Share this article

Life as a Placement Student with Dundee Heritage Trust: Visitor Experience

Every year we’re lucky to host placement students from Universities near and far. It’s a great opportunity for them to experience the world of work, and for the staff and volunteers to meet the future workforce and engage with new ideas and get support on key areas of their work.

These blogs are written by the students on the work that they carried out with us, and we hope you enjoy reading about the things they got up to!

If you’re a student or institution that is looking to do a placement, please do get in touch with the education team

In today’s blog, University of Dundee student Shannon shares more of her experience during her placement focused around visitor experience design at Discovery Point.

Here’s Shannon’s experience, in her own words.

Back in January, as part of an internship module at the University of Dundee, I was given the opportunity to work with the people at the Dundee Heritage Trust and the Discovery Point Museum on the Discovery Point Transformed Project. This not only provided me with an insight into my options after graduation but also opened my eyes to the inner workings of the museum sector.

I was surprised to discover how consumer-orientated museums are. As visitor engagement specialist Graham Black wrote:

“[…] museums today must justify their existence much more effectively, must generate far more of their own income, must broaden their audience bases, must reflect their communities, and must enhance their role as learning institutions.”[1]“Museum curators essentially must undergo a process of market research to identify their objectives and their audience. At Discovery Point, this process is currently underway with the goal of updating some of the existing galleries (Specification, The Shipyard, and The Men of Discovery). The project will also include the creation of new galleries about climate science and the global context of early Antarctic exploration.”

Adventure Begins gallery at Discovery Point

“My role within the internship was observing visitor engagement within the three galleries. To observe visitor engagement, I carried out visitor observation surveys This consisted of standing in different corners of the galleries and noting down the ways people interacted with the gallery exhibits.

“To get as natural a recording as possible I had to be as unobtrusive as I could. In the larger galleries of Specification and The Men of Discovery I could stand at the opposite side of the room to stay out of the way of the visitors; however this was a struggle in the Shipyard gallery. This is a small and narrow gallery with practically no space to hide away from visitors. This means that the results might not be fully reflective of the regular engagement of visitors to that gallery.

“I compiled the information I collected into three separate excel spreadsheets and heatmaps, and through analysing this information I was able to get some idea of what visitors currently enjoy and therefore would likely want to see in the future plans.”

Heatmap produced by Shannon during research

“The results from over the course of three months showed that across the three galleries visual elements such as interactives, models, and videos were most engaged with. These elements can all be classed as ‘Edutainment’ which has been shown in a study carried out by Laetitia Radder and Xiliang Han to have “the largest effect on satisfaction and behavioural intentions”[2]. This was also reflected in my data, with such visual elements shown to attract more visitors than the plain text display boards.

“People engage with material in their own individual way; however I believe it would be safe to say that ‘Edutainment’ is the greatest draw for many visitors.

“Another thing I realised over the course of the internship was that education is not the sole reason for people to go to the museum. Some people go for a nice day out, for something they can do to kill a few hours, and if they learn something along the way then great!”

Experiencing life as an Antarctic explorer!

“Regardless of people’s intentions when they head into the museum, people are drawn to what interests them, whether that is a title on an information board, a model boat or an interactive crane. If people are going to learn anything on their day out to the museum, it’s likely going to be about what had already caught their attention the moment they walked into the gallery.

“The internship also allowed me to contribute to the creation of a visitor survey which is being used to gauge audience opinion and engagement with the Discovery Point Transformed proposed gallery designs. The information will help the curators obtain a general idea of what changes visitors would like to see within the museum. So far, the surveys have shown overwhelming support for a climate science gallery.

“I would like to say thank you to the people at the Dundee Heritage Trust for allowing me the opportunity to participate in this project. The experience was not only informative on many levels, but it was also really fun. I had a really pleasant time interning at the museum, and it would not have been the same without the friendly and helpful people who I met along the way.”

Thank you once again to Shannon for sharing her experiences with us and for becoming such a valued member of the team during her placement! We loved working with Shannon, and wish her all the best for the future.

  • [1] Black, Graham., The Engaging Museum : Developing Museums for Visitor Involvement (London ;: Routledge, 2005) p.266
  • [2] Radder, Laetitia, and Xiliang Han, ‘An Examination Of The Museum Experience Based On Pine And Gilmore’s Experience Economy Realms’, Journal of Applied Business Research, 31.2 (2015), 455–467 (467).

You might also like…

Join our mailing list

Keep in touch!

You’ll receive exclusive insights into our work behind-the-scenes at Discovery Point and Verdant Works Museum, be first to know about upcoming events and exhibitions and, discover how you can help support Dundee Heritage Trust. You can unsubscribe at any time.

* indicates required
What are you interested in hearing about?