MSUToday
Published: Dec. 18, 2009

MSU Museum's Hall of Evolution adds interactive elements to exhibit

Contact(s): Lora Helou MSU Museum office: (517) 432-3357 helou@msu.edu, Angela Minicuci University Relations student writer office: (517) 355-2281 angela.minicuci@ur.msu.edu

EAST LANSING, Mich. – When Danita Brandt, professor of geological sciences, worked with a visually impaired student and used the Michigan State University Museum for a class, she quickly realized the student would be unable to complete a gallery tour and class assignment. The exhibitions rely on text on the wall and objects behind cases to convey interpretive information which pose a problem for sight-impaired visitors.

Brandt, an adjunct curator with the MSU Museum, consulted MSU's Office of Supportive Services to get ideas for integrating museum experiences in a more hands-on way that would allow visitors to touch, discover and learn from the museum specimens.  At an MSU Geology Honors Seminar, Brandt gathered five students who had an interest in creating a more interactive exhibit and together, they added tactile displays to the hall.

The students blindfolded one another and verbally tried to describe what they were seeing. It was decided that more was needed besides an audio tour to convey the artifacts. Working in the MSU Museum Hall of Evolution, eight specimens were chosen and replica casts were created. The hall exhibit is constructed as a time line, with fossils arranged in chronological order from about 500 million years ago to the ‘Ice Age’ that ended about 10,000 years ago. Before this transformation, these fossils were only visually available behind glass panes.

"It's significant that Dr. Brandt identified this need and then used it as a learning experience for her students," says Julie Avery, MSU Museum educator and curator who has worked with services for the sight-impaired with the State of Michigan. "We're delighted the MSU Museum was able to mobilize and help make the exhibit more meaningful to visitors and hope it's the first of many steps in this direction."

From the seminar, six of eight fossil casts have already been added to the MSU Museum Hall of Evolution along with Braille text labels. An audio tour was also developed with the help of MATRIX, the Center for Humanities Arts, Letters and Social Science at MSU and is available for download from http://evolution.matrix.msu.edu.

"It's a modest first step, but this project certainly helped us appreciate the barrier that sight-impaired visitors face when visiting the average museum," said Brandt.

Located on the ground floor, the exhibit is an ongoing display at the MSU Museum.

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Professor of geological sciences Danita Brandt, an adjunct curator with the MSU Museum, consulted with MSU's Office of Supportive Services to get ideas for integrating museum experiences in a more hands-on way that would allow visitors to touch, discover and learn from the museum specimens.

Professor of geological sciences Danita Brandt, an adjunct curator with the MSU Museum, consulted with MSU's Office of Supportive Services to get ideas for integrating museum experiences in a more hands-on way that would allow visitors to touch, discover and learn from the museum specimens.

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