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Touring: Museum and tour apps and what they may mean for learners

This morning my husband and I visited the Late Renoir exhibit at our Philadelphia Museum of Art.  While enjoying the audio tour led by two distinguished curators, I wondered if the museum also had an app for that.

I wondered, if beyond those temporary exhibits we regularly tour, if our museum offered tours of the rest of its great stuff.  And if there was a way I could take the tour back home, hear it later, share it with others.  I discovered that indeed the Museum had downloadable audio tours available on iTunes.  Our museum had lots of them!

The site explains:

Take a self-guided tour of objects in the collections, anytime you want. Subscribe to the Museum’s free Audio Podcasts, and receive automatic updates with Apple’s iTunes or other Podcast subscription software. You can also listen to or download individual audio mp3s throughout the site. Subscribe with Art Tours Podcast - iTunes

Then it occurred to me that in addition to sharing cool reference and research apps with teachers and younger learners, we might better prepare them for field trips and individual cultural and historical outings by promoting these educational resources too.

Then it occurred to me that not all my students get to visit the Louvre or even our Philadelphia museums.  Could we use apps to address travel or cultural equity?  Even in one-iPad classrooms?

I think we can!

iTunes’ Museum Room gathers together downloadable podcast audio tours from museums all over the world, lots of them.

And then there are the apps.

Here’s just a short list of the museum/exhibit tours available as apps:

  • American Museum of Natural History (free) New York’s AMNH app is part custom navigation system, part personal tour guide.
  • Dinosaurs: The American Museum of Natural History Collections (free) Also pulling from the collections of the AMNH, this app allows paleontologists of all ages to explore the Museum’s famous fossil halls. Check out the dinosaur photo mosaic interface. You can then zoom in on any little square composing the dinosaur’s skull to discover images of reconstructed dinosaurs, animals, fossils, bones, dig sites,research and people.

  • Musée du Louvre (free) A selection of masterpieces from the museum, photographs and commentary: ancient stelae, statues, papyri, everyday objects, furniture, western sculptures, European drawings and paintings by Giotto, Corot, Dürer, Caravaggio, Rubens, Watteau, and Goya…New exhibition spaces to explore, spanning the Middle Ages to the present day: discover different periods in history as you go from Louis XIV’s bedchamber to the Musée Charles X, from the Napoleon III Apartments to the transformations of the 19th and 20th centuries…

iPhone Screenshot 1

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  • Brooklyn Museum (free)  The museum I visited so often as a girl is now in my pocket.
  • Museum of London: Street Museum (free) Visit both old and new London by exploring hundreds of images from the Museum’s extensive collections combined with helpful factboxes.  Among the everyday and momentous occasions in the city’s rich history: the Great Fire of 1666, the swinging sixties. Select a destination from our London map or use your GPS to locate an image near you. Hold your camera up to the present day street scene and see the same London location appears on your screen, offering you a window through time.
  • Love Art-Natl Gallery London ($2.99) A beautiful collection of more than 250 works, with video, audio, zoomable high-resolution images, theme groupings and image galleries. . .Gotta love the philosophy–One of the greatest collections of Western European painting in the world. These pictures belong to everyone and are presented here for you to enjoy and keep with you at all times. Explore the brushstrokes and hear the stories behind masterpieces by Leonardo, Renoir, Botticelli, Rembrandt and Van Gogh, along with lesser known paintings and hidden gems. Listen to commentary and insight from famous artists, writers and experts who will take you on an unforgettable journey into art.

Cultural and historical tours are not all inside or rainy day experiences.  Learners and travelers of all ages can explore with the  growing number of walking or driving tours, including:

But wait . . .

Why not turn this touring thing into a learning and creativity and sharing experience?  Why couldn’t our students create their own tours of local treasures?  And could we find portals to publish and share these learner-driven tours?

Although we can create these tours using existing separate tools–podcasting software, cameras, GPS and mapping systems, etc., emerging cleaner solutions can simplify the production process. is a free Android App for walking tours.

And soon to be launched Locacious promises it will allow users to create, distribute, discover, and consume walking tours using only the iPhone.

According to the site FAQs, here’s how it will work:

Suppose that I want to create a walking tour of New York’s Lower East Side. I can walk to 97 Orchard Street (part of the LES Tenement Museum). There I take out my iPhone and open the app. Because of the iPhone GPS capabilities, the app knows where I am. Having opened the app, I go to a Create page. On the Create page, I give this “stop” a name, plus add keywords or an address if I desire. The Create page also has a virtual tape recorder, so that I can record my voice, either reading from a prepared script or speaking extemporaneously. When I am happy with it, the audio is stored on the iPhone. Also on the Create page, I can use the iPhone camera to take a photograph that will be associated with this stop. (When upload and download speeds get a little faster, it will be straightforward to add video to the options.) Having created a title, audio, and a photo that are all associated with one location, I can upload the stop to a server (by wifi or 3G). If I create a series of such stops, I can upload them as a group to the server, which then become a tour.

We may be back to school, but we needn’t stop traveling.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


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