An RFID-enabled interactive exhibition is putting Australia's democratic history in the hands of students at the Museum of Australian Democracy (MoAD). The system allows groups of students equipped with a passive high-frequency (HF) RFID card to learn about their country's history and government. The solution, known as RFID TRAIL, was provided by EDM Studio with the launching of the new museum in 2009, and was taken fully live two years later.
In 2014, the system was redesigned with new touchscreens and software that optimized the flow of students. These days, it provides an interactive experience to approximately 700 students daily. EDM Studio has since made the technology commercially available to museums globally. The solution consists of 13.56 MHz HF RFID-enabled cards to guide teams of students from one exhibit to another (each with a built-in EDM Studio RFID reader), thereby allowing them to experience and learn about the history of democracy in Australia.
MoAD is located in the country's original Parliament House (now called the Old Parliament House), which served as the seat of the Australian Parliament from 1927 to 1988. Located in Parkes, Canberra, the museum showcases the country's social and political histories and is a destination for tens of thousands of students throughout the country annually. The program makes students eligible for the country's Parliamentary and Civics Education Rebate (PACER).
Since the system was designed to be used by more than 70,000 students each year, it needed to be robust, says Darran Edmundson, EDM Studio's director. "They wanted to create a fun learning environment that put students in charge," he states.
MoAD sought an alternative to the traditional model exhibition presentations by museum guides or educators, as well as the paper handouts or worksheets that students often fill out during programs to test what they've learned. Instead, students get to work with the technology to explore exhibition content. Deborah Sulway, the museum's learning manager, describes it as "social learning."
EDM Studio initially considered QR codes or bar codes to prompt touchscreen content, but decided that such technology would be cumbersome for users. With RFID, on the other hand, users—even if they wear gloves—could simply place a badge in the vicinity of an exhibit and view content on the screen. "We wanted to create a sense of magic," Edmundson says. "RFID has that bit of surprise to it—it feels magical."
EDM Studio and the museum installed more than 50 Apple OS X touchscreen computers, each with activities relevant to a specific display or historical detail. Activities include matching games and opinion polls. The computers come with EDM Studio's 13.56 MHz HF RFID readers, he says, and have an Ethernet cable connection to the back-end server, where RFID TRAIL software manages the collected RFID read data and content for the exhibit. There are several levels of activities that can be conducted, based on the students' ages or grade levels, from primary to high school age.
As each school group arrives, a class or a group of students are divided into teams of two or three, and are assigned an orange laminated RFID card with a unique ID number that will be associated with their visit. They are then set loose with the technology, and use a touchscreen of their choice to get started. The students tap the RFID card against the reader antenna, indicate the number in their group and select an image that represents them throughout the exhibition. That data is stored in the RFID TRAIL software residing on the museum's server.
At each screen, the students receive basic directions, then some or all members of the group go around seeking information, following their directives to answer questions by dragging an icon to the proper response. When seeking the next challenge on another screen, they can view their picture on the screen to confirm that they are at the proper location. The system offers a navigation map that provides individual directions for each group and sends them to their next station. In this way, students can find their way around without the need of a teacher or presenter to explain what they are seeing.
If a computer or RFID reader malfunctions at any time, the museum's content-authoring system can blacklist the station and relocate any teams who are using that device to another free computer, as well as divert all other parties to alternate locations rather than to the station containing the inoperable hardware. EDM Studio provides remote software support for any failures or changes to the software or hardware.