MSU Students Partner with the Smithsonian and MSU Museum for Impactful Collaborations

MSU students who worked on an exhibition-oriented game for the "Knowing Nature" exhibition there are five students posed for the picture along with one Museum staff person
MSU students who worked on an exhibition-oriented game for “Knowing Nature” and Caroline White (CoLab Education and Learning Manager). Photo by Derrick L. Turner

In a creative collaboration, a multidisciplinary team of Michigan State University (MSU) students have worked with the Smithsonian to test a new approach to accessible design using a Smithsonian exhibition, “Knowing Nature: Stories of the Boreal Forest,” currently on view at the MSU Museum. Through innovative technology and educational initiatives, the students are paving the way for enhanced accessibility and engagement for visitors nationwide.

A key component of this partnership is the development of a cutting-edge digital concierge service that leverages radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. This digital concierge service empowers visitors with visual impairment to self-identify their preferences for accessible option within the exhibition. By employing this state-of-the-art technology, the MSU Museum, alongside the Smithsonian, is ensuring that all visitors, regardless of their abilities, can fully engage with the remarkable content of the exhibition.

In addition to the RFID-based digital concierge service, another team of MSU students has created an engaging exhibition-based game that not only fosters learning but also amplifies visitor engagement. This creative endeavor seeks to encourage curiosity, build empathy and inspire action while exploring the themes of climate change, Indigenous perspectives and the intricate relationship between people and nature.

Two MSU students and one Museum staff person posing in the "Knowing Nature" exhibition
MSU students who worked on the RFID technology to increase accessibility in the exhibition and Denice Blair (MSU Museum Director of Education)

“By deploying cutting-edge technology, such as RFID-based digital concierge service and an exhibition-based game, we are enhancing accessibility and engagement for visitors nationwide,” said MSU Museum Director Devon Akmon. “Through our unwavering commitment to supporting student-led initiatives, the MSU Museum is fostering a culture of learning and creativity, driving impactful outcomes, furthering our reputation as a leader in education and building our relationship with the Smithsonian.”

The MSU Museum had the distinct honor of being selected as the inaugural venue to host the  “Knowing Nature: Stories of the Boreal Forest” in April 2023. This exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, which emphasizes the importance of the world’s northernmost forests, features captivating first-person stories, commissioned objects, interactive experiences and exquisite photographic and video content. Moreover, the exhibition incorporates vital themes such as climate change, Indigenous perspectives and the intricate relationship between people and nature.

Over six months ago, MSU students began testing RFID technology, creating apps, and evaluating the success of these components with visitors and research participants. These pioneering initiatives have been showcased at events such as the Smithsonian National Education Summit and other professional conferences.

These collaborative project are possible because the MSU Museum achieved the prestigious status of becoming Michigan’s inaugural Affiliate of the esteemed Smithsonian Institution in September 2001. This Affiliate status provides the Museum opportunities to engage in collaborative endeavors with the Smithsonian and fellow Affiliates, fostering initiatives that benefit MSU and our state, as well as the Smithsonian national programs. Since 2001, the Museum has collaborated on numerous joint initiatives aimed at advancing research, generating new knowledge, and enhancing public engagement.

Time is running out to view the Smithsonian exhibition, “Knowing Nature: Stories of the Boreal Forest” at the MSU Museum. The exhibition is on view through Saturday, November 11 in the Main Gallery at the MSU Museum.

“Knowing Nature: Stories of the Boreal Forest” was made possible by the National Audubon Society with additional support from The Anders Foundation, Charlie and Nancy Hogan and Anne C. Madison.

The exhibition and programs are locally sponsored by Michigan State University Federal Credit Union and the Greater Lansing Arts Council.

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