way.  Within a week I saw that idea as bunk.  My students wanted to write — they desperately wanted to write — but they didn’t know how to do it and find success, nor did they know what they wanted to write about.  The educational assumption of the workshop took idea and ability as a given, and played with the edges and the coloration.  But the course needed structure and development from the outset.  In order to help my students find their topic and find success, I had to organize the journey in a way that both gave them necessary information while allowing them as much creative freedom as they wanted while still providing structure necessary to the best practices.

In starting this museum project, I was assuming that children would walk into a museum and know what they want to see, as well as know how to ask for it.  That’s a large assumption, for children or adults.  Like the creative writing students, there needs to be some direction and common information to be known prior to a person’s ability to fully engage.  I think the aggregate information is helpful, and I think that a search engine is still an integral part of a truly expansive and authentic interactive application, but it is not the plank on which the app rests.  There must be some design to help the children, laypeople, and experts find their interests, determine how to ask for those, interact with them, and receive information that can further their interest if they are so inclined.


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